How to Make a Workout Plan

You are probably aware of the importance of knowing what diet is best for you when trying to achieve any fitness goal. The same goes for the workout plan. To get to your desired destination as fast as possible in the best way possible, you need a proper workout plan. You might wonder: “How to make a workout plan?”

Well, if you have a limited amount of time and a high disposable income, you can hire someone to make it for you. However, it can cost you around a couple of hundred dollars a month.

Another option is to make it yourself! Of course, it could require a few hours, but you might find the process to be fun. Plus, you may get more excited to do the workout knowing that you made it yourself. And, it costs ZERO dollars to make.

Additionally, you can use my free Google Sheets Workout Template! It allows you to create a personalized workout routine, as well as track the progress over time.

To find out how to make a workout plan for yourself, keep reading this article where I discuss it step-by-step.

1. What Is Your Fitness Goal?

When creating your workout plan, firstly, you have to identify your fitness goal.

Here are some examples of what those could be:

  • building muscle
  • losing fat
  • getting stronger
  • preparing for a specific sporting event (marathon)
  • being healthier overall
  • get back into working out

Each of the goals plays a role when you design your plan. You want to make your workout plan in a way that it helps you reach that goal effectively.

Also, this can work as the main guideline when making your plan. So, whenever you are debating between which training variable to choose, to look at your main goal and choose what’s best for it.

2. How Many Days a Week Can You Train?

Then you have to determine the number of days you would be able to train. This will depend on your lifestyle and many other things. The important thing is that you choose a number that you can sustain forever.

Ideally, you would train 3-5 times a week, however, it’s not realistic for everyone, so pick what’s the most appropriate for you. Don’t give up right away if you identify that you can train only twice a week.

In fact, you can achieve significant results by following a well-made workout plan 2 times a week. Especially, if you train each body part twice a week since higher training frequency is more beneficial. For instance, the Full-Body workout split allows just that.

Furthermore, take into consideration your experience level when figuring out how many days a week you should train. For example, for beginners, it’s better to start at a lower number, 2-3 days a week. Intermediate athletes could work out 3-5 days, while highly advanced athletes could train up to 6 times a week.

3. What Is the Best Workout Split Template for You?

Thereafter, you should figure out what is the best workout split for you. When choosing the right template it’s important to take into account all variables. Thus, in addition to previously mentioned factors, you should also take into consideration your lifestyle and recovery needs.

After looking into each and every component you can finally choose a template that suits you best.

The most popular ones are:

  • The Full-Body Workout Split
  • The Upper/Lower Workout Split
  • The Push/Pull/Legs Workout Split
  • The Body Part Split or the “Bro Split”

Most novices could start by following a simple beginner workout at home without equipment. On the other hand, intermediate trainees would benefit more by doing the Upper/Lower or the Push/Pull/Legs split in the gym. Most advanced athletes also tend to follow the Upper/Lower and the Push/Pull/Legs split. There are also some highly advanced lifters that follow the Body Part Split or the “Bro Split” routines.

4. What Exercises Should You Do?

The best exercises you could do, first of all, depending on the equipment and the training facilities available to you. It would be best if you could train in the gym, however, not everybody has such a luxury. Which means that for some the only option would be bodyweight workouts with little to no equipment.

Next, it’s important to specialize in your workout program. For example, if your goal is to build muscle, you might want to do a specialized bodybuilding routine. Including few compound exercises per muscle group that suit you best in order to maximize your progress.

Performing such exercises allows you to place multiple muscle groups and joints through a full range of motion. Moreover, they allow using higher loads progressively overloading your muscles more effectively in comparison to other types of exercises.

As a general rule, you want to do 1-2 compound exercises for every major muscle group, every workout. In addition, you could add an isolation exercise if your workout routine has a room for that exercise.

