What Does a Balanced Workout Program Look Like?
Keep an eye on people in the gym and you’ll soon notice that a lot of them work the same muscles in every workout, or neglect certain muscle groups entirely.
There’s too many people working chest, abs and arms. On the other hand, there are not enough working legs and back.
Curls for the girls, amirite?
Chest, abs and arms are the muscles that guys want to develop because it’s what they can see when they look in the mirror! It’s also “what gets the girls!”
On the other hand, they think no one will notice any back development so it’s a waste of time (far from true), and legs are avoided “because they’re hard” and again “they’re not noticeable” (wrong again).
If you only ever focus on these muscles you will eventually begin to look pretty ridiculous. People WILL notice (but most won’t say) and girls will not be interested at all. No one wants to be with an upside down triangle who looks so top heavy they could topple over at any moment. And your posture? All that benching with no pulling exercises to balance it out means it’s going to be shit.
A balanced routine is not just about aesthetics
In addition to looking strange, having an unbalanced workout routine can lead to problems with your joints and a higher susceptibility to injury.
If you want to completely bullet-proof yourself against injury and build an amazing physique, you HAVE to work legs and back regularly, and work them hard.
Those Hollywood actor physiques you see on guys like Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman? Trust me, they didn’t just do bench presses and biceps curls to get them.
What does a balanced workout routine look like?
To start simply, it covers all major muscle groups:
You might be looking at that and thinking, “right, so I have to work out 7 times a week. On Monday I’ll do chest, on Tuesday I’ll do back…”
Let me stop you there.
These are the muscle groups you want to hit, but you don’t have to dedicate a day to each one by using some kind of bro-split. This will actually get you less than optimal results because every muscle group only gets worked once per week.
You can hit all of those muscle groups at least twice per week by only working out three times per week with a full body routine. This is a GREAT workout program for beginners.
Personally, I like a four times per week, Upper/Lower split.
It looks like this:
- Monday: Upper
- Tuesday: Lower
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
This type of routine can effectively hit all muscle groups without having to dedicate whole days to arms or shoulders. There are plenty of compound movements like deadlifts, squats, bench press, pull-ups, overhead press etc. so multiple muscle groups are worked in conjunction (including core in almost all of them).
You can make it a 5 day routine if you like by doing the following:
Upper, Lower, Upper push, Upper pull, Legs.
Or a 6 day routine:
Push, Pull, Legs, Push, Pull, Legs.
However, I would say that for almost everyone 5 or 6 strength training workouts per week is not necessary. Beginners should stick to 3 or 4. More advanced trainees (lifting for 5 years plus) can see great results from 5 and 6 day routines.
The most important part of a balanced routine:
Is balance (duh).
What I mean by this is that you are not overworking certain muscle groups in comparison to others.
Now it’s fine to work lower body more than upper body, but certain muscle groups need to be trained fairly equally.
This is especially important for your pushing and pulling exercises.
It’s not enough to simply say “I train back and chest, so I have a balanced routine”. Actually, you can still have a horribly unbalanced routine that is massively skewed towards chest.
To prevent the development of muscular imbalances, joint problems and poor posture, you need to make sure you’re doing equal amounts of pushing and pulling.
If you can bench press WAY more than you can barbell row, then you have probably trained with an emphasis on pushing instead of pulling.
For every rep of pushing you do, you should balance that out with a rep of pulling. These don’t have to be on the same day, but over the course of the weeks, months etc. it should be the same or weighted slightly more towards pulling.
- You should balance horizontal pulling with horizontal pushing.
- Balance vertical pushing with vertical pulling
- Work lower body.
- Use compound exercises and isolation exercises
Balancing Pushing With Pulling
Horizontal pushing refers to exercises like the barbell bench press, dumbell bench press, incline and decline variations of both, pushups, machine presses, flies, cable chest presses etc.
Balance these with an equal volume of horizontal pulling exercises. You should be lifting similar weights for similar reps on your dumbell one arm row as you do on your dumbell flat bench press. The total reps of pulling should be at least equal to the total reps of pushing.
Horizontal pulling exercises are things like: Bent over rows, pendlay rows, one arm dumbbell rows, cable rows, face pulls etc.
You should also balance your vertical pushing movements (think overhead/military press, seated dumbell shoulder press etc.) with vertical pulling movements (lat pull-downs, pull-ups, chin-ups etc.)
A healthy dose of legs/lower body
I think you need to be working your lower body a minimum of twice per week.
This is regardless of how many times you train.
If you train two or three times per week, those should be full body workouts and include lower body exercises (with a focus on compound exercises to get the most bang for buck in your limited gym time).
If you train more than three times per week, at least 2 of your workouts should be lower body focused.
Why work lower body?
- Having a greater amount of lean lower body mass correlates directly with living longer.
- Exercises like back squats, front squats, deadlifts, lunges etc. make you look like an absolute badass in the gym (and on social media)
- Exercises like those listed above are difficult and will train your technique and help you develop a robust mindset
- Lower body focused compound exercises like squats and deadlifts are some of the best exercises you can do for putting muscle on EVERYWHERE. They also burn more calories than other exercises if fat loss is your goal.
- Skinny legs don’t look good. You deserve to be ridiculed if you have a muscular upper body with no lower body development at all.
A balanced routine also trains the body through all foundational movement patterns
There are seven foundational movement patterns the human body is designed to do.
Train and improve all of these and you will improve your ability to remain functional and move properly as you age.
The seven movement patterns are:
- Hip Hinge (deadlift and deadlift variations)
- Push (Upper Body)
- Pull (Upper Body)
- Twist/Anti-twist (rotation and resisting rotation of the spine)
- Loaded Carry
Include all of these in your program using a compound movement (i.e. not doing your upper body push by using a machine). Focus on progressively getting stronger over time. You will maintain a healthy body for the majority of your life.
Balanced routines hit all muscle groups and have equal amounts of horizontal pulling o horizontal pushing, and vertical pulling to vertical pushing. They also train lower body twice per week.
One thing not mentioned here is the importance of progressive overload. A balanced routine will ensure you don’t end up with injury problems, bad posture or look silly. But to continue building muscle year after year after you’ve exhausted your “noob gains”, you NEED progressive overload. This is the game changer and separates the beasts who build muscle for years, with those whose progress stalls after 12 months.
For help putting together a balanced routine that focuses on progressive overload, get in touch with me.