Become Your Own Trainer

Having a nutrition coach or a trainer is extremely helpful for many reasons you probably already know. However, I have always believed in empowering people to become their own trainers through education. I love coaching, even though I cannot do it as much as I would like to. One of the most rewarding things as a coach is watching one of your athletes "graduate" by developing their own training style from what they have learned from you. Even better are those rare times when an athlete becomes a coach him or herself. With this article, I want to empower you as much as possible to be able to create programs for yourself that are tailored to your goals. I will be focusing mainly on helping you develop  a lifting program that can help you reach specific goals (i.e. bring up lagging muscle groups) without neglecting all of the other important movements. Overworking certain muscle groups, movements, movement planes, or sides of the body, can lead to imbalances and possibly injury. This is why it's important to have a program that is well balanced.

First, let's create a checklist of all of the types of movements you may want to include in your program. The following list I have created has been heavily influenced by Michael Boyle's Functional Training for Sports, and I have added some muscle parts to it to tailor it more to a program aimed at hypertrophy. Core movements are always included and can be done every day if desired.

List of Movements            Primary muscles            Exercise examples

Vertical press                    Shoulders, triceps          Seated or standing Barbell overhead press

                                                                                  Barbell (BB) push press

                                                                                  Dumbbell (DB) overhead press (1 or 2 arm)

                                                                                  DB push press

Vertical pull                       Back, biceps                   Pull-up variations

                                                                                  Lat Pulldown variations

Horizontal press               Chest, triceps                  Push-up variations

                                                                                  Bench variations

                                                                                  (DB, BB, 1-arm, Flat, Incline, Decline)

Horizontal pull                  Back, biceps                   Inverted row variations

                                                                                  Row variations

                                                                                  (DB, Seated, Chest supported, T-bar)

Knee dominant                 Quads                             Squat variations

                                                                                  (BB, DB, Hack, Sissy, Front)

                                                                                  Leg extension variations

Hip dominant                    Glutes, hamstrings         Deadlift variations

                                                                                  (Conventional, Sumo, Stiff leg, BB and                                                                                                  DB Romanian)

                                                                                  Lunge & Step-up variations

                                                                                  (these also involve knee flexion)

1 leg knee dominant          Quads                             Same as knee dominant, with one leg

                                                                                  (to minimize right/left imbalances)

1 leg hip dominant             Glutes, hamstrings         Same as hip dominant, with one leg

                                                                                  (to minimize right/left imbalances)

Elbow extension                Triceps                            Skull crushers, rope extensions, Tate presses

Elbow flexion                     Biceps                            DB/BB curl, preacher curl, hammer curl,

                                                                                  incline curl

Calves                                Isolation                          All seated & standing variations

Various other isolation movements

Having this list handy will help you not only ensure you hit all of the right movements, but you can also decide how you are going to structure a program for a specific goal. I will use a previous program and how it was structured to help you think through this. My goals at the time were to bring up my shoulders, lats and calves. Mainly because 1) my waist is thick from years of training like a football player and powerlifter and 2) I have never had big calves and I was determined to grow them (I was actually able to put more than an inch on my calves in 4 months). My exercise selection reflected my priorities at the time.

Day One

Stir the pot – core

Cable flye – chest isolation

Dips – horizontal press, chest isolation

1-leg DB calf raise – calves

Pec dec – chest isolation

BW calf raise – calves

Incline DB bench – horizontal press

Row sprints


Day Two

Preacher curl – elbow flexion

Seated calf raise – calves

Incline DB curl – elbow flexion

Double arm DB row – horizontal pull

Mag grip pull down – vertical pull

Standing wtd calf raise – calves

Deadlift – hip dominant

Fat grip pull-ups – vertical pull

Row sprints


Day Three 

Plank – core

Cable triceps extensions – elbow extension

DB rear raise – shoulder isolation

Calf burnout – calves

Front + side raise – shoulder isolation

Smith machine JM press – elbow extension

Standing shoulder press – vertical press

Row sprints


Day Four

HIIT, 2 core exercises, row sprints


Day Five

Reverse sled drags

Wtd glute ham raise (GHR) – hip dominant/hamstrings

Pull-ups – vertical pull

Leg extension – knee dominant

Leg curl – hamstrings

Neutral grip pull-ups – vertical pull

Squat – knee dominant

BB RDL – hip dominant

Fat grip pull-ups – vertical pull


Day Six

DB Side raises – shoulder isolation

EZ bar curls – elbow flexion

BB Skull crushers – elbow extension

Upright row – shoulder isolation

V bar cable extension – elbow extension

1 leg calf raise – calves

Cable curls – elbow flexion

Face pulls – horizontal pull, shoulder isolation

Row sprints

Number of exercises per movement/muscle

Vertical press – 1, shoulder isolation – 5

Vertical pull – 4, all 4 of these are also back exercises

Horizontal press – 2, chest isolation – 2

Horizontal pull – 2, both of these are also back exercises

Knee dominant – 2

Hip dominant – 3  

1-leg knee dominant – 0

1-leg hip dominant – 0

Elbow extension – 4

Elbow flexion – 4

Calves – 6

Core – 3

So as you can see, this program reflected my top priorities at the time. One thing I neglected in this wave of programming is 1-leg movements. Knowing this, I could add some in to my next training wave. Looking at my workouts this way has been very helpful to me, and I hope it helps you. Feel free to try these on yourself!

Danny Vega