The amazing 3-step routine for toning your whole body

Get toned like our fitness expert James Fell by following his simple three-day routine for maximum results in a minimum amount of time.
Photo by Bigshots/Getty Images Photo by Bigshots/Getty Images

There are many different ways to engage in a weightlifting routine, and I’ve tried a number of them. But about a dozen years ago, I found true love. Yes, I’ve been doing the same routine for several years now, and have no plans to change it.

“There is no data showing the 101 different ways of lifting is any better than focusing on a small number of core movements,” Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University told me. “Personal training has become like men’s razors,” the latest gimmick sells he says.

What this means is, you don’t have to completely overhaul your lifting routine and go with something different just to keep your body guessing. If you find something you dig, there's no reason to change it other than just to keep getting better at it.

So what is this amazing routine? It’s a three-day-a-week program, and it boils down to push, legs, pull. That’s all you have to remember.

Day one: Push It's important to note that this is upper body push. It’s all the exercises that involve pushing away from your upper body. Broken down in the simplest terms, it’s chest, shoulders and triceps. It can make for a pretty big workout, and I’ve found a way to make it more efficient to save time.

It’s important to focus mostly on chest, because that also works the shoulders and triceps. I’d say it's about 70 percent chest, 20 percent shoulders and 10 percent triceps. If it seems like shoulders and triceps are getting the short end, remember that every single chest workout is also training the other two, so don’t fret.


Your 'push' exercises should include these moves that work the chest, shoulders and triceps:

Chest Exercises to workout with Dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press, TRX press, dips, pushups, overhead press, lateral raises and kickbacks.

Chest is pretty hardcore, so I need rest breaks between sets, but with shoulders and triceps I do a bit of switching back and forth to save time.

Day two: Legs Start with the big stuff first — squats. I would say squats take up half my leg day. Then it gets into things like dead lifts, lunges, good-mornings, quad extensions and hamstring curls, then calf raises. See the images below for form:

Leg Exercises for James Fell's 3-day workout Dead lifts, squats (with out without weights), lunges, good-mornings, quad extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises.

Always work biggest to smallest, focusing on the most intense, hardest exercises first and finishing your day with the easiest stuff when you’re nearly wiped.


Day three: Pull You guessed it, this is upper body pull day. It’s the opposite of day one. Do all the upper body exercises that involve pulling weight towards your torso. Again, start big and work your way to small.

I like to alternate between angle of attack, which might mean starting off with a set of lat pulldowns (in a variety of hand/grip positions) then moving to one-armed rows, followed by TRX rows, bent-over barbell rows or seated rows.

Then, biceps. It’s at least a five to one ratio of back to biceps, because again, remember that the biceps are getting worked by all those back exercises. The two standards are either dumbbell curls or barbell curls.

Back Exercises James Fell Workout Lat pulldowns, single-arm rows, TRX pulldowns, bicep curls and seated rows.

But what about the midsection? Glad you asked, I do midsection on this day too. Rather than typical ab exercises, I prefer big, twisting movements like wood chops or side chops or Russian twists. I work them in between all the other pull exercise sets.

How to mix it up Just because I always do the same split routine doesn’t mean there isn’t change. I change mine all the time in terms of:

  • Amount of weight
  • Number of reps/sets
  • Tempo
  • Type of exercises
  • Order of exercises

Why I like it Because it’s simple, I always know what to do, it allows me to completely fatigue one specific core movement, and, perhaps most importantly, it commits you to at least three days a week. I know there have been really hectic weeks where I’ve not hit my third workout and forced myself to find time, because when you’re on a three-day split like this, if you only do two you feel like there's a big hole in your training and you’ll find time to make it happen.

James S. Fell, author of Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Calgary. Visit for more from Fell. 


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