Structuring a workout routine doesn't have to be difficult. While trying to find an article on how to do so, I noticed a lot of them over-complicated the process. They gave you the tools, such as regulating your own intensity, when to up the intensity and scale it down, and even using the term "periodization."
If you're someone who's simply looking to get into shape, whether it's building strength, muscle, or cardiovascular endurance, and you're not looking into any athletic competitions, you don't need fancy jargon telling you how to create one.
Instead, I'm going to show you the different types of programs you can structure based on what I use for my clients and what I've seen other trainers use.
The most common type of training I use is circuit training. I structure five circuits for my clients with three exercises in each one, with these circuits being repeated three times. The circuits generally consist of upper, lower, and abs; however, once my clients become more experienced, I lessen how often we do abs and add two upper body exercises to the circuit: chest, triceps, and/or shoulders, and back and/or biceps. And of course the third exercise will be legs. I still throw in ab exercises, but once their cores become strong, it becomes unnecessary for me to continually target them.
You don't have to do circuit training this way. You can have one circuit with ten different exercises, and repeat that circuit two or three more times. Just keep it balanced by targeting upper, lower, and abs if your core is weak.
As you become more experienced with weightlifting in general, you'll start to understand what you may need more of. For example, I have a client who is bench pressing 50 lbs., and when both of us began to get frustrated by her plateau, I stepped back and asked her what muscles were feeling tired as she was pushing the bar up. She told me the triceps--she wasn't even feeling her chest muscles--so I've been adding in more triceps work. Ask yourself the same question once you start to plateau, and adjust accordingly.
Another type of training I do is boot camp training. It's pretty much like circuit training, but instead of doing exercises for reps, you do them for time. I choose anywhere from 10-15 exercises, time each one for 1 minute, and repeat the circuit 2-3 times. I might even make a separate abs circuit with five ab exercises done for 1 minute and repeated one more time.
I do my best to choose exercises that can be safely done for time. For example, I don't do burpees for time. If I do jump squats for time, I tell my clients to be very careful and take their time so their form doesn't fall apart; thus, carefully consider doing anything high impact for time. High impact exercises are often better done for reps.
For my own exercise routines, I do strength and muscle building programs. For the strength program, I lift heavy, only being able to get in anywhere from 1-6 reps, and I rest anywhere from 3-5 minutes in between sets, depending on just how heavy I'm lifting. I do about 2-4 sets.
With my muscle building routines, I lift moderately heavy to get in anywhere from 6-15 reps, with a 1 minute rest in between sets. I do anywhere from 3-5 sets, depending on how much work I want to do on a particular set of muscles.
If you're also interested in building muscular endurance, particularly if you're a runner, you lift light for a lot of reps. Those reps can be anywhere from 15-30, and your rest period needn't be any more than 30 seconds. You also want to do about 2-3 sets.
As for other routines I've seen, beginner weight lifters tend to do just one exercise for each part of the body once for 12 reps. They don't repeat the exercise, as any stimulus in the beginning will elicit results if you've never lifted weights before.
There are also HIIT routines (high-intensity interval training) that utilize intense intervals with light, active rests. For example, you can do 30 seconds of intense high knees followed by a light jog for 10 seconds as an active rest. Or you do 12 bicep curls followed by an intense period of sprinting in place followed by a 10-20 second total rest. You can complete these exercises as a circuit done for three times and structure a routine that can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. However, I only recommend HIIT once you've already established a solid base of cardiovascular endurance. Before implementing a HIIT routine, it's advised that you should be able to jog for 30 minutes without stopping.
Tabata training is a type of HIITT training. You work out hard for 20 seconds, rest completely for 10, then complete 8 rounds of that same exercise; thus, your entire routine may consist of just four exercises. This is a great style for those crunched for time.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, nutrition coach, young adult author, moody ballerina.
I help people perform without pain.
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The views expressed on this blog are entirely my own. Any advice I offer is not to be taken as medical advice. If you think you have contraindications to exercise, please see your physician before implementing any sample workout plans I present on this blog.
All images are either my own, from Canva, or Creative Commons