Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Whether you're just starting out with your fitness journey, or are a seasoned lifter looking to boost gains with something new, you'll likely find yourself in need of a new workout plan every once in a while.
Heading into a new week with no clue what you're going to be doing, and simply winging your workouts is a surefire way to waste your precious time.
Instead, it's well and fully worth it to take the time to sit down, learn a little, and create your very own workout plan. Having a plan will not only stop you from wasting your time, you'll have something to look forward to, know exactly what it is that you'll be doing, and enjoy the process more.
If this is something you've chosen to do, and you feel that you need a bit of assistance with it, you're in the right place. In this post, we'll give you a step-by-step guide on how you can cerate your own, ideal and effective workout plan for the week, and look into some of the science behind why we're making certain choices when it comes to creating these programs!
Disclaimer: This guide is for general lifters looking to build strength and muscle. If you are training for a specific sport such as powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, it may not be the most optimal approach. We would recommend consulting an expert in your field, such as a trained coach in your chosen sport.
Otherwise, if this sounds good to you, keep on reading!
NOTE: A workout plan/program differs from that of a workout routine. A routine is the set of exercises that you do on a given day. So for example, your routine might tell you to start the session with squats, then go onto a deadlift, etc. A routine is the schedule that you have for a specific training session.
However, a workout plan/program maps out everything that you'll be doing in terms of your training for the week. A workout plan tells you what you'll be training on a given day, how you'll go about that training, and sometimes other things as well such as your nutrition, your recovery, and more.
A training routine is only part of a training plan/program.
With that being said, we'll get right into the 7 steps to creating your ideal workout plan.
These Steps Are...
Choosing Your Goals
Before we begin designing or creating anything, we need to determine what your goals are. Do you want to focus on getting stronger? Do you want to build as much muscle as possible? Are you looking to improve your endurance?
Once you figure out what these goals of yours are, you can begin to create your workout plan around that. This is important as all your workouts, chosen exercises, and nutrition will differ based on your goals.
For example, if you're primarily looking to get stronger, much of your workouts will be done with heavier weights. You'll also likely pick specific exercises, and maybe even eat a little differently.
And don't worry if you've got more than one goal. Most people do have more than one goal. However it's important that you find a way to prioritize your primary goal (whatever that might be), to keep yourself as satisfied, motivated and engaged as possible with your training program.
Because even if you have the most effective, well-researched program designed for you, it's no use if you don't enjoy the process and find it tough to stay committed to it.
There are many ways you can approach your new workout plan to make it revolve around your goals, but the best way to do it would be in a way that you enjoy, can stay committed to, and is effective.
So pick your primary and secondary goals! Do you want to look and be stronger? Are you wanting to be more explosive? More agile? Whatever your goal is, keep it in mind for later!
Picking a Workout Split
Next up, we'll be picking a workout split that aligns with your goals, and your availability.
If you're not familiar with what workout slits are, you can click here to read our guide on picking the best one for you!
Basically, a workout split is the rough plan and schedule for your training week, that determines the muscles you'll be hitting on a given day, and often the kind of movements/exercises that you'll be performing on a specific day as well.
A popular example of a workout split would be the Push, Pull, Legs split, which generally has you training 6 days a week, working your upper body pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps) on day two, your upper body pulling muscles (back, biceps, rear delts) on day two, and your lower body (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves) on day three.
Most people then go on to repeat this cycle after a rest day to complete the training week.
Other popular workout splits include the Upper/lower split, and the full body split.
It's important that you factor in your availability and preferences when picking a workout split, as these things will affect your ability to stay committed to and enjoy your training, which is absolutely vital to seeing progress. Ultimately, the best workout split for you will be the one that you enjoy and can stick to easily.
To help you pick a split that suits your availability, we've created a little guide below.
2-3 days a week: Full Body or Push, Pull, Legs (3x a week)
3-4 days a week: Full Body or Upper/Lower
4-5 Days a week: Upper/Lower or Full Body or Push, Pull, Legs, Upper/Lower
5-6 Days a week: Push, Pull, Legs, Upper/Lower or Push, Pull, Legs (6x a week)
Once you've picked a split, you'll need to ensure that you can stick to it and actually enjoy the work that you're doing.
You'll then want to find a way to schedule your training days, in a way that works around your schedule.
For example, if you have work or school on Monday, you won't want to schedule a training session too close to that. Not only would it put you in a rush to get through your workout, you'd have less time to do everything, and your time wouldn't be spent as productively as possible.
Creating Your Routines
Next up, you'll want to create your own workout routines, or find some online. If you would like a detailed guide on how to create a workout routine, you can click here to read our article on that.
Otherwise, you can simply search up: 'best push workout', or 'total body workout' and instantly find some great ones. However, for this guide, we will be focusing on helping you create your own.
So when you do come to create your routines, you want to pick the best exercises possible. That means hitting your compound exercises, for 60-80% of your routine. So if your routine consists of 4 exercises, 3 of them should be compound lifts.
If your routine consist of 5 or 6 exercises, 3-5 of them should be compound exercises, with the rest of your workout done utilizing isolation exercises.
