Open up any copy of Muscle & Fitness, and you’re bound to find dozens of different workouts that will sculpt the three parts of your triceps, individual abs, all parts of your shoulder, etc., with ultra-specific exercises that isolate individual muscles. These routines will ask you to spend 5 or 6 days a week in the gym for two hours at a time. Unless you’re a body builder, taking steroids, or you don’t have a life, exercising like this is ridiculous! If you have a job, friends, family, and a hobby or two, two hours a day in the gym, six days a week just isn’t an option.
I spent a few months in college following one of these routines because I didn’t know any better (and I had the free time). I’d spend close to two hours a day in the gym, doing six or seven exercises of at least three sets each for the muscle group of the day, and then come home and drink my protein shake like they said in the magazine, and I did this religiously for three months. You know what I got out of it? Not much.
Exercising like this is time consuming and not practical. “Appearance is a consequence of fitness” is a phrase I truly believe in, and it makes a lot of sense. Don’t worry about exercising to look good. Exercise to get strong and healthy, and you’ll end up looking good as a side effect (not to shabby). Rather than doing time-consuming isolation exercises, concentrate on exercises that recruit as many muscles as possible. If you can do one exercise that uses three muscle groups in only 10 minutes, why bother doing 6 different exercises working each individually? Sure each muscle might get worked a little harder that way, but its going to take you at least three times as long. Unless you’re hell bent on becoming a body-builder, the benefits don’t outweigh the cost. Let’s take a look at the four or five key exercises you need to have in your gym routine. You can get all of these exercises done in one 45-minute session and you’ll have worked practically every single muscle in your body.
- Squats and Deadlifts: If you “work out” and these exercises aren’t in your repertoire, you’re wasting your time. Not surprisingly, you won’t see many people doing these exercises in your typical gym because they think they’ll get hurt doing them. This is untrue. If you do squats and deadlifts correctly, you will have ridiculously strong and stable legs, back, and core (which is crucial for injury prevention). Injuries occur because these muscles aren’t strong enough in certain situations (moving a couch, carrying your kids around, swinging a golf club, etc.). Read how to do a perfect squat HERE, and read how to do a perfect deadlift HERE. I guarantee you’ll earn the respect of everybody in your gym when you start doing deadlifts with three plates on each side. Only have 10 lbs on each side to start? That’s fine, get stronger every day, and you’ll get there eventually.
- Pull Ups/Chin Ups: Rather than doing bicep curl after bicep curl (lame, and vain), do pull ups and chin ups. Ever seen a fat rock climber? Nope, because you need incredible strength to pull your body weight up the side of a mountain. I feel like this is one exercise that is a true test of your strength, which is why it’s one of my favorites. If you’re not strong enough to do pull ups and chin ups yet, see if your gym has an assisted pull up machine; these are better for you than using the pull down machine. Read about pull ups and chin ups HERE.
- Presses (chest/shoulder): I’m a big fan of incline dumbbell chest presses, because they work your chest, shoulders, triceps, and every muscle in between. Set a bench at a little less than a 45 degree angle, grab a pair of dumbbells, and press them up above you as if you were bench-pressing. Other options would be to do a regular bench press on a flat bench, or standing shoulder press.
If you’re just starting out in the gym, I would strongly recommend either a full body routine or two day split, making sure you go ALL OUT for 45 minutes and no more. Focus on just these exercises and get really strong at each of them. Start with a low weight, and concentrate on having PERFECT form. I have a lot of respect for a guy that can squat down past parallel, even if the weight on the bar is minimal. You might ask: what about my biceps/triceps/abs/etc? When you do pull ups and chin ups, your biceps get a hell of a workout. When you do bench presses, your triceps get worked like crazy. When you do a deadlift, you also work abs, lower back, traps, and forearms along with your legs.
Only after you’ve advanced to a high level of strength (squat 1.5 times your body weight, deadlift twice your body weight, etc.) with these exercises would I recommend doing isolation exercises. If you’re not there yet, don’t worry about it. Try to add weight each week to these exercises while maintaining good form.
Here’s a sample full-body routine with these exercises:
- Squats: 4 sets (reps of 12, 10, 8, 6 – increasing weight each set wait 1 minute between sets)
- Incline Dumbell Press: 4 sets (reps of 12,10,8,6 – increasing weight each set, wait 1 minute between sets)
- Deadlifts: 4 sets (reps of 12, 10, 8, 6, increase weight each set, wait one minute between sets)
- Pull ups or Chin ups: 3 sets to exhaustion (do as many as you can in each set). If you do pull ups this time, do chin ups the next time.
- Stretch afterwards!
Your muscles get rebuilt in your off-days, so I wouldn’t do this routine two days straight. Do it on Monday, run sprints on Tuesday, go for a walk on Wednesday, and then do this routine again on Thursday, sprints on Friday, and then take Saturday and Sunday off. That’s an hour and a half total in the gym, 40 minutes of sprint, and an hour of walking. Only 3 hours and 10 minutes out of your week.
Sounds too simple and too easy to build muscle right? Not true. If you eat high quality protein, fruits, and vegetables while exercising like this you will build muscle mass. Give it a shot, and simplify your routine.