[This post is one in a series about my fitness journey. Consider starting at the beginning.]
I’ve always thought that muscular guys must have a very strict, well designed, and methodical workout routine. And for all I know many of them do. I, however, don’t and have found success in less structured workouts.
I workout one hour a day, 6 days a week. Two upper-body days, two lower-body days, and two cardio days. My schedule looks like:
- Monday – upper body
- Tuesday – lower body / core
- Wednesday – cardio (running)
- Thursday – upper body
- Friday – lower body / core
- Saturday or Sunday – cardio (running)
On upper-body days I generally decide what I’m doing when I get to the gym and see what equipment is available and how my shoulder is feeling. I tore something in my right shoulder a few years ago and had a PRP procedure to fix it. It’s been much better but I always adjust my workouts based on how it’s feeling in the moment.
My upper-body days usually involve dumbbells, the pull-up bar, and a cable machine. I like to do superset of opposing muscle groups. So if I do a seated shoulder press I will superset that with a wide pull-up. I aim for enough weight that I can do 4 sets of 12 reps each. A decade ago that looked more like 4 sets of 6 reps each using heavier weights. But as I said prior, my workouts have evolved and morphed over time.
Some common superset exercises that I do on upper-body days.
- seated shoulder press / wide-grip lat pull-ups
- incline bench press / cable rope face pulls
- lateral arm raises / standing decline cable fly
- high cable flys / front dumbbell raise
- seated dumbbell bicep curls / overhead cable tricep extensions
- dips / barbell upright rows
Other non-superset exercises that get thrown in the mix:
I don’t do all of these every upper-body day, but they are all part of my standard repertoire that I pull from based on equipment availability and how my shoulders are feeling.
Lower body and core
When I first started out I only did upper-body workouts. That’s a common newbie mistake as it turns out. Eventually I decided that I needed to incorporate lower-body and core workouts into my routine. At one point about 7 years ago I was really good about doing really solid leg and ab workouts – weighted traveling lunges, squats, you name it.
Then I hurt my back on a squat machine and lower-body days went to hell. For years after that my lower-body and core days turned into core-only days. It’s only been in the last 6 months that I’ve started, again, incorporating focused leg exercises into my routine.
Here are some of my current leg/core exercises:
- barbell squats
- weighted step-ups (aka barbell high steps)
- weighted lunges
- leg extensions
- leg curl
- leg abductions (a friend calls these “leg pushies”)
- leg adductions (a friend calls these “leg squeezies”)
- crunches and leg raises on a dip bar
- lemon squeezers
- headstand leg-lowers and raises (these are hard!)
- short bridges
Again, I don’t do all of these every lower-body / core workout, but some mix of them based on how I’m feeling and what equipment and machines are available.
Over the past three months I’ve recently shifted to doing more functional-focused exercises. Before this I was exercising not to improve a given activity, but to build muscle and improve how I looked. Now I’m starting to focus on exercises that help other athletic activities that I do, in this case partner acrobatics.
Basing in partner acrobatics requires really good grip strength so I’ve started focusing on exercises to strengthen my grip, like hammer curls, barbell suitcase iso-hold, and loaded hang iso-hold. Overhead moves like elevators focus on shoulder strength and stabilization, so I introduced the push press into my upper-body days. And many of the moves, like pitching, really engage your quads and gluts so squats have gotten a renewed focus.
When I started out, cardio at the gym was mostly elliptical or the rowing machine. In 2004 my friends convinced me to do the Austin Distance Challenge (ADC) with them. The ADC is a collection of progressively longer races leading up to a marathon at the end. I’d never run before so this was a whole new experience for me. I did complete the ADC that year, including the Motorola Marathon in Austin! Since then my cardio has all focused around running.
On Wednesdays at the gym I do a quick 30-minute run and on the weekends I go out running for an hour or more with friends.
For a while I was doing a fair amount of half-marathon distance running. That much cardio isn’t necessarily great for building muscle so I’ve eased back on that and doing more high-intensity, shorter-distance runs.
Areas for improvement
As attention-detailed as I am, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I don’t keep track of how much weight I’ve lifted and what exercise I do when. I go to the gym and I lift weights that I remember being as heavy or heavier than what I lifted before. I lift to exhaustion and then focus on a different muscle group.
I am certain that I could get a better, more focused workout if I kept better tabs on my exercise progress and weights. But I’ll be honest: I’m lazy. I hate carrying around a phone or paper to track my progress throughout the gym. Not having a phone also means that I don’t get distracted and stay focused on working out, not texting or checking Facebook.
I also suck at flexibility exercises, which are going to be critical to keep making progress in partner acrobatics. I hate stretching but I need to start solidly incorporating that into my workout.
Next post: Food and supplements