Last Updated on November 22, 2017 by Jeff
In this post, I’m going to teach you how to design your own workout plan, which is effective in achieving your goals, fun, and easy to follow.
What is your goal?
The first thing you need to do is define your goals.
Depending on what you want to achieve, everything that follows is going to be very different.
What is your main goal for the training plan (think 12-16 weeks)?
What is your long-term goal?
Over what time period are you looking to achieve this long-term goal?
Periodizing Your Workout
Once you know your goals, you can fit this specific phase into a bigger plan that takes you towards your long-term goals.
We keep each cycle to 12-16 weeks in length, because your body starts to adapt to what you’re doing, so you will find better results by mixing it up.
It allows you to alternate focus say between strength building, muscle building, or fat loss phases.
If you’re an endurance athlete you might focus on strength in the off season, and maintenance while you have higher mileage during the season.
Whatever you’ve not been doing is generally most effective. E.g. if you’ve been in a strength phase, then switching to muscle building after 12-16 weeks will bring good results.
‘Split’ (How many days per week and what you do each day)
A workout split is how many times you train per week, and what you do in each session.
For example, you might do;
- 3 x per week, full body workouts
- 4 x per week, alternating upper and lower body
- 4 x per week, squat, upper body pull, deadlift, upper body push
There’s a lot of ways to organize a split. It depends on what your goals are, and what works for you in terms of committing to a certain number of days per week.
If you’re doing strength or athletic focused training, organize the split by movement patterns (squat, upper body push, etc.).
If you’re muscle building you can organize by body part (chest, back, legs, etc.).
People often think the key to a good workout plan is the exercise selection, and it is important, but only inside the bigger view of the overall training plan.
When you know how you are splitting your workout plan, it narrows much of the exercise selection for you.
Making the choice of which exercises to do will depend on your goals, your training experience and how good your technique is.
You will generally get better results focusing on compound exercises that use multiple joints. Think squats, rather than leg extensions.
These exercises allow you to use more weight, and create a greater overall training effect.
In most cases, the exercises that you dislike and are not very good at, will be the most effective. They highlight a weakness that you have, and working on this weakness will often bring greater returns than doing more of something that is already a strength.
Next up we look at the order you place the exercises within your workout. Whatever comes at the start of the workout will be performed the best, when you have most strength and mental energy.
It follows that you should prioritise whatever you want to focus on most at the beginning of your workout.
If you’re doing arms and back together, and you want your arms to grow specifically, perform your curls before you do back exercises which would fatigue the biceps.
If you have some strength specific focus in your workout, you typically want to perform strength based exercises first (1-6 rep range), before going on to assistance exercises, and higher rep work.
There is no best rep range. For sustainable results you should use all rep ranges at different phases of your training program.
In a strength or power training phase you will use lower reps (1-5), on compound, multi-joint movements.
In muscle building you will use a variety of reps from 5, all the way up to 20+, and do more isolation exercises.
Even during a strength phase; you might do 1 or 2 heavy exercises, say you do back squats and bench press for 5 or less reps.
Then you would perform assistance exercises in higher rep ranges; such as walking lunges for 20 reps, and pull ups for max reps.
There is typically an inverse relationship between how many reps you do, and how many sets you do.
For example; if you’re doing low reps, you will do more sets. A typical set and rep scheme for strength training might be 7 sets of 3 reps.
While a muscle building rep scheme could be 4 sets of 10 reps.
During strength training the total number of reps of an exercise performed in a workout will be around 20-25.
For muscle building it would be higher, 30-50+ total reps.
Other things to think about include:
- Any injuries you have that you need to rehab, or necessitate working around them and influence your ability to perform certain exercises
- Your ability to recover from workouts. If you’re particularly stressed, dieting, or simply have a less than optimal recovery environment, the intensity of your workouts should be lowered to reflect this, and avoid over training.
- What you enjoy. Training should be fun, and if you enjoy it, you’re going to be more consistent and get better long-term results. Sometimes doing things you’re not good at is the best thing to do in the short-term, to overcome weaknesses, but generally making your workouts enjoyable is a good strategy.
If you’re ready to start programming your own workout plans, just remember that this is a journey. No short-term workout plan is going to make or break your results.
If you’re consistently in the gym, and consistently working hard, you will do well. Have fun with it, and treat it as a learning experience.