Matt's 12-Week Transformation Guide, Part 2: Weight Training!

Whether you want to look like a bodybuilder or not does not mean you should skip weight training. Here is a complete set of workouts.
Overview | Training | Injuries | Cardio | Supplements | Hydration | Nutrition | Motivation Stretching | Transformation

You may ask, "Why do I need to weight train? Besides, I don't want to look like a bodybuilder!" Just because may not want to look like a bodybuilder, it does not mean you should skip weight training (or other forms of resistance training). Resistance training provides you with a wealth of fantastic benefits such as:

Resistance training provides you with a wealth of fantastic benefits.
"Resistance training provides you with a wealth of fantastic benefits."

This is all in addition to the appearance benefits and ability to better fit into your clothes!

Safety & Good Form

You always want to focus on safety and good form. It is the top priority as many aspiring bodybuilders and people simply wanting to get in better shape have gotten hurt by poor lifting form.

Look on Bodybuilding.com and talk with a certified trainer at your gym to learn proper lifting form. It doesn't matter what weights you use, be the person in your gym who is respected for training with perfect form and an emphasis on safety.

Warming Up & Warm-Up Sets

For a general pre-workout warm up you should do something like riding the exercise bike or calisthenics for 5-10 minutes. This is to raise your body's core temperature and get it prepared for the upcoming workout. Next, do your stretching.

From there you will begin warming up with light weights for your weight training workout. If you wish to lift more weight than you have lifted before, consider a longer warm up routine for any of the "big" exercises such as the squat, leg press, deadlift, or bench press.

This warm up routine will take about 10 minutes, but by the time you get to the main work set(s) you probably will be able to handle a greater degree of weight.

Most bodybuilding trainers instruct their clients to warm up like this, if you planned to bench press 150 pounds for 8 reps:

  • 55 pounds (45-pound bar + 5 pounds per side) for 10 reps; jump 30 pounds
  • 85 pounds (bar + 20 pounds per side) for 6 reps; jump 30 pounds
  • 115 pounds (bar + 35 pounds per side) for 5 reps
  • Work set: 150 pounds


While this will work, consider investing an additional 3-4 minutes and follow this warm up routine:

  • The 45-pound bar for 3 reps; jump 30 pounds
  • 75 pound bench press for 2 reps; jump 20 pounds
  • 95 pounds x 2 reps ; jump 20 pounds
  • 115 pounds x 1 rep; jump 20 pounds
  • 135 x 1 rep
  • Work set: 150 x 8
  • With the longer warm up you might even be able to use 155 pounds!


You will do fewer repetitions per warm up set and make smaller "jumps" (increases) between warm up sets, but you will have fewer repetitions per warm up sets.

If you are starting an exercise with much heavier weight, such as 400 pound squat for repetitions, you will take a few extra warm up sets. Keep the "jumps" in weight to no more than 50 pounds and keep the number of repetitions per warm up set to no more than 4 reps. For those of you lifting heavier weights keep the number of warm up sets to no more than 8.

If you wish to lift more weight than you have lifted before, consider a longer warm up routine for any of the
"If you wish to lift more weight than you have lifted before, consider a longer warm up routine for any of the "big" exercises such as the squat, leg press, deadlift, or bench press."

All of this is recommended to increase the likelihood that you will stay safe when weight training, especially as you progress and get stronger and lift heavier weights.

Differences Between High Intensity And High Volume Routines

If you have read anything about weight training over the last 15 years you may be familiar with the debate between High Intensity Training (HIT) and Volume Training. Each has many advocates, and each style has many different offshoots. Of course, there are those who claim to be in between these opposite philosophies, stating that the answer lies in the middle.

