How To Organize Your Strength Workouts

Post by Mark Ehnis

Organize your workouts properly or beware of losing a sleep fight

If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure everyone is aware of the importance of including strength work (lifting weights- preferably free weights) in your workout routines. Whether you’re an athlete, or a just a regular gym goer, the structure of these strength sessions is an important factor that must be take into consideration for maximum results. Having a plan in the gym will take you a long ways. The first step to a solid training program is to have a goal and know what you’re training for. The second is to have a plan. That plan begins with structure and order to your workouts. 
Depending on your current schedule or goals, 2-4 strength workouts per week is all you need. These workouts should be divided into two upper-body emphasis days, one (or two) lower-body emphasis days, or three full-body emphasis days. If you’re only training twice per week then both workouts should be full-body days with a minimum of 24-48 hours rest between each day.

Your lifting sessions should always start off with a compound exercise that hits multiple muscle groups within one movement. The best compound exercises are bench press variations, squat variations, deadlift variations, and overhead pressing variations (Read THIS). This main movement for the day should be done for 3-5 sets of 1-6 reps, based on your current strength levels. For the non-athletes, I’d stick to rep ranges of 5-8 on these until your technique and strength levels are improved to prevent injury. You should rest 2-4 minutes between these sets to fully recover and be able to apply as much force and strength to your next set. Always try to add weight each set, but never force or miss reps. Choose a weight that is challenging and will allow you to hit all your reps. The last 2-3 reps of each set should be pretty tough. Each week, try to end at a heavier weight, lift more sets at a heavier weight, or take shorter rests between sets to get in more work in less time. These are all variations to apply to your workout that will keep your progress moving forward. It should take 10-25 minutes to complete this first exercise of the day- if you’re stronger it will take longer and vice-versa. Make sure to keep track of your progress in these exercises as they will tell if you’re strength training program is working or not.
Once your main lift is completed it’s on to your assistance exercises. These are chosen totally on what you want out of your training. For athletes, we choose assistance lifts that help build our main lift- whether that’s for more strength, power, or strength-endurance. We also use them to help build up weak points, combat muscle imbalances, or prevent injuries. We like to get creative with these assistance exercises (they’re called “assistance” lifts for a reason) and choose ones that get the athlete moving through space and help them become more athletic.  
For non-athletes, you should still keep some assistance lifts in for strength purposes.  Bodyweight exercises should also be done during this time as well. If you’re after fat loss (who isn’t?) then string 3-5 movements together in a circuit fashion- use little rest between exercises but rest after each round is completed. Rest intervals should be between 30-90 seconds. 3-5 rounds should be plenty for the average non-athlete. You usually only need 3-6 assistance exercises for 2-4 sets so don’t go crazy with these.
Conditioning or “finishers” should be performed at the end, if at all, on your lifting days. Your lifting days are for lifting- don’t take away valuable energy beforehand by conditioning first. Your non-lifting days can be conditioning/cardio days depending on your goals.
Overall, your time spent for a strength workout should be around 45-60 minutes. Anything longer than that and you’re usually wasting your time. This doesn’t include a 10-15 minutes dynamic warm-up beforehand, which is highly recommended to help prepare you to train. The warm-up also keeps you healthy and feeling good. Remember, strength training will boost your metabolism for twice as long as traditional cardio will. You’re strength and muscles also grow OUTSIDE of the gym so make sure you’re recovering (and eating) properly to make your time spent pumping the weights useful.  Happy training!