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The Six-Day Gym Cycle: Which Day is the Most Important?

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As a frequent gym go-er, and by frequent, I pretty much mean once a day (so really this article should be titled 7 day gym cycle). Recently, having conversations with personal trainers and the like, I began to have a stirring question about working out. Working all of your muscles in a week, from legs to arms to chest, to back, creating a powerful structure in your body is good. However, there has to be a most important day of all of them. Some would say its obviously leg day because no one ever wants to work those muscles except for long distance runners and star athletes. Others might say it’s chest day because they want to impress people by taking their shirt off and showing pecs the size of the Rock. Well, there are some preamble questions to answer prior to going through every single day in the cycle and examining which muscle is the most important to train.

What Motivates You?

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It may seem like a stupid question but what is it that motivates you to work out as frequently and as hard as you do. As a male, is it to get the attention of the opposite sex? Is it to feel better about yourself emotionally? Is it to lose weight and grow stronger? Or do you just do it to stay healthy? As simple as the first answer sounds, it is a viable reason. Before starting any workout, you have to find your motivation. As someone who wasn’t exactly the strongest in the world but managed to keep a pretty decent look going throughout his teenage years and currently into his adulthood, my motivation was simply to just stay in shape. I wanted to grow but not to the point where I looked like I was manufactured in a gym. Instead, my goal was to be able to do the same things that everyone else was able to do. Run, jump rope, lift heavy, and most importantly to train my mental habits.

As someone who was a former powerlifter, I found that only the strong will survive. No, not the typical heaviest lifters but the people that are consistent. The numbers speak for themselves. You can max-out at 465 Ibs. on a deadlift but if cannot do this consistently than there is no point in working as hard as you do. Consistency is everything is weightlifting and most people that go to the gym are not aware of this. Mental preparation is one of the most uncomfortable things that a human being has to go through. Breaking through a wall of pain to reach your goal is rough. Yet sometimes it is worth it. By training your body you can also train your mind. I work in an office which is nice but outside of the office I am very active. It really does not make sense. Yet, motivating myself to get up at 4:00 am every morning and walk 15 minutes to the gym, do a 2-hour blast makes me feel great and doing it for 5 days in a row makes me feel even better. I find myself more mentally prepared for work and life’s obstacles. That’s what motivates me is that despite doing a hard workout I am not good enough and the next day I have to give just a little bit more. However, not everyone works like this. That is not to say that my way is the best way, but it helps me get through a workout efficiently.

What is Your Goal?

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Doing whatever you do in life there should always be a goal attached to it. Whether it is getting a school assignment done or whether it is going to the gym. You need to understand what you goal should be. If you have no goal the workout is pointless. You need to strive to achieve something that you do not currently have. Looking at Arnold Schwarzenegger for example. Arnold was a feet of physical perfection in his mind, however their were times where he would work harder to get better despite this. Not that I am comparing myself to him, but that “getting better every day mindset” is what you should have. As a kid I was bullied for being small and light. I started working out at 12 years old and naturally just wanted to feel better about myself as opposed to acting out in school. That was the way that I dealt with the problem. I still got picked on but I had an outlet. Treat every workout as your outlet. Take the headphones out and just work on the muscles that you were given. As Nike said in a 2012 commercial “Find Your Greatness.” Make an impact on you, not anyone else. Your goal should reflect that. Build your ideal image of yourself but do not change your identity, just reshape some mental and physical parts of yourself. That is what finding a goal is. Reaching it is the hard part.

Day 1: Legs

The Dumbell Lunge.

The Dumbell Lunge.

Usually, I like to change my workouts so I sometimes start with leg day and then move into something else. However for the sake of this argument lets make Leg Day our Monday motivational project. Your legs are an appendage that you use on a daily basis to get anywhere to do most anything that you want to do. Your legs are your lifeline. Typically, your legs are going to be your worst workout. Not in the sense that they are weak but because working them can be detrimental. Not going to lie, for those reading this that do not do squats, leg presses, Hamstring Curls and more. You are missing out. I agree, legs are not a pleasant workout at all. In fact, squats is probably my worst lift and getting under the bar makes me very uncomfortable for a variety of reasons that I will not answer in this article. However, your legs are essential to you. Getting them stronger is something that can be important depending on your lifestyle.

I am more of a weights person but leg cardio can be helpful as well. Especially when using resistance bands. Training your groin muscles as well as your glutes can be miserable but worth it in the long run. After working out my legs for a straight 3 weeks once, my legs grew in size by about 1 inch. You do not have to lift big weights to be strong. In fact, with legs, in some cases its better to not be as strong in them as you have other activities that can strengthen them as well. Hint, Hint: Walking or Running.

