Whether you work 9-5 or 5-9, your time is at a premium. You don’t have the luxury to waste it on ineffective programming. If you want to boost athleticism and look great naked without living in the gym, you must train efficiently. Start here.
Step One: Fight Immobility
Most lifters spend the majority of their days hunched over their smartphones like Quasimodo. This leaves them with dysfunctional movement patterns and the mobility of a fork.
To look, feel, and perform your best, unlock these sticky movement patterns, activate dormant muscle fibers, and prepare for battle.
The most common problems? Hip immobility, ankle immobility, a lack of T-spine mobility, and flaccid, dormant glutes. Start with this warm-up to attack all the problem areas at once:
1. Quadruped Fire Hydrant
Push your hands, knees, and toes through the floor to stabilize your trunk. Hold a neutral spine position and abduct your bent knee to the side without shifting weight or rotating your hips. Do 8 slow reps on each side.
2. Lateral Squat
Using a stance that’s twice your shoulder width, shift your weight to the right foot, push your hips back, and keep your heel flat on the ground. Drop to 90 degrees or as deep as you can while maintaining full-foot contact with the ground. Do 8 reps per side.
3. Groiner with Rockback
From a push-up position, bring your right foot up and outside your right hand. Keep your heel flat on the ground. Drop your elbow inside your knee, then rock your weight back on your left heel. Do 8 reps, then move to the left leg.
4. Elbow Tap with Push-Up
Keep your feet outside your shoulders with weight on your toes. Do an elbow tap on each side without rotating your hips. After the tap, do a push-up. That’s one rep. Do 8 total.
5. Band Pull-Apart
Use a mini-band held at shoulder height. Lock out your elbows. Pull the band apart, keeping all movement at the shoulder blade. Look at the final 10 seconds of the video above. Do 25 reps.
Step Two: Activate the Muscles You Intend to Use
If you don’t train explosively, you lose the ability to be explosive. The busier (and older) you get, the more important explosive training becomes.
Prime your body before your main lift of the day with an explosive jump or throw. You’ll activate fast-twitch type-2 muscle fibers, rev up your central nervous system (CNS) and retain (or build) a glimmer of explosiveness to dominate life outside the gym.
Keep in mind, these exercises aren’t meant to leave you gasping for air before you lift. In the words of Lee Haney, “Stimulate, don’t annihilate.” Apply this wisdom to explosive exercises.
Performing explosive exercises before lifting will improve intermuscular coordination, which is the coordination within different muscles and groups of muscles. So when selecting an explosive exercise, match it with the strength training movement pattern for the day.
Try the following pairings:
- On a lower-body pulling, deadlift, or hamstring-dominant day, do broad jumps.
- On a pulling or lat-dominant day, do a med ball overhead slam.
- On a lower-body pushing, squat, or quad-dominant day, do jump squats.
- On an upper-body pushing, bench, or any pec-dominant day, do an incline explosive push-up.
Step Three: Build Strength
The point of weight training is to build strength and muscle. Sometimes this gets lost among lifters as they fill their precious time with interval training masquerading as strength training.
Building strength makes you more explosive. Strength builds a base for speed and power so you can develop or retain athleticism. It will directly and indirectly help you build muscle. Continuing to focus on strength means you’ll be able to achieve greater metabolic stress and force muscles to grow.
Strength is also important for losing fat. Building it preserves muscle and increases the metabolic rate while in a caloric deficit. This helps you end up dense and chiseled rather than soft and fluffy.
You’ll focus on a different movement pattern each day, but you’re not locked into a specific variation. Here are your options for each pattern:
Squat: Back squat, front squat, box squat, goblet squat, heels-elevated squat, trap bar deadlift
Hinge: Conventional, sumo, RDL, or trap bar deadlift
Pull: Chin-up, dumbbell row, landmine row, barbell row, Pendlay row
Horizontal Push: Dumbbell or barbell incline, decline, or flat bench
Do each main movement pattern for 5 sets of 3-6 reps.
You have the flexibility to autoregulate here. We recommend an ascending loading scheme where you start with 1-2 warm-up sets, then do increasingly heavier sets, finishing with the heaviest.