Most of these advocates would agree, at least, on the basic differences between the two philosophies. Here they are:

High Intensity Training
  • Done infrequently (no more than 3 times a week, and sometimes once a week)
  • No more than 1 (maximum 2) working sets per exercise
  • One or two exercises per body part
  • Focus on compound exercises (many muscles used)
  • Isolation exercises (only one muscle trained) are done at the end to "touch up" any areas needing extra work like your calves, rotator cuffs, or lower back
  • Take each working set (after any warm ups) to failure or near failure on exercises without a measure of safety like the barbell squat
  • Focus on increasing the weights used from the last time you did the exercises
  • Workouts are brief (no more than 30-45 minutes maximum)
  • Only a little bit of cardio training and conditioning work is to be done, if at all
Volume Training
  • Done more frequently (usually 3 to 5 days a week)
  • More sets per body part
  • Multiple working sets per exercise
  • Focus on compound and isolation exercises are more equal
  • Working sets usually not taken to failure
  • Workouts can last longer (45-60 minutes)
  • Lots of cardio training and conditioning exercises

You will get weight training routines for each philosophy. Choose one and stick with it for the first 12 weeks. After that time (3 months) you can determine the rate of your progress. If you wish to switch to the other style then use that style for the ensuing 6-8 weeks. Determine which works best for you and the results you get.

How Fast Should You Lift The Weight?

In order to emphasize safety, always focus on controlling the weight you use. When you speed up your repetitions you increase the risk of muscle tears.

Equally importantly, you increase the long-term tendon and ligament damage to the point that one day in the future you might hear a "pop" even though you were not lifting extraordinary weights. This sudden injury actually could be a result of long-term improper lifting technique.

You can use a slight bit of momentum to get started on exercises like dumbbell side lateral raises. Just be sure to control the weight once you get started.
"You can use a slight bit of momentum to get started on exercises like dumbbell side lateral raises. Just be sure to control the weight once you get started."

To be conservative lift your weights in 2-3 seconds, and lower your weights at least as slow as you lifted the weight. If you are coming back from injuries or want to emphasize safety, lower the weights you use a little bit; then lift the weights in 3-4 seconds and lower the weights in 4-5 seconds. This will reduce momentum and ensure that your lifting will focus on the muscle groups being worked.

You can use a slight bit of momentum to get started on exercises like dumbbell side lateral raises. Just be sure to control the weight once you get started.

In addition, you can use a little bit of momentum to get your body out of a potentially risky position such as the bottom part of the squat.

Weight Training Routines (High Intensity Training - HIT)

Twice A Week - Phase One (First 6 Weeks)

Do a general total-body warm up, and then do at least 3 warm up sets for the compound exercises before doing your one main set. Take the compound exercises to near-failure as going to failure on these exercises can put you in a precarious and possibly dangerous position.

On isolation exercises, do one warm up set and then go to the main set as you should be warm by that point in the workout. Take each main set to failure on the isolation exercises (especially when using machines) and choose a weight where you can get 8-10 repetitions. If you can do more than 10, continue on to failure and then increase the weight used by 1%-5% the next time you do the exercise.

Remember that small, gradual increases in weight will add up over the course of several weeks.

Phase One: First 6 Weeks
If you have a history of lower back injury, do "Rack Pulls" in a power rack with the pins set at/slightly below knee height
If you have a history of lower back problems use the Safety Squat bar and/or use a box (or moderate height flat bench) and perform Box Squats
You can alternate this with Dips for the second workout of the week. Once you can do 8-10 slow, controlled repetitions then add weight if your gym has a "dip belt" or chain you can attach around your waist
You also can do these seated in a power rack with the pins set at a level roughly around the top of your head. This will work the final range of motion and add a degree of safety
Consider using wrist straps or doing them in a power rack so that you have a degree of safety. If your grip strength is not good then there is a risk that you will not be able to hold onto the bar/dumbbells for an adequate period of time; so always focus on safety
Start with your palms facing you and as close a grip as possible. By keeping your hands as close together as possible you work the muscle over the greatest range of motion possible. This will activate the most amount of muscle. Be sure to pause slightly in the bottom position, squeeze your shoulder blades, and really "feel" the muscles working
Alternate with seated calf raise on the second workout of the week