You should pick the exercises that allow for you to place the largest overload onto your muscles, as these will result in the most growth, and give you the most bang for your buck. This will usually mean your barbell and free weight compound exercises such as the squat, bench press and deadlift.
To help you out with choosing your exercises, we've provided a list below with some great choices for your entire body.
Best Push Exercises (Chest, delts, triceps)
Barbell Bench Press
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Cable Lateral Raises
Best Pull Exercises (Back, biceps, rear delts)
Bent Over Barbell Rows
EZ Bar Curls
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows
Rear Delt Rows
Best Lower Body Exercises (Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves)
Bulgarian Split Squats
Once you've chosen your compound and isolation exercises, you also need to look at how you're going to structure your exercises within your workout.
As you probably know, your energy levels and focus are the highest at the beginning of your workout. This is where you should do your heaviest lifts, and the exercises that most align with your goals. For example, if you're a powerlifter, you'd likely want to prioritize the bench press, squat and deadlift first in your workouts.
If you're an Olympic lifter, you'd want to prioritize your Olympic lifts like the clean and press at the beginning of your workouts. This is because you'll be able to lift the most weight at the beginning of your workout, and ensure that you progress as quickly as possible on your primary lifts.
If you're a regular gymgoer looking to build strength and size, you should still be looking to begin your workout with your heavy compound lifting, as it'll be your best way to keep progressing and applying more and more mechanical tension onto your muscles over time, resulting in more growth.
Once you've got the layout of your routine, you need to pick your sets and reps. Again, we'd recommend you check out our more detailed guide on creating a specific workout routine.
However we will still briefly show you how here. Whatever your goals are, your set and rep schemes need to math them.
For those of you who want to build strength, you need to lift heavy, in the lower rep ranges. If you want to primarily build muscular endurance, you'll need to lift in higher rep ranges of 25-30+ reps per set, with shorter rest periods and lighter weight.
Now if your primary goal is to build muscle, you'll want to do a mixture of heavy and moderate lifting. Lifting heavy will help you progress on all your exercises, resulting in increased workout volume and more mechanical tension placed on your muscles over time. To see gains in the mirror, you should be lifting relatively heavy. Generally, heavy lifting should be done on compound exercises, and lighter lifting should be done on isolation exercises.
You'll also want to do lots of moderately heavy work, in the 6-12 rep ranges. A good rough guideline would be the one from Eugene Teo, which says that for maximum muscle gain, your total reps done on an exercise should fall between 15 and 30 reps. For example 3 sets of 8 reps is popular. 3 multiplied by 8 is 24, which satisfies this guideline.
So allocate your chosen set and rep schemes for the appropriate exercises, and you're good to go!
Check That Your Program is Effective
When we do come to create our training programs, it's very easy to make small mistakes that could end up costing us lots.
It's important that we know how to check our programs to ensure they're up to standard, and to prevent ourselves from wasting our time, or not using it wisely enough.
There's lots of science behind training smart, and we'll go into some of that below.
First off, you want to make sure that your program has you doing the right amount of training volume throughout the week. According to this study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld, doing at least 10 hard working sets per muscle per week results in significantly greater growth than doing less than 10.
Other studies have shown that the higher end of this spectrum seems to be somewhere around 20 sets. This would suggest that for most of the population, the ideal workout volume falls between 10 and 20 hard (within 3 reps of failure) working sets per muscle per week.
Check over your program so far. Does it satisfy this? If you're slightly under, you may want to look to incorporating slightly more volume. But remember, lots of muscles will be indirectly hit in compound exercises. For example, the barbell bench press is primarily a chest exercise, butt he shoulders and triceps get taxed heavily as well.
If you find that your program has you doing significantly more than 20 sets per muscle throughout the week, you'll likely want to reduce the volume a little. Remember, more volume does not always mean more muscle growth.
You also want to make sure that you're not hitting the same muscles two days in a row. This will severely limit your ability to perform in the second session, and you'll likely be wasting a lot f your time spent in the gym. For example, don't do two 'push' workouts back to back. or especially not two leg workouts back to back. If you do that, you're a masochist.
However if you are running a high-frequency full-body split, this obviously does not apply to you. the split is designed to work like that. However you can still ensure that you're not working too hard each session, as you will be training the exact same muscles the very next day.
For example, doing heavy compound exercises like the squat and deadlift every day for your lower body would quickly deplete your energy and is the quickest way to ensure your following workouts suck. Instead, do some more machine work, as it's generally less taxing on the central nervous system and muscles overall.
The reason that the Push, Pull, Legs program works so well is that your muscles get a two-day break before the next session. Your chest, shoulders and triceps might be smashed on Monday, but you likely won't be hitting them again until Thursday or Friday, depending on when you take your rest day.
You also need to ensure that your program has you training at an optimal training frequency each week. This study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld found that "frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week." Other studies have found similar results, that training your muscles at least twice per week is optimal for muscle growth.
So pretty much any split will work for this, except the classic 'bro split'. Ensure you've picked a workout split that has you hitting each muscle at least twice a week, and you will be absolutely fine.
Program has you doing 10-20 working sets per muscle per week
No muscle is being hit two days in a row
You're working each muscle at least twice a week
Knowing Your Nutrition
Contrary to popular belief, you don't actually have to eat basic foods to be healthy. You can have your favorite foods and still build muscle/make progress.
You don't have to eat mostly salads, or constantly be stuck to bland chicken and rice. You can eat fast food a and still build muscle. As long as you're getting in your sufficient calories, getting enough protein in (1.2-1.7g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight), and getting enough of your everyday macros in.
For a rough personalized calorie calculator, we recommend using the one by Calculator.net.
The link to the specific calculator is HERE.
Obviously, having too much unhealthy or fatty foods will lead to health problems like diabetes. But from a purely muscle building standpoint, you'd be fine with the cheat meal a couple times a week.
You need to ensure you're getting lots of complex carbs to keep energized for your session, and lots of fiber to help maintain bowel health and overall health.
Stick to healthier options if you enjoy eating them, but don't feel too guilty when you take a cheat meal.
Make sure you're drinking at least two liters of water a day, and are eating in a way that supports your goals. If you're looking to lose weight or change up your body composition, you'll likely want to be eating in a caloric deficit (burning more than you eat).
If you're looking to build muscle, the easiest way to do this would be to eat in a caloric surplus, which means you're eating a little more than you're burning.
Learn more: Can you still build muscle in a calorie deficit?
Also, try to have plenty of food and water prior to your workout sessions and bring a water bottle with you during the session. This will help keep you as energized as possible, and performing as best as you can.
Then, just get your protein and calories in throughout the day. Whether this comes in the form of readily prepared meals you make at the beginning of each week, or protein shakes or bars is up to you. The work doesn't just stop once you walk out of the gym. It's an ongoing process throughout the entire day.
Oh, and if you're big on drinking alcohol, we'd highly recommend you limit it. It does have quite a large effect on your gains.
Know Your Recovery
The next and often overlooked part of your training program is your recovery. Most people tend to skip this, but it can actually make a world of a difference if you do it and take it seriously.
By recovery, we mean doing your static stretching and foam rolling after your workouts, getting your nutrition and macros in (discussed above), and getting enough sleep/rest throughout the days.
After your workouts, just spend 5-10 minutes doing static stretching and foam rolling while your body is still warm. This will help alleviate some of the muscle tightness you might wake up with the following morning, and help keep you moving/training as efficiently as possible.
You should also look to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, to give your body the rest it needs in order to grow.
According to a study conducted by Arlet V Nedeltcheva, "The amount of human sleep contributes to the maintenance of fat-free body mass at times of decreased energy intake. Lack of sufficient sleep may compromise the efficacy of typical dietary interventions for weight loss and related metabolic risk reduction."
So for your recovery, ensure you're doing a quick post-workout session, getting your proper nutrition in, and getting enough sleep.
On your rest days, try to relax on them too if you can! Some light sport or activity is fine, but your body needs a break, and it's up to you to provide that for it.
Figure Out How You'll Keep Progressing
The last step is to figure out how you'll progress and continue to provide your body with a challenge. Your program should look mostly complete by now.
You just need to figure out how you're going to keep applying progressive overload into your workouts to make them more challenging as you get stronger and fitter.
Whether you you'll try to increase the weight you use on your compound lifts every week or two, or you'll try to increase the number of reps that you do with the same weight, or any other method is up to you. It's just important that you find a way to make the workouts a little bit harder each time, so that you continue to provide your muscles with a proper challenge and stimulus for muscle growth.
All the common ways that you can apply progressive overload are:
Increasing the weight you lift
Increasing the reps you do with the same weight
Increasing the number of sets you do with the same weight
Decreasing rest periods
Increasing time under tension
We'd say the first two are the most popular and most effective ways to apply progressive overload. And to help you understand this better, we've created a table below to show you how this could work.
50kg or 110lb
50kg or 110lb
50kg or 110lb
55kg or 120lb
55kg or 120lb
55kg or 120lb
60kg or 135lb
As you see, you'll continue to increase the weight, but drop the reps each time to accommodate for this. Then, as you get stronger and more comfortable lifting these heavy loads, you'll gradually be able to do more and more reps, resulting in a an increase in your volume and lifting capacity over time.
Now you could also try to add a set to some of your exercises every week or so, or decrease your rest periods for a couple of weeks, before increasing both the weight and the rest periods to accommodate for this. It's all about training your body to be comfortable under increasingly challenging workout loads and volumes.
Once you've figured out how you're going to apply your progressive overload, you're all good to go! You've just created your first workout program.
Overall, creating your first workout program can sometimes be a long, hard and confusing process. But if you just follow the 7 steps outlined in this post, and you're sure you've done it correctly you've got yourself a smart and effective workout plan/program. We hope you've been able to learn something from this post, and have enjoyed reading through it!
If you liked it or found it useful, share it with your friends! We're trying to help as many people as possible in their fitness journeys.
If you're still a little unsure, let us know at our 'contact us' page and we'll see how we can help you out!
Or head over to our custom workout programs feature for our team to create a fully personalized program for you with your goals specifically in mind!