You might choose to hire a trainer or follow someone’s fitness program because it helps you with accountability or you’re short on time or you just don’t want to spend your time writing a program. But, I hope it’s not because you think someone else has the magic answer.
I kid you not, it is my dream that everyone on Earth knows how to take care of their body and feels 100% capable of achieving their goals. In fact, I wrote a poem about this in 1989…
While this newsletter is certainly not being sent to everyone on the planet due to SPAM laws, it’s a start. So let’s get to it.
Successful resistance training can be broken down into several core concepts. Once you understand these principles, you will know what to do to build and maintain muscle.
Are there nuances? Are there thousands of fascinating research papers written on this topic? Could you go deep down a rabbit hole? Could you get a PhD in this field? Yes, of course.
But, you don’t have to know everything to be proficient at designing yourself a resistance training plan (or at least evaluating the merits of someone else’s plan for you).
When putting together a training program for myself, I think about components like:
Today, I will touch on the first three, and Bingo. I promise we will talk about Bingo.
Most movements can be categorized into four common groups: squat, hinge, push or pull. There are a few others such as rotation, anti-rotation and carries. Some might also say a lunge is different from a squat, but all in all, those are your core motions.
Hinges are things like deadlifts, hip thrusts, good mornings, and back extensions. They are glute, hamstring and lower back dominant.
Squats can be bodyweight "air squats", back squat, front squats, single leg squats, and lunges. They recruit your glutes, quads and hamstrings. If you hold the weight in front of you or elevate your heels, they can be more quad dominant. If the weight is on your back, they tend to be glute dominant.
Pushing includes vertical pressing such as a shoulder press or horizontal pressing such as a pushup. You can also do pushing movements in many other planes such as decline or incline bench press. Pushing uses your pectorals (chest), triceps, and deltoid (shoulders).
Pulling can also be vertical such as pull-ups or horizontal such as bent over row or seated rows. Pulling engages your lats, traps (both back), deltoids and biceps.
To build a full body workout, you would choose exercises from each category.
When two joints are involved in a movement, it's called a compound exercise. For example, a squat or deadlift involves bending and extending the knee and hip. While leg extensions only involve the knee.
In general, you get more benefit from compound movements because they recruit so many muscle groups, including your core. They are also more taxing which is why they are typically done first in a workout.
If I am short on time, I will cut out isolation movements (like crunches or bicep curls), and focus on compound movements such as squats and pull-ups.
Here is where things can seem complicated but it doesn't have to be. Every time you lift weights, you should lift a little more than last time. A little more can be any one of the following:
more repetitions (reps)
more weight (even a pound increase)
more time under tension (slow down the movement or add pauses)
less rest time in between sets
more quality (aka better form - harder to quantify but just as important as the others on this list)
For example, let's say you start with 3 sets of 10 pushups today. Next time, do 3 sets of 12 pushups. The time after that, do 3 sets of 14 pushups.
How many repetitions and sets should you do? There is a ton of research on this and the answer, of course, is a range.
There is some consensus that a minimum of 5 sets per muscle group per week is required to maintain strength. 10 sets per muscle group per week seems to be the minimum for gaining muscle. 25 sets per muscle group per week seems to be the upper limit after which you may get into over training.
Everyone is different. In general, if you are new to resistance training, you can stick to the lower end. If you are more advanced, you will skew towards the higher end.
The way you break up the volume during the week doesn’t seem to matter. For example, you can do all 10 sets for a given muscle group on one day or spread it out over five. The research shows the impact is the same as long as you get the weekly volume done.
Putting Together a Program
Typically I program in 4-12 week increments depending on my goals and what's going on in life. I don't necessarily plan out all workouts for 3 months in advance. But I choose a few movements or skills I'm trying to improve and build around that.
For example, I'm currently working on my squat form. For the last 6 weeks and for the next 6 weeks, I've been doing back squats with a two second eccentric (lowering) and 2 second pause at the bottom. Every week, I go up 5 pounds. By the end of this cycle, I should be able to back squat my previous 3 repetition max for 6 repetitions with pauses.
“You promised me Bingo…”
Not everyone enjoys working out for the sake of working out. My husband is one of those people who doesn't enjoy the gym the way I do.
He does respond to game mechanics though. So we invented Fitness Bingo.
It's based on the principles above AND the notion of minimum viable fitness. Aka: what is the least amount of work he needs to do to see a return.
Each Fitness Bingo card contains 25 boxes (5 x 5). I aim for a variety of movements (squat, hinge, push, pull) including some cardio, abs or whatever else Mr. Lyons seems open to… which is limiting, I will say.
For example, the second row reads:
Close Grip Bench Press: 3 x 10 reps (push)
Deadlift: 3 x 10 reps (hinge)
Pushups: 3 x 10 reps (push)
Front Squats: 3 x 10 reps (squat)
Landmine Bent Over Row: 3 x 10 reps (pull)
In a perfect world, the Bingo card would be designed in such a way that each row would equate to one session, and you would write down the weight used so that next time you could increase (progressive overload).
If I’m lucky, Mr. Lyons does one box per day. But you know what... in the last 30 days, he has done 10 times as much lifting as he did in the 365 days before that so I consider this a win.
If you are interested in building yourself a program, perhaps the Fitness Bingo approach and some foundational knowledge will help you get started.
I intend to write a lot more about resistance training. We will go deep… probably in October (yeah… I’m a planner). But as I said at the beginning of all this, you can do so much by learning just a few core concepts.
Getting fit, staying fit… these things are hard and take time. But if you know how it works, you will be able to tell if you were on the right path and, hopefully, have confidence in the process.
If you’d like to get in on the Fitness Bingo craze, stay tuned for downloadable cards on my forthcoming website.
🙏 Thank you for reading.
⏩ If you know someone who might be interested in this newsletter, please forward it to them.
❓If you have a question about anything related to strength, fitness, nutrition, I would love to help answer it. Reply to this email or drop me a comment.