Best compound exercises per major muscle group:

  • Chest – flat barbell or dumbbell bench press, incline barbell or dumbbell press, chest machine press
  • Back – barbell or dumbbell rows, machine rows, pull-downs, pull-ups, and deadlifts
  • Shoulders – barbell or dumbbell overhead press, shoulder machine press
  • Legs – barbell squats, barbell or dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, barbell hip thrusts, leg machine press

Best isolation exercises per body part:

  • Chest – dumbbell, machine or cable chest flys
  • Back – single arm cable rows, single-arm pull-downs, back extensions
  • Shoulders – side lateral raises, front raises, bent-over rear delt raises, reverse flys
  • Biceps – all biceps curl variations
  • Triceps – variations of triceps pushdowns and triceps extensions
  • Abdominal area/core – planks, ab crunches
  • Quadriceps – leg extensions
  • Hamstrings – seated or lying leg curls, floor glute-ham raise
  • Glutes – cable kickbacks, cable pull through
  • Calves – seated or standing calf raises

5. How Many Sets and Reps?

When it comes to the right number of sets you should do, it’s best to do somewhere in the range of 10-20 sets a week per muscle group. It’s proven that a higher number of sets (from <5 to 10+ sets a week) produced greater muscle gains. However, higher volume training, 20+ sets produced little to no additional gains in muscle size or strength.

Thus, it’s best to stick to somewhere between 10-20 sets per muscle group per week. Note that the less experience you have in lifting weight, the less you should do and vice-versa. Beginner athletes could even start at 8 sets per week, while advanced lifters could do a higher number of sets in the spectrum of 10-20.

After you have figured out the number of sets per week, simply break down that total number evenly between all workouts throughout a week.

Sets per Muscle Group per Week Distributed in a Weekly Workout Plan

In terms of reps, most people follow a general rule of thumb for rep ranges depending on your goal:

  • Getting stronger – 1 to 6 reps
  • Increasing muscle size – 8 to 12 reps
  • Improving muscle endurance – 15+ reps

Research also proves that to get stronger you want to train mainly with heavier loads, 1-6 reps. Whereas for maximal muscle size gains you should train across a wide spectrum of ranges.

It means that you don’t want to stick only to one rep range. Workouts could be focused around one rep range, however, you should still work through a somewhat wide spectrum of rep ranges.

6. How Long to Rest Between Sets?

Rest between sets is yet another variable that depends on your goal but could be varied to make the workouts more challenging. In fact, changing the time you rest between sets could enhance your progress since it can produce a new kind of stimulus.

Most people tend to rest around 1-2 minutes or 60-120 seconds between sets, which is enough to catch the breath and get ready for the next set. Some rest only 0.5-1 minute or 30-60 seconds, resulting in sweating more and perhaps burning slightly more calories.

On the other hand, powerlifters, whose main goal is to perform a compound movement with the highest load possible, need more rest. It’s fairly common that such strength athletes rest up to 4-5 minutes between sets.

In reality, the time you should rest between sets does not affect your end results all that much. The important thing is to pick a time that allows you to rest sufficiently. In other words, rest enough to perform the next set as good as the previous one, if not even better.

However, your rest should not be longer than 7 or 10 minutes, at that point you might just be wasting your time. As I said before, 1-2 minutes is best for most people, so try if it works for you.

7. How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting?

In regards to how much weight you should lift, you want to pick the right amount to fit into a pre-set rep range. To make continuous gains, the weight you use should also make the exercise challenging.

Research shows that using loads of 20% of what you could have lifted for one repetition, is not optimal to make progress. Simply put, doing exercise with 20 kg (45 lb) load, if your maximal result is 100 kg, won’t result in more gains. However, heavier loads of 80% of you one repetition maximum (1RM) result in superior muscle size and strength gains.

Low Intensity Versus High Intensity When Building Muscle

Therefore, you want to do an exercise with weight that allows you to fit into a predetermined rep range of 1-6, 8-12, 12-15 reps. In addition, it should be fairly challenging.

Challenging to the point where you stop somewhere close to 1 repetition shy of technical failure. By technical failure, I mean where your form of performing the movement starts to break down.

8. How Long Should a Workout Be?

For most gym-goers, a workout lasts about 45 minutes to an hour. Some highly specialized athletes, for whom going to the gym is part of the profession, a single session could last up to 3 hours.

The rest time between sets, the number of exercises and sets you plan to do, all affect the length of your workout. However, generally speaking, it should be around 45 minutes to an hour, give or take 15 minutes.

9. How to Progressively Overload?

It’s also necessary to build in some sort of progression scheme in your workout plan. Following the concept of progressive overload will ensure that you make gradual improvements over time.

