Sample training programme

Well, after Ben talked so much in the second part of his guest post about the “brutal” workout programme I gave him, I could hardly not show it to you, could I?

His request was for a four-day programme, with sessions that would take roughly 30 minutes, emphasising shoulder stabilisation and general strength maintenance, with no need for cardio as he is happy to go out running in his own time.

I know that as a personal trainer and therapist, plans change a lot at the last minute – clients cancel, clients ask for extra sessions, clients change their session times – but also sometimes the job is so physically demanding that he simple doesn’t have the energy for a workout. So I wanted a weekly cycle that would work just as well if one of the sessions got left out, without leaving Ben feeling lopsided.

I also needed to give him exercises that relied as little as possible on specific equipment. We were in the middle of moving gyms, and were setting up in two sites that we weren’t overly familiar with and which may get quite busy, so we didn’t want to take up space with our own workouts. Besides, I do think that bodyweight exercises can’t be beaten when it comes to stabilising joints and improving overall body strength – weights are great for hypertrophy, rehabilitating injuries, getting started, and of course general maintenance as well, but are no means essential to the programme I had in mind.

I wanted to include as many single-sided exercises as possible as they always offer more of a challenge, and help engage the core without spending precious time doing core work, and when time is short I always like to do just a couple of weighted exercises to engage the musculature and start to build strength, followed by some sort of endurance circuit to round everything off and leave you feeling like you’ve had a really tough workout even if time is short.

The rough format is a push day, a leg-and-core day, a pull day, and another leg-and-core day. I didn’t feel the need to include too many strength-building leg work as Ben has very strong and explosive legs already, and any cardio work he does will build his legs up (his legs seem to pack on muscle the second he thinks about running or cycling – usually at the expense of his upper body – from years of heavy training in track and field) so wherever I used leg work I tried to centre it around balance and stability work.

Obviously, this is a programme designed for one individual’s needs and abilities, so although I do encourage you to give it a shot if you feel up to it, I do have to point out that not only may it not help you towards your goals but it may also not be adapted for your unique physiology. Use this as inspiration, as you will, or just have a glance out of interest. Any feedback is welcome!

Day 1

  • 5min warm-up on cardio machine
  • 3 x 12 chest press
  • 4 x 8 Arnold press
  • 3 x 12 lateral raise
  • press-up circuit: 5 normal press-ups, 5 with 2-count hold at the bottom, 10 walk-arounds, 5 with 2-count hold at bottom, 5 normal press-ups

Notes: 1) Dumbbell press can be substituted for chest press; 2) Lateral raises can be performed with arms slightly bent to take pressure off the shoulder if necessary 3) Walk-around pressups are performed as follows: start in press-up position, walk hands over approximately 30° to one side, press, walk hands over approximately 30° to the other side, press, and repeat – to “walk hands over”, if you are going to the left you would move your right hand in to meet your left hand first, then your left hand away from the right, so that your hands are just slightly wider than shoulder-width in a normal press-up position

Day 2

  • 5min warm-up on cardio machine
  • 12, 10, 8 leg press
  • 4 x 8 single-leg squat
  • 3 x 12 split squat with back foot on step, 10-count hold on last rep
  • 3 x 8 superman
  • optional: 3 x 15 single-leg calf raises

Notes: 1) With the 12-10-8 format on the leg press, increase the weight at each set; 2) With single leg squats, pick your non-standing leg up and hold it out in front of you above the ground (it can be straight or bent), squat by pushing your bum backwards and down at a 45° angle towards a bench, touch briefly and stand back up by squeezing your glutes and your core, trying to keep your chest as upright as possible and your bum pointing back; 3) With split squats, use the same bench as for the single-leg squats, rest the toe of your back foot on the bench and jump your front foot forwards as far as you can, squat by lowering your body directly above your hips (i.e. don’t lean forwards) and make sure the knee of your front leg stays locked in place directly above the ankle; 4) With superman, stand on one leg with supporting knee slightly bent, and other leg off the ground with your knee level with your hip, thigh parallel to the ground, and toes pulled up towards your shin – slowly tilt your body forwards whilst pushing your free leg back behind you, until your leg and torso are parallel to the ground, arms pointing up overhead  (in this position, they will be parallel to the ground also), so that your body forms a T shape – bring torso back up and leg back in to start position without putting your foot down on the ground

Day 3

  • 5min warm-up on cardio machine
  • 3 x 12 lat pulldown
  • 4 x 8 bent over row, underhand grip
  • 3 x 12 reverse fly
  • 4 x 8 seated row
  • optional: 3 x 15 hyperextensions with arms

Notes: 1) For the hyperextensions, bend your arms to a right angle and bring them in front of your chest so that your forearms are together, elbows at chest height like a pectoral squeeze – as you come up into the top phase of the hyper extension, open your arms out to your sides by squeezing your shoulder blades together

Day 4

  • 5min warm-up on cardio machine
  • 3 x 12 overhead squat
  • 3 x 12 squat with alternating medicine ball press
  • 3 x 15 lean-backs
  • 3 x ab circuit: 20 small crunches, 10 oblique crunches to each side, 20 alternate leg pushouts, 20 speed-abs

Notes: 1) For the squat with alternating medicine ball press, hold a medicine ball to your chest and as you squat down, press it out in front of you in a single, smooth motion – return to the top, and as you squat down again, press the ball out overhead – repeat; 2) Lean-backs are a lower abs exercise where you plant your feet firmly on the ground, and sit up into your knees with your chest pushed forwards – slowly lean back without letting your shoulders curl inwards, and without letting your feet come off the ground – it is imperative that your chest stays pushed forward and that not even your toes leave the ground, or you won’t correctly engage your lower abs – often the movement will only be small, so when you feel like you are losing control, squeeze and bring your torso back in to your knees – this is a slow and controlled exercise!; 2) Small crunch bottomFor the small crunches – feet flat on the ground, head and shoulders off the ground, knuckles on your forehead – For the oblique crunches, drop your knees to one side but keep your shoulder facing the ceiling, then repeat on the other side.Small crunch top

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the oblique crunches, sorry! Hopefully this gives you an idea of the upper body movement.

Tabletop position

For the leg pushouts, start with your legs off the ground in tabletop position with right angles at your hip, knee, and ankle, head and shoulders off the ground, then push one leg out until it is parallel to the ground and in line with your body, just hovering above the ground, return to start and repeat with other leg.

Speed abs

For the speed abs, start in almost the same position but with knuckles on forehead and bring one knee in towards you as you rotate the opposite shoulder towards it, then push that leg out straight as you bring the other knee in, and rotate your upper body the other way – these should be performed fast; I normally do about 3-4 per second on average.


Although I have explained all the less common exercises, I wouldn’t advise you to perform them without supervision of someone who is familiar with them – the reason they are effective is because they are highly technical, requiring a lot of focus, body tension and control. Still, I provided the explanations in case you do feel your are capable, and just for the more curious who don’t like seeing unfamiliar terms!

This isn’t the sort of post I normally write, but as I am away I figured now would be a time to post things out of my comfort zone. I hope you have found it interesting, an insight into how I work with clients, and how I train myself – and if not, I’ll be back to talking about peanut butter real soon, I promise!

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