How I Create Strength Training Plans

Posted: February 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

Last night I gave myself a bit of a Valentine’s Day treat.


I created and started up my first rotation of my own strength training. I love lifting weights. It makes me feel strong and provides such a fun personal challenge. I’ll share what I did last night later on, but first – how I set up my workout plans.  I have received some requests for sharing, so I figured I would do that first.

Please remember that I am not certified in any way. I have simply figured out a system that works well for me after years of my own experience. If new to weight training, I always suggest a walk through with a trainer if possible; taking a class like Bodypump to get guidance from an instructor; or finding some way to properly acquaint yourself with the moves completed in workouts (aka research and practice).

Now for my step-by-step to making my workout plans…

Step 1: Choose a Workout Split. This simply means I decide how I am going to break up my body parts for workout days each week. For example:

  • 1 Upper Body day, 1 Lower Body day, 1 Full Body day
  • 1 Push day (chest, quads, triceps – muscles that push), 1 Pull day (back, hams, biceps – muscles that pull), 1 Full Body day
  • 2-3 Full Body Workout days
  • 2 Upper Body days, 1-2 Lower Body days
  • 2 Push days, 2 Pull days
  • Bodypart (1 Chest, 1 Back, 1 Legs, 1 Arms/Shoulders) <—my least fave

Step 2: Lay Out a General Plan. Here I simply put my chosen workout split into a table or spreadsheet and list out which body parts I will work in each workout. If I chose the Push/Pull/Full Body split, I will have something that looks like this:

Push Workout Pull Workout Full Body Workout
Hamstrings Quads Legs
Chest Back Chest
Hamstrings Quads Back
Chest Back Legs
Push Shoulder Pull Shoulder Shoulders
Triceps Biceps

I always make certain to get 1-2 exercises for each major muscle group I plan to work (the legs/glutes, back, and chest). Then, I add in smaller moves such as shoulders, biceps, and triceps as time allows. The smaller muscles get worked during larger moves so I don’t focus on having a move for them every workout.

Step Three: Fill In the Moves. I have a handy spreadsheet document where I keep a list of all my favorite exercises broken down by body part. I have a column for leg exercises, a column for back, a column for chest, etc. Then, I just pick and choose exercises from that list to fill out my basic plan. So, the above may turn into something like this:

Push Workout Pull Workout Full Body Workout
Deadlift Leg Press Walking Lunge
Dumbbell Bench Press Lat Pulldown Incline Dumbbell Flyes
Hamstring Curl Leg Extension Cable Row
Pushups Dumbbell Bent Over Row Step-Ups
Overhead Shoulder Press Front Raise Upright Shoulder Row
Tricep Kickbacks Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Step Four: Plan out the sets and reps. 3 sets of 10 repetitions is the standard, which I start with. I will many times do some exercises in the workout with higher reps (15-20) and some with lower reps (6-8). Or I might do a different number of reps with each set (IE gradually increasing from 8 to 10 to 12 reps with each set). I just make sure to switch it up sometimes. My final plan using the same Push/Pull/Full example will then have a layout like this:

Push Workout Pull Workout Full Body Workout
Deadlift 4x8 Leg Press 4x8 Walking Lunge 3x10
Dumbbell Bench Press 4x8 Lat Pulldown 4x8 Incline Dumbbell Flyes 3x10
Hamstring Curl 2x20 Leg Extension 2x20 Cable Row 3x10
Pushups 2x20 Dumbbell Bent Over Row 2x20 Step-Ups 3x10
Overhead Shoulder Press 3x12 Front Raise 3x12 Upright Shoulder Row 3x10
Tricep Kickbacks 3x12 Dumbbell Bicep Curl 3x12

Step 5: Add Variety. This is where I have fun. I can switch up the moves in the basic outline every week, every two weeks, or follow the same routine all month. I can sub out exercises easily if I feel like doing something different or a piece of equipment is occupied my entire workout. I can add in variety with different equipment, like stability balls. I plan on doing some of my favorites in the future with kettlebells or on TRX equipment. I can use supersets (two moves done back to back) or circuits (everything done back to back). I can do some plyometrics or abs in between sets. The options are endless!

Question of the Day – Do you enjoy planning workouts? Which kinds?

**Let me know if you have any additional questions and/or requests for expounding on any of these topics.

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