There are a lot of routines out there. A lot of them work. A lot of them are also garbage. Some of them can still work even though they’re garbage if you work hard at them. Here, you’ll find some guidelines for evaluating a routine.
- It should have a plan for progression over time. It shouldn’t be the same workout with the same weight (or difficulty variation, for bodyweight exercises) and the same reps that you repeat perpetually. Some way to add weight, increase the difficulty, increase the reps you do. Ideally all of these in some form or another. More than anything else, if there is no progression plan, this should be an automatic dealbreaker on a routine.
- It should list specific exercises for each day you work out, not just body parts or muscle groups.
- It should be balanced in the exercise selection and volume of each, in terms of the muscle groups it targets. The most common example of this are “beach bro” or “mirror muscle” workouts that are 90% chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and abs. There should be a good balance of front and back, and upper and lower body.
- It should provide some guideline for how much of an exercise to do in a workout. Most commonly this is just sets and reps, but it can also be a total number of reps or a total number of hard sets.
- It should not be based around, or make excessive use of, movements that involve forced instability or put you significantly off balance, such as anything involving a Bosu ball. Research has shown that these movements only decrease safety and the amount of weight you can use in training, and do not add any additional benefit.
- It should have some clear plan for dealing with an inability to progress on a lift (a stall). This should also not just be “take weight off and repeat what you’ve already done”. A good example would be to add sets or reps as you reduce weight.
The above are must-haves. In general, if you’re looking at a routine and it doesn’t meet these guidelines, it is probably best avoided.
Below are important but not necessarily dealbreakers. Ideally:
- You want the primary focus should be on compound, multi-joint movements, not isolation movements. Isolation movements should be accessory level work.
- You want the exercise selection to be primarily free weights and/or bodyweight exercises. Machine exercises should be accessory level work, not primary work.
- You want it to have you working in more than just one rep range.
- You want it to include some kind of multi-joint unilateral work – single leg (such as lunges or step-ups) at minimum.