How to plan a workout routine – 21 Golden Tips

Planning a workout routine is an essential step for getting the maximum results out of your workouts. The overall effectiveness of your workout routine depends on several factors, including overall frequency, training volume, and intensity over time. A good workout routine should always be planned to avoid wasting time in the gym while also avoiding injury risk through undertraining or overtraining. In this article, you will learn how to plan a workout routine that fits your needs!

Also Read- 8 workout routines you can do at home

Table of Contents

1) Determine what your goals are

Before even thinking about creating a workout routine, it’s important that you have a clear goal to reach from doing so. If you want to get bigger muscles, then using a specific weight lifting program designed for bodybuilders would be best for reaching this goal. However, if you are looking to just get toned, then a weight lifting routine that emphasizes higher repetitions would be best. Once you have determined what your initial goal is, it’s time to move on!

2) Decide how many days per week you will go to the gym

Once you have decided on what workout routine you want to follow, it’s important to decide how many days per week you will work out. If you are following a body-building style workout, I wouldn’t recommend going any less than 3 times per week (and even more likely 5x/week). If you’re planning on doing only 1 day of working out (which won’t cut it for 99% of people), then choose which day will suit you the best. This is typically determined by when you have time off from work or school.

3) Start with compound exercises

Depending on what style of routine you’re using, you might want to start with the most effective types of lifts first in your routine (most commonly referred to as compound exercises). These are generally exercises that require more than one joint/muscle group to perform at once, such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, bench presses, etc… Doing these before isolation exercises allows for increased overall muscle recruitment since multiple muscles will be doing the lift at once. For example, if you were to do bicep curls before a squat, your quads could potentially fatigue too early in the workout and cause decreased performance on the lift.

4) Add isolation exercises before high volume/low weight work

Following compound exercises, a good strategy to follow is adding in isolation exercises. These types of lifts are used for targeting more specific muscle groups and can be performed more explosively, resulting in increased overall muscle recruitment. For example, if you were to do bicep curls before a squat, your quads could potentially fatigue too early in the workout and cause decreased performance on the lift since it won’t have as much help from other muscles. An example of an isolation exercise would be dumbbell flyes or barbell bicep curls for the chest, which both involve one joint movement with limited momentum being involved from any other joint movements.

5) Determine your repetition numbers

After you have completed all compound and isolation exercises, it’s time to determine how many times you will be lifting the weights. For bodybuilding purposes, the majority of people go with an increased volume approach, which involves looking at your one-rep max (the maximum amount of weight you can lift once) and deciding based off that whether or not to do 3-5 reps per set if your goal is muscle gain/strength development. If this number falls anywhere between 8-12, then 10 repetitions is typically a good starting point. For more toned individuals who are trying to lose weight/fat while still building some muscle tone, I would recommend somewhere between 12-20 reps depending on how much overall weight you’re using per set.

6) Determine how many sets you will do for each exercise

Since fitness routines typically follow a full-body approach (which is most effective), it’s important to determine how many sets should be done for each exercise. A good rule of thumb is to start with 3 sets of 10 reps, but if you need more or less volume this can be adjusted accordingly.

7) Rest time in between sets should be 60-120 seconds

Following the completion of all your sets, it’s important to rest long enough for full restoration between sets. For increased muscle gain/strength development, I would recommend resting anywhere between 60-90 seconds since this allows enough time to build adenosine triphosphate (ATP, the body’s energy source) between sets to be able to lift the same weight for another set. For toning purposes, you typically want to go with the lowest amount of time possible, which is around 60 seconds since your goal is to keep your heart rate elevated at all times.

8) Unilateral exercises can be added once you start getting stronger

If you’re someone who is looking to build overall strength (which includes unilateral strength, or single-limb strength), then unilateral exercises can be used once maximal/heavy loads are achieved. These types of exercises include things like one-arm bent-over rows, one arm push presses, etc…

9) Add in isolated core movements last

For targeted abdominal training (for those that care about that), I would recommend adding these types of exercises in at the end. These are typically added to the end of a workout routine or can be placed before cardio.

10) Once you have achieved maximal strength, don’t progressively lift more weight until form breaks down

Once your body adapts to being able to lift heavier weights, which is around 12 weeks for most people, it’s not recommended that you continue lifting heavier loads since this will cause decreased performance and potentially lead to injury if proper form begins to break down. Instead, you should switch over to maximal power training, where the goal becomes speed rather than how much weight is lifted. This type of training has been shown in studies 1-2 to produce similar results as traditional heavy strength training while significantly reducing the risk of injury.

11) If you struggle with workout motivation, add in music and/or incorporate smoothies for pre/post workout nutrition

If you’re someone who struggles with getting motivated to work out or just generally wants some extra help with staying on track, I would highly recommend starting a workout playlist and adding in some of your favorite songs that will get you moving and grooving. I know personally when working out and listening to my good pump-up songs, my performance is always better than if I’m not listening to anything or having something muted so this definitely helps keep me focused. The second thing I would recommend is adding in a healthy meal replacement shake prior to your workout, such again’s chocolate protein powder mixed with a banana and almond milk. I’ve been following this pre/post-workout nutrition plan for the past 2 months and it has made a huge difference in my mood, performance, and recovery (click HERE to learn more about Gain’s chocolate protein powder).