It's time for a quick assessment before starting the next 6 weeks of your workout. Be sure that you have:

  • Done your body fat percentage at least once
  • Weighed yourself at least once
  • Taken any pictures of your progress
  • Kept your training log
  • Done the appropriate cardio training
  • Done the appropriate "conditioning" work
  • Increased the amount of weight and/or reps you did from week 1
  • Been disciplined with your nutrition
  • Been disciplined with your water intake
  • Reduced alcohol consumption significantly
  • Cut back or eliminated any tobacco use

Assuming you have done all of these you should have seen progress toward your goals. With very rare exceptions, your body MUST have improved if you followed the instructions to this point. If so, congratulations on achieving the first phase of your goal!

Six weeks is 42 days. If you started and maintained good habits for 42 straight days, chances are that it is becoming easier to keep them. Keep this sense of accomplishment with you when you prepare for the next phase.

To start you will do something somewhat counter-intuitive. You will take off one workout day! If you regularly train on Monday and Thursday, then in Week 7 take off the Monday workout, and start the next phase on Thursday. Basically, you will not work out with weights from the Thursday of Week 6 until the Thursday of Week 7.

This one week away from the weights (everything else is the same - cardio, nutrition, water, etc.) will give your body a needed rest from the intense weight training for 6 weeks. Furthermore it will give you a chance to reduce any "cutting line" injuries. These are minor tears of the muscle and surrounding parts which are not "injured" in the classical sense, but could cause minor aches and pains if they are not given time to heal.

Instead of your regular weight training workout, go do something fun instead. Go walk in the park, play a round of golf, ride your bike around the lake, or even get a massage. Do something light, non-intense, and give your mind a temporary reprieve from having to get "psyched up" for a workout.

By the time your next scheduled workout comes you should be healed up better, have more enthusiasm, and be more focused for the next phase in your transformation.

Twice A Week - Phase Two (Second 6 Weeks)

You will follow the same recommendations as in Phase One. Just remember to train with slow, controlled movements with an emphasis on safety. If possible, gradually increase the weights and/or repetitions you do in order to give your body enough stress to adapt and add lean muscle, providing you are eating and sleeping properly; yet you will not stress your body so much that it becomes injured or cannot repair itself by the time you are ready to do your next workout.

Bent over Barbell Row
Bent over Barbell Row
Phase Two: Second 6 Weeks


Notice the changes in your body after 12 weeks! You should see progress, feel better, have more energy, and be ready to take on new challenges in your health & fitness goals. Before deciding on the next goal be sure to have the following completed by the end of Week 12:

  • Done your body fat percentage at least once
  • Weighed yourself at least once
  • Taken any pictures of your progress
  • Kept your training log
  • Done the appropriate cardio training
  • Done the appropriate "conditioning" work
  • Increased the amount of weight and/or reps you did from week 1
  • Been disciplined with your nutrition
  • Been disciplined with your water intake
  • Reduced alcohol consumption significantly
  • Cut back or eliminated any tobacco use

Also take any measurements and determine the areas where you gained muscle, reduced inches (such as around your waist), and any other items of interest.

Three Times A Week (For 4 Weeks)

You will get all of your pre-phase information and follow the same instructions as the Twice-A-Week routines. In this suggested high-intensity routine you will follow the routine for only 4 weeks. Once you have completed the 4 weeks (12 workouts) you will take a week off from weight training to give your body a much-needed rest and time to recover. You then will resume the same routine for 4 more weeks.

The reason why you won't change the routine's structure is that variety is built into the routine already. Many trainers give their clients the same routine to do for 6 weeks and then tell them to change everything. Instead, you will "rotate" through 3 routines a week, take a week off, and then resume this "rotation." The routine will keep your body from becoming too adjusted to the same workout, and therefore you can focus on your goal: getting stronger in each lift from week to week using safe, proper form.

