Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Basic Weight Training Plan

As promised, here is the second installment of our series on transforming your feeble self into an unstoppable colossus of power.

This is a routine I have used successfully in the recent past.  It's designed to help you make progress on a few important lifts, while still saving time for other activities.

Lift weights two days per week, training the entire body each time.  Each workout contains the following exercises:

  • One main lower body exercise.
  • One upper body pushing exercise.
  • Two upper body pulling exercises.
  • Any assistance or support work.
  • Abdominals.
Questions and Answers
What are some choices for the lower body lift?
Any exercise that uses most of the muscles in your lower body at the same time.  This includes squats, front squats, any type of deadlift, and the leg press.

What are some choices for the upper body pushing lift?
 Bench, incline, and overhead pressing, using barbells, dumbbells, or machines.  Dips, with extra weight if necessary.  Pushup variations, in some cases.

Why use two pulling movements?
Training the muscles you can't see is very important for all-around strength, posture, and appearance.  Most regular trainees benefit by pulling more than they push.

Okay.  So what are some pulling exercises?
Pullups, or lat pulldowns if you can't do pullups yet.  Rowing with barbells, dumbbells, or machines.  Shrugs.  Cleans and snatches, if you're willing to put in the effort to learn them.  Dumbbell or kettlebell swings.  Curls with any implement.  The farmer's walk (carrying two heavy dumbbells for time or distance) is not technically a pull, but trains many of the same muscles.  

There are two ways to turn this into a twice-per-week plan.
  • Choose two different sets of exercises for each day.
  • Use the same exercises on both days, but make one day "heavy" and the other "reps".
Here's a sample program based on the first approach.  We'll use similar combinations of sets and reps on each day, but there will be variety in the exercises.

First day
  • Deadlift:  3 sets of 4 reps.
  • Dumbbell overhead press:  3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Pullups: 3 sets of as many reps as possible (use assistance if necessary).
  • Cable machine rows:  3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Planks: 3 holds for at least 45 seconds each.
Second day
  • Front squat:  3 sets of 5 reps.
  • Pushups:  4 sets of as many reps as possible.
  • Dumbbells curls:  3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Shrugs:  3 sets of 5 reps.
  • Hanging leg raises: 2 sets of 15 reps.  
More Questions and Answers
I hate your choice of exercises, sets, and reps.
First, that's not a question.  Second, I made up the sample plan in five minutes.  You can substitute any exercises and set/rep schemes that make sense to you.

What about that assistance stuff?
You can tack on any assistance exercises you want at the end of each workout.  These exercises should be light, done quickly, and relevant to injury prevention or weak point training.  As a general rule, the assistance work should be done with lighter weights, for higher reps, and take no more than 10 minutes.  For running, you might want to add calf raises, hamstring curls, and ankle mobility exercises, one set of 15 reps for each.

Considering this blog's readership, I feel obligated to say a little bit about mixing this plan with running. 

For runners, lifting should be about total health, injury prevention, and appearance (to the extent you care about your physique).  Programs designed to increase your max strength in a few lifts will only wear you out, give you dead legs, and increase your risk of injury.  Here's my attempt to write down a plan that mixes with moderate volume running.

First day
  • Full-depth front squat:  2 sets of 5 (good for leg power and mobility).
  • Pushups: 3 sets of as many reps as possible.
  • Assisted pullups: 2 sets of 5-10 reps.
  • Machine rows: 2 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Planks: 3 holds of 30-45 seconds.
  • Calves: 2 sets of 15 reps.
  • Ankle mobility drills.
Second day
  • Straight leg deadlift: 2 sets of 5 (strengthens hamstrings and glutes).
  • Dips: 2 sets of as many reps as possible.
  • Curls: 2 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Lat pulldowns: 2 sets of 5-10 reps.
  • Hanging leg raises: 2 sets of 15 reps.
  • Hip mobility drills.
Two important points.  First, this should not cut into the quality of your running training.  If squats give you dead legs, then you should drop squats, or find a variation that doesn't cause problems.  Second, these workouts should be quick and leave you feeling energized and happy, not sad and tired.

If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.