How to Reach Your Fitness Goals (For Men and Women)

How to quickly reach your fitness goals for men and women.

How to Reach Your Fitness Goals (For Men and Women)
Photo by Risen Wang 

How often should I go to the gym?

In general, Upper/Lower (U/L) 4 days per week programs are the best.

'Upper' is the upper body like chest, back, and arms. 'Lower' is the lower body like glutes and legs.

To optimize muscle recovery and growth, you could do:

  • Monday: Upper
  • Tuesday: Lower
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Upper
  • Friday: Lower
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

What exercises should I do?

Upper body (in this order):

  • Bench Press 5 reps x 5 sets
  • Pendlay Row 5x5
  • Standing Overhead Press (OHP) 5x5
  • Bicep Curl 2x8
  • Tricep Pushdown 2x12
  • Face Pull 1x20
  • Abs: as many reps as you can do

Lower body (in this order):

  • Barbell back Squat 5x5
  • Conventional Deadlift 5x1
  • Lying Leg Curl Machine 2x10
  • Face Pull 1x20

Proper form

Watch this video to learn how to bench press.

Watch this video to learn how to squat.

Watch this video to learn how to deadlift.

What about aesthetics?

If you're a beginner, don't worry about aesthetics yet. Just do the routine above.

If you have a strength base and want to be more aesthetic, do the following:

Male aesthetics

Male aesthetics are relatively simple: do exercises that accentuate the upper body V-taper: deltoids, upper chest, and upper back. Do lateral raises, OHP, incline bench, chin ups, rows, and bicep curls.

Female aesthetics

Female aesthetics are more difficult. Disclaimer: You likely need to hire a coach because some of the following recommendations will inherently cause muscle imbalances. But here are 3 general guidelines purely for aesthetics:

  1. Do exercises that accentuate the glutes, hips, and hamstrings. Do squats (wide stance), glute bridges, good mornings, and adductor/abductor machines.
  2. Avoid direct arm work (no bicep curls, no tricep pushdowns).
  3. Don’t do extra quadricep work (squats and glute bridges are enough).

The above will develop glutes and hips without making the legs or upper body too bulky.

  • Note: Do squats with a wider stance because it uses more adductor/abductor (hip muscles).
  • Note: Do glute bridges instead of hip thrusts because they activate the quads slightly less.

The key to aesthetics

The final key to aesthetics for men and women is to lower your body fat percentage. But only do this after you have bulked (intentionally gained body fat in order to gain muscle and strength).

How long should rest times be (time between sets)?

For squat, bench, rows, and OHP rest times should be between 3–4 minutes.

For conventional deadlifts, rest time should be about 15 seconds between reps.

For other compound movements (good morning, etc.), rest times should be between 2–3 minutes.

For single-joint movements (bicep curl, lying leg curl, etc.), rest times should be 1 minute.

  • It is best to super-set (do two movements back-to-back instead of rest time) for upper body single-joint movements because they aren’t very important. For example, do tricep pushdowns and bicep curls back-to-back to reduce time spent in gym.

Longer rest times (up to, say, 8 minutes) are better because they allow you to lift heavier in subsequent sets but they drastically increase your time spent in the gym.

How much weight should I add to the bar?

A beginner should add 5 pounds every workout for bench and 10 pounds every workout for squat and deadlift.

As you get stronger, increase the bench press by 2.5 pounds every session (you need to buy a set of micro plates — 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 1 pound set). Increase the squat and deadlift by 5 pounds every session. Do this until you reach a 225, 315, 405 lb. max for the bench, squat, and deadlift, respectively.

Deloads: Reduce the weight by 10% when you fail the last set of a movement.

What if I can’t add weight?

If your lifts aren’t increasing, you need to fix the following:

  • train correctly (use good form, fast concentric bar speed),
  • eat enough (You are too skinny. You likely need to get to 18–20% body fat to get to the intermediate level. Add about a pound of bodyweight a week),
  • sleep enough (get ~8 hours uninterrupted every night, to aid recovery).

Warm Up

Start each workout by doing 5 minutes of cardio (treadmill, elliptical, etc).

You only need to warm up for your first lift of the workout (bench press or squats) and for heavy deadlifts.

For squat, bench, and deadlift, start by doing 1 rep of the bar, then 1 rep of 135 lbs, then 1 rep of 225, and so on (increase by increments of 90 lbs). Do this until you reach your working set weight.

  • Ex) If you are going to squat 245 lbs, you start with the bar, then 135 lbs, then 225 lbs, then you are warmed up and ready to start your working sets of 245 lbs.

What about getting bigger?

Muscle size = muscle strength. Simply put, the stronger you get, the bigger you get.

General levels of strength (male):

  • Novice: You are a novice until you reach the intermediate level.
  • Intermediate: Bench 225, Squat 315, and Deadlift 405 lbs
  • Advanced: Bench 315, Squat 405, and Deadlift 500 lbs

Conclusion

You need to do the big 3 compound lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift) and some accessory movements (good mornings, lying hamstring curl, skull crushers, etc.) to get maximum overall muscle development. It can take anywhere from 9 months to 18 months of hard work for a male to hit a 225 bench, 315 squat, and 405 deadlift. Women can hit their goals much faster (2 to 3 months) because they don't need as much muscle. Once you hit these strength standards and progress starts to slow down, you need to switch to an intermediate program.

Avoid gimmicks:

  • No drop sets
  • No 'confusing' the muscles
  • No super slow reps
  • No bosu ball stability training
  • No caffeine or pre-workout
  • No supplements
  • There’s no such thing as “toning” — there’s only gaining muscle and losing weight. To get a “toned” look, build a little muscle (2–3 months following my program) and then lose body fat.