I receive numerous emails and messages daily, all asking the same question:
“Michael, what workout should I pursue?”
Well, today is your fortunate day.
I am here to guide you in constructing a personalized workout program, step by step!
After all, a workout routine should be tailored to an individual’s age, objectives, dietary approach, available time, and more.
Furthermore, the process can be unnecessarily complex – there’s an endless array of exercises, sets, reps, and programs to choose from.
Now, if you’re someone who wants to bypass all the intricacies and simply be provided with a direct plan:
Personal trainer North York specialize in creating personalized workout plans for our Online Coaching Clients and would be delighted to include you. We take the time to understand your unique story, challenges, goals, and lifestyle, and then design a workout regimen that seamlessly integrates into your routine.
If you prefer to take the DIY approach, we’ll delve into the process of creating your own workout plan today!
Additionally, we’ve developed a complimentary resource for individuals keen on constructing their own workout but are in need of precise guidance and instructions.
Alright! Are you prepared to begin crafting your own workout routine and eager to understand the process?
Fantastic! Let’s get started:
- Step #1: Determine your “Get in Shape” situation!
- Step #2: “What exercises should I do to lose weight (or build muscle)?”
- Step #3: “How many sets and reps should I do per exercise?”
- Step #4: “How long should I wait between sets?”
- Step #5: “How much weight should I lift?”
- Step #6: “How long should I exercise for?“
- Step #7: How to create supersets and circuit training workouts.
- Step #8: “How many days per week should I train?”
- Step #9: How to record your workouts and progress.
- “Michael, just BUILD a workout for me!”
Step #1: Determine Your “Get in Shape” Situation
QUESTION 1: What are your objectives?
- Are you striving to shed some pounds? Excellent.
- Are you aiming to bulk up and increase muscle mass? Great.
- Are you preparing for your inaugural 5k run? Perfect.
No matter what your goals are, it’s essential to document them and have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.
These objectives will influence HOW you structure your workout.
An effective approach to establishing goals is by utilizing the SMART method, an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
- Specific – Your goals should precisely outline what is to be achieved. They must be unambiguous and straightforward.
- Measurable – Your goals should be quantifiable, allowing you to track your progress. For instance, aiming to gain 5 pounds of muscle provides a clear metric for tracking your advancement, requiring appropriate body composition equipment to assess your fat and muscle mass.
- Attainable – Your goals should be realistically achievable. Keep in mind, a practical muscle gain per week is approximately 0.5 pounds. For example, gaining 5 pounds of muscle should realistically take around 10 weeks.
- Relevant – Your goals should align with your specific interests, needs, preferences, and abilities. It’s crucial that your goals are self-generated and resonate with you!
- Timely – Your goals should have a defined timeline for accomplishment. If your goal is to gain 5 pounds of muscle, then a reasonable endpoint would be a minimum of 10 weeks.
A SMART goal is a well-structured goal.
QUESTION 2: How much time are you able to commit to exercise?
If you can allocate an hour each day, that’s fantastic.
However, perhaps you have a spouse, children, a pet, two jobs, and no automated assistant.
Perhaps you only have thirty minutes, twice a week—no problem!
It’s also beneficial to break up your workout sessions. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), accumulating three 10-minute exercise sessions throughout the day, totaling 30 minutes, is equally effective as doing one continuous 30-minute workout.
Regardless of the time you can allocate, optimizing your workout efficiency is key.
Why spend two hours at the gym when you can achieve just as much in 30 minutes, right?
The great news is that weight training emerges as the champion in the battle against fat, and efficiency reigns supreme.
Whether your goal is muscle building or weight loss, a strength training regimen will help you achieve the desired results (when paired with an appropriate dietary plan!)
Speaking of time, let me touch upon a crucial aspect:
Setting realistic expectations!
As outlined in our guide, let’s establish practical timelines for achieving weight loss or muscle gain:
- For weight loss, a recommended approach is to create a calorie deficit by consuming 250-500 fewer calories per day than your usual calorie intake. This can lead to a realistic weight loss goal of 1-2 pounds per week.
- If you’re aiming to gain muscle mass, it’s advisable to pursue a calorie surplus by consuming 250-500 additional calories above your typical daily calorie intake. This can result in a gain of approximately 0.5 pounds of lean muscle mass per week.
QUESTION 3: WHERE do you intend to work out?
- At a gym? We’ve prepared a Beginner’s Gym Guide featuring 6 levels of workouts.
- At home? Have you experimented with our Beginner Bodyweight Workout?
- In a park? Our park workout might be a perfect fit.
Where you choose to work out will significantly determine whether you’ll be training with your body weight or if you’ll embark on gym-based strength training.
If you’re paying attention, you might observe that I’m encouraging you to work out regardless of your current circumstances.
Because, as per ACSM, the primary reason people neglect exercise is:
Lack of time.
All of us, always.
However, armed with the information I’ve provided, you should technically have no excuse for not exercising unless (you’re injured or unwell).
In the end, your workout:
- Can be accomplished through 10-minute exercise sessions throughout the day.
- Doesn’t mandate a gym membership.
- Can be carried out with exercises within the comfort of your home or outdoors (weather permitting).
RECAP OF QUESTIONS – At this juncture, we should have:
- Established your fitness goals.
- Determined the time available for your training.
- Selected WHERE you’d like to work out.
Now, we can commence crafting your workout routine, daily workout plan, and monthly workout schedule!
Let’s get started.
Step #2: What Exercises Should I do to lose weight (or build muscle?)
I adhere to the principle of ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’
(Note: I’m not implying you’re stupid. You’re reading this, which means you’re intelligent, good-looking, really funny, and, above all, modest.)
The most effective workout routine is the one you can consistently follow. People tend to complicate things by attempting to target numerous individual muscles with a multitude of exercises for each body part.
It’s exhausting, unnecessary, inefficient, and daunting.
So, let’s keep it simple!
We’ll select five exercises and focus on mastering those movements, emphasizing strength.
This approach forms the foundation of our Strength 101 series.
Unless you have extensive experience in strength training and understand the intricacies, we suggest opting for a full-body workout routine that you can perform 2-3 times a week.
Your workout routine should ideally encompass at least one exercise for each of the following:
- Quadriceps (front of your legs).
- Glutes and hamstrings (back of your legs).
- Chest, shoulders, and triceps (‘push’ muscles).
- Back, biceps, and grip (‘pull’ muscles).
- Core (abdominals and lower back).
Here’s a trick: by focusing on compound movements that engage multiple muscles simultaneously, you can design a comprehensive routine using only four or five exercises.
How’s that for efficiency!?!
A compound exercise complements the isolation exercise.
Consider a push-up (compound):
When you contrast it with bicep curls using a machine (an isolation exercise):
Compound exercises have been proven to enhance aerobic endurance, muscular fitness, and flexibility since they engage various muscle groups simultaneously.
In contrast, an isolation exercise involves a single-joint movement, targeting just one muscle group, as seen in bicep curls in our earlier example.
I must emphasize that there’s a suitable time and place for incorporating both compound and isolation exercises.
We delve into this in our comprehensive guide, ‘The 12 Best Compound Exercises For Beginners (How To Train Efficiently).’
Here’s a brief breakdown of effective compound exercises for each muscle group:
- Quads – squats, lunges, one-legged squats, box jumps.
- Butt and Hamstrings – deadlifts, hip raises, straight leg deadlifts, good mornings, step-ups.
- Push (chest, shoulders, and triceps) – overhead press, bench press, incline dumbbell press, push-ups, dips.
- Pull (back, biceps, and forearms) – chin-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight rows, bent-over rows.
- Core (abs and lower back) – planks, side planks, exercise ball crunches, mountain climbers, jumping knee tucks, hanging leg raises.
Unsure how to perform these movements or need more examples?
Select one exercise from each category above for your workout, and you’ll engage nearly every muscle group in your body.
Gradually increase your strength with each movement weekly, and you’re on the path to achieving a remarkable physique.
Here’s a sample of an effective and straightforward gym workout:
- Barbell squats: 5 sets of 5 reps.
- Barbell Deadlifts: 3 sets of 3 reps.
- Push-ups (or dips): 3 sets of 15 reps.
- Pull-ups (or Inverted Rows): 3 sets of 8 reps.
- Planks: 3 sets, 1-minute hold each.
There’s no need to complicate things beyond this!
(Although we humans tend to overcomplicate things to the point of paralysis and inaction…)
Choose one exercise from EACH category above, particularly the ones that seem the least daunting to you, and that will constitute your workout every other day for the upcoming week.
The fantastic news: the workout routine outlined above is effective whether you aim to bulk up and gain muscle OR if you’re striving to shed weight.
Simply adjust your calorie intake – which comprises 80% of the equation – and that’s how you’ll begin to transform your physique.
Mastering these fundamental movements and concentrating on progressive strength gains each week (we’ll discuss how below) is key.
Achieving significant strength in squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and push-ups will sculpt an impressive physique you can take pride in.
Furthermore, building strength through these exercises offers multifaceted benefits such as enhancing sports performance, reducing the risk of chronic diseases (e.g., CVD), and extending longevity, thus decreasing the chances of premature mortality.
Once you establish confidence in these movements, don’t hesitate to introduce some variety.
Repeating the exact routine thrice a week for extended periods might lead to boredom, and your motivation might dwindle…
Person distracted on their phone at the gym
Alternatively, you could hit a workout plateau.
So, if you feel monotony setting in, you can stick with the same ‘formula’ but switch up the components:
- If you perform bench presses on Monday, opt for overhead presses on Wednesday and dips on Friday.
- Squats on Monday? Experiment with lunges on Wednesday and front squats on Friday.
- Deadlifts every Wednesday? Vary the sets and reps you choose!
Should you hit a plateau or sense a lack of engagement, select a different exercise to enhance. This way, you’ll remain challenged, ensuring you stay motivated to follow through with your workout!
Then, make strides in getting stronger! (You are jotting down your workouts, aren’t you?).
I understand how easy it is to overly complicate this process, given the overwhelming array of exercises, sets, reps, and programs available.
Indeed, we have a solution for those who prefer precise instructions: our highly sought-after 1-on-1 coaching program pairs you with your dedicated. They will take the time to understand you, your objectives, and your way of life, curating a workout plan tailored not only to your physique but also to your timetable and lifestyle.
Step #3: How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do?
Here’s a straightforward suggestion, not considering warm-up sets:
- Aim for 3 to 5 sets per exercise.
- Start with 8 to 10 reps per set for beginners.
In our guide on ‘How Many Sets and Reps?’ we explain that a ‘set’ refers to a series of continuous repetitions.
For instance, if you perform 10 push-ups in one go, you’ve completed 1 SET of 10 REPETITIONS (or REPS) of push-ups.
Clear so far? Great.
Here are some general guidelines regarding repetitions as you commence structuring your workout plan:
- To burn fat while building muscle, aim for 8-15 repetitions per set.
- If you find that you can comfortably do over 15 reps, it’s time to consider increasing the weight or the exercise difficulty. This applies to lunges, bodyweight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and similar exercises.
Starting Strength highlights some widely accepted ‘rules’ for determining the ideal rep range per set based on your objectives:
- Reps in the 1-5 range focus on building dense muscle and strength (known as myofibrillar hypertrophy).
- Reps in the 6-12 range facilitate a balance between muscular strength and size (known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
- Reps in the 12+ range contribute to muscular endurance.
Bottom line: Don’t stress about whether you should do 4 or 5 sets of 8 or 10 reps.
Our advice is to BEGIN with lighter weights and more reps as you familiarize yourself with the movement. Then, decide if you prefer higher reps with lower weight or vice versa.
You do you, as both approaches yield results!
The key focus should be on getting stronger during each subsequent workout.
Either increase the weight you lift or aim for one additional repetition compared to your last session.
“Just tell me what to do!”
Aim for a total of 15-25 sets across all exercises in your workout, with 8-10 reps per set:
A good starting point is 5 exercises in total, each with 4 “work sets”.
Remember, the most crucial step is to begin – you’ll understand how your body responds and can adjust along the way.
What you DON’T need: multiple exercises for each body part with 10 sets.
Excessive sets may lead to significant fatigue during your workout, elevating the risk of injury. It can also result in overtraining, causing decreased performance and a plateau in muscle improvement.
So, take it easy and avoid overdoing it.
A MAJOR REMINDER: Your diet plays a crucial role in determining whether you gain muscle or strength. Nutrition constitutes 80-90% of the equation. Choose a range that suits you and prioritize nutrition.
And if you prefer not to figure all of this out and simply want precise recommendations on exercises, sets, and reps, our online coaches are here to assist you.
Step #4: How Long Should I Wait Between Sets?
Let’s keep it simple, you intelligent, good-looking, witty, and humble individual.
Below, we’ve outlined a straightforward formula to help you determine the appropriate rest time between sets. However, please note that this can be adjusted based on your health level.
The aim is to minimize the rest time while ensuring you have enough to perform all the reps of the next set safely and effectively!
Here’s why this matters:
Sufficient rest between sets allows your body to replenish energy, enabling you to maintain good form and technique for the next set of reps. This, in turn, lowers the risk of injury.
I’ll provide some general guidelines on how long to rest, tailored to the weight you’re lifting (flexible guidelines, not strict rules!):
- 1-3 Reps (lifting heavy for strength/power): Rest for 3 to 5 minutes between sets.
- 4-7 Reps (lifting for strength): Rest for 2 to 3 minutes between sets.
- 8-12 Reps (lifting for size/strength): Rest for 1 to 2 minutes between sets.
- 13 Reps+ (lifting for endurance): Rest long enough to recover and be prepared for the next lengthy set!
If you require more or less rest than the suggested times above, that’s absolutely fine.
Do your best, keep track of your rest durations between sets, and aim to shorten your resting periods in future sessions.
Norris is excited about having his personalized bodyweight workout routine!
Your body will adapt as you grow stronger and healthier!
Step #5: How Much Weight Should I Lift?
We have a comprehensive guide on determining your initial lifting weight, but I’ll provide a summary here.
The straightforward yet challenging approach is this:
Lift a weight that allows you to complete the set, but without completely depleting your energy reserves by the end.
How do you figure out what that weight is?
Trial and error.
ALWAYS lean towards being “too light” rather than “too heavy” when starting out.
It’s better to think, “I probably could have done more!” rather than “that was too much, and now I need medical attention!”
Also, remember that when you start working out, you’re essentially training your neuromuscular systems to perform the movement correctly. This process can’t be rushed, so it’s wise not to begin with excessively heavy weights.
When should you increase the resistance?
The NSCA suggests a 2-for-2 rule, which states:
If a person can complete two reps (or more) beyond their set goal, it’s time to increase the load.
How much should you increase the weight by?
- For those less trained (e.g., beginners), it’s advised to add 2 – 5 pounds for upper body exercises and 5 – 10 pounds for lower body exercises.
- For the more trained (e.g., advanced), it’s recommended to add 5 – 10 pounds or more for upper body exercises and 10 – 15 pounds or more for lower body exercises.
I must emphasize that if you’re doing bodyweight exercises, you need to intensify each exercise as you improve. Once you comfortably exceed 20 reps for a specific exercise and you’re not feeling challenged, it’s time to introduce variety.
Can you easily do 20 push-ups? It’s time to diversify the types of push-ups you do, making them more challenging. Choose a variation from this article and push yourself!
Finding 20 bodyweight squats too simple? Hold some weights above your head during the next set. Over time, you can progress to exercises like the pistol squat:
If you’re uncertain about scaling bodyweight movements or looking for diversity and guidance.
Step #6: How Long Should I Exercise For? How Long Should My Workout Be?
Simple answer: Aim for a workout session lasting between 45 minutes to an hour.
Elaborating a bit: If your workout plan entails 15-25 sets in total (3-5 sets per each of your 5 exercises), fitting it all into a 45-minute session should work well.
Consider allocating around five to ten minutes for a warm-up, and a few minutes for stretching at the end, which might extend the workout slightly.
If you find yourself exercising for over an hour and you’re not overly fatigued, consider ramping up the intensity.
Less time with increased intensity often yields superior results.
But what if you don’t have a full 45 minutes?
Simply do the best you can!
Interested in integrating some cardiovascular exercise into your weight training routine?
This is where the following section becomes relevant.
Step #7: How to Create Supersets and Circuit Training Workouts
Strength training within a circuit workout is an optimal method to maximize fat burning during exercise:
- You engage in a cardiovascular workout by transitioning seamlessly from one exercise to another.
- Different muscle groups are targeted successively, allowing each group a brief recovery period within a condensed timeframe. Efficiency is key!
For those acquainted with CrossFit, many of their routines follow circuit principles.
This approach might also cause you to involuntarily express frustration at inanimate objects due to exhaustion.
We’ll cover TWO key concepts here:
The NSCA defines it as:
A superset involves performing two consecutive exercises targeting different muscle groups.
For instance, a superset could involve:
- Performing a set of squats
- Waiting one minute
- Performing a set of dumbbell presses
- Waiting one minute
- Proceeding to the next set of squats
Since you’re working on entirely different muscle groups, you can exercise one while the other is “resting.”
This means you achieve a comprehensive workout in half the time.
Furthermore, because of reduced rest time, your body exerts more effort, providing an added cardiovascular challenge. Bingo.
Here’s how this would look in a sample workout:
- Lunges alternated with incline dumbbell presses, four sets each, one minute between sets.
- Take a short break to catch your breath and prepare for the next two exercises.
- Straight leg deadlifts alternated with wide-grip pull-ups, four sets each, one minute between sets.
- 3 Sets of planks, stretch, and you’re done!
A circuit entails performing one set for EVERY exercise consecutively, without pausing.
