When it comes to maintaining your general health and wellness, most experts point to numbers like twenty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day, most days of the week. However, if you’re looking to build major muscle, you probably need to think more ambitiously.
However, the longer you’ve been in body building, the more that you realize that nothing is that simple. You’re in the league of having weekly workout routines. Maybe you’ve never made one before, or maybe you think that yours needs another look.
Either way, we’ve got the guide that you need.
There are a couple of things to understand before we jump into planning your ideal workout routine. The first has to do with muscle groups.
How to Schedule
That can mean a number of different things depending on the context, but here we’re talking about the Arms, Chest, Shoulders, Abs and Lower Back, Back, and Legs (Caciolo, p. 2).
You’ll notice that that’s six muscle groups – one for each day minus one. You can take that day off, or use it for lower-impact full-body exercises like yoga or martial arts practices – but try not to lift.
Why to Schedule
That brings us to the next question: why schedule at all?
Check all the Boxes
One reason is to make sure that you check all the boxes. While you may be particularly interested in just a few muscle groups – looking at you, arms, chest and abs people – it’s very important to have a well-rounded workout routine if you plan on building safely.
Your muscles are attached to bones that they pull around when you move. However, your muscles exert forces on those bones even when you aren’t using them, when you do things like sit and stand.
Bones are influenced by the pull of multiple different muscles, and the bigger the muscle is, the bigger the capacity to pull on the bones. The hips and lower back are a great example.
If you focus on some muscles attached to the hips and lower back (like those of the upper legs) but not others (like the lats), those more powerful muscles can exert too great an unanswered pull on your lower back and lead to chiropractic problems.
So, even if muscles don’t directly contribute to the look or activity that you’re interested in, it’s helpful to work out the entire body – even if you do focus a bit more on the muscles that are most important to your goals.
Incorporating Staggered Rest
Even when you don’t hurt yourself by stretching too far, lifting too much, moving too fast, etc., your muscles undergo some wear and tear when you workout. If you don’t give your muscles the time that they need to repair themselves, you’re asking for a more serious injury.
If your workout routine works out some muscles and not others and has you working out more days than not, you drastically increase the chance that you’re going to run into overuse injuries.
Putting Your Schedule Down
Now that we understand the basics of how workout routines work and why they’re important, let’s look at what yours should look like. It can take some trial and error on your end, but there are a couple of things that you can think about when you first put pen to paper.
Think about Other Things on Your Schedule
Most of us have a lot of different calendars these days. Making sure that your workout routine fits into your other routines helps to ensure that your workouts don’t go by the wayside.
For example – if you take a day off from your workout routine – it can be tempting to schedule your workout day off with your work day off. However, if you have a busy day or a late day at work that you know might prevent you from fitting in your workout, consider making that day your workout day off because you’re more likely to fit in a workout on your work day off.
We’ve Got to Talk about Skip Days
On that note, what happens if you miss a day? Be generous to yourself and figure it out. Maybe you shift your schedule so that you don’t miss a muscle group. Maybe you just write that muscle group off for this week to keep with your schedule but make sure to get that group next week.
Some people actually plan skip days into their routine because they make it easier to stick to the workout routine in the first place and because allowing your workout routine to become too routine is bad for your workout.
Now that we understand the generalizations of how to put a schedule down, what are the specifics?
Remember, one of the main goals of workout routines is to give your muscles time to rest. So, when you’re planning your workout routine, try to space days dedicated to similar parts of the body. Try putting leg-day between arms and shoulders, for example.
If activities other than your planned workout are going to be physically intensive, try to be sensitive to where you put it in your routine. If you’re going to have a heavy day at work, or you have some chores to, work the rest of your routine around that.
It can be tempting to have your routine worked out and then copy and paste that week ad infinitum. That might work some of the time for some people, but it doesn’t work all the time for everyone.
Now, we’re going to use an image but it is something that you can literally do if you want. Think of the week as being a large card with the days of the week printed on it in blocks such that each block takes up one seventh of the card. Now, think of “arm day” “leg day” etc., as being separate cards, each one-seventh the size of the card. These can be arranged and rearranged on the larger week card as necessary.
Maybe this is how you want to actually make those cards to plan your workout routine. But, more importantly, that’s how you should think of your workout schedule – flexible and fluid with, and part of an ongoing system.
Now Go Workout
Hopefully, this article has given you the tools that you need to plan an effective, flexible, and forgiving workout routine that fits the rest of your weekly obligations. Now go workout!
For Further Reading
Caciolo, C (ed.) “Total Body Workout.” Men’s Health. 2007.