Aren’t you tired of the desperate search for the perfect workout routine? The one that will finally help you reach your goals?
It’s a lot of work, reading all those fitness magazines, online tutorials and blog articles, isn’t it? Well, as luck would have it, I have just the thing for you: The most effective workout routine there is, period.
Are you intrigued? Good, read on to find out more about my evil plan to take over the world.
Okay, so maybe I’ve tricked you with that first paragraph. I hate to bring it to you, but there is no such thing as the perfect, most effective workout routine. At least not a ready-made one that will be the right choice for every person.
But I’ve got something much better for you: I’ll show you how to create your own, tailor-made routine.
It’s like buying a really nice suit or dress: Most probably, it will not fit right away. You try it on, see where it needs some adjustment, give it to your tailor. If you’re especially crafty, you can do this yourself.
To translate this metaphor: No pre-made routine that you’ll find in a fitness magazine, not even routines I did (shocking, I know), will be the perfect fit for you. You either hire a personal trainer (the tailor) or you learn how to sew. The latter is the topic of this article.
Side note: It’s perfectly fine if you find something that is okay-fitting. If it’s just the wedding of your great-aunt that you cannot stand, a semi-fitted suit may be all you need. If you want to impress the bridesmaids, though, nothing is more stunning than a perfectly fitted suit.
Same goes for workouts: If all you want is to break a sweat (called exercising), pre-made workouts are sufficient. If you want to make real progress in terms of strength, conditioning, body recomposition, etc., you might want to optimize the process a bit (which means training, not merely exercising).
Where to Start?
I’ve talked about programming already. In short, the most effective workout routine is the one that …
- … you’ll stick to consistently.
- … fits your personal goals (specific goals that need to be clearly defined).
- … provides challenging but manageable volume and intensity.
If you run a fitness website, your friends start to believe that you have some kind of competence in this field. So they’ll come to you and ask you to assemble a routine for them. (Which is super fun, by the way! Thanks to all my lab rats for happily complying to everything I tell them to do )
In almost all cases, my routines are based on three simple movements: Upper body pushing, upper body pulling and lower body work. I try to incorporate mostly compound exercises.
One basic starting point could simply be push-ups, pull-ups and squats, let’s say 3 times a week, each performed for 3 sets with as many reps as you can do with good form. These are all compound exercises, so you’ll be covered with whole body fitness without ever needing more than these three exercises.
Oftentimes I get asked for “ab work”, in other terms, some exercise that specifically works core stabilization, like planks. And I like to give the people what they want, so most of the time I’ll suggest such an exercise, as well.
You can either choose these 3 moves as a starting point, or start with some other routine that makes sense to you (given that it roughly fits your goals).
Whatever you do, stick to a routine for at least 4 weeks before changing it drastically. This holds even more true if you’re a complete beginner, because you’re a lucky bastard and nearly anything you do consistently will have a significant impact on your fitness.
Fine-Tuning Your Routine
When you’ve made it that far, the fun begins. Get your lab coat out, ’cause we’re going to conduct an n=1 experiment! (In science slang, n is the variable that determines the size of the sample. In this case, you have one sample: Yourself.)
Let’s say you want to do the Strength Essentials routine. Implement the routine exactly as prescribed for at least 4 weeks. After 4 weeks, have a look at your numbers that you scribbled in your workout log (you do keep one, yes?!).
Did you make progress? Good, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, you need to take into account more variables to solve this puzzle. It’s crucial to only change one thing at a time. That’s the only way you’re gonna know what change finally helped you overcome that tipping point. Start with these variables:
- Sleep: Are you getting enough of it? It’s one of the most neglected and yet most important aspects of health. Tackle this one first. 8 hours is a good goal to shoot for.
- Diet: Whether you want to get stronger, lose fat or build muscle, it won’t work nearly as smoothly without the right diet. Eat mostly real food, consider your caloric needs and adjust accordingly.
- Workout Frequency: If sleep and diet are dialed in correctly and you’re still not making any progress, you can start tinkering with your workout routine. Are you working out too often? That could hinder your recovery if, for instance, you wanted to gain lots of muscle mass. Or maybe you don’t practice often enough? Give your body enough opportunities to ingrain those movement patterns when trying to get stronger.
- Workout Intensity: Are you busting your ass enough to trigger change? Or are you overdoing it by not being able to turn off beast mode?
- Exercise Volume: Are you trying to fit in too many exercises in one workout? Or should you squeeze in one more? Or could you do a couple of more sets of one exercise?
- Alternative Progressions: As I explained in the tutorials for pistols and one-arm push-ups, there are many ways to skin a cat. Most bodyweight skills can be approached with different methods and the success rate of each of these is highly dependent on the individual. So try to shoot the bird from a different angle (okay, okay I’m done with the brutal animal metaphors) if you’re stuck with a progression.
- Different Set/Rep schemes: Depending on the volume/intensity/frequency ratio you’d like to achieve for your schedule, you can try things like pyramid sets, drop sets, rest/pause schemes, etc. instead of the old 5×5 or 3×10 you might be used to.
These are just a few ways to alter your routine. Change one thing at a time and give it a chance to have an effect. Tackle sleep and diet first before messing with your routine.
Rinse and Repeat
I cannot stress this enough: Nothing will be effective without consistency. That’s the key ingredient and will trump all other methods I prescribe here. Even if “experimenting” and n=1 might sound fancy, the jist of it is really simple:
- Be consistent. Stick to one schedule long enough for it to accumulate significant progressive change.
- If progress stagnates, add a dash of change to your routine. Just enough to stir things up, but not so much that you’re turning your whole schedule upside down (it’s called a routine for a reason).
Stop the shiny object chasing after the “perfect” routine. You won’t find it in a fitness magazine, book or blog article. These can only be starting points.
Every new routine will have a noticeable effect. The most effective workout routine, however, can only be developed organically by iteratively changing little things according to the feedback your body is providing.
What are your methods to finding the routine that’s most effective for you? Tell me in the comments below.