Basic Workout Template

Today one of my clients brought her boyfriend along to get in a workout. I asked him how he normally trains and he said that he runs and does circuit training several days per week. Rather than put him through a “real workout,” I told him that I was going to write him a basic template and teach him how to use good form on the various exercises. He’s definitely a beginner so he doesn’t need any advanced exercises. By the time we finished, he was sweating up a storm, even though I hadn’t planned on pushing him very hard. Full body workouts are very metabolically demanding so they get you lean and strong at the same time.

In around 90 minutes, I was able to teach him how to do most of the exercises in the template. I kept quizzing him the whole time so he’d learn the template categories and the names of the exercises. He was lucky in that he had good joint mobility and decent levels of joint stability which allowed him to use good form on all exercises. All he needs is some good old fashioned strength. Below is what I wrote him. This template is very similar to what many other strength coaches use, which is a testament to it’s effectiveness.

Basic Workout Template

* If you can do more than 20 reps, it’s too light. Move up in resistance. Try to stay in the 6-12 rep range most of the time.
* Rest 60-120 seconds in between sets.
* Pick one exercise from each category. Pick different movements throughout the week.
* Perform 2-3 sets of each exercise.
* Perform the routine 2-4 days per week.
* Write down your workouts in a journal and try to move up in resistance or repetitions over time.

1. Quad Dominant Exercise – goblet squat, Bulgarian squat, step up, reverse lunge

2. Hip Dominant Exercise – Romanian deadlift, glute bridge, back extension, bird dog

3. Horizontal Press – push up, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell incline press, bench press, incline press

4. Horizontal Pull – one arm row, inverted row, chest supported row, seated row

5. Vertical Press – dumbbell military press, barbell military press

6. Vertical Pull – underhand grip pulldown, wide grip pulldown, chin up, parallel grip pull up, pull up

7. Anterior Core – front plank, stability ball rollout

8. Lateral or Rotary Core – side plank, Pallof press

That’s it! It looks so basic but this is all he needs at the moment. If you’re thinking about starting up a training regimen, this one is very effective and very well balanced. Keeping good strength balances is one of the keys to long-term lifting and longevity. Over time more advanced exercises and more variety can be incorporated into the routine but it’s important to get good at the basics first. There are lots of good exercises that I could have included such as single leg box squats, single leg RDL’s, standing cable rows, pull throughs, kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, Turkish get ups, farmer’s walks, sled pushes, landmines, face pulls, cable chops, and cable lifts, to name a few, but the point is to keep it simple up front and give people basic movements upon which they can progress. There’s plenty of time down the road for more movements and variety. This one will serve him well for several months.

25 Comments

  • Mark Furner says:

    Bret , Have you seen the gymboss timer. I seen it on rossboxing.com and bought one,its pretty kewl.Costs less than 20 bucks and clips right on the belt and really doesnt get in the way at all. Its kinda like a ring timer but you can set it to any rest period you want or anytime between sets you want. If you already know your entire workout you can totally plan the rest periods right down to the second. It goes up to 99 sets . I doubt anyone will be doing 99 sets but what the heck!

  • Johan says:

    When talking about balanced development, is a horizontal press needed as balance to lots of vertical pressing?

    I busted my shoulders by doing way to much benching, with no vertical pressing at all and very little work for middle/lower traps.

    Now I am doing the opposite since I have switched to olympic lifting, I never do any kind of bench pressing but I do overhead work several times a week. Overhead squats, jerks, power jerks, push press, snatches etc along with plenty of rowing, shrugging and pulling in different angels.

    Is there any risk that I will develop a new imbalance due to completely excluding vertical pressing?

    • Hey Johan, this is a great question. I don’t believe you need to worry about your lack of horizontal pressing. If you are seeking the best physique possible, then I’d argue that you need to find a safe way to stimulate your pecs. Maybe a type of push up or floor press for a couple sets of high reps once per week would do the trick without any negative effects. However, if you’re not concerned with physique/hypertrophy, then you probably don’t need to worry about it. Proper Oly lifting ensures good mobility, stability, and subsequent joint centration so the body learns to distribute stress very efficiently.

      • Johan says:

        Thanks, good to know!

        I am not particularly concerned about hypertrophy of the chest anymore. I have noticed though that my triceps strength has gone to hell since I stopped all kinds of benching and that is hurting my overhead lockout strength. Throwing in some close grip floor press would probably not hurt and if it makes the pecs grow a bit I can live with that 🙂

  • P. J. Striet says:

    Great advice. That template really could serve him just fine for a year.

  • Brett,
    This is such a brilliant condensation of functional baseline work. Probably you take for granted this work, but as a pain managment & rehab specialist who is not an expert in performance training the lucidness of this is nothing short of brilliant. I am sure others at your level will have their favorite templates too. But, for me this is THE TEMPLATE. Thanks!
    Craig

    • Thank you very much Craig! That means a lot coming from you! Some would argue that exercises like back extensions and seated rows could be problematic, but I have not found that to be the case. The way we perform back extensions is all hip extension and the way we perform seated rows is seated on a box squat while pulling against band resistance. It’s a very effective variation and prevents any lumbar flexion or hip flexion/hamstring flexibility requirements. Anyway, glad you liked it!

