The development of any great program relies heavily upon the intricate details which are associated within each component of the workout itself. Optimizing the structure of your plan will significantly increase your return on effort by way of eliciting the progress you hope to achieve. The goal should always be to maximize each training session to its fullest potential so that the culmination of your time spent resistance training, will yield tremendous results. Upon entering into any formulated training program there are certain aspects you must consider to ensure maximal muscle performance is achieved. To better prepare you for the cultivation and optimization of your new program, here are some of the most important facets to consider when building and structuring the perfect program for your needs.
Establish Goals and Success Criteria
The more focused you are in what you are trying to accomplish, the more effective and efficient your workouts will be. When you have no clear goals in mind, you lose direction and your training becomes subpar. That is unacceptable when you are trying to maximize your time in the gym. Rather than allowing this to happen, establish clear and attainable goals for yourself and follow those goals up with a set list of success criteria that will enable you to identify your progress quite readily. For instance, a short-term goal for you could be that you want to get stronger in a week by linear fashion. The success criteria for that would be to either see an increase in the number of reps you complete for a certain exercise while using the same load or see an increase in the load being used for the same number of reps you completed at that lesser weight. As long as your goals are established, attainable and the success criteria set out for those goals is quantifiable and measurable, you are in the right place to start.
Set up your Training Split
Once you have a clear idea as to what it is you actually want to accomplish in a set period of time, you then have to begin structuring your plan. How you structure your training week will depend heavily upon what it is you are working towards. If you are in the market for building significant amounts of muscle, then a four to six day split whereby you focus on one or two specific body parts per workout could be more advantageous as research has shown that a split training protocol may be more optimal in stimulating muscle growth in experienced lifters.4 A great training split for someone who is looking to maximize muscle performance and increase hypertrophy, would be something similar to this:
Monday: Chest and Shoulders (medial and rear delt focused only)
Tuesday: Back and Traps
Wednesday: Biceps and Triceps
Thursday: Shoulders/Chest (upper chest focused)
Sunday: Repeat cycle
Another very popular training split is the PUSH/PULL/LOWER BODY program that can be completed either day on day off, three days on and one day off or whatever fits into your schedule. The idea behind this approach is to maximize each training session so that all body parts are trained over the course of the week if getting to the gym every day is unattainable for you. Your training split will be as unique to you as your physique is, so structure your week so that it addresses your needs.
One of the most important components of any great training program is what you choose to do by way of your exercise selection. You should be utilizing exercises that compliment your structure, provide you a safe feeling when undergoing extreme intensity, give you an immediate mind to muscle connection and yield tremendous pumps almost right away if your goal is hypertrophy. If you can find those exercises, then consider them to be the pillars of your program that everything else can stem from. These movements that you choose should consist of both multi-joint and single joint exercises as studies have shown this to be the optimal approach for achieving results through a resistance training program so long as you begin with compound exercises (multi-joint). 3
Second to exercise selection, would be how you sequence those exercises. There are many trainers out there who will tell you to start with the big, compound lifts first so that you can maximize your strength efforts, move the most weight when you’re fresh and overload the primary movers and supporting intrinsic muscles safely. This is usually the safest route to staying functional in training movement patterns. Then there are those who will say sometimes changing up the sequencing of your exercise selection is just as effective especially when trying to build new muscle. This all really depends on those goals and the success criteria you have set out for yourself. Yes, your body needs to be overloaded with heavier weights to grow but you can only get so strong, so, providing it with something it is unused to in the form of changing the order of exercises, can prove to be very beneficial as well.
The final piece of the puzzle for structuring the perfect program for you and your goals is to be cognizant of your recovery abilities. When you are aware of how quickly certain areas of your physique recover in comparison to others, you then have the information you need to properly address and align your training split so that if there are any areas you want to bring up, you can fit that extra work in and around other body parts that tend to heal at a better rate. For some, training every day will become too taxing and workout intensity levels will begin to diminish over the course of the week. In these cases, a rest day may be inputted into the plan every third or fourth day. For others who have no issues with training every day, they will take the instinctive approach and insert a rest day when their body tells them to which requires the individual to be very in tune with their body.
As a basis, workouts that tax your central nervous system like heavy strength training, power training, speed or agility will require between 3 and 5 days rest while peripheral nervous system taxing workouts, like hypertrophy and muscular endurance type training, may only require 2-3 days rest. Cardiovascular, core and mobility training can be completed daily without much need for rest and recovery, depending on experience.1
Some studies suggest that a muscle doesn’t fully recover from an intense bout of resistance training for approximately six days 2 , but this is totally dependent upon a number of factors such as genetics, intensity effort while training, the use of an intra-workout product such as BCAA Hyper Clear and the regular consumption of a high protein diet that consists of both whole foods and dietary supplements such as DIESEL New Zealand Whey Protein Isolate; all of which will speed up the recovery process.
Each and every program you create for yourself, or even the ones you find, all have the potential for results but you have to remember, what comes from the program relies on what you put into it – the work has to be done. Maximizing muscle performance has a lot to do with your intensity levels in the gym no matter how you structure your program. In that sense, it’s important that you put together a program that excites you, fires you up, provides you with a great feeling afterwards that let’s you know, you did work. Never allow yourself to leave the gym feeling like you could have done more. That’s the worst feeling ever if you’re truly serious about making significant gains. Establish those goals, find movements that support your structure, set up your training week so that your focus is on the areas you want to improve upon the most and work as hard as you possibly can each session. The benefits you receive from any program will be dependent upon you. Don’t lose sight of that and enjoy every day you get to train.
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). (2021). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (American College of Sports Medicine) (11th ed.). ACSM. Retrieved from: https://www.acsm.org/education-resources/books/foundations-strength-training–conditioning
- Ahtiainen, J. P., Lehti, M., Hulmi, J. J., Kraemer, W. J., Alen, M., Nyman, K., Selänne, H., Pakarinen, A., Komulainen, J., Kovanen, V., Mero, A. A., & Häkkinen, K. (2011). Recovery after Heavy Resistance Exercise and Skeletal Muscle Androgen Receptor and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I Isoform Expression in Strength Trained Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(3), 767–777. Retrieved from: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2011/03000/Recovery_after_Heavy_Resistance_Exercise_and.26.aspx
- Barbalho, M., Souza, D., Coswig, V., Abrahin, O., Paoli, A., & Gentil, P. (2021). Correction: The Effects of Resistance Exercise Selection on Muscle Size and Strength in Trained Women. International Journal of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33733437/
- Bartolomei, S., Nigro, F., Malagoli Lanzoni, I., Masina, F., di Michele, R., & Hoffman, J. R. (2020). A Comparison Between Total Body and Split Routine Resistance Training Programs in Trained Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Publish Ahead of Print. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32168178/
Author: Dana Bushell, BAHK, B.Ed
Dana is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University (BAHK, B.Ed) is an Educator, Writer, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Nutrition Advisor, Contest Prep/Lifestyle Coach and former competitive bodybuilder, who has been involved in the Fitness Industry for over 25 years. He has worked and written for major fitness publications and many popular bodybuilding sites, is a Gym Star Team member and works hard at teaching and promoting a fitness-based lifestyle in his career as a Physical Education Specialist.