If you’re reading this, I’m hoping you read Part I and decided I wasn’t chatting absolute rubbish and want to crack on with your workout plan.
After deciding on the structure of your workout, you need to add the exercises. This is what Part II is all about, discussing some basic exercises to get you started that will benefit anyone, regardless of whether you’re doing a full body or split workout.
I would recommend using compound exercises as the main focus for your workouts as these involve two or more joint movements, and therefore involve more muscles. This is usually in the form of the primary muscle, which is aided by secondary muscles. For example, the primary muscle in a squat would be the quads, whilst the secondary muscles are the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This is advantageous as you can build muscle and increase your strength in less time. This is also good to get the most out of your workout in the shortest time possible. However, because they involve secondary muscles you need to be careful not to work these out on consecutive days. This is only a problem if you do a multi split workout – you do a back workout, and do cable rows. Then the next day you do arms. The secondary muscle in rows is the bicep, so you would be working them out two days in a row. This is not good for muscle recovery, so when planning a multi split workout, make sure that you take this into account. Compound exercises include squats, rows (cable/barbell/dumbell), deadlifts etc.
You can then supplement compound moves with isolated exercises, which involve only one joint and a single muscle. Examples of these include standing calf raises, barbell bicep curls, tricep pushdown on the cable machine, etc. The advantage of these is that you can work out a single muscle group without the involvement of others. For example, say you want to work out a muscle, but the secondary muscles are already fatigued. It would be silly to try and use a compound exercise which would just kill your already tired muscles. Also, you are able to train the smaller muscles, without adding to the already larger muscles, for example, calves. The disadvantage to isolation exercises is that you will not be able to lift nearly as much as you would if you were using multiple muscle groups.
On the whole, you will get a fantastic workout with just compound exercises. For a beginner, I would recommend limiting your amount of isolation exercises to the bare minimum. And once you get a bit more experienced, you can add in more isolation exercises.
So, let’s go through some compound exercises to get you started. When talking about the secondary muscles used, I’m grouping them, rather than naming every muscle in that group, i.e. when I say glutes, I mean Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus.
Squats (all variations):
- Primary Muscle Group (PMG) – Quads
- Secondary Muscle Group (SMG) – Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower Back
Deadlifts (all variations):
- PMG – Hamstrings
- SMG – Lower Back, Glutes
Lunges (all variations):
- PMG – Glutes
- SMG – Quads, Hamstrings, Calves.
Step Up (on a box that gives you a 90° angle at the knee):
- PMG – Quads
- SMG – Glutes, Calves, Hamstrings (to a degree)
Leg Raise (hanging/lying), V-sits, Jack Knife Sit Ups:
- PMG – Rectus Abdominus
- SMG – Obliques, small muscles throughout the upper leg
- PMG – Lower Back
- SMG – Glutes, Hamstrings.
Inverted Row/Bent Over Row:
- PMG – Whole Back in general
- SMG – Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Forearms, Posterior Deltoid, Rotator Cuff
Chin Up (self assisted/body weight), Cable Pulldown:
- PMG – Latissimus Dorsi
- SMG – Biceps, Triceps, Forearms, Chest, Post. Deltoid.
- PMG – Anterior Deltoid (Front)
- SMG – Lateral Deltoid (side), Triceps, Trapezius, Rotator Cuff
- PMG – Lateral Deltoid
- SMG – Anterior Deltoid, Biceps, Forearms, Trapezius, Rotator Cuff
- PMG – Pectoralis Major (Sternal Head)
- SMG – Pectoralis Major (Clavicular Head), Triceps, Anterior Deltoid
- PMG – Pectoralis Major (Sternal Head)
- SMG – Pec Major (Clavicular), Latissimus Dorsi, Triceps
- PMG – Pec Major (Sternal)
- SMG – Pec Major (Clavicular), Ant. Delt, Triceps
I haven’t included any isolated exercises in this post because I think they aren’t necessary when first starting out, and compound exercises are more than enough. If anyone wants me to do a post on isolated exercises, then please leave a comment below and I’ll do one.
How many sets and reps should I do? How heavy should I lift?
The general consensus on reps is:
- Strength: 6-8 reps
- Hypertrophy: 8-12 reps
- Endurance: 12+ reps
At the moment, I keep my reps between 8-12, because I don’t want to lose muscle while losing fat, but my goal isn’t to increase my strength just yet. How many reps you lift is dependent on your goals, and personal preference. For sets, again, it’s personal preference. I personally lift 3-4 sets, just because when I started out these were the number of reps I saw most on forums/blogs/sites that I read and it’s stuck.
As for how heavy, you should lift as heavy as possible without compromising good form and technique. You should also lift according to your rep range. If you want to do 8-12 reps, and you are only able to lift 6 reps, you need to lower the weight. Alternatively, if you can lift more than 12 reps, you need to increase the weight. So, if you can only squat 20kg for 6 reps, but are aiming to get to 8 reps you need to lower the weight to around 15kg. Chances are those last 2 reps have poor form and you are at danger of injuring yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others in the gym – lifting heavy is subjective, and is individual to you.
On that note, I hope that this has been an informative post and is useful!