      • Brett,
        A few Qs:
        – do you really feel the Bulgarian split squat is a quad dom ex? I try to get more gluts than quads w/ it.
        – the stability ball roll out – is this McGill’s stir the pot or something different?
        – you mention that your back extensions are all hip extension – are you referring to Roman Chairs, Bird Dogs, etc w/ spine locked & using the hip as a lever – kind of like a Dead lift?

        Your routine is very inspiring. Especially from a rehab perspective since IF rehab is successful one should be able to transition to this type of performance base. Of course that is presuming a lot re: the rehab program!
        Thanks again
        Craig

        • Craig, great questions! I think there’s a continuum with both hip dominant and quad dominant patterns. Some quad dominant lifts are more at the quad end and some are more at the hip end. But I’d definitely categorize them as quad dominant. The movement stops prior to full hip extension so it stresses the hips more in a flexed position, which is fine. I think everyone has their own classification systems but to me anything that looks like a squat or lunge is quad dominant and anything that looks like an RDL or bridge is hip dominant.

          Here’s a vid of the stability ball rollout. Not the same thing as stir the pot. It’s used as an intermediary between front planks and ab wheel rollouts.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbZs_zjTbRw&feature=related

          Here’s a vid of a back extension. Notice no lumbar flexion or extension. So exactly; just like a deadlift, bird dog, etc.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rubjN8fflk4

          Thanks for the questions!!!

  • Heather says:

    Great presentation! What a great way to start someone with a basic workout while providing room to go. I think too many people get overwhelmed or injure themselves when they really need to just started with good form on the basics. I am new to reading your blog and already have found much of interest, keep it coming!

  • paul says:

    After just finishing your book i am no longer disputing you are in fact “the glute king”, ive never came across a study (and ive read 100’s/1000’s) that goes into so much depth of testing so many different exercises and ranking them in order of importance, so phenomenal work Bret 🙂

    I noticed you performed lying cable/band hip flexion and standing cable/band hip flexion. I do the half dead bug in a bodyweight circuit but never thought of adding weight to this exercise (must be the pilates in me). But did you record any noraxon data for EMG readings in the hip flexor comparing standing-lying cable/band hip flexion? And would the hip flexor be better activated by straight leg cable/band hip flexion?

    Thank you for the revolutionising the way we approach training, Paul

    • Paul, I did study the hip flexors and the Bulgarian squat and bb static lunge actually activated the hip flexors the best. Lying cable and band hip flexion was right up there too. Since these movements stress different portions (stretched vs. contracted), it makes sense to do one of each type (Bulgarian or lunge, band or cable lying hf).

  • Jason says:

    For the beginner, do you recommend doing the exercises as straight sets with, say, 60 sec rest intervals? Or do you like to superset the quad/ham, horizontal push/pull, etc.

    Jason the metalheaddoc

    • I like straight sets. Paired supersets are fine too, but I usually have to get people to get used to resting longer in between sets. Most people want to rush through which can interfere with strength gains. Paired sets are probably slightly better for fat loss, while straight sets are probably slightly better for strength gains. Good question!

  • metalheaddoc says:

    I am thinking less of strength gains and more of metabolic work. Plus, I am trying to cut the time of the workout.

  • Chris says:

    Bret,

    I am currently in Brazil (ex-pat) and it has been about ten years since I really hit the weights. I started your routine about four weeks ago. Today at the gym one of the personal trainers came by and told me he has been watching me do the routine (I get odd looks doing the weighted glute bridge) and that he was very impressed with my functional training.

    I just wanted to pass along not only am I thankful for you taking the time to create that routine but that your routine also impresses trainers in Brazil.

    Thanks,

  • Tracey says:

    Bret, I love this template! Since leaving my crossfit gym, I’m trying to learn how to create my own balanced lifting program. I think this and your new book, “get Glutes” will really set me on the right path. Thank you very much for all the great info:)

  • Rory says:

    Hi Bret, great article. I was wondering, would you say that this would be a good starting point for an 18 year old beginner? I am quite skinny/weak and am hoping this would do a good job improving my strength and adding some muscle to my frame. I would really like to give this a go, especially as it covers all of the main movement patterns.

  • Brittany says:

    Hey Bret! I love your blog and all of your advice. Thanks so much for all that you do! What’s a workout template you would recommend for an intermediate female lifter?

  • maria says:

    Hey Bret,

    I love your blog and really admire your knowledge- so Thank you for sharing with others.

    I am a very petite 24 yrs old female- I had a whiplash injury 5 years ago. As a result, I have lot of muscle imbalance throughout my body: in the neck, in the shoulders, upper back and in the glutes- It’s a lot!
    I was wondering if you have any advice for me? I am willing to work out and help fix this problem.

    Thanks so much in advance

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