“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”- Steve Jobs
Before we we’re able to record history, humans were busy constructing pre-historic monuments such as the Stonehenge in England and Cliff Dwellings in the American southwest region.
From those pre-historic monuments, to the Great pyramid of Giza and Great sphinx of Giza from the Ancient Egyptian period; to the Gothic architecture which gave rise to those massive cathedrals such as Chartres and Notre Dame; to the beautifully proportioned architecture of the Renaissance Age; to the brief, but zigzag jazz age of the Art Deco period; to the modernists; and postmodernism of today's architecture—architecture plays an instrumental role within our lives.
Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, those monuments serve as a way for us to communicate with past civilizations.
Do you ever stop and think, “How did they build those marvelous monuments without modern technology (I have my theories)?”
Before we fall deeper into a architectural and ancient civilization rabbit hole, what does architecture and fitness have to do with each other?
Creating monuments of wonder requires diligence, working bodies, and time. Most importantly, they require functionality and practicality (that’s the secret sauce of all monuments).
The majority of the historical structures that we marvel at, not only were aesthetically pleasing, but served a vital role in their respective communities. They couldn’t afford to have a nice looking building that didn't ultimately serve it’s community (appearance can only go so far).
This logic needs to remain at the forefront when it comes to training programs. Most programs look good on paper and the idea of the training program sounds amazing. However, there’s one big flaw in the operation—most training programs floating around aren’t transferable into the real world.
Whether building world-class training programs or monuments, it’s crucial that you address in detail these five essential steps to creating world-class workouts.
1. Prepare a blueprint
Before any hole is dug, the first brick laid, or the first brush stroke—you have to figure out what you’re trying to build.
What’s your goal?
What’s the purpose of this specific fitness mission?
Attempting to step foot into the gym without a blueprint is as logical as an engineer attempting to design The Golden Gate bridge, but forgetting to measure and consider the various loads to support the bridge.
The most important objective of your blueprint is to determine a primary training goal that connects with your overall purpose of why you’re training.
Are you here for fat loss? To build Juggernaut worthy strength? Or, to add quality size to your frame (i.e. muscle gain)?
After determining your primary goal, think about another goal that could serve as a tag along. A tag along goal is your sidekick (Robin), which complements your primary goal (Batman).
If you’re losing fat, then maintaining strength or increasing various performance metrics (athleticism, speed, or work capacity) could serve as a worthy tag along goal.
If you’re building world-class size, then increasing strength fits perfectly with this goal.
Determining your primary (i.e. Batman) and secondary (i.e. Robin) objectives when drawing up your blueprint is essential because this determines what tools (reps, schemes, etc) you’ll be using to construct your masterpiece.
2. How will you approach the project at hand
A movie isn’t made in one week. A skyscraper doesn’t sprout up in two weeks. Your training goals won’t come to fruition in three weeks.
Building ten lbs of muscle is tough. Losing 15 pounds of fat takes a hell of a lot of work. Power lifting requires dedication and consistency.
These types of ambitious feats sometimes fail to launch because of the goal itself. Wanting these goals and visualizing them is one thing; taking action is a different story.
The difference between successful projects, movies, and fitness programs that become a reality compared to the unsuccessful ones is the attention to detail from a micro standpoint.
Everyone wants the big goal (end result), but it’s the daily execution that morphs the big (macro) goal into a reality.
How to execute from a micro standpoint?
For simplicity sake, let’s assume that each training session breaks down into one hour sessions.
The optimal number of training days ranges from 2-5 days weekly. Experience, daily stress levels, and various hormonal factors need to be considered when configuring how many days of training you’re going to commit to.
At the beginning of each session, always start with some mobility work consisting of foam rolling, the lacrosse ball, & various mobility drills.
Afterwards, it’s time to execute on your specific lifting regimen for the day, which will consist mostly of compound exercises due to their efficiency and effectiveness.
The last portion of this 60 minute window will consist of fillers. Think of these as polishing a car; examples are working on lagging body-parts, sport specific movements, giving extra attention rehabbing specific body-parts, or conditioning work (i.e. metabolic work).
A summary of an average 60 minute approach to training:
• 5-10 minutes of Mobility work/warm up (lacrosse ball, foam roller, dynamic movement, etc)
• 40-45 minutes of strength training (mostly compound movements)
• 10-15 minutes of fine tuning (beach muscles, lagging parts, rehab work, conditioning, extra mobility work, etc)
3. The essential tools needed to build your masterpiece
Whether you’re building an awe-inspiring skyscraper, creating a bridge to unite towns, painting an emotionally charged picture, or constructing an awe-inspiring body—the arsenal of tools implemented will make or break you.