12) Implementing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is recommended if you want to lose fat while preserving muscle mass

For those of you who are looking to maintain or even build lean muscle while trying to lose body fat, implementing HIIT into your weekly routine can be highly beneficial. This type of training consists of short intense periods of work followed by low-moderate periods of rest, which allows for an elevated heart rate that can increase caloric expenditure without impairing recovery as regular steady-state cardio would. Just make sure that whatever type of cardio you take up, the intensity is high enough so that it covers your heart rate zones (click HERE if interested in learning more about how to calculate your personal heart rate zones).

13) Once maximal strength has been achieved, switch to low reps and increased resistance

If you are someone whose main goal is to increase maximal strength, then I would recommend switching over to low reps with increased resistance once 12 weeks have passed since this is what provides optimal stimulus for increasing maximal strength. On the other hand, people looking to gain weight would benefit from sticking around 3-6 reps and keeping rest periods short in between sets. Just remember not every workout routine needs to follow this exact protocol – some days can be lighter so don’t get too caught up in hitting specific numbers every single workout.

14) If you are a beginner, I would recommend sticking with 2-3 days of training total to start out

If you are just starting out on your fitness journey, the last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself by trying to hit 5-7 different body parts each day – this will only lead to burnout and overtraining! Instead, try sticking with just two or three days of training per week, working hard on each muscle group that’s covered, and focusing on making continual progress without burning yourself out. From what I’ve read and experienced myself, most people can build and maintain a lean and fit physique while following strength training routines that consist of 2-3 days of training per week.

15) If you are an advanced trainee, you’re most likely able to handle 4-5 days of training per week

For those of you who are at the stage in your fitness life that consists of pushing your limits and pushing your body to its absolute limits (for example, people who can hit 12 plus reps on big compound movements), I would recommend increasing the number of strength training sessions per week to 4-5 days. This additional day will allow for enough recovery time needed so that fatigue doesn’t build up too quickly. Just make sure not to overdo it otherwise this could lead to burnout or even injuries!

16) Make sure all exercises done are challenging but still manageable

If you are just starting out, using the good form is very important so that you don’t injure yourself. However, as you keep training and get stronger, it’s fine to challenge yourself with some exercises that require more effort. Just make sure not to go to muscular failure on every set because this can lead to overtraining. Another thing to note here is the fact that doing the same workout routine all the time will eventually lead to an increase in the number of muscle fibers needed for lifting heavier weights – this can result in plateauing if your body adapts too quickly (click HERE if interested in learning about how muscles grow).

17) If anything feels off or hurts during your workouts, please stop immediately!

It’s important that people realize the difference between muscle soreness and pain due to injury. If there’s the slightest bit of nerve pain present, make sure you don’t do any exercises that involve that muscle group or movement pattern until it has completely healed. I believe in listening to your body – if something is off, don’t try to push through it!

18) Training with a partner can be beneficial for many reasons

Working out alone can be very beneficial as well since you have no distractions which allow for more focus on the task at hand. However, training with a partner can have its advantages as well. For example, having somebody spotting you while performing exercises like squats, bench presses, etc., will help ensure better form and decrease the risk of injuring yourself during those exercises.  

19) If you know somebody who is an experienced strength trainee, ask them to be your workout partner!

At the end of the day, if you don’t want to invest in a gym membership or workout equipment it’s perfectly fine to simply ask somebody who has already been lifting for a long period of time if they would like to work out together. They may even be able to give you some pointers that can help speed up your training and progress. This way you’ll get somebody with experience as well as somebody who knows what they’re doing and how to do it correctly (after all PRACTICE DOES MAKE PERFECT!).

20) Please try not to fall into the easy routine – make sure each set is challenging yet doable

When doing strength training routines, people often fall into a routine where they push themselves and go to failure on every set. While this CAN be beneficial for muscle building, too much of anything can become bad. Going to failure on all sets may burn you out quickly and lead to injury if not carefully monitored (so make sure your form is good before going all-out).

Going to failure every now and then is most definitely fine but try your best NOT TO FALL INTO THE TRAP OF FAILURE EVERY SET. This will most likely only increase the number of muscle fibers needed for lifting heavier weights – as I mentioned previously this can cause plateaus and injuries (click HERE if interested in learning about how muscles grow).

21) Try to use a mix of compound and isolation exercises during each workout routine

While isolation exercises are great for hitting specific muscles that need some extra work, compound exercises can be beneficial as well. Compound exercises require to involve multiple joints and muscle groups which will help activate more motor units. This makes it easier to gain strength after learning how to properly perform the movement patterns involved in these movements. Keep in mind however that too much isolation training may become counter-productive – make sure you aren’t neglecting any muscle groups or movements!

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