Most of the articles on the blog are in-depth articles. Today we won’t be doing that. Instead, we’re answering your most frequently asked workout questions.
Just tell me what to do.
I’ve gone through some old emails and compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions I get about working out.
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WORKOUT QUESTIONS: HOW MANY REPS SHOULD I BE DOING?
I actually wrote a more detailed article about this here but these are some general guidelines when deciding how many reps you should do for a workout.
1-5 REPS: STRENGTH
Typically used for maximal strength gains. If you’re looking to pick up Oak trees and throw them at someone I would highly suggest taking this approach. 1-5 reps are usually around 85% of your 1 rep maximum (1RM) in any given lift.
A good approach before starting any training routine may be to test yourself in a few of the basic movements in order to have some data to work with. If you are a novice lifter I would not suggest training in this rep range until your form is on point.
Great for power lifts such as Cleans, Snatch’s, Jerks, Squat, Deadlift, Bench, Overhead Press, Weighted Pull-ups.
6-8 REPS: STRENGTH AND HYPERTROPHY
This is a standard rep range for most to follow because it elicits a nice balance between building lean muscle and strength. 6-8 reps usually fall at about 79-84% of your 1RM. So if you have not already, think about testing those 1RM’s. Just make sure you have proper form and a partner on standby.
For female trainees worried about bulking up. You will not get bulky working in this rep range. Mix it in every once in a while. The fact is that your body does not have enough natural testosterone to make you bulky from moving heavyweights.
9-12 REPS: HYPERTROPHY
This is the rep range that the majority of trainees use. However, they train in this range with not much intensity. By that, I mean moving weight for 12 reps when they could have done 20. This rep range will usually be around 70-78% of your 1RM. This rep range will allow for optimal muscular development.
13+ REPS: ENDURANCE
these higher rep ranges. This is also an excellent rep range for beginners in order to develop proper form and control of the movements. Bodyweight movements will allow for rep ranges in the range. If you’re new to all of this think about starting with a bodyweight routine until you develop some muscular strength, coordination, and confidence.
Note: It is not necessary to find your 1RM to work within these rep ranges. An easy rule to follow when working in each rep range is that the last rep you do (say 8) should be difficult but not the last one you could do. It should feel like you “might” be able to do one more. “Might” is the keyword here.
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: HOW MANY SETS SHOULD I BE DOING?
You can refer to this post again for a more detailed description.
A general rule is the more reps the fewer the sets. Your muscles need to perform a certain amount of work to see results. You also want to make sure you don’t train a muscle too much. 15 reps of a bench press done with 15 sets are just not smart. You’re most likely just over-training a muscle group. When we look back at the rep ranges provided above a good protocol to follow can be seen here.
- 1-5 reps: 4-6 sets
- 6-8 reps: 3-5 sets
- 9-12 reps: 3-4 sets
- 13+ reps: 2-3 sets (depending on training maybe 4)
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: I WANT TO GET STRONG. WHAT DO I DO?
You’ll definitely have to step up your game at the dining table. To get strong you really need to eat! You need enough calories to help muscle growth and to get stronger. But we’ll talk more about that next week in the most frequently asked nutrition questions.
1 – Focus on compound movements
Lower body movements like squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Upper body movements like bench presses, dips, overhead presses, pull-ups, and bent over rows.
If you’re not ready to use free weight feel free to start with bodyweight or machines. Getting started and building confidence is the most important step.
2 – Get the reps right
Keep it in the 3 to 8 range to maximize strength but also don’t be afraid to go below 3 every once in a while. Most importantly, apply progressive overload to your workouts (see #5).
3 – Get the sets right
3 to 6 sets of each exercise.
4 – Get the rest right
1 to 4 minutes of rest in-between each set or exercise. 2 to 3 minutes is a sweet spot for allowing yourself to recover enough to lift heavy weights again but also not too much time so you’re in the gym forever. Weight train 3 to 4 days per week if strength is your goal.
5 – Get better each week with progressive overload
Try and increase the weights that you lifted a bit each training session. This is called progressive overload.; You’re body and muscles need to be challenged in order to get stronger. A 1 to 5% increase in weight for each lift might be all that you need. Record each workout so that you know exactly what you were able to accomplish. If you hit your repetition number in the workout before then it’s time to bump it up.
