I do workout programs for a living, but lately I’ve noticed this trend among my clients – they try to select their training plans on their own and suggest different exercises to include in them.
I will share with you the most common mistakes and ways to avoid them, should you decide to draft a workout program on your own (which I don’t advise you to do… now. Once upon a time I had a different opinion and will explain why this was so in the article below).
The workout program aims to maintain and improve health, develop qualities (such as strength, speed, balance, flexibility and so on), reduce stress, heighten the feeling of euphoria, charge with energy, improve the spirits.
The workout program should train the whole body as one system. It should put an equal load on the different body parts without resulting in an imbalance. The body is a system and not a collection of parts.
When we are talking about body muscles, load can be separated into
– upper and lower
– front and rear
body parts. Most importantly, there should be a balance between the front and rear part, because the imbalance usually feels like pain in the spine, back, and knees.
Mistake No. 1: The most common mistake which I can see is missing out the exercises for the rear thigh and the back. At the same time there is this overdoing abdominal exercises. Most exercises train the stomach, but very few train the back (with this I mean compound exercises).
That is, if you train the abdominal muscles with isolation exercises (exercises which train mainly the stomach without involving other muscle groups), you have to train the back muscles much more to make up for the fact that these muscles are not trained with each and every exercise.
For example, the abdominal muscles get more stability with push ups, with squats using weights, exercises performed on one foot and so on. Add up some crunches and the abdominal muscles gain more strength which is just great – but it is even better if you balance this strength with a strong back.
Imagine a puppet – you move your hand and many parts move in response. This is how the human body reacts too. You work out for your stomach and this has an effect not only on your abdominal muscles, but on your whole body. The abdominal muscles become strong and “push” the rest. The spinal muscles need to respond with the same strength so that the body maintains its balance. Otherwise, your body will move in the same manner as puppets do. This might result in bending of your back or spine pains.
Solution: if you train your stomach, you should train your back too. At home you can practice very few exercises involving your back, in the gym you can find a greater variety, as there is special fitness equipment there. However, I manage to load my back with workouts at home only, and I include some perfect exercises for the purpose. Yes, they are a little boring and monotonous, but they should be present in your program. I would never sacrifice the balance in a given program in favour of its variety.
Additional information: several months ago I started adding isolation abdominal exercises. However, you should have in mind that my six-pack abs are not a result of isolation abdominal exercises, but of stability exercises and nutrition.
Exercises for the back to be practiced at home:
- Dumbbell rows
- Pull-ups on a chinning bar (you will need to install a chinning bar and learn how to do pull-ups)
- Pull-ups on a table
- Pullover (it trains the chest too)
- Hammer curls using a bag / backpack
- Swing with a kettlebell is perfect, but you can also practice it with a dumbbell or a bag
Mistake No 2: The most common reason for pain in the knees is an imbalance of the muscle power of the front and rear thigh. Of course the knee pain might be the result of many other factors – worn out tissues, lack of synovial fluid and so on, but this is usually the consequence of a certain type of loading or trauma.
Solution: As it is almost always the case that when you have a usual training (such as squats, jumping, jogging) the front thighs are loaded much more than the rear thighs. So, you should add specialized exercises for the rear part of your legs and the bottom.
Exercises for the rear thighs to be practiced at home
- Romanian deadlift with weights on one or two feet
- Classic deadlift
- Hip lift on one or two feet (on the floor / using a chair)
- Lying on the floor facing upwards, sliding of the foot (on a towel) and folding the shank
Mistake No. 3: Loading the body with exercises it is not prepared for. For example, when you start with long, two-phase training sessions or such that are unsuitable for your fitness level. You know, just like steel is hardened, your body is hardened too. Unless you prepare it for the greater load, it will not bear it and you will get traumas. Picture being in a freezing shower for 60 seconds – will you be able to do it the very first time? Perhaps you can manage to do it if you kick off with 5 seconds and you prolong the duration gradually.
The fact that you won’t get the meningitis from two 60-minute workouts a day does not mean that there will be no consequences (unless you are ready for this load). Mind you, the mistakes from a wrong training program turn up with time because our bodies are unique and they have this unique ability to make up for losses.
This means that if your muscles are not ready, you will make up for the load with a trauma of ligaments, joints and so on… But they will get exhausted too and you will wonder “What’s wrong with me, I used to be okay with this training, why I can’t do it now and my whole body hurts…”
Truth is, you were not ready. Back up a bit so that your body recuperates and so that you don’t get chronic traumas. If nothing hurts, kick off from scratch, this time with gradual increase of the loading.
Mistake No. 4: You grow crazy about HIIT (high intensity interval training) and you can’t get any satisfaction with your training unless you finish it in a pool of sweat, completely knackered, hardly breathing.
Perhaps I have some guilt for this mistake too, as I often give this advise “Leave the comfort zone”. But I make this remark too – exercises should be difficult but possible to perform. I love HIIT too. But there are many other training types too.
Mistake No. 5: After two months of training you enjoy your great progress. In my world, I can consider that your have advanced in fitness in 6 months, or even 12. So, you begin to practice these crazy workouts, you want your six-pack abs, you work out a lot and you work out way too much.
