For a lot of people out there, paying to work with a trainer multiple times a week isn't a viable option due to a lack of funds or time. This however shouldn’t stop you from being able to put together an effective program yourself that you can follow when you make it to the gym to train.
Here’s how you can plan out your training program in 4-6 week blocks so that you can still make progress and not waste your time in the gym.
HOW MANY TRAINING DAYS CAN YOU MANAGE??
Firstly you want to figure out how many times you can realistically make it to the gym every week. Two times a week should be the bare minimum, three times a week is even better and four times a week is the sweet spot. You want to plan out two different workouts that you will potentially repeat 1-2x per week. If you are able to train 4x a week I suggest spacing it out like this:
Monday - Workout A
Tuesday - Workout B
Wednesday - Rest
Thursday - Workout A
Friday - Workout B
Sunday - Rest
If you're only training 2x per week you can perform workout A and workout B once each week. If you choose to train 3x per week, choose either workout A or B to repeat twice each week. (I suggest repeating the workout that has more of the specific body parts you want to improve in it).
HOW TO STRUCTURE THE TWO WORKOUTS
The simplest way to plan out your two workouts is to split them up into anterior (front of the body) and posterior (back of the body). The anterior workout would include muscle groups such as the chest, shoulders, biceps and quads. The posterior workout would include the back, triceps, rear delts, hamstrings and glutes.
To maximize your time in the gym as efficiently as possible you can pair exercises together as supersets. I suggest pairing one upper body exercise with one lower body exercise. An example of an upper body lower/body superset would be:
A1 Flat Bench Press 3 x 10 reps
A2 Leg Extension 3 x 10 reps
You would perform the flat bench press first for 10 reps and then go straight into the leg extensions for 10 reps. Then you rest for about 90 seconds. That would equal one set. You would perform 3-4 sets total before moving on to the next superset.
Try to plan out 3-4 supersets for each workout, with each one consisting of 3-4 sets of 10 reps.
The reason a lot of people don’t seem to see any results is because there is no progression planned into their workouts. They go into the gym week after week and execute the same exercises, using the same weights and performing the same number of reps. By planning out your workouts in advance, you can program that after 2 weeks the reps for all the exercises will drop from 10 to anywhere from 6-8 reps. This is where you can now try to lift a little heavier because you will be performing fewer reps. Another option is to keep the weight the same, but after 2 weeks you will try to perform more reps, i.e. 12-15 reps instead of the 10 you were doing in weeks 1 and 2. Every 2-3 weeks something should change in your workouts; reps or the weight you're using.
LOGGING YOUR WEIGHTS/REPS
You can either write these workouts down on paper like someone born in the 80’s or put together a spreadsheet. The most important thing is to log the weights you used for each exercise and the number of reps performed. This way every week you can see what you managed previously and then decide if you're going to try and lift a little more or perform a few more reps. Without this info you won’t remember what you did last week and as a result the workouts will plateau.
TRACKING YOUR PROGRESS
Finally you’re going to want to know if you are indeed improving and progressing each week. I suggest taking photos every 2-4 weeks, making sure you get your whole body in the frame and that you take the pictures in the same spot each time for consistency. You want to take all four angles, just like a prison mugshot (not talking from experience). If weight/body fat loss or muscle gain is the goal you will also want to be logging your weights each morning when you wake up and after you use the bathroom. Try not to read too much into the scale weight as it will fluctuate day to day by potentially as much as 1-2kg. What you want to look for is the general trend over a 7-10 day period. You should be aiming to lose about 0.5kg per week or 2kg every month. Alternatively if muscle/weight gain is the goal you should be aiming to put on anywhere from 1-3kg every month. It will be a slower process so be patient.
Try implementing these tools and taking the time to plan out your training program and see the difference it makes. Remember, keeping it simple and doing the basics usually has a greater effect than trying to mix up your workout each week with no real direction.