Fitness offers up a plethora of tools (i.e. exercises) at your disposal. Some tools aren’t as effective in constructing the body you want as others.
To simplify the process of constructing your body, divide your body into 4 key areas.
1. Upper body pulling movements– These movements are bringing your body closer to an object (ex: chin-ups lifting yourself closer to the bar) or bringing the object closer to yourself (ex: think cable rows, lat pull downs, barbell rows, and t-bar rows).
2. Upper body pushing movements– Think of these exercises as movements that push you away from the object (ex: push-ups from the ground), or pushing the object away from you (example: bench and shoulder pressing).
3. Lower body (quad focus) movements– These movements are focused on the front (anterior) portion of your lower body region. These exercises primarily focus on the quadriceps with a secondary focus on the hamstrings and glutes depending on the exercises. Examples of these types of exercises include: any squatting movement, Bulgarian split squats, any lunge variation, leg press, step-ups, and squat jumps to name a few)
4. Hip-dominant (glute & hamstring focus) movements– My favorite region and one that serves immense value beyond aesthetic purposes. Your glutes provide more than a picture worthy treat to share on social media. Weak glutes are one the primary causes of back pain; along with causing chaos on your hips and knees due to other muscles having to over-compensate.
When you’re thinking of exercises for this region, think posterior chain (everything behind you). Examples of these types of movements include: any variation of deadlifts, hyperextensions (the glute version), glute-ham raises, any variation of hip thrusts, any variation of glute bridges, and sprinting.
Don’t forget about the supporting cast members
The secret behind all Academy Award winning movies isn’t just the main actors and directors—it’s the supporting cast. There’s a reason awards are given out to supporting cast members; it’s their ability to add the icing on the cake to the movie.
In fitness, this story isn’t any different.
While there are four main actors to your blueprint, the supporting cast is equally as important when constructing a world-class body to full completion.
Implement these supporting cast members as needed depending on your goal:
• Core (planks, leg raises, pot-stirrer planks, suitcase crunches, and v-ups to name a few)
• Rotator cuff (Mainly for prevention and to compensate for our daily lifestyles along with optimal shoulder health. I would implement these in every session). My favorites are band pull-aparts, face pulls, and shoulder dislocators.
• Grip work– No one wants to walk into a meeting and give weak handshakes (unless you like to hide your superhero strength at times…guilty of this). In addition to working on grip work, movements such as: farmer walks, overhead walks, and trap-bar walks increase strength, provide excellent conditioning, and gives off the appearance of a total badass.
4. Determine the appropriate techniques for approaching your specific masterpiece
As you get ready to start working toward your masterpiece, it’s essential that you apply the correct techniques to your specific masterpiece.
In the fitness world, these techniques are your rep ranges. For simplicity sake, we’re only going to cover the fundamental rep ranges that are used predominately and disregard the advanced techniques.
1. High rep work (10-15 reps)– You could push this rep range upwards of up to 20 (in some cases). This category focuses primarily on building size (i.e. hypertrophy) with endurance and small strength gains. The majority of bodybuilders will typically train in this rep range.
2. Middle ground (6-9 reps)– For the majority of lifters, this is going to be the sweet spot in terms of what reps you should be implementing into your sessions. Besides this range of repetitions providing a good mixture of size and strength, this range is the sweet spot for beginners due to the accumulation of repetitions needed to build their skill up.
3. Low rep work (2-5 reps)– This is probably my favorite range to lift in, but I also have a strong love affair with strength work. This rep range isn’t recommended at the beginning to people new to strength training as the required skill-level and muscle hasn’t been developed.
View low rep work as being for the more technical, skilled, and veterans of the fitness world. For beginners wanting to work on their strength, starting with five reps (perhaps 5×5) is perfect.
Lifting in this rep range is for those mostly concerned with strength and increasing those numbers (muscle gain can occur here, just not at the same rate as the high rep category).
However, at the end of the day, building size and losing fat is predominately determined by your nutrition.
Bonus work to transform your body into a world-class superhero
While the above is the Nuts’ N’ Bolts of strength training, these two methods below are the icing on the cake.
1. Explosive/dynamic work– Adding this type of work into your workouts helps increase athleticism and build strength along with burning fat due to the intensity of the movements.
However, before jumping gung-ho into these movements, assess where you currently stand in terms of conditioning and skill level—then choose from there. Examples of these type of movements include: Olympic lifts, sprinting, medicine ball drills, and chain exercises to name a few.
Start small and stay conservative, then gradually build up from there.
2. Conditioning work- This is another type of metabolic work, which is great for fat loss along with increasing your training endurance (i.e. work capacity). These type of workouts are great at the end of sessions or can serve as a excellent standalone session—depending on the volume and intensity of the workout.
