How to Group Your Workouts

3 Dec

A Matter of Movement

I often get asked about what weightlifting exercises to do and which muscle groups to work together. I primarily plan my workouts by which movement is used: either a pushing or pulling action. Think of the the way your body moves when you lift weights.



To work your back or biceps, you are pulling a barbell, dumbbells, or a handle attached to a cable towards you. This is a pulling movement. To work your chest or triceps, you are performing movements that push the weight away from you (think bench press, tricep extensions, overhead presses, etc.). I apply the push vs. pull methodology when training upper body. For lower body, I have a different approach where I combine bend-and-lift movements (i.e. squats or deadlifts) with single-leg movements.

The push vs. pull strategy of the most classic weight training methods. In my personal experience, it has not only proven effective, but it also keeps my routines from getting stale or boring. Here is an example of the body parts I train together:

Lower Body

I choose to train lower body twice per week for a few reasons:

  1. Our legs contain some of the largest muscle groups in our bodies.
  2. Training the lower body directly correlates to shaping and/or increasing muscles (depending on your goals and training regimen) in the upper body. *Translation: if you want your upper body to get bigger, lift with your lower body, too!*
  3. I like to have a toned lower body and hope to create more of a booty than I naturally have. (A girl’s gotta have curves somewhere…)

Here’s how I group my leg workouts:

  • Quads and calves
  • Glutes and hamstrings

– OR –

  • Quads and hamstrings
  • Glutes and calves

Upper Body



I train upper body three to four times per week. I switch up my upper body routine depending on whether I am going to compete or if I feel it is time for a change. Our muscles get accustomed to routine very quickly, so switching exercises up every six to eight weeks is important. Here is how I recommend grouping upper body workouts:

  • Back and biceps
  • Chest, triceps, and/or shoulders

– OR –

  • Back
  • Chest and shoulders
  • Biceps and triceps

Here is where the push vs. pull method comes into play: chest, triceps, and shoulders all involve pushing, while back and biceps require pulling.

Abs & Core

Everyone’s favorite to have but the least favorite for most to work on: abdominals. I recommend doing abs every day that you lift weights. Working abs will ensure that a person has a better trunk, a stronger core, and a system that can tolerate and support the stress demanded of it.

I have tried two main methods for training abs: mixing them into my circuits and completing exercises at the end. I personally love adding ab workouts into my weight training sets. Ab exercises not only provide a needed break from lifting, but they also give a chance for your other muscles (and mind!) to rest. If you just incorporate them into the routine, once you move to the mats to stretch, you are done!

Because I train abs nearly every day, I do three or four sets of two main exercises. A good way to break up abs is into a few different groups: upper abs, lower abs, side abs (obliques), and the muscles that support the spine (erector spinae). Challenge yourself by trying to do three sets of 20 sit-ups on a decline bench. To work the back side of the core, lie on a mat and do supermans. No weight needed for many of the back core exercises! Just holding your arms up is tough enough.

Here’s one of the fit ladies that I really like, Jamie Eason, doing a superman exercise. She has great workout routines, recipe ideas, and helpful fitness tips. Her LiveFit training guide can be accessed here.



My Method in the Gym

When To Do Cardio

I get some cardio in every day. There are countless articles that dispute whether it is more effective to do cardio before or after lifting weights. From everything I have read–and more importantly, from trying both ways–my opinion is this: just do the cardio. Get it in. When I am training for a show and trying to lean out, I do my steady-state, low-impact cardio (heart rate at 150 or below) after weights. However, in my normal, everyday life, I love to get my muscles warm. This time of year, with 20-degree days, I enjoy doing cardio first thing. I try to warm up for at least 20  minutes.

The bottom line is burning calories = burning calories. Do not over-analyze it. If you are training for a fitness competition, hire a trainer or coach. He or she will certainly have an opinion of what to do. Otherwise, do cardio whenever you’ll actually get it done!

Whether I do cardio first or second, I always spend the first 10 minutes warming up my muscles before lifting. I’ll do the actual movement–a squat, for example–with just the bar (no added weight). If it is a movement that requires dumbbells or a barbell (like bicep curls or bent-over rows), I go very light just to wake up my muscles and give them the cue. For me, this is the first signal that establishes my mind-body connection.

Start with the Big Muscle Groups

I start my warm-up with a compound exercise (read: one that works multiple joints and several muscle groups in one movement). On leg days, it’ll likely be squats, lunges, or deadlifts. On a day with chest and triceps, it’ll be bench press and good, old-fashioned push-ups. Days I train shoulders, it’ll be an overhead press with dumbbells. On back day, I go back to the basics: pull-ups and pullovers (either standing with a straight bar from a cable or lying on a bench with a barbell). For biceps, barbell curls will get them going.

Plan Your Routine

Whether you plan your own routine or just copy one from the internet, you can always play around with training. I enjoy circuits because it minimizes my rest time between sets and keeps the workout interesting. I try to do supersets (working opposing muscle groups by perfoming a pulling movement immediately after pushing movement) or compound sets (working the same muscle group with two different exercises, one right after the other).

Frequency of Training

Our muscles need at least 48 hours to recover. Most information I have read cites training the same muscle group every three days. So even though I work different leg muscles, I stagger my two leg days per week three days apart (Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday). For those of you just starting to lift weights, four days per week is plenty. I would do two days of upper body, two days of lower body, with one day of just cardio. The other two days are for resting and recuperating.

The Overlooked Yet Important Parts of Training

After finishing a workout, be sure to stretch and cool down. In my opinion, fitness is composed of three parts: strength, flexibility, and nutrition. We only discussed strength in this post; however, preventing injury and fueling what you work hard to achieve in the gym are of utmost importance. Be sure to stretch the muscles that you worked. Do not leave the gym without doing at least one full-body stretch. Within 30 minutes after your weight session, replenish with protein and simple carbs. Eating enough food throughout the day is important as well so that you are able to push yourself in the gym. For more on nutrition, read my previous blog post here.

With the holidays here, just remember to stay at it! Get the workouts in that you can. I love to do high-interval intensity training (HIIT) when I am short on time or skip the gym to hang out with family. The internet is a great resource. Happy Holidays! Stay motivated!!!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: