Get Strong, Muscular and Mobile (Fast)

The reason you rarely see even regular gym-goers improve their fitness is because they do not perform the right exercises with the required effort. If you’d like to get stronger, muscular and mobile, here’s a routine that will bring you to the promised land.

OVER THE Thanksgiving Holiday, I visited friends in DC and Charlottesville, VA.

Ate plenty, but also was lucky enough to have Kevin, my DC friend, plop me on his spare bike and had me chase him all over the magnificent Capital Crescent bike trail; and Gary, my Charlottesville pal, hauled my lazy butt to his gym nearly every day.

From time to time, I’d see Gary looking over at my weight lifting antics.  On the third day, he wandered over, kindly waited for me to catch my breath, and asked me if I could put together a workout routine for him.

Gary is typical of the gym-going crowd who goes regularly, but doesn’t get much out of it. In his case, he’s gotten in decent aerobic shape by furiously pumping pedals to keep abreast a comely bike diva that he rides with, but the muscle/strength thing was lagging.

“So, Joe, could you put me on a new routine that will get me in better shape”, Gary asked.

Still panting, I nodded and gasped out, “Sure, tomorrow.”

That night at his home, I penciled out the workout routine I’m about to share with you. My objective was to present Gary, and by extension, you, a workout out that would achieve six things:

1. Grow muscle
2. Build strength
3. Improve mobility
4. Increase anaerobic and aerobic conditioning
5. Be flexible
6. Be progressive

If we had a video camera and were a little less shy, we could have taped what I showed him. Since we didn’t, I’ve hunted down the exercises on YouTube.

[Note: If you want to learn about a particular exercise, search for it on YouTube. Look at several examples, cause some are much better than others.]

Before you jump into the videos and explanations below, please read the following Guidelines. Without knowing them, confusion will abound.

Read These 10 Guidelines to Gary’s Workout

1. Whole body each session

This training routine consists of five Compound Sets of resistance exercises aimed at increasing joint mobility, muscular development and strength. The entire body will be exercised each session.

2. Workout session frequency

The routine will be done three alternate days per week in order to allow your body to recuperate. Muscles do not get built during the exercise, but when rested afterwards.

3. Sets and reps

“Sets” typically refer to the number of times you do a particular exercise, but here we tweak the term a bit by referring to a sequence of multiple exercises done without pause as a “Compound Set”. So, say, rather than doing 10 pushups and referring to that as one set, we will do a pushup and some number of other exercises back-to-back, and call all those together one Compound Set.

“Reps” are typically the number of times you do an exercise to complete the Set. Same here: you’ll do some number of reps for each exercise within a Compound Set.

Aim for 12 reps for upper body exercises and 15 for lower. After a month or two of consistent lifting, you can reduce the reps to 8 upper, 10 lower, as you add weight.  Typically, high reps produces definition and cardio capacity and low reps produce muscle and strength, although there are plenty of exceptions.

4. Exercise routine

The routine consists of some number of Compound Sets done without rest, followed by active rest. Before each Compound Set, focus your mind on what you’re about to do, and ensure that the equipment is ready so you can more quickly from one exercise to the next in the compound set.

5. Be here now

Be where you are, meaning do the number of Compound Sets and Reps that your body and mind enables without judgment. You will quickly improve.

6. Proper form is paramount

Proper form is exceptionally important. Unless you aim to be competitive, the amount of weight lifted is inconsequential as long as it’s heavy enough to tax you. If you can, observe yourself in a mirror to ensure proper form. Stop the exercise when your form breaks down, such as rounding your back when dead lifting. Ideally, ask a fitness trainer to observe your technique.

7. Multiple exercise options

For most exercises here, multiple options are presented so that you may select one that matches your interest, ability and equipment. Remember #6 and do not overreach. So, if you have a “bad” back, do not choose barbell dead lifts.

8. Fresh and confused

Keep your routine fresh. From time to time, substitute the exercise you’re doing with an alternative offered. Not only will these keep your exercise sessions interesting, but present muscle confusion; meaning, your muscles will continue to be challenged by new stimuli.

9. Off day activity

If desired, do aerobic, yoga or HIIT activities on non-workout days.

If you wish to incorporate High Intensity Interval Training (“HIIT”) into your workouts, limit them to twice per week, and seek to do one on a non-workout day and one on workout day, but before it, and reduce the number of exercises in the workout. (More on HITT here.)

10. Feed your muscles

Just prior to exercise, drink about 20 grams of whey protein with water, skim milk or almond milk. Within an hour after exercise, again consume the whey drink, but this time add some carbs and high quality fat to it, such as blueberries/blackberries, banana, 1/2 cup of Greek yoghurt, flax seed powder and chia seeds.

Be aware of total calories; you don’t want this post-workout drink to replace a meal.

Before bed, consume some casein protein powder. Casein digests more slowly than whey protein, so is ideal for feeding the muscle tissue you broke down during exercise as you sleep. Whey is digested quickly, and so feeds the muscle when you most need it — just before and after exercise.