Examples of these type of workouts: density training, complexes, strength circuits, sleds, battling ropes, sprints, and kettlebell swings.
Summary of this section:
After determining your goal, intelligently pick your rep ranges that align with your goal.
If you want to melt fat while maintaining strength, here are a couple options:
• Implement low reps with explosive or conditioning movements
• A beginner could use medium rep ranges with conditioning or explosive movements
• Use medium repetitions with high repetition work at the end
If you want Incredible Hulk strength, here are a couple options:
• Use low reps with high reps (hypertrophy)
• Use low reps with explosive work (this is a great fat loss and performance strategy)
If you want academy award-worthy size (hypertrophy), here are a couple options:
• High rep work with medium rep work
• Low reps with high reps consisting of most of the session
There isn’t a one size fits all strategy when it comes to selecting the appropriate techniques for your goals. As long as you consider the key metrics (current skill level, conditioning, goals, daily stress levels, and etc)—experiment until you find something that is enjoyable and jams with your particular lifestyle.
5. Make sure you’re mixing the right tools for your masterpiece
You could be onto painting your very own Mona Lisa until you mix the wrong color into your bucket (there goes the masterpiece). You could be constructing the next great wonder of the world, but then you implement the wrong bricks or forget an essential measurement to constructing your monument (that would be unfortunate).
What’s the point of all this?
You can possess all the knowledge in the world. You can possess all the tools that one could ever wish for. You can have the best network and know all the ‘insiders secrets’.
But if you don’t implement the right tools with each other, your assets mean nothing.
A brief rundown of some laws of lifting
While there are a couple ways to mix these tools, there are still a few rules which you should be mindful of.
Avoid committing these crimes…
● Performing highly technical lifts and extreme heavy loads if you’re a beginner
● Avoid pairing together two heavy movements that work in the same region (i.e. joint)
● Super setting muscle groups of the same area when both are heavy loads or highly technical lifts
Instead work around these crimes by…
● Combining similar muscle groups when it comes to hypertrophy
● Combine a highly technical lift or heavy movement with a low technique or lighter movement
● Combine antagonistic movements
Examples of crimes (bad) vs. A work around (good)
Bad crime (bad)
A1) Barbell squats
A2) Barbell row
Why? Both of these exercises involve the lower back and by the third set, your back won’t be too happy with you.
A work around (good)
A1) Barbell squats
A2) pull ups
Why? Barbell squats involve the lower back, while pull-ups are still working your back just as the barbell rows were, but the big difference is that pull-ups don’t involve stress on your lower back.
6. Examples of constructing a world class workout
Below will be an example for each of the three goals we’ve discussed. The methods below are far from the only options available, my goal is to share a method of each that is easily applicable to any person to head to the gym and immediately get started.
Adding world-class size to a world-class body
Here’s a couple reminders and rationale for why this workout is set up this way
***It’s important to remember that pure hypertrophy training isn’t recommended for those who still need to lose an appreciable amount of fat. Due to various hormonal factors, I strongly recommend you to lose fat before attempting a purely muscle building program (plus even with some extra muscle, no one will see your hard work with the extra layers still hanging around).
1. Rep ranges are going to be in the middle to high ranges with ample amounts of volume due to the goal and being in a caloric surplus (i.e. taking in more calories than being burned).
2. Pairing exercises to keep the intensity up while staying under the allocated 60 minutes; thus improving work capacity
Example muscle building workout (full body)
A1)quad dominant: barbell back squats- 4×6-8
A2)upper body pull: chin ups- 4×6-8
B1) hip dominant: Barbell hip thrust- 3×12-15
B2) upper body push: overhead press- 3×10-12
C1)hip dominant: barbell Romanian deadlift- 3×10-12
C2)upper body push: (db or bb)incline bench press- 3×10-12
D1)upper body: pull cable rows- 2×15
D2)rotator cuff: band pull aparts- 2×15
E1)grip/conditioning: farmers walk- 3×40 yards or 60 seconds
F1)core planks: 3×30-45 seconds
Adding world-class strength to a world-class body
Here’s a couple reminders about adding world class strength and the rationale behind the workouts.