6- Think about using tempo
If you’re a beginner looking to get stronger this will not be as important. For those of your that are intermediate to advanced trainees using tempos will dramatically increase your strength. See this article and this one for how to incorporate tempo’s into your training.
For a detailed article on how to start resistance training, check out this article.
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: WHAT’S THE BEST WORKOUT TO LOSE FAT?
I hate this question. I’m sorry but I do. The best workout for fat loss is the one that involves your brain, hand, and how you move a fork to your mouth. In all seriousness, the best way to lose fat is by eating a calorie deficit.
There really are thousands upon thousands of great workouts you could follow. I’m just going to cover a few of mine.
1 – The one that you’re not currently doing
If you’re not currently being active then the best way to lose fat is to start. It doesn’t have to be some P90x, guns blazing, all-out sweat fest. If you haven’t started being more active just start.
- 10-minute workouts (5 if that’s too much)
- Dance classes
- Walking the stairs every hour while at work (or during breaks)
- Basketball league
Whatever will get your booty moving more than it is.
More importantly, creating a consistent calorie deficit over time will be the most important part of losing fat and keeping it off.
2 – Strength circuits
These are bodyweight or resistance training workouts that have you complete a variety of strength training exercises with minimal rest. I like to do full-body routines 4 to 5 times per week.
- 24 walking dumbbell lunges
- 12 to 15 push-ups
- 12 to 15 pull-ups or inverted rows
- 10 to 15 overhead presses
- 15 kettlebell swings
- 10 box jumps
Rest as little as possible between each exercise but rest 1 to 2 minutes after the box jumps. This is 1 circuit. Complete 3 to 5 circuits. Feel free to adjust the rep range and exercises.
You can use the DIY workout chart to create your own strength circuits. Or check out some of these workouts, like this one, and this one, oh – and this one too.
3 – Walk often
It’s the simplest form of cardio.
4 – Measure your progress
If you’re not assessing what you’re doing then you’re just guessing. Use the scale once per week, take girth measurements bi-weekly, and snap before and after photos every 30 days. Also, pay attention to how your clothes are fitting, how you feel, and any comments people are making about your appearance, skin, etc…
I’m just going to repeat this for good measure. When it comes to fat loss nutrition is king. You can’t out-train a terrible diet.
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: WHAT ARE THE BEST EXERCISES TO DO?
There isn’t a “best” exercise list. Instead, think of it as movement patterns.
Squat, deadlift, bench press, pull-up/bent-over row, and overhead presses. I know, I know, I’m really beating a dead horse with this. Check out the exercise library here for video descriptions.
If you want to save time in the gym and get the most bang for your buck than building your fitness around those 5 movements is in your best interest. They recruit the most muscle fibers, work for both large and small muscle groups, and help activate the hormones necessary for fat loss, strength, and building muscle.
Here’s a pretty classic routine you could use to build strength and muscle.
- 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps of each exercise resting 2 minutes in-between each set
- bench press
- 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps of each exercise resting 2 minutes in-between each set
- bent over rows
- overhead press
Do workout A on Monday and Thursday and workout B on Tuesday and Friday.
The large rep ranges are only to signify that you can use many different rep ranges for your workouts. Refer to the rep ranges earlier and choose based on your goals.
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: HOW DO I START WORKING OUT?
When most people want to start working out what do they do? Pick up a fitness magazine, google the best workout, ask a buddy of theirs for a routine, or maybe create your own? Often, these workouts are too long, too boring, too intricate, and too difficult. 2 weeks go by and you’re either too sore to go train, can’t find the time to get to the gym and do a 60+ minute workout, or simply don’t want to do it.
Make getting started so easy that it’s nearly impossible not to. If all you can do is commit 10 minutes one day per week then do that. If that’s too difficult, go smaller.
Change your environment
Make getting started easier by creating an environment that promotes more health in your life.
- Wake up a bit earlier to get in a run or try this, this, or these bodyweight workouts you can do at home.
- Pick up some used dumbbells so that you can lift at home.
- Eat at your desk and use lunch breaks for exercise.
- Leave some equipment at the office.
- Use post-it notes all over the house to serve as reminders to workout today.
Find what you like to do and do that
Like to run than run, enjoy lifting, like to box, happy dancing, is yoga your thing? Just get started with something you enjoy and build on that momentum.
Take advice from these people
Some of the success stories have great tips for helping you to get started.
