The Perfect Workout

The Perfect Workout

How to structure your workouts and why the order actually matters.

We all started here…
Your fit friend offered to take you to the gym with promises of a glorious six pack and/or a butt that just won’t quit.
Or, maybe you bravely just showed up all on your own and did whatever the hottest person in the room was doing.
If we’re honest though, none of us had a clue what we were doing at first...
Actual footage of me my first day in the gym.
This is a guide to understanding what’s important, what’s not, and why the order really does matter.
What will you learn?
  • Fitness Anatomy 101
  • How to Build Your Perfect Workout
    • Do I really need to warm up?
    • How often should I do core work?
    • Is resistance training right for me?
    • When should I do cardio?
    • What order gets the best results?
Despite what the ever-changing workout fads might try to lead us to believe, we’ve actually conducted decades of scientific research on how to exercise the right way.
We have the recipe to the secret sauce.
There’s really no reason for anyone to struggle with achieving their fitness goals and there’s no reason to feel lost in the gym.
That said, as you can imagine this is a huge body of work and I will not try to explain everything here, but I will offer a basic blueprint to structure your workouts and explain why it matters.
Before we talk about workout structure, let’s talk body structure.
Fitness Anatomy 101
Hang with me, I’m going to get a little “sciency” but it’s important to understand how our bodies work before going ham in the gym.
Our musculoskeletal structure is basically a combination of sticks (bones) and rubber bands (muscles).
Our bones are solid and give us structure.
Where two bones meet we have joints. Joints are great because they create a break in our rigid skeletal structure and allow movement.
Bones and joints do us zero good though until we add muscles and connective tissues like ligaments (connect bone to bone) and tendons (connect muscle to bone).
Ligaments are dense, strong tissue that basically hold joints together. Your knee is a great example and we all know someone who has torn one of these.
Our muscles (with the help of tendons) connect bones to other bones. When a muscle is contracted it pulls one bone through a range of motion relative to the other bone. That’s a little confusing at first but it makes a ton of sense.
This leads us into how every workout should begin.
Building The Perfect Workout
Do I Really Need to Warm Up?
As the term implies, “warming up” muscles and connective tissue increases blood flow to that certain area making them more “stretchy” and ready to move.
By repeatedly moving joints through their full, healthy range of motion (ROM) we help to prepare the muscles and connective tissue to do the same thing with a load (i.e. a dumbbell, barbell or your own bodyweight) on them.
Throwing a load on a cold muscle is like pulling that rubber band out of a freezer, attaching it to a 25 lb. plate and dangling it over your face. It might not hurt you this time, but it probably will in the long run.
So, it’s important. Got it. How do I do it?
Ideally your warm up starts with some self myofascial release (or SMR for short). SMR is essentially self massage. We’ve all had stress knots (or the technical term is “adhesions") in our shoulders and neck, right?
Well, you have those all over your body all the time and they kill your ROM and posture. Rubbing them out before you workout will help you move safer and more efficiently.
You can do SMR with anything, really, but the most popular tools out there are foam rollers and lacrosse balls.
The real masochists among us may use a PVC pipe or even a barbell, but don’t start there if you’re new to SMR. I’ll write a separate piece on how to get started with SMR soon.
If you’re already a foam rolling junkie, you know you want to at least target the muscle(s) you’re about to train. I also recommend you hit 1-2 of your trouble areas. These are usually overactive muscles that prevent you from maintaining proper postural alignment or reaching full ROM.
Next you want to perform an active stretch on the muscle(s) you’re about to train. There are a couple different types of stretching. Active and dynamic stretches are generally what you want to do before your workout.
Static stretching has it’s place as well, but doing it right before a workout will actually decrease that muscle’s efficiency during contractions.
I will do a separate piece on stretching soon as well, but for now if you don’t know the difference, stick to this format:
Active Stretching
  • Move into the stretch and hold for a two count, then release it by slowly returning to the starting position. Don’t bounce.
  • Move back into the stretch, hopefully a little deeper this time, hold for a two count and then release again.
  • Repeat this 8-10 times while trying to move just a little deeper, increasing the ROM slightly each time

This will stretch the muscle fibers and connective tissue, helping them to achieve a full, healthy ROM and prepare them to bear load safely.