Whether you want to gain muscle or reduce size for health reasons (a much better wording than wanting to lose weight!), focusing on getting stronger from week to week will help you develop lean muscle. The actual weight on the scale is controlled by the quality of your nutrition, amount of calories, stress levels, and other factors.

If you have conditioned yourself to want to "lose" weight at all costs, you still want to get stronger from week to week. It makes no sense to want to get weaker for any reason! Besides, the body will reward you if you help it add lean muscle because lean muscle raises your body's overall fat-burning capabilities...even while you are sleeping!

Three Times A Week For 4 Weeks
Remember to use wrist straps and/or do these in a power rack with the pins set appropriately to emphasize safety
Use very light weight and do not go to failure


To recap with this routine:

  • Workout 3 times a week from Week 1 through Week 4.
  • Take Week Five off and do something low-intensity on what would have been your workout days. This is to keep you fresh, heal up any minor injuries, and build enthusiasm for the next phase.
  • Workout 3 times a week from Week 6 through Week 9.
  • Take Week Ten off and repeat Week 5.
  • Workout 3 times a week from Week 11 Through Week 12.

Even during your weeks off, continue to eat properly (just no post-workout shakes), do your cardio, get enough sleep and water, and stay disciplined.

Weight Training Routines (Volume)

Twice A Week (For 6 Weeks)

After your overall warm up, stretching, and initial warm up sets for your weight training you will do 3 sets of 8 repetitions for each of the exercises. Choose a weight where you can do 8 repetitions without getting too winded, but enough to feel as if you thoroughly worked the muscle.

Day 1: Legs, Back & Biceps


Day 2: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps & Abs


Three Times A Week (First 6 Weeks)

Day 1: Legs
Use a very light weight as this is for a warm up only


Day 2: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps


Day 3: Back, Low Back, Biceps & Calves


Three Times A Week (Second 6 Weeks)

Take at least one workout day off in order to heal up and let your body have extra time to repair minor tissue damage. During this phase you will do higher repetitions, so at first you most likely will have to reduce the weight you use in your work sets.

Day 1: Legs


Day 2: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps


Day 3: Back, Low Back, Biceps & Calves


Four Times A Week (More Advanced "Pumping" Routine)

If you are looking for workout to give you more of a "pump", do 4 sets for each exercise, following this repetition method:

  • 1st Set: 25 reps, then increase the weight slightly
  • 2nd Set: 20 reps, then increase the weight slightly
  • 3rd Set: 15 reps, then increase the weight slightly
  • 4th set: 12 reps
Day 1: Chest & Shoulders


Day 2: Legs


Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Arms


Day 5: Back


Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

Do the amount of cardio you need for your goals (detailed in another section); but don't do cardio on days you train legs. Do your conditioning work (detailed in another section) twice a week.

After 4 weeks, take off one workout to recover and then follow the same routine. Just substitute exercises where you can such as switching from the leg curl to the seated leg curl.

Weight Progression (Double Progression Method)

Your goal from week to week is to get stronger on the exercises you perform relative to the number of repetitions you intend to achieve. For example, if you can leg press 300 pounds for 10 repetitions (on the days you want to reach 10 or more repetitions) then the next you do the leg press use 305 or even 310 pounds for your work set(s). Of course, this assumes you use safe and proper exercise form.

Of course you can do more repetitions, but if you reach or exceed your target then seriously consider increasing the weight used. You want to make gradual changes but always progress. Your improvement in the weight used and/or repetitions performed is called the "double progression" of weight training.

For the ladies reading this, you won't "bulk up" by increasing the weight used in your exercises. Bulking up is a matter of calorie consumption, advanced supplementation, and specific training to increase your muscle mass. Assuming that you structure your training properly (that is why you are reading this!)

Training Log

training log

No matter what weight training philosophy you follow, most trainers will encourage you to keep some sort of training log. This is a record of the exercises, weights, and repetitions you used. You can make it fancy with spreadsheets and a database, or you simply can keep a small notebook in your gym bag.

