It doesn’t matter what kind of fitness goal you have in mind, we can all agree that having a well-structured workout routine is what will help you achieve that goal. The thing is that creating a workout plan, especially for a strength training program, can be complicated at first, which is why many gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts opt to have a personal trainer plan it for them. While this is a good option for those who don’t have the time to create their own routine, doing it yourself is easier than you might think! You just need to understand the basics, and then you’ll be free to create a routine that adapts to your goals, lifestyle, current fitness level, and even personal preferences.
In this detailed guide, we’ll walk you through the key aspects of an effective workout plan and help you decide what kind of routine works better for you. After reading our guide, you'll know how to plan a workout effectively and for the long term!
What you need to know before creating your plan
The main thing that you need to decide before you start planning your new workout routine is your fitness goal. To create a successful and effective workout plan, you need to build it around a specific fitness goal by choosing the right exercises so that you can get the most out of your training time and achieve your goal in no time. Some of the most common and general fitness goals are losing weight, building muscle, increasing strength, improving endurance, or just maintaining your current physique!
A great way to set a fitness goal is to follow the SMART goal guidelines so that your goal can be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This way you can make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure, but instead establishing a smart goal that works for you and your current lifestyle! You could have a more general main goal, such as weight loss, and then divide that goal into small milestones such as losing a specific number of pounds in a month or being able to fit in a pair of pants that you love. By knowing this, you can create a workout plan that works perfectly with your goals and actually helps you achieve them instead of hindering your progress.
Another thing that you should keep in mind when you’re preparing to create a workout plan is knowing how much time you can dedicate to your workouts. Not everyone has a lot of free time - between work, school, having kids, or doing chores around the house, scheduling your workouts can get complicated. If you follow our guide on how to set SMART goals, you’ll learn that your goal should be attainable because it should make sense for you and your lifestyle, including your available time and your current fitness level.
Be gentle with yourself! If you don’t have a lot of free time, then keep this in mind when creating your workout plan, and don’t pressure yourself into fitting as many training hours as you can into your busy week because you don’t want to be exhausted 24/7.
How to build your workout routine
So, what are the components of an effective weight training program?
Well, there are three main aspects that you need to take into account when creating a strength training workout plan: frequency, exercises, and volume. We’ll guide you through them and explain them in detail so you can have a better understanding of what a workout routine should look like.
The first thing you need to decide about your new workout routine is the frequency in which you want to work out (or can). This is where the attainability of your goal comes into play, just like we mentioned earlier because you’ll want to choose a training frequency that allows you to get your day-to-day obligations done AND rest properly. After all, at rest is when your body works the hardest, so you need to set aside some time for that too!
The best way to structure your workout throughout the week is by creating a training split, also known as workout split, that adapts to your daily life and current fitness level. For beginners and those who lead busier lifestyles, the three-day split is the most popular choice because you get to train your whole body in just three days per week. It’s a training split for full-body workouts, which means that you pick three days that are not back to back and you train your whole body on those days, like a Monday-Wednesday-Friday split, or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, leaving enough time for rest days in between workouts to recover properly.
Now, if you’re able to dedicate a little bit more time to your workouts, then training splits that focus on different body parts are the best way to go - and the most effective way to train! These splits are composed of at least four training days and can go up to six depending on your specific split and fitness level. One of the most basic splits is the upper body/lower body split, in which you train your upper body and your lower body two times a week on different days, which could look like this:
- Day 1: Upper body, focus on pushing exercises
- Day 2: Lower body, focus on anterior muscle groups
- Day 3: Rest, or active recovery
- Day 4: Upper body, focus on pulling exercises
- Day 5: Lower body, focus on posterior muscle groups
- Day 6 and 7: Rest
This is a four-day split that works your body by sections, allowing you to put more focus on specific muscle groups while allowing enough rest in between training days. If you want to give your muscles a more dedicated workout, the push/pull/legs split is perfect for you - if you have the time, of course. A weekly schedule might look like this:
- Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps
- Day 2: Back, biceps
- Day 3: Legs
- Day 4: Chest, shoulders, triceps
- Day 5: Back, biceps
- Day 6: Legs
- Day 7: Rest
As you can see, it’s a six-day training split, but you’re not training the same muscles back to back so they’re able to rest and recover properly. This way you can have a great performance on each workout day without risking overtraining!
Ultimately, it all comes down to the time that you have available and how hard you can train because a beginner and an advanced lifter definitely have different resistance levels. It’s always best to start little by little and then increase your training frequency when you feel like you’ve made enough progress, so make sure you assess your current fitness level before diving head-first into a six-day training split!
