Exercise workout plans are a funny thing. I often get asked for advice regarding exercises and nutrition, but it’s very difficult to just hand out answers, as everyone is different.
In this article, I will be discussing how you can create your own workout plan, so take notes! I will of course be offering advice and all the rest of it.
You Need a Goal
I’ve been saying this for a long time now, and I’m going to keep saying it. You need a goal. Before you are going to craft yourself a workout routine, sit down and determine your goal. To make it easy for you, I’ve compiled a small list of general goals you could have.
- Physical improvement, i.e. more muscle mass
- Muscle strength
- Agility and speed
These are questions you’ll need to answer in order to make a workout routine for yourself.
I also feel the need to inform you on the fact that having a workout routine is not by definition a guarantee for losing or gaining weight. Increasing or decreasing your weight is mostly dependent on your diet.
Therefore, I urge you to calculate your BMR. Subtract at least 10% in order to lose weight, and add at least 10% in order to gain weight.
How Often Should You Train?
To give yourself peace of mind, I’d recommend you to determine how often you want to work out every week. Let’s say you play basketball two times a week. You can definitely count this as intense cardio sessions.
Needless to say, make sure you don’t get overtrained by asking too much from your body.
To answer the main question of how often you should train: well, it depends on your goals. The most efficient approach would be to work every muscle group 2 to 3 times a week. Determining the frequency and volume of your workouts is an extensive subject that I’ve written an entire article on.
How Long Should You Train?
Right of the bat I will state that you should train how you like. However, certain ways of training is better to reach certain goals. For example, if you’re training for strength, you want to take your time. Resting periods between sets should be longer, up to 5 minutes.
Are you training to gain more muscle mass? Keep your resting periods short and use slightly less weight for your exercises.
How Many Sets Should You Do?
If your goal is to become stronger or more muscular, I’d recommend you to perform at least 12 relatively heavy sets per muscle group per week.
How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?
Once again, it depends on your goal. Different goals require different workout routines. In general, the following rules apply:
- Are you training for strength? Rest between 3 and 5 minutes between sets.
- If you’re training for muscle mass, rest between 1 and 2 minutes between sets.
- Endurance can also be your thing. Rest between 0 and 60 seconds between sets.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that heavy compound exercises, such as deadlifts, require longer resting periods than isolation exercises such as the biceps curl.
If you’re noticing a fast decrease in performance from set to set, it might indicate that you’ve not taken enough rest.
Now all of this is fine and dandy, but you should remember that these ‘rules’ are more like guidelines. It’s good to mix your training routine up every once in a while. For example, as the week goes along, you can decrease the amount of weight you’re using for your exercises, as well as the resting periods.
What you’re doing in this scenario, is lowering the intensity and increasing the volume. That way, you’ll train for both strength and muscle mass.
Changing up workouts on a regular basis has worked for me and a lot of other people. Give it a try!
How Many Reps Should You Do?
When you’re writing a workout plan, you will want to take the amount of repetitions in account. Once again, it depends on your goals. These are the main guidelines:
- If you’re training for strength, your sets should contain between 1 and 6 reps. *
- If you’re training for muscle mass, your sets should contain between 6 and 12 reps. *
- If you’re training for endurance, your sets should contain between more than 12 reps.
I’d recommend to not go all out in the first set, as you might get tired too fast. This will then result in you being unable to perform the amount of reps of your other sets in good form.
If you’re performing a set, try to be able to perform another 2-4 reps after you’ve done them all. For example, if your first set of squats requires you to do 6 reps, try to squeeze another 2-4 out if possible. If you’re unable to do so, no worries. You can try again next time.
* Even if your focus is gaining strength, you will develop muscle mass. The same can be said for workouts that require more than 12 reps. The main takeaway is that you reap what you sow. If your focus is gaining strength, then this is where you will see most of your progress.
How Heavy Should You Train?
Again, it depends on your goal. If you want to gain more strength, then about half to two-thirds of your exercises should be performed with high intensity (1-6 reps with heavy weight). The amount of weight should vary between 85% and 95% of your 1RM. The rest of your workout can then be used for performing more reps with a lower weight.
The reason for not going all out during every set, is that this increases your chances of injuring yourself.
Like I mentioned before, don’t push everything out of every set. Plan ahead so that you’re able to perform another few reps when you’ve finished a set.
Let’s say you’re able to perform a 200 lbs deadlift 5 times, and your workout scheme states you should perform 4 sets of 5 reps. If this is the case, you don’t want to start your first set by picking up 200 lbs, because you can only lift that for 5 times, let alone 20.
Go ahead and do 4 sets of 5 reps, while using 190 lbs. You can then slowly increase the weight in the next weeks.