Incorporating running into your leg day workout has been noted to disrupt you if you are trying to gain weight. However, it is helpful for you to run prior to a leg workout as a warm up. You do not have to explode for a 10-mile run of course but a good 1.5 mile warm-up is a healthy way to start your day off correctly. There is almost no limit to what you can do with a leg workout. The legs have so many muscles that it is practically impossible to train them all. Legs though are good workout that needs to constantly be changing. After a while, your body will become immune to squatting, so every so often change your workout up a little bit. Instead of doing squats to begin your workout you might want to wait until a bit later to work on them. Or you may not even want to lift on them that day which is important as we just mentioned. The Importance of legs and leg workouts cannot go unnoticed.

Day 2: Chest

Chest Fly

Chest Fly

Your Chest is one of the most important muscle groups in your body. By working your chest muscles you are increasing your core strength as well. Lots of Bench Presses, Incline Presses, Decline Presses, and loads of cable workouts are good for a chest workout. Incorporating the cable cross exercise is key in every workout as like the Bench Press there are thousands of ways to make this workout better and unique than it was the previous time you did it. So Tuesday Morning or afternoon, Chest is going to be your focus. You are worn a little from the previous morning as you had a good amount of squats that left you aching and sore and will do so for the next couple of days. The issue with Chest is that actually not all of your power comes from your chest. Having previously done powerlifting, you find that most of your lifts actually come from the strength of your leg muscles. Especially Bench press. Sometimes a little extra push from your legs concentrates your arms and gives them a sense of hope to push the bar up.

Your chest is key to those out there that are looking for the beach body as you can have. A large chest or at least a trimmed chest. Either one looks pretty good to be honest. Chest is more so about the amount of reps that you choose to partake in. For instance, I do about 6-sets per exercise on chest day with varying weight. This is for mental training as well as to see how much I have progressed since my last session. You need to find that core push that gets you to finish a set and keep going. In some cases, chest is actually worse than legs in terms of soreness. After all, under your chest is your most vital organ that keeps you alive. Breathing heavy during a chest set stinks to be honest. You need to concentrate on not wearing yourself out as much during this kind of a workout. Chest is a great muscle to do burnout sets on however. Better known as a pyramid set, you start with a certain weight and then you do as many reps as you can with the proper form and once you cannot do anymore, you then take off some weight and then go again. For example, you start with 185 Ibs. And then once you do as many as you can you drop down to 180 and then 175 and so forth. This is great for a conditioning workout in the offseason if you are an athlete.

Cables are going to be your friend for a great chest workout. Mix your variations up, loads of variations actually help you as opposed to hurting you. Instead of doing incline cable crosses, do decline ones as well. Furthermore, instead of training just the mid of your chest you have the ability with cables to train your outside of your chest and the inside. You can do this with incline and decline presses as well but cables are much more strenuous and have stronger resistance than a barbell which may account for why they are such a good exercise to include in your workout. Build your chest the way that you prefer, however understand that between the two, resistance bands exercises help your chest a lot more than weights.

Day 3: Shoulders

Arnold Press

Arnold Press

Shoulders is usually a day that coincides with working arms. Many times when someone is just working in the neighborhood they include shoulders into their workout. For one, this can be useful and actually save you a day of work. However, if you do it together this can also affect how you work your arms as you will not necessarily get the full effect of an arm workout. You will end up shortening you arm work for you shoulder work. Instead of this, you should just do shoulders on a separate day. Your shoulders are a lifeline for anything that involves throwing a ball. Maximizing your rotator cuff while strengthen the remainder of your shoulder can increase your abilities to be more affective on the athletic field.

Strengthening your shoulders can feel a lot like a leg day however. Shoulders can be very sore if they are not worked enough and can often tear very easily if pushed too far. In order to get a proper shoulder workout you must know your limits. Lots of Overhead presses can grow your shoulders and strengthen them. Also, lateral pulls can be helpful as well. What you should be with your shoulders is consistent. If you push yourself too much injury may occur. Shoulders need to dealt with in a more delicate matter as a tear will affect your entire arm.

Like any muscle a shoulder has an inner and an outer strength that needs to be utilized. By doing shoulder shrugs you help the inner part of your shoulder and sometimes your back. With doing a large amount of overhead presses you build the back part of your shoulder. It’s just a matter of what you want to build with your shoulders and where you feel comfortable. Shoulder lifts are not usually maximum lifts either. They often involve lower weights and lots more of extension exercises. In order to get the max potential sometimes it can even be helpful to work them twice a week if necessary.