Simply put, you want to train harder than last time but not too hard. Just by doing one additional repetition workout to workout can result in significant muscle size and strength gains in the long run.

So that you don’t just do additional repetition endlessly, I would recommend a progression scheme called the double progression. When following such a scheme, you want to aim to reach the top number of reps in a given rep range. After you achieve it, you pick a heavier weight and repeat the process of trying to reach the top of the rep range before using even heavier weights.

Double Progression Scheme for a Workout Plan

This will ensure that you progress in the number of reps in short-term and in the weight loads you lift in that rep range in the long-term.

10. How to Track the Progress?

At last, it’s necessary that you track your progress to see if you are improving or not. There are so many people out there that do the same workout plan, with the same exercises, sets, repetitions and even weight for months. Then they wonder why they don’t see any progress.

If they would have a proper workout plan with a built-in progression scheme, and a logbook, the results would be much better. Thus, make sure to have an Excel, Google spreadsheet or a good old logbook where you could track your progress. In fact, just by looking back at your workout log and seeing how much you have improved can be very motivating.

Together with tracking your workouts, you should also monitor your recovery. You probably know that training the same body part if it’s still very sore from the previous workout, isn’t a good idea. Slight soreness, however, is fine.

You can use all the gathered information to get to know what works best for you and what doesn’t and adjust your workout plan accordingly.

11. How Often to Modify the Workout Plan?

Speaking of changing things up, it’s also necessary to modify your workout plan every 4-8 weeks, to ensure that you progress continuously. This could be changing some exercises or their sequence, sets, reps or the rest time between sets.

You could also change the workout plan template once in a while. However, you shouldn’t change your workout plan completely every 4-8 weeks, instead change only a few above-mentioned variables.

In case you don’t want or don’t have time to make a workout plan on your own you can try out my beginner Full-Body program.

Key Takeaways of Making a Workout Plan

When making a workout plan, you will need to follow a sequence of steps, shown below. This will ensure that you create an optimal program that is personalized for you and your fitness goal.

Decide What Is Your Fitness Goal

Think if you want to lose fat, build muscle, get stronger, prepare for a sporting event or just be healthier overall.

Determine How Many Days a Week Can You Train

Figure out how many days per week you can train and sustain that number of days forever. Is it 2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 days a week?

Decide What Is the Best Workout Split Template for You

Pick the most suited workout split template for you. The Full-Body, the Lower/Upper and the Push/Pull/Legs workout splits are the most popular and effective ones.

Figure out What Exercises Should You Do

Decide which exercise you want to do depending on your chosen workout split template. As a rule of thumb, you want to pick 1-2 compound exercises per major muscle group and perhaps include some isolation exercises.

Select the Number of Sets and the Rep Ranges

It’s best to do somewhere around 10-20 sets per week per muscle group. Speaking of the number of repetitions, you should be training mainly in a rep range that suits your goal. Yet, it’s important to train in a wide spectrum of rep range, including the rep ranges of 1-6, 8-12, and 12-15.

Choose the Rest Time Between Sets

Rest time between sets is a variable that can be dependent on your fitness goal, and, it could be modified to induce new stimulus. Common rest time between sets is 1-2 minutes or 60-120 seconds.

Decide How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting

It’s important to pick a weight that fits into your predetermined rep ranges when doing the exercise. Moreover, it should be challenging enough to the point where you are 1 repetition shy of technical failure when performing the exercise.

Select the Time Your Workout Will Last

Your typical workout should last around 45 minutes to an hour, give or take 15 minutes.

Decide How Will You Track Your Progress

It’s important that your workout plan has some sort of progression scheme built in to drive continuous progress. I recommend a double progression scheme where you aim to do the highest number of reps within a rep range. After which you increase the weight and strive to reach the top number of reps again before increasing the load.

Decide How Will You Track Your Progress

Monitor your progress within a workout log or a spreadsheet to make sure that you keep progressing.

Determine How Often to Modify the Workout Plan

Furthermore, feel free to change some of the workout variables such as exercises, their sequence, sets and rep range every 4-8 weeks.

And that’s all folks!

I truly hope you found this article helpful and that I answered some of your questions about how to make a workout plan.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about creating a workout plan or any other fitness topic!

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