- Week 1: 190 lbs, 4 sets of 5 reps
- Week 2: 195 lbs, 4 sets of 5 reps
- Week 3: 200 lbs, 4 sets of 5 reps
- Week 4: 200 lbs, 4 sets of 6 reps
Yes, this might sound slow, but then again, I never said you’d be making astronomical gains within the blink of an eye. This way of training though, works.
After week 4, take a week to let your muscles rest for just a bit. Keep doing the same exercises, just with a lighter weight. Week 6 then is the beginning of a new cycle. The rate of progress depends on what your body can handle.
How Many Muscle Groups Should You Train Each Session?
The most important thing to factor in, is how much exercise your body can handle. This can differ from person to person. Person A for example, can easily deadlift 20 sets per week, while person B can “only” handle 14 sets.
When it comes to beginners, I’d recommend a full body plan that requires about 5 sets per muscle group per workout. This can be done by a singular exercise, as well as by performing super sets.
Another option is by using a split as your workout routine. A split allows for a higher volume. For example: Monday is push-day, which means training the chest, shoulders and triceps. Since you’re not doing full body exercises, you’ll have more energy to train the muscles you want to.
Which one should you pick? Well, it’s up to you. I prefer cycling through my workout plans every once in a while. It is personal preference. However, it’s also a matter of time. If you only have time to train 3 times a week, I’d recommend a full body plan.
If you have all week, you can easily try a split. For example, here is a plan that I followed until recently:
- Monday: Push, high intensity
- Tuesday: Pull, high volume
- Wednesday: Lower body, high intensity
- Thursday: Push, high volume
- Friday: Pull, high intensity
- Saturday: Lower body, high volume
- Sunday: Rest
Did it work? It did for me. Once again, it is personal preference.
How do You Sort Your Workout Plan?
I’d recommend training each muscle every week. You can mix and match as you like. I am going to describe the basic workout structure.
You start your workout off with a warming up, such as stretching. This way you are preparing your body for what’s about to come. For example, doing a bench press with just the barbell. Another pro of doing warming ups is that you are increasing mobility and flexibility of muscles and joints.
The goal of a warming up is in the name. Warm up, don’t go all out!
For this part, I’d recommend training with proper weights, rather than machines. You can learn why in this article.
Another thing that I would recommend, is doing compound exercises prior to isolation exercises. It’s important to gradually build up the weight that you’re using to prevent injuries.
Also, make sure you target weaker muscles first!
I know, it can be tempting to train your stronger muscles first, but if you go that way, you will have less energy to train your weaker muscles.
A cooling down involves stretching exercises or a light form of cardio.
When do You Get to Lift More Weight?
Have patience. You will notice that your strength will slowly increase over the weeks. You can increase the weight by about 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) every week. It’s up to you, really.
Just make sure you don’t increase the weight substantially every week, or your body will simply not keep up and you might get injured.
Once again, your goal has a big part to play. If you want to gain muscle mass, it’s recommended to perform sets of 6-12 reps. You can increase the weight so that your reps will always be in that range.
Sometimes, increasing the weight by 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) is just too much. In that case, increase the amount of reps. It’s simple, really. Just challenge yourself!
How to Switch Between Workout Plans
I switch up my workout plan every 1.5 to 2 months. This doesn’t necessarily provide me with better results, but it feels good to do something fresh.
This has its downsides, though.
By switching between workout routine often, it’s harder to effectively learn an exercise. This is very important, as performing an exercise the right way will lead to better results.
An example would be the deadlift. This is one of the exercises that I’d recommend doing over longer periods of time, as you can slowly increase the amount of weight you’re lifting. This means progress. Throwing away the deadlift every so often, will decrease the effect.
If your progress has stagnated and you’re unable to add weight, just play with the volume a bit. You can start by increasing volume in order to work towards a higher intensity. Cycling this way will make you stronger.
Other methods of playing with your workout involve increasing or decreasing the frequency of your workouts, as well as taking a break mid-exercise. For example, hold the weight during a squat when your bottom faces the floor.
Take it Easy!
If you are a beginner, and you don’t notice any form of progress after three training sessions, try to lower the weights you are using by about 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg). This will allow you to perform the exercise with full focus on the movement.
A lot of intermediates take a break every 5-6 weeks. This is called deloading. During this week, intermediates train with maintenance volume.
Advanced and professional sportsman/sportswomen are recommended to take a full break about 4 times a year so the body can fully recover.
It’s difficult to just say “here’s a workout plan, good luck”. It depends on a lot of factors and it is up to you to learn what your body can do. That knowledge should be the foundation for creating a solid workout plan.
If you have any questions or thoughts regarding personal workout plans, make sure to leave a comment or to contact us!