Protein supplement quality is very important. The whey should be “denatured” and cold processed. Among the few brands that fit the bill are Dr. Mercola’s Miracle Whey Protein Powder, and Prohealth’s ImmunPlex Undenatured Whey Protein

Dr. Mercola's Miracle Whey protein powder ImmunPlex Undenatured Whey Protein (306grams,  powder)


As Ori Hofmekler describes in If Your Protein Contains This – Throw it in the Trash, most casein on the market is garbage. Although Hofmekler does a great job of underscoring what’s bad in most casein supplements, he does not provide recommendations for good brands to use, nor have I yet found any. So, know that a good alternative to casein is low-fat, organic cottage cheese.

[If you can recommend a quality casein protein supplement, please mention it in the Comments section below.]

OK, with these Guidelines in mind, let’s dive in…


The Routine

-There are five Compound Sets, each consisting of three or more exercises.

-Go for 12 Reps for each upper body and 15 Reps for lower body exercise.

-If you can, do three circuits of each Compound Set before moving to the next one. But one is fine to start.

-Rest: During each Compound Set, you rest while doing the Calf Raisers. Once done with all the circuits for a Compound Set, try not to rest more than three minutes before moving on to the next.

-Duration: It may take longer to do this routine than you like at first, but as you become more accomplished, you’ll fly through it.


1. Warm-up/ Core /Glutes

Before taxing your back and legs it’s important to warm-up your core, that part of your body extending from below your chest to your hips, front and back. While we’re at it, we’ll get the glutes fired up so you can have a better kinesthetic awareness of them during the next compound set.

1.1 Full Body Dynamic Joint Rotation

My recommendation is that you watch the videos in this section and choose the mobility exercises that will work with for you. The objective is to warm up all your joints, create a bit of perspiration and heat in your body so that you’re ready to put out some effort.

Don’t choose the simplest ones for you to do, for often the most difficult ones are those you most need.

Of the following 1.2 thru 1.8 that you chose to do, perform them without (or with minimal) rest, for three circuits (“3X”). This means you move from 1.2 to 1.3, etc., and after completing 1.8, do it again three times.

Expend some effort, with the understanding that if you push to failure on any one, the next will not be done very well since you’re not recovering (resting) between exercises.

1.2 Dead Bug

Make sure you press the lower part of your back, the lordosis, firmly against the floor, and stop the exercise once you now longer can keep your lower back flat against the floor.

1.3a Stability Ball Leg Lifts


1.3b Bicycle Kicks, followed by Leg Lifts

1.4a Stability Ball Crunches


1.4b Floor Crunches

1.5a Stability Ball Glutes


1.5b Floor Glutes

1.6a Back Extensions (with rear delt raises)

[By the way, the guy in the last three videos above is Ben Bruno. He's an exercise wizard. Check out all his videos here.]


1.6b Back Extensions on Floor

These next two are really good for people who sit all day, particularly hunched over a keyboard. The Scapula Pushup and Elbow Pushups will strengthen the muscles in your upper back that help hold up your head and have more upright posture.

1.7 Scapula Pushup

The Scapula Pushup is demonstrated at the 3:48 minute mark, so go straight to that mark, or watch the whole video for more ideas for warm-up exercises.


1.8 Elbow Pushup

OK, you’re done with warm-up and core exercises, with some upper back and glute work thrown in. Now it’s time to get to the stuff that will really task your large muscles.


2. Dead Lift/ Stair Lift/ Pull-up 3X

2.1 Dead Lift

Warning: Do not perform the dead lift if you have back problems. Do not perform the Dead Lift if there is no instructor at your gym to show you proper form and observe that you’re doing it correctly.

Remember, for the first month or two of consistent exercise, try for 15 reps for lower body exercises and 12 for upper body. One reason for this is that it will force you to use a lower weight, which is appropriate as your body gets accustomed to the challenge. The Dead Lift is designated a lower body exercise.

I’ve found several versions of the Dead Lift posted on YouTube; pick the one that’s best suited for you. Select a lower weight than you think you can lift.

Begin with the single leg dead lift, with dumbbells (as shown below) or a light barbell, or unweighted.


As you develop strength and balance, try dumbbells.


Finally, move on to the barbell.


Once one of the three dead lifts are completed, move quickly to…

2.2 Stair Lift

In the example below, the woman is stepping up onto a high platform. Begin with a lower one. Choose a weight, dumbbell or kettle bell (as shown), appropriate for your fitness level, or just use your body weight.


Move quickly to…

2.3 Pull-up

Begin with palms facing away from you for the first set, then palms facing you and finally for the third set, thumbs facing you if your apparatus allows for that position; otherwise do the first two sets with palms away and the last with palms facing you.

Most people can not perform more than a couple of pull-ups/chin-ups, so use assistance. If none is available, step up on something that lifts your chin to the bar and lower yourself down no faster than five seconds. Eventually, you’ll be able to pull yourself up.

