How to Build a Workout Plan
by Evelyn Valdez·
Regardless of what kind of training you do, creating an effective workout plan that works for your body, goals, and lifestyle can be somewhat difficult. There are many things to consider if you want to make sure that your routine helps you take a step forward in your journey and not a step back.
When creating a routine, there are four main things that you need to decide, and that is your fitness goal, your training frequency, your exercises, and your volume and load (sets, reps, and weight). This might sound complicated, but that’s why we’re here for!
In this article, we’ll walk you through these four steps on how to make a workout plan in which you’ll get to pick all the details and decide which style of training works best for you so you can maximize your results. So let’s get started!
Determine your fitness goals
First things first, what are you training for? Different training styles work best for different fitness goals, and there’s not a single routine that can work for absolutely everyone or every goal.
Fitness goals that relate to improving your strength and building muscle are more easily attained with strength training routines. If you want to improve your cardiovascular health and resistance, cardio exercises are the best choice. Maybe your goal falls in between or you’re just looking to maintain, so a healthy mix is what you should be after!
If you’re not sure what your goal is yet or you don’t know what you want to achieve first, a great way to decide is by following the SMART goal guidelines:
- S is for specific. Your goal should be detailed to avoid any ambiguity so you have a strong foundation on which to build your plan, such as being able to do 10 pull-ups instead of just trying to get stronger.
- M is for measurable. Your goal should be countable in some way so you can keep track of your progress more easily, such as losing 20 pounds instead of just wanting to lose some weight.
- A is for attainable. Your goal should be realistic to your lifestyle and current abilities and limitations, not a hypothetical dream goal, such as being able to lift 150 lbs instead of trying to get a six-pack in two weeks.
- R is for relevant. Your goal should matter to you instead of doing things because you can and not because you truly want to, such as fitting into your favorite pair of jeans again instead of doing yoga every day just because it’s popular.
- T is for time-bound. Your goal should be time-based and have a set deadline so you can stay focused, but nothing too extreme, such as being able to run a 10K in 6 months instead of setting a one-week goal or an indefinite one.
By following these rules, you’ll be able to come up with one or several SMART goals so you can begin building your weekly workout plan around them.
Choose a training frequency
The next step in this process is deciding how much time you can dedicate to your workouts. Ideally, you should be able to train constantly (with the appropriate resting days) so you can make progress instead of losing it. However, how a workout week looks can vary greatly from person to person.
If you have kids, you might not have a lot of time to work out, especially if you’re a single parent. Or maybe you work 40+ hours a week and don’t have much free time to spare. On the contrary, you might have all the free time in the world but find it difficult to set a daily routine. In any case, choosing the frequency that works best for you is crucial.
The best way to approach a fitness routine is by setting up a workout split, which for most busy people might look like a three-day split in which you train your entire body in a single session, such as working out Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and resting the remaining days. It’s simple, straightforward, and time-saving!
On the other hand, if you’re someone who can dedicate a little more time to your workouts, a four, five, and even six-day workout week would work better for you and your goals. These workout splits focus on different parts of the body throughout the week to avoid overtraining and can be split however you want.
The two most popular splits for longer workout weeks are the upper body/lower body and push/pull/legs split, which look like this:
Upper body/lower body split:
- Day 1: Upper body.
- Day 2: Lower body.
- Day 3: Rest day, or active recovery.
- Day 4: Upper body.
- Day 5: Lower body.
- Day 6-7: Rest.
- 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 day.
Pick your exercises
Having enough variety in your workouts is important, not only because that way you can avoid getting bored with your routine but also because your muscles need different kinds of stimulation to grow.
For example, if you particularly enjoy doing lunges, you should look into lunge variations that you can add to your routine so you can hit your lower-body muscles from a variety of different angles. Or you like doing shoulder presses to strengthen your upper body, so shoulder press variations could be a beneficial addition that you might enjoy!
That said, variety isn’t just about picking different exercises, but also about knowing the kind of exercises they are and the order in which to do them. In strength training, there are two types of exercises – compound and isolation – and both are beneficial for different reasons…
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that target multiple muscle groups at the same time, while isolation exercises focus on a single muscle group for a more targeted workout. Additionally, though most exercises are bilateral, unilateral movements allow you to improve your functional strength, so don’t forget about them!
When planning your routine, we suggest that you start with compound movements to give your full body a good burn and then finish with isolated exercises so you can completely fatigue your muscles, with a few unilateral exercises mixed in between!
Choose your sets, reps, and weight
Last but not least, you need to decide the intensity of your workouts by choosing your volume and your load. The volume refers to the reps, which is the number of times you’ll go through the full range of motion of one exercise, and the sets, which is the number of times you’ll repeat those reps. And the load is simply the weight you’ll be using!
Most people start by doing just 3 sets and then work their way up to more sets. The tricky part comes when choosing how many reps to do in each set, and how much weight to use, but that will depend on your specific goal and fitness level.
If your goal is to increase your resistance, choosing a higher rep range (8-15 reps) and lighter weight is best because that way your muscles will spend more time under tension. On the other hand, if you want to increase your maximum muscular strength, a lower rep range (2-5 reps) and heavy weight will truly push your muscles to the max.
When it comes to the load, you need to make sure that you’re using a weight that you’re able to lift with proper form, only struggling on the very last rep. Always make sure to try with a light load first and increase the weight from there instead of going directly for a heavy weight and risking an injury.
Additionally, another important thing in the intensity category is picking your resting times! If you’re not sure how much time you need to be resting between sets, here’s a general guide:
- If your sets are 1-4 reps long, rest for 3-4 minutes
- If your sets are 5-9 reps long, rest for 2-3 minutes
- If your sets are 10+ reps long, rest for 1-2 minutes
Don’t be afraid of building your own workout plan
Yes, we know it might seem intimidating at first, but with the help of this guide, you’ll be well on your way to building an effective workout routine that actually works for your fitness goals! Just set aside some time, get to planning, and you’ll see how quickly you can come up with the best plan for you.
Who are we?
We're UPPPER Fitness Gear – your new favorite fitness gear company! Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), we strive to make fitness gear that is high-quality, durable, comfortable, stylish, and most importantly, designed to help take your workouts to the next level.