Once you complete one set of each exercise consecutively, you repeat this cycle two, three, or four more times.
We’ve detailed various bodyweight circuits on the site:
- Beginner Body Weight Circuit
- Advanced Body Weight Circuit
- Beginner Kettlebell Circuit
Additionally, we have 15 FREE circuits outlined in our extensive Circuit Training roundup guide!
Lastly, we take great pleasure in creating circuit training routines for our Coaching Clients – and we’d be thrilled to do the same for you.
Step #8: How Many Days per Week Should I Train?
We often encounter this question, especially from those enthusiastic individuals who decide to transition from ‘sitting on the couch and watching The Office on repeat’ to ‘exercising 7 days a week.’
While you can still enjoy The Office, it’s important not to overexert yourself with a 7-day workout routine. Our advice differs.
Muscles aren’t built in the gym; they are broken down during workouts and rebuilt stronger during rest periods… perhaps while watching The Office.
Allowing a 48-hour recovery period between workouts, particularly when training intensively, is essential for avoiding injuries and promoting strength gains.
A workout routine of Monday-Wednesday-Friday works effectively, ensuring ample recovery time, especially for beginners.
If you prefer Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday or Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday, that’s perfectly fine.
Personally, I adhered to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday full-day routine for nearly a decade, prioritizing strength gains with each movement.
In recent times, my schedule shifted to training on Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday (with workouts on Wednesday and Thursday targeting different muscle groups!).
Simply choose enjoyable ‘exercise’ activities that won’t overly strain your muscles.
However, remember that recovery is crucial for preventing injuries and allowing your body to recuperate after the stress of exercise. If you wish to exercise on your off days, we recommend cross-training. This involves engaging in a different training routine or exercises than your usual ones. For instance, if you typically run for cardio, consider switching to the elliptical or bike. This keeps you active on your off days while giving your muscles that are regularly stressed from running an opportunity to rest and recover.
Alternatively, you can enlist a coach to design your workouts, ensuring you know precisely what needs to be done each day.
Step #9: Keep Track Of Everything!
Lastly, make it a habit to keep a workout journal!
As the saying goes, what gets measured gets improved.
Every day of exercise should ideally lead to you becoming stronger, faster, or more physically fit.
We advocate for leveling up your life each and every day.
Therefore, it’s crucial to track and measure your progress.
THINGS TO DOCUMENT AND MONITOR IN YOUR WORKOUT:
- Are you able to lift heavier weights?
- Can you lift the same weight more times than before?
- Are you able to complete your routine in less time than before?
If you notice improvements in these aspects (more weight, faster times, etc.), then you’re indeed getting stronger and gaining lean muscle mass!
Exciting, isn’t it?
Personally, I keep a record of all my workouts in Evernote.
I note down the sets, reps, weight used, and the date of the workout.
In my folder, I’ve accumulated over 1,000 workouts, making it incredibly easy to review what I did last month or even last year, ensuring I’m continuously progressing!
You can use various tools for this purpose, whether it’s an actual notebook, a bullet journal, an Excel spreadsheet, a workout app, or a Word document.
Don’t make it complicated:
- Simply jot down the date and your sets, reps, and weight for each exercise.
- Compare your current performance with your previous workout for those specific exercises.
- Focus on enhancing your strength (more reps, heavier weight, an additional set, etc.).
- Repeat this process.
By following this approach with a workout routine you’ve designed, you WILL see promising results. I guarantee it.
Now, let’s delve into how to effectively monitor your progress and consistently set new personal bests every time you train.
Michael,Just Build a Workout For Me!
If you’re in need of sample workouts to use as a foundation, select one from our collection of Circuit Training Routines!
For those inclined to create their own workout plan, that’s fantastic! Let’s simplify the process with this summary:
- ALWAYS initiate with a warm-up – spend 5-10 minutes on a bike, rowing machine, engaging in jumping jacks, or running up and down stairs, to get your blood flowing and muscles warmed up.
- Select a single exercise for each major muscle group – quads, butt and hamstrings, push, pull, and core.
- Perform 3-5 sets for each exercise.
- Aim for 5-10 reps per set for each exercise.
- Decide on the number of reps and the duration of rest between sets for each exercise. Let’s keep it simple: 60 seconds.
- Enhance efficiency and engage your heart by incorporating supersets or circuits. This leads to a higher EPOC, resulting in greater caloric expenditure and facilitating weight loss.
- Ensure your workout session remains under an hour.
- Conduct stretching exercises AFTER completing your workout.
- Document every detail!
Grant yourself the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, and continue progressing as you establish a more consistent training routine!