*** Super low reps aren’t for beginners, build some muscle and learn the patterns of the movements before anything else.
1. Stick with heavy and middle rep ranges
2. Use rehab movements to prevent injury and protect the body
3. Feel free to add some extra ‘bro work” (arms, etc) at the end or high rep (hypertrophy) work at the end
4. Depending on skill level and goal, explosive movements can help you move the weights faster; thus increasing strength
Example workout for strength
A1)Hip dominant: deadlifts- 5×5
A2)explosive/hip dominant: band hip thrust- 5×20 (explode up)
B1)upper body push: barbell incline press- 4×5
B2)quad dominant: barbell front squat- 4×6-8
C1)upper body pull: lat pulldowns- 3×12-15
C2)pre-hab/rotator cuff: band pull aparts- 3×12-15
D1)grip/fat loss: farmers walks- 3x60secs or 50 yards
Incinerating fat to uncover a world-class body
Fat loss is the most versatile out of the three areas discussed in terms of what kind of workouts to implement. From rest periods to intensity, fat loss training is a choose your own adventure (nutrition is the ultimate de-facto king in determining your fat loss).
*** The goal on the example workout is to increase work capacity and maintain strength.
Keep these reminders in the back of your head when it comes to fat loss.
1. Goals is to lose fat, but build a small amount, or at least maintain the current amount of muscle there.
2. Get creative with pairings, formats, and exercises
3. Keep that heart rate up (but don’t drive yourself into the ground—tempo is your best friend)
4. Intensity over duration
Example of a fat loss workout
A1)quad dominant: barbell squats- 3×6-8
A2)conditioning: Bw squat jumps 3x30seconds
B1)hip dominant: hip thrust- 3×12-15 (pause 2secs at top)
B2)upper body pull: chin ups- 3×10-12
B3)upper body push: push-ups -3×10-15
C1)quad dominant: step ups- 2×12
C2)core: pot stirrer planks- 2×15-20 (each side)
D1)grip/conditioning: farmers walks- 4×60 yards or 4×60 seconds
Final takeaways on designing your world-class workouts
There’s a plethora of methods that could have been discussed. But, the methods discussed were the high yielding ones and until you’re a master of the fundamentals of strength training—there isn’t a need to flirt with advanced techniques.
As you embark along your strength training journey, I want you to keep these five high yielding principles in mind (even if you forget everything else).
1. The quality of jabs is better than the quantity of jabs– In boxing you can have someone throw hundreds of punches per round, while his counterpart is selectively jabbing, but connecting. At the end of the day, you win the boxing match by connecting on your opponents face more, not by wildly throwing punches.
Your workouts are the same.
It’s not about the duration of your workouts nor the quantity of exercises you do—the importance lies in the quality of the session. 40 minutes of efficient lifting trumps 90 minutes of talking and performing 15 different lifts.
2. Variety isn’t the spice of life- When it comes to performing workouts, each session doesn’t need to be completely different compared to the last one. Companies, trainers, and other fitness “gurus” preaching no two sessions are the same is a key indicator for you to walk in the opposite direction.
You want some familiarity week in and week out with your sessions.
How else can you judge progress in the gym?
Pick a couple lifts and focus on improving those.
3. Don’t fall into a fitness pissing contest- It’s one thing to geek out in the gym or at the health store with your fitness friends, but in the normal everyday world—the majority of people could care less.
No one gives a shit about how much you squat or bench. Also, feel free to tell your annoying crossfit co-worker that you “give zero shits” about their WOD (workout of the day).
If you catch yourself getting into this type of conversation with the bros, remember—are you trying to impress the bros at the gym or attract the opposite sex?
I’ve never heard someone get laid off their bench press max nor their WOD time.
Rant through. Next point.
4. Patience is your ally- Rome wasn’t built in 48 hours. Michael Jordan wasn’t the greatest of all time after 2 weeks. You’re not going to be a lean-machine in four weeks. I’m not going to be waling on the guitar like Lenny Kravitz in 5 weeks (but dammit I’ll try).
I apologize if you thought otherwise or were promised this fairy tale. Unfortunately, contrary to the bullshit that marketers and shady fitness “gurus” in my space unfortunately preach, your transformation is going to take time.
The process and logic is simple, but the effort required isn’t easy.
Remove the unreasonable expectations and enjoy the ride.
5. Symmetry and balance is sexy- The mirror muscles or beach muscles (chest, biceps, abs) get all the glory (not for long if I have a say). However, the posterior of your body needs some love.
Building a world-class body equates to giving proper attention to every aspect of your body.
Living in the age of texting, video games, office jobs, driving everywhere, and general laziness as a society—we’ve become the land of sleepy and sometimes saggy glutes with bad posture to serve as the icing on the cake. It’s even more imperative that we train our backsides to compensate for the over-usage of the front.
To compensate for this, think of training your body with a 2:1 ratio. For every one push/front movement, perform two pull/posterior movements to compensate.
Besides…working your back and glutes a little extra is never a bad thing. Is there even such a thing as over-working the glutes?
Absolutely not…Glutes make the world go round.