Getting Started: How to Build a Workout Program

When constructing a training program, sometimes it can be confusing when coming up with a plan. “What exercises should we do? What exercises are best for us? What should our training split look like?”

To ease your worry, we are here to help clarify and simply the process! Here are a few basic steps you can take to build a structured program that you can easily follow and get the most out of.

  1. Decide How Many Times You Want to Train During the Week

Before we even worry about what exercises we’re doing, we first need to decide how often we’ll be training so that we know how many workouts to write! The frequency of training will determine what our training day split will look like. For example, full body workouts are great for those training only a couple times per week. More specific training sessions (lower body focus, upper body focus, back focus, etc.) will be beneficial if we are training more frequently throughout the week. Look at your schedule and decide what you can consistently commit to, and then sit down with your pen and paper (or your fancy spreadsheet).


2. Begin Your Workout With Compound Exercises

As discussed last week, compound exercises are the bigger movements that utilize multiple muscle groups and multiple joints to perform. Things like the squat, deadlift, or overhead press take far more effort to complete than isolation exercises, so it is recommended to begin your workouts with these bigger movements when your energy is at its highest. Not only will this allow you to move more weight, you are also less likely to experience an injury. For example, you would not want to try to test your best 1RM (one repetition max) deadlift after an hour of isolation exercises that train the muscles of the lower body. This will fatigue your legs greatly and possibly compromise your form in the deadlift.


3. Include Exercises That Compliment the Compound Exercises You Began With

These are called “accessory” or “supplemental” exercises. These can be a variation of the main lift with different equipment or another isolation exercise that helps strengthen weak points you may have in the main lift. This will give your training more structure and help you plan a more organized workout program. Rather than doing random exercises that have nothing to do with one another (like training your legs after training overhead press), perform exercises that work similar muscle groups that the compound lift(s) worked. For example, if your workout began with barbell squats, you could follow those squats with a few sets of split squats or leg extensions.


4. Utilize “Super Sets” if You’re on a Time Crunch

You may have seen this term used in various bodybuilding forums, but this training approach is ALSO great for those who have limited time to dedicate to the gym. In super sets, you perform two exercise back to back for however many sets you have prescribed. For example, after performing a set of bicep curls, you could perform a set of tricep extensions during that time you would normally be resting. You can even perform three exercises back to back to back if you feel comfortable and up for the challenge.


5. Don’t Do Something You Don’t Understand

Now a days when we turn to the internet for help, we are bombarded with the “latest and greatest” ANYTHING. This includes ideas for different exercises to include in your workout. Now, while some may be silly and some may be legitimately helpful, make sure that you feel confident performing those exercises on your own. If you are unsure of how to do an exercise or do not understand the purpose of the exercise, ask a trainer or do some further research before attempting. There is no need to do the “latest and greatest” if you don’t understand why you’re doing it or how to do it properly. Keep it simple, do what you feel comfortable doing, and ask for help if you aren’t!


6. Manage Your Rest (both in and out of the gym)

In the gym, controlling how long you take in between sets and exercises is a great way to keep your body warm and managing your time efficiently. Your training age and goals will determine how much time you need between sets, so begin by just keeping an eye on the clock and take note of how much time you are taking between your sets. Outside of the gym, it is also important to make sure you are giving your body enough time to rest before coming back into the gym. If you want to hit the gym every day, consider splitting your training up accordingly so that you are not hitting the same muscle groups two days in a row.


7. Do What You Enjoy

I wanted to end this list with what I feel is the most important bit advice, especially for beginners! Write a program that you enjoy, not that you hate. It is true that sometimes the exercises we need to do are not always fun, but you also want to make sure you are enjoying your time spent working out! For example, if you hate running, don’t run! There are plenty of ways to get your cardio in. If you enjoy training like a powerlifter, than train like a powerlifter! Formulating a training program that you enjoy will make it far easier to stay on track and build a consistent habit, and therefore help you achieve your training goals!


There is so much information out there and so many training methods that anyone can get there hands on, and it can seem incredibly overwhelming when starting out. Hopefully these recommendations can help simplify the process of creating a plan and get you in the gym feeling more confident and ready to crush your goals. If you have further questions about building a training program, contact me at rachel@elitesctampa.com.


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