My sister is always asking me what exercise she can do for this or that everytime she goes to the gym. Same with my parents actually, now that I think of it. I don’t mind it at all, but it made me think that perhaps there are many who head to the gym without a clue as to what workout they will do that day.
So I created 6 steps for you to create a full body workout routine next time you need to strength train. My suggestion is to start the workout with your weakest link (of the major muscle groups). So if you’re deadlift is weak, start with that exercise.
You can follow this template to create 2-3 different workouts for the week, then change it up after 3-4 weeks in order to avoid a plateau.
Step 1. Choose a glute/quad dominant exercise
We know that glute strength is key for a strong core (which can help alleviate lower back pain), and is really important for runners. I always start my workouts with a glute exercise. If you’re not sure what you can do besides squats, here are some ideas:
- Walking lunges
- Split squats
- Reverse lunges
- Front foot elevated split squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Sumo squats
- Kettlebell squats
- 1.5 squats (Lower down, come up half way, lower down again, stand up to complete the squat. Oh, you’ll feel the burn.)
- Box squats
- Rear foot elevated split squats (rear foot elevated less than the Bulgarians – that’s the difference between the two.)
- Kettlebell swings
- Single leg squats/TRX single leg squats
If you’re just starting out, I would recommend not starting with walking lunges. It can be hard on the knees until you build up that quad strength. This would be my progression with lunges: split squats > weight split squats > front foot elevated split squat > reverse lunges (step back, lower, step forward) > walking lunges > bulgarian split squats.
Step 2. Choose a back exercise
Who doesn’t want a strong back, especially in the summer when you’re tank tops, strapless dresses, etc.? After you complete your first exercise, move quickly into a back exercise.
Once you complete the back exercise, take a 1-2 minute break, then repeat the glute and back exercises again for your chosen amount of sets, before moving on to step 3 and 4.
Here are a few back exercises you can do:
- Seated row
- Lat pull down
- TRX rows
- TRX assisted pull-ups
- Dumbell row on a bench (one knee, one arm on a bench)
- Barbell row
- Inverted row
- Cable row
- T-bar row (Barbell is between your legs. Barbell usually has a piece at the end where it is attached, or you can put it in a corner.
- Chest supported dumbell row (put your chest on an incline bench, so you’re facing down, and then row with both arms)
I think back exercises are my favorite to do. It’s one of my stronger points and it translates into stronger running (stronger back = stronger arms for that finish line kick).
Step 3. Choose a hamstring dominant exercise
Hamstrings are just as important as glutes! Having strong hamstrings and glutes means better posture, stronger core, and more strength in general. If you’re a runner and can only focus on one thing, make it your glutes and hamstrings! So many runners have weak glutes which can lead to injuries and other issues.
Here are some exercises to choose from:
- Barbell Romanian deadlift
- Barbell traditional deadlift
- Trap bar deadlift
- Dumbbell deadlifts
- Kettlebell swings
- Hip raises
- Swiss ball leg curl
- Single leg hip raises
- T-bar row
- Single leg deadlift
- Walking lunges with large steps
- Step-ups with a higher box
Step 4. Choose a chest exercise
While I personally focus less on chest exercises (for this reason), it is still important to include them in your routines. I prefer to do overhead presses and other shoulder press exercises as opposed to traditional bench presses.
My posture needs serious work, and tightening up the muscles in my pecs will only exacerbate the problem (pulling shoulders forward), which is why I like to do more back exercises (which help pull the shoulers back). Doing shoulder presses still works some of your chest muscles and also helps build strong and stable shoulder joints. Here’s a great list of exercises for improving your posture. I’ll list shoulder exercises in the next step when I get there.
Here are chest exercises:
- Barbell bench press
- Dumbbell bench press
- Incline bench press
- Decline bench press
- 1.5 dumbbell press (lower all the way down, lift halfway, lower, lift to the top)
- Feet elevated pushups
- TRX pushups
- Single arm dumbbell bench press (or incline press)
Step 5. Choose a bicep, tricep and shoulder exercise
If you’re cramped for time, I would say you can skip this step. If you chose challenging enough weights in the previous steps, you will already have worked these muscles anyway. For example, if you did pull-ups you worked your biceps. If you did bench presses you worked your triceps and shoulders. If you did inverted rows, you worked your shoulders.
But when you have enough time, definitely add in these exercises to help build an overall strong body. Remember runners, strong arms = stronger pump = stronger finish at the end of a race!
Here are some ideas:
- Dumbbell bicep curls
- Barbell bicep curls
- Zottman curls (instead of palms facing up as you curl, palms are facing down)
- Single arm dumbbell curls
- Single arm half-way curls (While one arm is curling, the other arm is holding the dumbbell halfway up, as opposed to holding it up by your shoulder in a resting position)
- Decline bench bicep curls (sit in a slightly decline bench and do bicep curls)
- Standing tricep extension
- Flat bench tricep extension (lowering dumbbells by your ears then bringing up). This is my absolute favorite tricep exercise.
- Tricep rope pull-down
- Cable overhead tricep extension
- Overhead press (dumbbell or barbell)
- Single arm dumbbell press
- YTWs on an incline bench
- L-raises (listed here as shoulder horns)
- Shoulder raise on your knee (don’t know official name but listed here as poor man’s shoulder horns)
- Lateral raises
Step 6. Choose 2-4 core exercises
Do I even need to talk about how important core exercises are? Here are my go-to exercises:
- Any plank variation
- Plank with knee drops
- Side planks with reach under (with or without dumbbell)
- Reverse crunches
- Standing pallof presses
- Medicine ball twists
- Leg lifts (same time and/or alternating)
Obviously there are many more exercises for each bodypart, but these are what came to mind of exercises I include in my routine regularly. I’d say my top picks are barbell squats, trap bar deadlift, pull-ups, incline presses, and pallof presses.
In terms of sets, I usually do my workouts as Step 1, Step 2, break, repeat 1 & 2 3-4 times, Step 3, Step 4, break, repeat 4&5 3-4 times, etc.
Let me know if you try creating your own full body routine with this guide! I’d love feedback
Do you create your own workouts or follow a routine (either from a personal trainer or website like bodybuilding.com?)
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