How Often Should I Do Core Work?
This has become somewhat of a buzzword, so let me just define it quickly before we move on.
Your "core" more than just your abs and it’s crucial to everyone, even if you’re not looking to sculpt a six pack. Your core is essentially all of the muscular tissue that stabilizes your spine. 
Strength in this area is really important because your spine is basically the cornerstone of your body; it’s the foundation that everything else is structured around.
As mentioned above, your bones give structure but your muscles hold that structure in place, right? This is why so many people have low back issues.
They don’t have a “bad spine,” they have weak core muscles and perhaps some overactive muscles around the pelvis and it’s preventing them from maintaining proper postural alignment. 
For those of your suffering from back pain:
In my years as a trainer I will say that 80% of the clients I take on who have back pain when they meet me are completely freed of that pain with only 3-5 months of proper core training.
Of the remaining 20%, half of them also live with no pain. They will occasionally have a flare-up now and again but that’s predicated more on improper movements (lifting a couch with their back and not their legs) more so than anything else.
Given what I’ve said so far, you may have guessed that the answer is you should be training core EVERYDAY. Doing this not only prepare your body for exercise, it also tightens your waistline and will help you achieve that definition in your midsection.
Okay, how should I train my core?
Your core will be involved to some degree in almost every exercise. Get it ready to do some work by doing this:
Exercises: Selecting 2-3
Sets: Perform 2-3 of each
Reps: Perform 12-30 of each exercise
(This will vary slightly based upon your goals for your core, but it's is a good place to start.)
I love doing core supersets, but you can do them as straight sets as well.
Is Resistance Training Right For Me?
Wait. Don’t skip this. 
Okay, I get it, you don’t want to look like Arnold, you don’t want to get “bulky.” That’s not what resistance training is about though.
These are some of the top competitors from the Arnold Classic Australia this year. They don’t look bulky to me…
Your muscles are what give your body it’s shape. If you want to positively change your physique, training your muscles is the only way to do that and they’re only going to change if you challenge them.
It’s the same thing as sharpening a blade… you can rub a katana against a marshmallow all you want, it’s not going to do a damn thing. The shaping tool must be more than the steel can withstand.
Our bodies naturally adapt to handle whatever they’re exposed to repeatedly. It’s a survival tactic and it’s the only reason exercise works. Unfortunately, those pink 1lb. dumbbells aren’t going to do it in the long run... If you want to sculpt the physique of a Greek god or goddess you’re going to have to work a little harder than that.
There are tons of different types of resistance training and regardless of your goals there is one (or ten) that will help you get there.
If you’re not doing lifting at least 3 days a week your progress is going to be slowIdeally, you would we weight training 4-6 days a week to make fast, efficient progress towards your goals. That doesn’t mean you go hard and heavy every time, properly structuring your resistance training program to account for overload and recovery is important.
In all honesty, this section of your workout has the most variables and is the most complex.
In an effort to keep this outside of the short novel category I’m not going to go through these right now, but I will cover some basics in my next piece to help you train more effectively.
We’ll explore the "5 Fundamental Styles of Resistance Training.” There are a ton more training protocols outside of those, but almost every one is based off of one of the foundational 5.
If you don’t want to miss that, subscribe up below. 
When Should I Do Cardio?
Your cardio should fall the same place it does in this article - dead last.
Most people don’t actually enjoy cardio, they do it to burn extra calories and decrease their body fat while keeping their heart strong. If this is your goal, doing it after your resistance training makes the most since and here’s why.
If you want your resistance training to sculpt a better body, it should be extremely challenging. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change youIn order to give it your all in the weight room and "make some gainz," you need your body to be fueled up and ready to perform.
If you do your cardio first you’ll be burning up the fuel you have stored (glycogen/glucose) which will sap your strength for your weight training.
If you do your weight training first you’re using your stored fuel for a purpose (gainz), and then you’re more likely to be in a position to burn body fat after you’ve tapped out your fuel.
I’ll talk more about different types of cardio and their purposes another time, but for now just understand that doing something with a HIIT (high intensity interval training) format is more effective for fat loss and building cardiovascular strength than a steady state (going the same speed the whole time) format.
Weight training and HIIT push your body into a state called EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption)which helps you to continue to burn additional calories for hours after your workout. Capitalize on this, especially if you’re looking to lose some body fat.
What Order Gets The Best Results?
You may have noticed they sort of made sense in the order I wrote them, and you’d be right.
Warm up: Prepare your muscles and connective tissue to do some work.
Core Training: Prepare and strengthen your core to stabilize your spine and bear load.
Resistance Training: Your body is ready to move efficiently and effectively through full, healthy ranges of motion. Tear it up!
Cardio: Crush some HIIT style cardio and maximize your calories burn to get lean and mean.
I hope this article helps those looking to optimize their training. I created a downloadable template to help you guys build better workouts. Click here to get your copy.
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I am currently taking clients for online coaching. You’ll receive a nutrition plan dialed in with the knowledge I’ve gained over the years of helping over a hundred clients reach their goals. In addition you’ll also receive a custom training program designed around achieving your ideal physique, 24/7 support from me via Messaging and a couple Skype session each month as well.
You can apply here for more info.
Brent Bareham NASM CPT, PES


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