Variety of exercises
When it comes to variety, it’s not just which exercises you pick, but also the kind of exercises they are. In resistance training, there are two types of exercises: compound movements and isolation movements. Both are great for building muscle, but you need to be careful when picking the order in which you’re going to do them. Let’s talk a little bit more about this…
Compound movements, or multi-joint movements, are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time, recruiting both primary movers and support muscles simultaneously to help you perform the exercise. This means that you fatigue more muscles at once, getting more work done in less time. On the other hand, isolation movements (also known as single-joint movements) are targeted to specific muscle groups, such as your glutes or triceps, to help them grow without recruiting other muscles in the process. These are movements that usually require a good base of strength before doing them because your other muscles won’t be there to help your targeted muscle group.
By understanding how compound and isolation movements work, you can then decide how to incorporate them into your workout! Everyone should do both (advanced lifter or not)! We suggest starting with compound exercises so you can give your body a good burn and finish your workout with isolation movements to help fatigue your muscles and promote muscle growth.
Now, back to the title of this section… Variety is key when choosing which exercises to do. You’ll want to hit each muscle group from the majority of angles possible in order to make them grow and to avoid neglecting smaller muscle groups that might not get any love from doing the same exercises over and over again. A great way to do this is by including variations of your favorite exercises, such as overhead press variations or hip thrust variations, which are two basic movements that are included in a lot of workout routines because of how effective they are. By doing variations of the standard movement, you’ll place the focus on different sets of muscles, promoting muscle growth and increasing your size and strength in the process.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is another great way to get some variety into your routine, so try looking up exercises that you’ve never done before to spice up your workout plan a little bit. You’ll want to avoid boredom at all costs, and keeping a healthy rotation of exercises in your routine is the best way to do this - always mindful of your current fitness level, of course.
Sets, rep ranges, and weight
Rep range, or repetition range, is the number of times that you perform a specific movement within an exercise, and a set is just how many times you perform that number of reps in a workout. A good starting point is to do 3 sets of each exercise, and slowly work your way up to 4-6 sets.
Now, what about reps?
There’s one key aspect to keep in mind when deciding how many reps to do: the higher the intensity is, the lower the volume should be. This means that a high rep range should be performed with a lower weight, while a short rep range should be performed with a heavier weight. You want to always give your muscles a good burn, but not so much that they end up getting overtrained or even injured, so you need to be careful when balancing reps and weight. Higher reps are associated with muscular endurance and fat burning, while lower reps are used for building strength and power.
Let’s say your goal is to increase your maximum muscular strength, which is one of the most popular types of strength training. You want to push your muscles to the max to be able to get stronger, and the way to do this is by using heavy weights, putting a lot of stress on your muscles, and making them develop the strength that you’re looking for.
Whether you’re doing deadlifts, bench presses, or other heavy lifting exercises, you need to choose a low rep range (around 2-4) to give your muscles a good burn without risking any injuries. Other strength training exercises, such as hypertrophy training, have a completely different set of rules. For this type of exercise, you should play with low, moderate, and high rep ranges to help trigger all three processes of muscle growth, which are muscle damage, muscle tension, and metabolic stress. So it really depends on your specific goal and your current fitness level!
How much rest do you need between sets?
This will depend on the rep range that you choose. The higher the rep range, the lower the weight should be, so you can rest for a shorter period. On the other hand, if you’re lifting heavy weights on a low rep range, you should rest for a little longer to allow your muscles to get ready for the next set. Here’s a good rule of thumb for rest times:
- If you’re doing 1-4 reps per set, then you should rest for about 3-4 minutes
- If you’re doing 5-9 reps per set, rest for 2-3 minutes
- If you’re doing 10+ reps per set, rest for around 1-2 minutes
Of course, this is just a general guideline. If you need more rest because you’re not used to a certain weight or volume yet, that’s fine, you’ll work your way up eventually!
When it comes to weights, being mindful of your current fitness level is also key if you want to build a successful workout routine. Not because you see everyone at your gym loading their barbells with heavy plates means you can do it too if you’ve never been serious about lifting before. It’s always better to underestimate your strength and start very low instead of overestimating it and starting with a heavy weight that could harm you. More weight doesn’t mean more gains if you’re not ready for it yet, so take it one step at a time at first and gradually increase the weight as you make progress.
In summary, creating a new workout plan from scratch might sound intimidating, but it’s perfectly possible once you understand how training programs work and what you can do to make them more effective for your goals. Remember to start with the right foot by choosing a specific goal and planning around it instead of just throwing a bunch of exercises together, so you can get the most out of your training time and start seeing results in no time!
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