There are many ways to vary your training regimen, but we’d like to focus on four that are commonly overlooked: have a plan/program, and prescribe multi-joint, multi-planar, and unilateral lifts. These four components can help provide a well-balanced routine throughout the week and add much needed variability your body needs to adapt.
There must be a discussion on how many days in the week you’re able to commit to strength training. Is it two days? Three days? Four days? This is important because it will determine the format of your program from a micro to macro perspective. Moreover, it dictates how often you can train certain muscle groups. Here is an example of how frequency can change the format:
Day 1: Full Body Routine
Day 2: Full Body Routine
Day 1: Upper Body
Day 2: Lower Body
Day 1: Upper Body
Day 2: Lower Body
Day 3: Full Body Routine
Day 1: Upper Body Push 1°/Lower Body Pull 2°
Day 2: Lower Body Push 1°/Upper Body Pull 2°
Day 3: Lower Body Pull 1°/Upper Body Push 2°
Day 4: Upper Body Pull 1°/Lower Body Push 2°
*1° = Primary; 2° = Secondary
The more days you train the more complex the split routines are. Two days per week gives you the option of either doing two full body routines or an upper body/lower body routine. Three days per week will devote one day for upper body, lower body, and a full body routine. Four days per week will allow for each of the upper body push, upper body pull, lower body push, and lower body pull to be the primary movement in which you will be spending most of your energy and effort for that day.
To elaborate, the primary movement will typically be your heaviest and hardest exercise in the session because your body is still fresh. The secondary movement will still require energy and effort but it shouldn’t be as exhaustive as the primary. The primary and secondary movements should be your multi-joint exercises, which works multiple muscle groups.
The goal for these splits above is to provide a well-balanced split throughout the week. You want to be strong in the upper and lower body as well as front and back of the body.
Try to incorporate as many multi-joint exercise as you can in your sessions (deadlift, front/back squats, power cleans, Turkish get-up to name a few). This will work multiple muscle groups as opposed to single-joint, which isolates one muscle, provide an intense training stimulus and functionality to your training. Moreover, perform multi-joint exercises at the beginning of the session and save the single-joint exercises like bicep curls and triceps pushdowns at the end. Rather than thinking about which muscles should be worked on certain days, start to think about movements such has upper body push/pull and lower body push/pull. There are so many muscles in the body that it will take you hours in the gym to work the upper and lower body muscles. Efficiency and effectiveness reigns key. Thinking about movements rather muscles will simplify the structure of your session. Furthermore, you will work more muscles when thinking about movements. Listed below is a breakdown of each of the upper and lower body movements which can be varied.
Upper Body Push – Horizontal Plane (i.e. Bench Press)
Upper Body Push – Vertical Plane (i.e. Overhead Press)
Upper Body Pull – Horizontal Plane (i.e. Row)
Upper Body Pull – Vertical Plane (i.e. Lat Pulldown)
Lower Body Push – Sagittal Plane (i.e. Squat)
Lower Body Push – Frontal Plane (i.e. Lateral Squat)
Lower Body Pull – Hip Dominant (i.e. Deadlift)
Lower Body Pull – Knee Dominant (i.e. Hamstring Curl)
As you can see, you can vary a single exercise like the bench press by performing it with two arms, one arm, or alternating. The process is the same for the lower body movements. The lower body pull can be divided into hip dominant and knee dominant exercises. If the hips are the fulcrum point then it will be a hip dominant exercise. Fulcrum point at knee will be a knee dominant exercise.
Here are some examples of multi-joint exercises:
Ensure to incorporate frontal (lateral) and transverse plane (rotational) movements such as lateral lunges and woodchops, respectively. Often, these two planes are neglected or not included in the routine or throughout the training week. This can create muscular imbalances and weak links in the body. It is often the planes in which we don’t currently train where injuries are likely to occur. As human beings, we move in multiple directions throughout the day, so what we do in the gym should also reflect this. Here are some examples of rotation and lateral exercises:
Devote a session to working on unilateral exercises where you use one arm or leg at a time. It’s very common to have one limb or one side of the body to be stronger than the other side. You may notice this when you’re bench pressing or squatting, for example, but you favor one limb because it’s stronger. Training one arm or leg will strengthen and increase stability in the weaker limb to match the stronger counterpart. As result, you actually become stronger when you perform exercises that involve both of the arms or legs due to usage of both limbs, equally. Here are some examples for single arm and single leg exercises:
In addition to setting your routine and including multi-joint, multi-planar, and unilateral, adjusting your reps, sets, time under tension, order of exercise, and days you train can help break any plateau you’re fighting or monotony in the gym. While it will vary depending on your fitness level, changing at least one of these factors every 4-8 weeks is essential to support your progress.