The first step to writing a good lifting routine is setting concrete objectives. The more specific the goal, the higher your chances to achieve it.
A good example would be a triple bodyweight deadlift or a one arm pull-up. Those are very specific missions that provide you with an opportunity to have a narrow focus – one of the keys to success.
On the other hand, goals such as “I want to be rich and famous.” are too general and often result in the lack of target fire and actual progress. To narrow down your goals, just answer the question: What can I do right now with what I have to get closer to my desires?
When it comes to lifting, the simplest routines produce the best results. By success, I mean getting stronger and/or more skilled at something. I have given up on becoming huge naturally a long time ago, but I still make progress in different strength/skill avenues with the same approach. The reason for this is that my natural potential for growth is not that high.
Once you have a clear goal, you need a progression that’s going to lead you as close as possible to your reward. Repeating the same stuff maintains what you currently have but does not push you forward.
Think of it as a salary. Most people make the same amount of money every month for various reasons. The biggest factor is, of course, the fact that salary increases are incredibly rare. You want more money? Well, there are thousands of people who would do your job for even less than what we’re paying you right now. Go kill yourself. Next, please!
Consequently, most people work for the same amount year after year. Nothing changes. There’s no progression. In fact, the unstoppable inflation actually eats your earnings, and you regress. The same happens with your training unless you add a progression mechanism to it.
I personally like simple training cycles, but there are other ways to progress too.
You cannot have it all…
Unfortunately, or not, you cannot become really good at multiple skills at once. Doing a ton of exercises is in direct conflict with the concept of having a narrow focus. Thus, sometimes different elements have to take the back seat for a while. There is a sacrifice that you have to make.
In high school, one of my best classes was French. However, after graduation, I no longer had a reason to practice it. To preserve some of my skills, I used to dedicate 10-20 minutes a few times a week. This approach works with lifting too. Doing a skill just enough to maintain it could be very beneficial when you’re focusing on something else.
What about assistance exercises?
Assistance exercises are useful, but they are supplementary work and should be treated as such. For example, if your goal is to learn the front lever, which is a good example of strength, balance and skill, direct training will offer the most benefits. Nevertheless, exercises like straight arm pull-overs can also be helpful because they strengthen the triceps, elbows and the lats in a position replicating the front lever.
Below is a list of assistance exercises that help some of the popular lifts/skills:
Front lever – straight arm pull-overs on a cable machine or with elastic bands, triceps kick backs, weighted pull-ups, horizontal rows…etc.
Deadlift – front squats, back squats, rows, Romanian deadlifts…etc.
Squat – front squats, back hyperextensions, good morning…etc
One arm pull-ups – weighted pull-ups, biceps curls…etc.
Creating an effective lifting routine is fairly simple.
a. Set a realistic goal.
b. Design a progression.
c. Perform exercises that directly help your goal.
d. Put skills that you don’t currently need in maintenance mode.
e. Deload when you have to and build back up again.