The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

12 Programs to Follow


Real Life Training and Eating


Hopping onto a random strength-training program you found online can be fun. It's generally not advised, but if you haven't made appreciable progress in ages or find your motivation to be waning, what have you got to lose?

Sometimes doing something completely out of left field can be just what you need to re-ignite a dwindling passion for bending bars and breaking PR's.

Still, there's a big drawback – as much as it may stoke your fire, that cool program wasn't made with you in mind. For a program to be truly made for you, you have to make it yourself.

Creating a workout program can be exciting – I love the feeling of hope and optimism that comes with putting a new program to paper – but it can be daunting as well, especially to the uninitiated. However, it doesn't have to be difficult.

When setting up your program, the first thing you must do is . Most of you reading probably know that already – you're reading T Nation, right? – though you'd be surprised how many seasoned lifters lose sight of this.

The second thing is to pick a weekly routine to follow, and that's the point of this article. I'll present 12 separate routines – you just need to pick one and then flesh out the details as you see fit.

This way you get the best of both worlds: an exercise routine that you know works, combined with an individualized program set up for you, by you.


Path #1 – Total Body Routine

I define a total body routine as a routine that includes an upper body pushing exercise, an upper body pulling exercise, and a compound leg exercise all in one workout.

Recommended Frequency: 1-4 times per week; 2-3 times per week is most common

Outline: 1-2 exercises per main muscle group, 6-10 exercises in the workout
Total Body
Total Body
Total Body

Strengths: Typically used for beginners, fat loss, and general health and fitness. Doesn't require insane intensity to produce results; allows for a specific lift to be practiced frequently. Shouldn't make one super-sore.

Limitations: Not typically used to build maximum muscle size and muscle work capacity (such as the ability to complete 16 sets for chest, for example); may tax lifters' recovery capabilities, especially as they get stronger, bigger and/or older; may be hard to work on weak points and still train the bigger items; harder to program effectively if training 4+ times per week.


Path #2 – Upper/Lower Routine

Real Life Training and Eating


The upper body is trained one day; the lower body trained another. Abs, core, and lower back can go on either day, although being paired with the lower body is most common.

Recommended Frequency: 2-6 times per week (2-4 times per week is most common)

Outline: 1-3 exercises per muscle group, 5-10 exercises per day
Upper (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps)
Lower (Glutes, Quads, Hams, Calves, Abs, and Lower Back)

Note:

Strengths: Promotes recovery compared to total body routines; works well in many situations; works well if exercising 4 or more times a week.

Limitations: Upper body day can be long; some lifters may feel they need more recovery time.


Path #3 – Push/Pull Routine

The upper body pushing muscles are trained on one day, the upper body pulling muscles are trained on another. The legs can be trained with either day but are generally paired with the pulling muscles because of time (the push day tends to take longer). Core is generally paired with the pushing muscles.

Frequency: 2-6 times per week (2-4is most common)

Outline: 2-3 exercises per muscle group, 5-10 exercises per day
Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs)
Pull (Back, Biceps, Legs, Lower Back)

Note:

Strengths: Allows for a bit more focus on similar muscles compared to the upper/lower routine; may be more ideal for size; works well in many situations.

Limitations: Produces more local muscle fatigue than an upper/lower routine; may be too advanced for beginners; pull day can be demanding.


Path #4 – Push/Pull/Legs Routine

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Similar to Path #3 but now the legs have their own day.

Frequency: 3 times per week (can go up to 6 if you want)

Outline: 2-4 exercises per muscle group, 6-8 exercises per workout
Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
Pull (Back, Biceps, Abs)
Legs (Glutes, Quads, Hams, Calves, Lower Back)

Note:

Strengths: Allows for more focus on specific muscles (particularly the pulling and leg muscles) compared to the 2 day-a-week routine; can promote recovery compared to higher frequency routines.

Limitations: Only training each area once a week may not be optimal stimulus; likely to produce soreness if training is intense.


Path #5 – Superset Routine

This is a 3 day-a-week routine in which agonist/antagonistic muscles are paired. This allows for supersets to be employed, although it isn't mandatory.

Frequency: 3 times per week (can go up to 6 times per week)

Outline: 2-4 exercises per muscle group, 6-8 exercises per workout
Chest and Back
Legs, Lower Back, and Abs
Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps

Strengths: Easy to use supersets; small upper body muscles receive stimulus 2 times per week; may promote recovery; tends to provide the feeling of a 'pump' which, according to Arnold, feels pretty good.