Don’t overthink this. To get started you just need to start. It doesn’t need to be the perfect plan or an elaborate routine. It just needs to be something you feel confident you can do and stick with.
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE TO WORKOUT?
Everyone knows they should work out. But to be honest, it can be boring, difficult, and painful. I don’t know a lot of people who want to do things that combine those 3 characteristics.
However, I’m willing to bet you already do some stuff you don’t like to do – so sorry, not sorry – but just because you “don’t like to do it” is not a valid excuse.
See above, but again find ways you like to be active and start with that. If that doesn’t work than exercise more by accident.
- Walk the dogs (or your significant other)
- Rock climb
- Play basketball or join other rec leagues
- Throw the football with your kids
- Take the stairs
- Go on bike rides
- Play more
- Take more classes. Crossfit, Bootcamp, spin.
Working out isn’t always going to be an enjoyable experience. Use your noodle and try new things or discover ways to make it more fun.
We like to do things that we’re good at. Get better at working out. Work on your form or practice new lifts, gymnastics, double-udders, handstand push-ups.
What’s a skill you’ve always wanted to learn?
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WORKOUT. WHAT CAN I DO?
You’re never going to find the time to workout, you’re going to have to create it. Take a look at your schedule and decide what days you have the least commitments and are less likely to miss a workout. Schedule them in your calendar and set a reminder – these are now appointments with yourself and they do not get canceled.
Not having time to workout just means you are prioritizing other things over your health right now. There’s nothing wrong with this, just don’t use time as a scapegoat.
- 10-minute workout examples
- Noobie bodyweight routine you can do at home
- Incredible hulk bodyweight training you can do at home
- 10 bodyweight workouts to spice up any routine
- 6 levels of bodyweight workouts
- 4-minute fitness: Tabata workouts
- 12 Minute Athlete
Still, don’t have time? Start with 10 minutes one day per week and go from there? Just keep this up until you are able to create more time.
I know what you’re thinking. Will 10 minutes per day one day a week do anything? YES! It gets you started. Now go!
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: I’M NOT SEEING PROGRESS. WHAT CAN I DO?
How do you know you’re not seeing progress? This is the first question I ask someone when I get this email. I want to know how they’re measuring it.
1 – Measure your progress
- Are you taking body measurements? Weight, scale, before and after photos, body fat tests?
- Did you have blood work done?
- Are you tracking your workouts to see how consistent you’ve been with them?
- Did you log your workouts and recording weights used, reps, sets, and making other notes?
- Are you practicing healthy nutrition habits and measuring how consistently you’re practicing them?
- Have you tried a food log
I say it all the time and I know it’s annoying as all getup – but I’m going to say it again anyway. If you’re not assessing what you’re doing than you’re just guessing if what you’re doing is working or not.
2 – Embrace the plateau
Use this as an opportunity to relax. You don’t need to stop working out or forget about eating healthier. It’s pretty tough to go 100mph all the time – you’ll burn out. Your body may thank you later for the much-needed relaxation.
3 – Shake things up
If you’ve been doing the same routine, lifting the same weight, running at the same pace, eating the same foods – it may be time to switch things up. A little variety might be just what you need.
4 – Progress is not linear
We like to think that progress happens in this nice linear line – That once we get started we just keep getting better or we just keep making improvements. But in reality, progress happens much like the way the Tasmanian devil moves – All over the freakin place! But if you stay with it and stay persistent and consistent, you will keep improving.
5 – Focus on tiny wins
Are you getting a little stronger, feeling more energetic, did someone tell you how great you look today? Those are wins.
WORKOUT QUESTIONS: DO I NEED TO TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
No. You don’t need to take supplements despite what every magazine and supplement company is telling you.
If you want to know if you should be taking supplements I suggest getting some blood work done so you actually know what you need more of.
You can also visit the good folks over at Examine. They are the most trustworthy source of information on vitamins, minerals, supplements, what works, what doesn’t, what you may need, and what you may not.
Examine answers your questions about some of the most popular supplements like:
- BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
- D-Aspartic Acid
- Fish Oil
- L-Carnitine & ALCAR
- Testosterone Boosters
- Vitamin D
- Whey Protein
You can drop fat, get strong, add muscle, and become healthier by moving more and eating real food. Supplements should supplement your nutrition and exercise not become a staple of them.
Well, that’s it for today. Do you want to get an answer to a question not included in this article? Submit it to the comments below.