The best training program in the world is absolutely worthless without the will to execute it properly, consistently, and with intensity.
Training three days per week for about an hour each time?
Not sure how to design a muscle-building program to make the most of your sessions?
Tired of HIIT workouts and circuits that make you sweat, but aren’t changing the way you look?
You’ve come to the right place, my friend.
This article is divided into the following three sections:
This article will provide you with a foundational understanding of some of the components of a training program, so that you can start designing your own, but it can’t cover all there is to know about muscle-building training.
To learn more about the principles of muscle growth (hypertrophy), check out these articles:
If you’re ready to learn how to design a kickass three-day program, read on.
Part 1: Program structure
When you’re training three times per week, you can choose from the following splits depending on your goals:
Part 2: Exercise selection
In the first part of each session, include exercises following each of these fundamental movement patterns:
These lifts are known as “compound exercises” because they engage multiple muscles and muscle groups, so they provide a great bang for your buck in terms of muscle growth stimulus and time efficiency. They tend to be suited to heavier loads and lower reps, so you can train them within the 5-12 rep range.
If you’re doing a full-body session, include an exercise per movement pattern, alternating between vertical and horizontal pushing and pulling. For instance, if you’re doing a lat pull-down in one session (vertical pulling), you can do a row in the next (horizontal pulling).
If you’re doing an upper or a lower session, include a compound lift and an isolation lift that, as the name implies, “isolates” the main muscle or muscle group engaged by the compound exercise.
For example, the bench press is a compound lift that trains the pecs, but also the front delts and triceps, whereas the dumbbell fly, when performed correctly, trains primarily the pecs.
You can do straight sets of the same exercise in a row, taking adequate rest between them, or you can save time by super-setting two exercises.
A super set is a set of one exercise, followed by a set of another exercise, with little to no rest between the two.
If you choose this option, your performance on the second exercise will be impacted to a certain degree. To reduce this to a minimum, you can:
An example of a super set training opposing muscle groups would be:
On the other hand, an example of a super set training entirely unrelated muscle groups would be:
In the second part of the session, you can choose two to three exercises focusing on smaller muscle groups that are only trained indirectly when you’re performing compound exercises.
For instance, your lateral delts, biceps, and triceps will be trained indirectly with upper body pushing and pulling exercises. So, if your goal is to develop these three muscles, you can include an isolation exercise hitting each of them at the end of each session.
Isolation lifts are usually better suited to lighter loads and higher reps, so you can train them within the 12-30 rep range.
To save time, you can also:
Metabolite techniques – also called “intensity” or “advanced” techniques – are training modalities that result in the buildup of metabolites (lactic acid, inorganic phosphate, and H+) within a muscle.
Metabolite techniques aren’t only time-efficient; they may also contribute to muscle growth by producing metabolic stress. (If you want to read more on this topic, I recommend The Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy by Brad Schoenfeld.)
Part 3: Practical application
The following is a practical example of a training program bringing all of these concepts together.
Start with defining your goal.
For instance, if your top priority is to develop your upper body and particularly back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps, you can choose this split and schedule:
When designing your sessions, prioritise compound lifts that train the back and shoulders, placing them first in each upper session. Your isolation lifts will hit biceps, triceps, and lateral delts.
The compound lifts in your lower body session will target quads, hamstrings, and glutes. You can arrange these exercises in order of priority, based on which muscle you want to grow the most, or in order of difficulty, with the most technical lifts done first.
In the example, I’ve decided to prioritise quad development and I’ve included an abdominal exercise as an isolation lift.
This is what the program could look like:
Compound A1: Assisted pull-up machine 3x5-10
Compound A2: Seated dumbbell shoulder press 3x8-12
Compound B1: Seated cable row 3x8-12
Compound B2: Flat dumbbell bench press 3x10-15
Isolation C1: Standing cable cross-over lateral raise variation 3x10-15
Isolation C2: Seated cable incline curl 3x10-15
Isolation C3: Standing cable overhead triceps extension 3x10-15
Compound: Barbell back squat 3x5-10
Isolation: Leg extension 3x10-15
Compound: 45º hip extension, biasing hamstrings over glutes 3x8-12
Compound: Barbell hip thrust 3x10-15
Isolation: Seated or lying hamstring curl 3x12-20
Isolation: Abdominal crunch 3x10-15
Compound A1: Bent-over barbell row 3x5-10
Compound A2: Incline dumbbell press 3x8-12
Compound B1: Lat pull-down with a neutral grip 3x10-15
Isolation B2: Standing cable cross-over lateral raise variation (different from Upper 1) 3x10-15
Isolation drop set: Standing cable cross-over lateral raise variation (the same as Upper 1) 3x12-20
Isolation drop set: Seated barbell preacher curl 3x12-20
Isolation drop set: Standing cable triceps pushdown 3x12-20
Thanks for reading. May you make the best gains.
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