Limitations: Only training each major area once a week may not be an optimal stimulus; likely to produce soreness if training is intense.


Path #6 – Sheiko Routines

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Matt McGorry wrote a good summary of Sheiko routines for T Nation here. Their main purpose is to promote strength without adding too much muscle mass, allowing lifters to stay in the same weight class.

Frequency: 3 times per week

Outline:
Squat movement, Bench movement, 2-3 assistance
Deadlift movement, Bench movement, 2-3 assistance
Squat movement, Bench Movement, 2-3 assistance

Note:

Strengths: Promotes neuromuscular coordination through repeated practice of the big movements; big movements are trained every session.

Limitations: Workouts can be boring; easy to over-train if training is too intense; not ideal if lifter expresses compensations during the movement or is dealing with a chronic injury.


Path #7 – 2 Compound Exercises per workout

This workout is very simple – pick any 2 compound exercises and train them in a workout. Mix and match the exercises as you see fit.

Frequency: 2-6 times per week, 2-4 is most common

Outline:
2 compound exercises
2 compound exercises
2 compound exercises

Strengths: Goes well with autoregulation training; promotes recovery; focuses on "bang for the buck" exercises; time efficient.

Limitations: Programming can be haphazard; weak points may develop; certain areas may be undertrained; might not provide novice lifters with enough direction.


Path #8 – 2+2 Workout

Real Life Training and Eating


This workout is just like the 2 compound exercises described above, except 2 assistance exercises are added into the workout. Mix and match exercises as you see fit.

Frequency: 2-6 times per week, 2-4 is most common

Outline:
2 compound exercises + 2 assistance
2 compound exercises + 2 assistance
2 compound exercises + 2 assistance

Strengths: Goes well with autoregulation training; can help address weak points; can promote recovery; reasonably time efficient.

Limitations: Programming can be haphazard; certain areas may be undertrained; might not provide novice lifters with enough direction.

Note:


Paths 9-12: Once a Week Splits

Real Life Training and Eating

The following 4 Paths are similar but not identical. They generally consist of 4 workouts per week, but each area of the body is only trained once a week.

These workouts are typically associated with traditional bodybuilding routines. I'll give the general frequency, outline, strengths, and limitations of these programs first, and then outline the specific routines, with notes to follow.

Frequency: 4 times per week (more is possible but generally unnecessary)

Outline: 3-5 exercises per large muscle group, 2-4 exercises per small muscle group, 5-8 exercises per workout.

Strengths: Promotes recovery; weak points receive significant stimulus; allows lifter to train with high intensity; works well if lifter has sensitive joints that require longer recovery; builds work capacity and lactate threshold; promotes muscle balance; may reduce chance of overuse injury.

Limitations: Must be used with high intensity training; training once a week might not be sufficient to provide optimal stimulus; likely to produce significant soreness; may not promote neuromuscular coordination in key exercises due to lower frequency; doesn't work as well with more laid back or newer lifters.

Path #9 – Large and Small Synergistic Muscles Combined
Chest and Triceps
Legs and Lower Back
Back and Biceps
Shoulders and Abs

Note:

Path #10 – Large and Small Synergistic Muscles Separated
Chest and Biceps
Legs and Lower Back
Back and Abs
Shoulders and Triceps

Note:

Path #11 – Separating Legs and Lower Back
Legs and Abs
Chest and Biceps (ideally have a day of rest after day 2)
Upper Back and Lower Back
Shoulders and Triceps

Note:

Path 12 – The Yates Routine
Shoulders, Traps, Triceps
Upper Back, Rear Delts, Lower Back
Chest and Biceps
Legs

Note:

Traps can be paired with either back or with shoulders, your choice. This goes for any of the routines.


Get Training!

Exercise program design can be complicated but it shouldn't be like trying to do calculus in Cantonese. The previous12 templates are time-tested routines that thousands of lifters have used for decades. Pick whichever one floats your boat and then personalize it by filling in all the details to make it your own.

But above all else, believe in it, and follow it for at least a few months. After that, reassess, tweak, or perhaps move on to a new program – and start the whole process again.

See? There's hope for the unapologetic program hoppers after all. As long as you don't forget about progressive overload, the results will come.



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