Look at your training log before your workout and recall what you did the last time you did the particular exercises you plan to do that day. Remembering that you must emphasize safety and good form always, plan on how you can improve today. You can improve in any of the following ways:

Lifting a slightly heavier amount of weight than the last time you did the exercise

  • Use an increase of no more than 1% to 5%
  • For example, if you bench pressed 100 pounds for 10 repetitions last time, you can raise the weight to 105 pounds and attempt to get at least 8 repetitions, if not more
  • Do not jump to 120 pounds from the previous workout. Such large percentage jumps are most likely too taxing for your body, and those "jumps" in weight are usually reserved for powerlifters or other advanced weightlifting athletes like an Olympic lifter

You can increase the number of repetitions using the same weight

  • If you bench pressed 100 pounds for 8 repetitions last week before reaching "near failure" then attempt to reach 9 repetitions (or more) this week before reaching near failure

You can reduce the amount of time to do the exact same workout as last week

  • Assuming you used safe, proper exercise form last week your workout may have lasted 42 minutes. If you have no medical conditions preventing you from more intense exercise, find out if you can do the same workout in 40 minutes
  • Being able to tolerate the same amount of exercise in a shorter period of time is one way to determine that you have improved from the previous week's workout

Mark any improvements in your training log. Focus on these improvements to give you encouragement for the upcoming weeks; the knowledge that you have made progress relative to yourself should be the motivation. Any compliments from others, acknowledgements about your physique when out in public, or fitting better into your clothes is all secondary.

Remember that clothing manufacturers have different sizing scales, compliments from others are based on what they are feeling at the moment, and other external recognition is beyond your control. Knowing that you made progress under your control is the primary reward for your decision to improve your health & fitness levels... and your training log is the proof!

Rest Between Sets

If you plan on lifting heavy weights, such as squats or deadlifts with weights totaling more than your body weight, you can take 3-4 minutes to catch your breath and rest enough to be able to handle the weights with safe form. On less-intense exercises, you can rest 1-2 minutes before doing your next set. Of course, if you need more rest then take it! Safety is always first. Immediately stop exercising and seek help if you sense a shortness of breath or other indication that something is wrong.

If you wish to have more of a "circuit training" workout, and therefore add an element of cardio training to your workout, you can reduce the rest to 30-60 seconds. Just know that the trade-off is that you probably will have to use lighter weights.

Workouts Without Weights

What if money is tight for the next couple of months so you had to drop the gym membership? What if you are going to be traveling for work and you won't get back to the hotel room until after they lock the doors to the hotel gym? What if you don't want to go to the only gyms in your area because certain people there make you feel uncomfortable?

If you have these concerns, no problem! You can use your own body to provide resistance and increase your lean muscle mass. While you may not be able to achieve a Mr. Olympia or NFL linebacker's physique without some form of weight training, you still can get a great body without going to the gym.

Learn the bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere, anytime. These techniques are also used by athletes who are on the road a lot and cannot always get to the gym such as professional wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, baseball players, and others.

Elastic Tubing/Bands

If you carry elastic tubing with you in your briefcase or suitcase, here is a total body workout which you can use at any time.

Pool Workouts

If you love spending time in the swimming pool but don't like swimming lap after lap then consider using the resistance of the water to get a great workout. You won't need very expensive equipment and you can do this workout in any pool. It is especially useful if you have joint pain or are recovering from injuries, although it can be used by anyone to get a great workout.

Conclusion

Now that you have the tools you need for a great training program it's time to prepare for the worst. What if you get injured? Can you still workout? Let's move to the next article and see what types of injuries you can keep training with.

Overview | Next

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About The Author

Matt Mc Dermott authored Metroflex Gym's e-book and the new fitness e-book for all women called 'Fit Into Your Jeans.' Fire up your transformation...

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