Here’s an example of a band assisted pull-up, and note that her hands are positioned with thumbs facing her, which is the option for your third set:


You can also use machine assistance:


2.4 Calf Raisers

This is your rest period. Yes, you’re working your calves, but you’ll be able to catch your breath while doing so.

There are three muscles in the calf, and you work each of them by pronating your toes in, parallel and out. So, start if toes in and do the reps relative to the weight you’re using, but not less than five, then immediately go to the parallel position for five, and finally the toe-out position for the last five.

in the example below, the woman is on a weighted calf raise machine, but you can do the same exercise without weights, on one leg at a time, or holding a dumb bell. She does not turn her toes in, parallel and out, but you can.


OK, that’s the first Compound Set completed. Do up to three circuits (meaning, repeat it as many as three times). Rest for no more than three minutes and begin the next…


3. Press/ Squat/ Bench 3X

3.1 Press

This is a shoulder press.


If you don’t have a barbell, use dumbbells, or one at a time as our innovator par excellence, Ben Bruno, demonstrates:


Yeah, a nutty way to press a dumbbell, but this technique introduces instability which will require strength and balance to overcome.

Move directly to…

3.2 Squat

[Check out a really good discussion of squat technique at Arnold Schwarzenegger's site: Squat 101.]

There’s a near infinite number of ways to do a squat, but if you haven’t done them much, begin with a “free squat”, which means without weights. Then progress to squatting with dumbbells before you move on to the barbell.

Once you can do more than 40 reps, add weight. But not much. Form is critical. Have an exercise instructor assist you.



You’re huffing and puffing by the time you done with squats, but move quickly to…

3.3 Bench Press

If you don’t have weight, do push-ups. There’s something for everyone here:


Have a bench and barbell? Well, try this:


Dumbbell version:


Right after you’ve done one of the three above chest exercises, go do the calf raises…

3.4 Calf Raises as described above.

After completing the calf raises, rest for three minutes or less before you move on to the fourth sequence of compound exercises.


4. Lat Row/ Rhomboid/ Trapezius 3X

4.1 Lat Row

OK, as before, I’m serving you up some choices to work the latissimus dorsi. The idea remains the same, and that is progression; meaning, to offer a selection of exercises that build upon the other.

So, choose one of the rowing movements from the options presented below.

The one arm dumbbell row is a good one to start with because it provides stability and control for the beginner.


Once you build up some strength and become accustomed to the movement, you can get creative, as Mr. Bruno demonstrates, albeit with an excessive amount of weight which you will not attempt (please):


The one-legged rowing movement shown above will prepare your core and back for the standing barbell row, which, hopefully, you will do guided by a fitness instructor:


Having selected and performed one of the above three options, quickly move to the next exercise…

4.2 Rear Delt + Rhomboid

Here we seek to do two things: 1. Reverse the slump forward posture that hovering over a keyboard all day promotes, and 2. Develop an oft forgotten part of the anatomy, the rear deltoids. Without rear delt development, your deltoids will look flat, rather than rounded.

Choose one of these two exercises, perform it, and move quickly to the next exercise.


Go fast to…

4.3 Trapezius

Here’s the instructional video:


Option 1:


Option 2:

Go to…

4.4 Calf Raises per above.

Rest for three minutes or less, and then begin the last Compound Set.


5. Dips/ Curl/ Triceps Extension 3X

5.1 Dips

Whether you include them now or in some later workout incarnation, the Dips must be apart of your resistance training. Like the Dead Lift, Dips are a true compound exercise — it works the chest, shoulders and triceps simultaneously.


If you can do more than 15 reps with your body weight, and you have the jones to add weight, Scott Hermann demonstrates how to do it.


If you don’t have a Dip apparatus, use any stable corner, like your kitchen counter.


Can’t do Dips? Hopefully, your gym as a Dip Machine which provides assistance that effectively reduces your body weight by any amount you choose.


Next up are the Bicep Curl and Triceps Extensions. Rotating the biceps and triceps within a Compound Set is a great way to make them stronger and bigger, which is typical of doing antagonist exercises back to back: The bicep contracts, the triceps lengthen, and visa versa.

5.2 Curl

If your core isn’t very strong yet, begin with a seated curl:




5.3 Triceps

The first option is a good place for the novice:


Here’s Mighty Ben demonstrating a triceps dumbbell pullover:



5.4 Calf Raises (as above)


6. Stretch

For your consideration, I’ve got some old tape of me going through a post-workout stretch routine that I still use.

Do stretch after your workouts, particularly the muscles you exercised and areas where you’re locked-up. Increased mobility allows you to be stronger, lift safer and enjoy life more. Also, stretching after exercise speeds up your recovery so that you can go abuse yourself again more quickly.


Well, that’s it.

Do you have any questions or suggestions? If so, put em in the Comments section below.


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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and free stuff, join my weekly newsletter.