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Structure First 1

One of the most pressing issues I find that new clients are struggling with is how to actually put together their own training session due to a lack of knowledge of muscle movements and muscle actions. This is fair because not everyone has gone to college to earn a degree in exercise physiology or kinesiology. That’s where a great and knowledgeable personal trainer or strength coach comes in because not only is it their job to provide results but it is to also inspire the client, motivate the client, and most importantly, educate the client. Teach them enough to make it on their own successfully and you’re sure to get plenty of referrals down the road because you can’t realistically expect someone to train with you forever.

Your general population, non-athlete client (which is a majority of your business) would be better off understanding basic concepts of programming and exercise selection, not something you read in most magazines. The general population client may only have time to commit two, three, or four days of training per week due to other responsibilities in their life so they have to make the most of their time while also being efficient with their time.

One of the greatest fails I see on a daily basis are the individuals that come to the gym without any structure to their workouts but going through the motions of individual body part splits such as doing chest and triceps for example – a very regular body part split made popular by bodybuilding magazines. While I am not against body part splits by any means, I don’t think they are optimal for the guy or gal that sits at a desk from 9am to 5pm cranking away at the keyboard with shoulders rounded forward and a rounded upper back. These individuals require a program that is more balanced from the ground up which is where hiring an experienced trainer can be of great value to the client wanting to improve not only their aesthetics but also their health.



In my professional opinion, it would be much more advantageous for these individuals to either participate in a whole-body/full-body training regimen OR dividing it up into upper body (push vs. pull) and lower body splits depending on overall goals, convenience, and how much time they can realistically commit to training. Whole-body/full-body training splits refers to a single training session that stresses every major muscle group. Upper body and lower body training splits simply break down into sessions that involve all the muscles above the hips (chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, etc.) for upper body and all the muscles from the hips down for lower body (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, etc).

Since most people live their lives on a week to week basis it would be a great idea to look at your training from a weekly perspective especially since most of our other activities of daily living – school, work, television shows, and leisure activities – comprise our weekly schedules. Now some of you may not be used to this concept or style of training since the number of exercises per muscle group seems minimal for each session. I implore you to hear me out because you’re not seeing the bigger picture. Here’s why:

  • Whole-body/full-body training splits are generally more optimal for novice trainees due to the nervous system’s unfamiliarity with strength training. In the beginning stages of a structured program, trainees have to allow sufficient time for their nerve fibers (known as motor units) to adapt via higher repetition movements and more frequent training. This allows for more efficient movement patterns down the road. You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run!
  • Whole-body/full-body training splits allow for greater training frequency of muscle groups each week as compared to traditional body part splits where you may only stimulate a muscle group once every seven days or so. This sets the stage for quick gains in lean tissue (new muscle…by muscle i don’t mean bulk ladies!) and new found strength gains due to the neurological adaptations as well. Subsequent sessions will add on to the effects of the previous training session.
  • Due to the whole-body muscle stimulation from each session, you will be using a majority of the body’s lean tissue which leads to a greater caloric expenditure when compared to body part splits. More caloric expenditure per training session would be ideal if your goal is fat loss so make sure your caloric intake is at a deficit to reap the benefits.
  • If losing body fat is your primary objective, whole body training is the way to go! Full body muscle stress from resistance training leads to greater increases in cellular activity which increases your metabolic rate for up to 24-48 hours after the workout is over meaning your body will burn more calories during your down time!
  • There is greater activity of anabolic hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone (although much higher in men than women) which could lead to more muscle growth in the long-term.

If you are someone that can commit four to six days per week for training, then I would also recommend looking into upper body and lower body splits which allows you to add more volume per muscle group and intensity to your training sessions. Doing so allows you to train each muscle group two or three times per week. This method of training is a great progression for beginners or anyone coming off of a whole-body training regimen but wants to make even more gains. Keep in mind that with greater training intensity and frequency comes the need for more rest time as well.

How does one figure out how to structure a whole-body routine? Here’s an example:

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How does one figure out how to structure an upper body routine? Here’s an example:

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How does one figure out how to structure a lower body routine? Here’s an example:

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.55.24 PM


Now that I’ve provided you with a lot of examples to go off of, you can expand your training style a bit outside of what may be considered the norm. Either method whether it be full-body or an upper/lower split will be much more efficient than your typical body part split. You may have noticed I didn’t provide set and rep ranges. That’s another topic for another time but at least now you have a better understanding of the process. This is how I program for my clients and for myself to some extent. Give it a shot and please let me know how it worked out for you!

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One comment on “Structure First

  1. Reply Shane Jan 21,2014 8:17 AM

    Good article. May I suggest this is why a qualified trainer is so important. People’s progress needs to be monitored. I have developed an app to help trainers monitor their clients. Check out IA Fitness at http://www.fitia.ca

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