Day 4: Back

Side Raises

Side Raises

When it comes to you back it is the part of your body that sweats the most during an event. It is also probably the most disgusting portion of you during a workout. It may in fact be one of the hardest body parts to work because like shoulders it requires the use of your arms for every exercise. Back though is very similar to chest. Cables are your friend for this workout. You want to ensure that you are utilizing much more resistance work for your back than weights. Back injuries can be painful and take a lot longer to recover from. Your back though is pretty essential to your upper core and a lot of times it is not place that gets worked on enough. You may have a strong front but a weak back. Your back needs to be the strength should your front fail.

The MOST essential exercise for a strong back is without a doubt the Lateral Pulldown. These machines are in every single gym and there is no excuse for you not to use them if you are going to the gym. The larger quantity sets will work for this exercise. You will be doing 4-5 sets of at least 15-20 reps on this machine. This is your adrenaline rush workout because it strengthens you and makes you ask “how much can I take before I give in.” The Lateral Pulldown also can have many variations such as close grip, wide grip and medium grip. Each works a different part of your back. This machine is a key to gym success though because it can also be utilized for triceps workouts as well.

When training your back there is big importance to not just train the upper part of the lower part but to actually rain both. Weirdly enough, weights are not always an effective tool for this muscle. Cardio exercises such as back extensions can help the lower back and Leg raises can help both the upper and lower back. Its just a matter of what you are trying to train the most. Effective cardio can help everything in your body but full-cardio day is not upon us yet.

Day 5: Arms

Terry Crew performing a Preacher Curl.

Terry Crew performing a Preacher Curl.

By far the most legendary day for any bodybuilder. Arm day just might be the most essential day around. Anyone that considers themselves a life-time lifter is a big advocate for a strenuous arm day. Arms can be one of the roughest workout days of the week as well. Arms are one of those appendages that you use on a daily basis so going just a tad too hard can be painful. Arm day is a personal favorite of mine as it is the most comforting and in some cases the most rewarding workout that I have during a week. Arms are essential to the sports that I played but also in general to what I do for a living so bringing in a certain training regimen for them helped me reach a certain aesthetic.

When training your arms there are three major areas you want to focus on. Your bicep, triceps and forearm. As we already have a day for shoulders this is not going to be a focus for the day. Your forearms are going to be the easiest to work on and your triceps are going to be the toughest. Arm day is more than just boosting your bicep muscles to make them look like the muscle is jumping out of your skin. This is a day where you actually might want to push yourself to do sets until failure. By this, every set that you do, whether it be 4-5 should be a set to failure. This increases maximum growth and also is a good test of mental adversity as well. Arm day is and should be a struggle for you whether you are trying to grow or maintain. The issue with arms though is that they can get too big if they are focused too much on. Loads of athletes focus a little too much on arms.

Curls are your friend when it comes to working your biceps. Hammer Curls, Bicep Curls, Preacher Curls, and more should be a part of an arm routine. For a triceps routine, loads of extensions such as triceps extensions, reverse extensions and more. For arms are more a of wrist extension and farmers walk situation. Both of those exercises will form your ideal forearm.

Day 6: Cardio

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As mentioned in our Back workout, we do a bit of cardio to help our opposite side. Well, on the sixth day of the week, we do a cardio only day. This means that weights are not required for a majority of the exercises discussed. Of course, more experienced gym goers will use things like weights for Russian Twists or even planks. However, for the most basic of exercises weights are not normally required. You have to be consistent about cardio as well though. Skipping cardio can affect more than just your lifting strength it can affect your mental strength. Usually, I prefer to do a cardio warmup before a weight’s workout btu for the most part this is 20 mins of normal cardio crunches or the like. Instead, you need to be putting more emphasis on your cardio because its role in your everyday life may be more important than that of any other workout. Good cardio means a good foundation for building your own strength. Your core is everything. Without it you would not be able to lift anything. Cardio though can also be a nightmare for anyone that is not used to doing body weight exercises or anyone that is an extreme weightlifter. However, all professional weightlifters do cardio. Yes, even Arnold did cardio, hence why he had a six pack at 275 pounds. Granted this goes along with diet and so forth.

Day 7: Rest (Unless you are me)

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So the key to working out is resting. You need to give your body time to heal and relinquish the soreness that plagued you for the first six days of your week. Usually, I use day 7 as a running day where no weights can be found. Don’t use this day as a day to run on a treadmill either. Go outside and run. Challenge yourself as you are running. Day 7 builds that mental strength probably more than any other day. You need a mental rest and after putting yourself through a week where you are lifting six days a week you need a little time to yourself.

Plan ahead, sleep in and do something that is relaxing. For me, running relaxes me, however it may not do the same for you. So tread carefully.

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