The only rules? Optimal technique is a must. Even though this is meant to be performance-based, don’t sacrifice joint position for a personal record. More strategically, if you can’t hit three reps, decrease the weight. If you can do more than 6 reps, increase the weight on the next set.
Step Four: Build Muscle
This part is designed to maximize metabolic stress and muscular damage to promote muscle growth. While your main compound exercise is done with performance in mind, your pump exercises should be done with a focus on maximizing the quality of your muscular contraction.
Think in terms of classic muscle-building sets and rep schemes like 3×8, 3×10 and 4×12. Choose the option you like the best.
On each exercise, use a 3-1-1-0 tempo. Using a bench press as an example, that means:
3 – Take 3 seconds to lower the barbell to your chest (eccentric phase)
0 – Do not pause with the weight resting on your chest (first pause phase)
1 – Raise the weight at speed using one second to return the barbell to the starting position (concentric phase)
0 – Do not rest before starting the next rep (second pause phase)
Volume work will follow the pattern of the day, supporting the main strength lift.
To combat muscular imbalances from everyday life and poor programming, this work ought to be posterior-chain dominant. (See sample plan below.)
Areas like the glutes, hamstrings, rear delts, and upper back will get significant time under tension, creating the ideal scenario for growth and support for the heavy strength movements.
The ideal schedule would be a Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule, allowing for full recovery for each of the strength movements.
If those days don’t work for you, use your brain and keep 24-48 hours between sessions, getting 4 workouts in each week. If you find yourself adjusting the program, remember this: if you add volume to one area, you must pull back elsewhere.
If you want more explosive work, dial back the volume on pump work. If you want more size, dial back the explosive portion. If you’re looking to increase athleticism while staying jacked, simply crank up the explosive movements and dial back on the volume work.
Echoing the Hungarian proverb popularized by the late Charles Poliquin, “If you only have one ass, you can’t sit on two horses.”
A Sample Plan
Perform the “prevent” warm-up before every training session.
Monday – Lower Body Pull
|A||Broad Jump||2||5||1 min.|
|C1||Barbell RDL (3-4 second eccentric)||3||6-8|
|C2||90/90 Hip Stretch (5-second hold)||3||3/side||1 min.|
|D1||TRX or Rack-Inverted Row||4||10||30 sec.|
|D2||Stability Ball Rollout||4||10||30 sec.|
Tuesday – Pull
|A||Med Ball Overhead Slam||3||5||1 min.|
|B||Pendlay Row||5||3-6||90 sec.|
|C1||Chest-Supported Row||4||9-11||30 sec.|
|C2||Incline Bicep Curl||4||9-11||90 sec.|
|D1||Half-Kneeling Shoulder Press||3||8||30 sec.|
|D2||Dumbbell Lean-Away Lateral Raise||3||10||30 sec.|
|D3||Dumbbell Lateral Raise||3||12||30 sec.|
Thursday – Lower Body Push
|A||Jump Squat||3||5||1 min.|
|B||Front Squat||5||3-6||2-3 min.|
|C1||Bulgarian Split Squat (3-second hold at the bottom of each rep)||3||10/side||1 min.|
|C2||Stability Ball Leg Curl||3||10||1 min.|
|D3||Calf Raise (1-3-5 tempo, hold at the top for 3 seconds then take 5 seconds to lower)||3||8-10||1 min.|
Saturday – Upper Body Push
|A||Plyo Bench Push-Up||3||5-6||1 min.|
|B||15-Degree Barbell Bench Press||5||3-6||2-3 min.|
|C1||Single-Arm Floor Press||4||10||30 sec.|
|C2||Single-Arm Cable Row||4||10||30 sec.|
|C3||Rope Overhead Triceps Extension||4||12||45 sec.|
|D2||Hammer Curl||3||15,12,10||1 min.|
Tips & Methods
- When you pick a pillar strength movement, stick with it for the entire rotation.
- Run this for 4 weeks, adding no more than 5-10% to your strength lift every week.
- Back off to the original load for a “deload” on the 5th week, then ramp it back up again.
If you don’t have all the equipment listed, make do with what you have. Match movement patterns to the equipment at your disposal, like using a dumbbell incline bench press if you don’t have a barbell. Your prescribed sets are 3-4 rounds, but you could certainly do fewer. Just make sure to do enough ramp-up sets before starting your actual work sets.