The symptoms of working out too much are:
- Constant fatigue
- Training that your once did with no problem now seems to be extremely difficult
- You feel exhaustion in your feet and ankles
- You have a constant muscle soreness
If you check your pulse first thing in the morning (still lying in bed, without making a single movement), and you notice that your pulse rate tends to increase. This means that you do not recuperate from the trainings and you need more rest.
Additional information: With long years of training you will develop the so called “sports heart”, which means that your heart becomes strong and it does its job with less pumping, then there is this decrease of the pulse rate. For example, if I lie down reading a book, my pulse rate will be at about 51 or 55 beats per minute.
Mistake No 6: You ignore your weaknesses and you don’t comply your workout with them. You have to skip the movements that are bad for you and include exercises of the type that work for strengthening your muscles around your weak spots. For example, if your knees hurt, you should not jump / jog unless it’s very close to the ground. That is, your feet shouldn’t meet the ground with force and from very high above.
This lady, a client of mine, wanted to skip the warm-up of the knees because, she said, they cracked and hurt. I told her NEVER to skip the warm-up of the problem part, but to warm it up more until the cracking stops. If your shoulders crack while you’re warming up, keep warming up until they stop cracking. We all know our weak spots, so, pay special attention to them and don’t skip them, making them even weaker this way.
Another example – your back hurts. Here I can give you this piece of advice – don’t jump or jog. Later, if it stops hurting, you can try walking, left-right steps and if it doesn’t hurt this time, you should include light jumps a little later.
If you ignore your weaknesses, they will always be weaknesses. You should know that you are as strong as your weakest spot. For example, your wrists hurt when you practice the exercise plank (in the position for push-ups). If you shirk the exercises which can result in strengthening of the wrists, you will achieve no progress.
At the same time, you should avoid practicing exercises that can hurt them. I don’t assume that you do push-ups clapping hands, but just have it in mind that it’s not a good idea, because you place your palms on the ground from high above and with a force.
If you have a certain problem part, you should do special correcting exercises, so that eventually you strengthen it. I haven’t written anything on these topics yet. My workouts are targeted to people with no health issues and they mean to solve problems which contemporary life brings. For example, continuous sitting at the desk can bring shortening of the thigh flexor muscle, which leads to tension in the lower back.
This means that sitting for hours on end you might turn up with your back hurting. The solution comes with a regular extension of the thigh flexors (it is present in the stretching after every training), strengthening of the back muscles, the gluteus maximus (the bottom) and the stomach. Also, as a result of continuous sitting the muscles of the rear thigh and the gluteal muscles get closer to atrophy. You have to strengthen them but you should also approach this issue with patience.
Mistake No. 7: Overdoing it with isolation exercises. For example, in every training you include 5 series of 10 chair dips (an exercise for triceps, performed with a chair); in the end you can hardly open your arms for the exhaustion of the triceps, but there isn’t a single exercise for the back. The triceps will get loaded very well if you do push-ups with a shoulder grip (with your palms placed right under your shoulders). Thus you will also train both the chest and the triceps. You can hardly have isolation movements in everyday life. If you want to be ready for life, train your body as one system!
So, what is a good training program?
If you are an advanced fitness fan, you can have the following distribution over the week:
- Day 1 – lower part of the body
- Day 2 – upper part of the body
- Day 3 – rest
- Day 4 – aerobics / HIIT
- Day 5 – upper part of the body
- Day 6 – lower part of the body
- Day 7 – rest
Both workouts for the upper part of the body should include exercises for the chest and the back. In one of the them you might focus on the shoulders. In the other you can focus on the stomach and include one exercise for your arms (biceps and triceps).
There are less muscle groups in the lower part of the body compared to the upper part. For this reason both training plans should include exercises for both the front and the rear thighs. One of the training programs might include exercises for the inner and the other one for the outer thigh. It is a good practice to finish it up with a short set of aerobic exercises with jumps, so that you involve the calves too.
I think that the best exercises for beginners and intermediate are circular workouts for the whole body, because they need to increase their aerobic capacity and develop their endurance and flexibility. Again there should be 5 workouts per week, but you train your whole body.
Additional information: In my videos you can see the authentic way I train. These are my real exercises, I don’t train more or in a different manner. There are only two things I do in a different way when I shoot videos:
1. I have a longer warm-up . I know that you don’t particularly like warming up and perhaps you even skip the warm-up altogether. For this reason, when I shoot videos, I try to keep it shorter so that your don’t grow bored and stop watching. Still, I show all necessary warmup movements. For example, my coxofemoral joints crack and I stretch them more times when I don’t shoot a video. I jog for 3 to 5 minutes before workouts.
2. I don’t stretch after training (lately, but I used to). I don’t seem to need stretching in the last couple of months. This is the result of my antagonistic way of training, which I like very much. When I train the front thigh I train the rear thigh too – the two exercises combined neutralize the muscle tension. When I train the chest and the stomach, I train the back too – again, this type of training removes the tension. Again, this has to do with the balance I mentioned earlier. I do some stretching, but it’s not part of the training and only when I feel I need to.
Years ago I thought that everyone can draft their own training program, but having spoken to thousands of people, I think that it’s not a good idea, because 99,9% of people want to train only the problem parts and the parts they like, but they don’t have the knowledge how to maintain the balance in their bodies.
Now it’s your turn. Fire your questions away.