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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80 Comments to “How I Create Strength Training Plans”
  1. Angela says:

    I LOVE planning workouts! Even though I’m working out with a trainer at the moment, I still love planning my own on days I’m not working with him. I do the same thing as you regarding the push/pull/total body split. I’ve seen some great results, so I suppose if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! Have fun getting back into lifting! 🙂

  2. Jess says:

    I love this approach to weight lifting – very organized of you! I’m a big fan of the push/pull approach myself – mixed with one total body day…which reminds me, you would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, Cathe’s STS Total Body. A great addition to your other workouts listed here for push/pull.

  3. Fantastic post! I love seeing how other people come up with their workouts.

  4. This is a really helpful post, Tina. Thank you! All throughout college I had my weight training planned for me and I never got efficient at planning it for myself. I find myself kind of flying by the seat of my pants, which I hate. I am bookmarking this page to help me better plan my weeks.

  5. What a GREAT resource! I think having a plan is a great form of motivation in itself, and it helps you have a more efficient workout (instead of just wandering around the gym!). Even if you don’t stick to it exactly, having one helps!

  6. Really helpful insight–and probably helps keep one focused and dedicated, too!

  7. I am so not a workout planner. It seems weird to me that I have worked out for all these years and have never planned out a workout. I guess, in my mind, I just do it for fun. I like seeing your plan. It is always great to get ideas from others’ plans!

  8. Hey Tina!

    I stumbled upon your blog through PB Fingers and I love it. 🙂

    I enjoy planning to go for a good run, or planning to take a spin class, etc. but I really love when I’m feeling good and I just get outside and go. Whether it’s running, biking, swimming, etc. 🙂

  9. This is really awesome and so helpful! I just want you to know that I get so excited whenever I see that you have a new post! Hope you have a great day! 🙂

  10. I personally really love either 4 day splits—two upper and two lower or 3 day split, full body!

  11. Lauren says:

    This was very useful info because I never know what to do when I’m doing weights. I usually just follow a workout I find online. I plan my running when I’m training for a race – I usually look at my schedule and see what days are best for long runs and short runs, then I add in other things I want to do for the week like yoga or spinning classes.

  12. Looks great! I love planning workouts too. I started working with a coach and it’s been amazing to see how much harder I can push myself with intervals and mixed workouts. Liked your take-a-day-off post too. I think weekends are for family, especially Sundays. Totally hear you on no Sunday posting!

  13. I love planning out a full week of workouts…makes me feel prepared!

  14. Lisa says:

    I am obsessed with planning everything, workouts included! I love how organized you are!!

  15. Karen says:

    I love planning workouts too!! I’m such a planner with everything in life so planning workouts brings me lots of joy! I follow a very similar methodology that you do when planning my workouts.

  16. I LOVE planning (and plotting lol) workouts! One of my pet peeves is women who don’t lift and just do cardio all the dang time.

  17. Oh my gosh do I ever love planning workouts! Right now I’m following a 16 week strength/HIIT plan, and it’s my first really in-depth experience with strength. In the past I’ve planned plenty of cardio workouts, but I think when I finish this I’ll have a better idea of how to plan my own strength workouts, too. I liked reading yours 🙂

  18. Becca says:

    I love planning my workouts! … cardio not so much!

    Love yoru new plan! Such a great way you laid out the planning!

  19. I have absolutely no knowledge in planning strength training routines. I usually try to replicate what I have done in a class before.

  20. I love the idea of making such a specific plan for strength training! I usually just “wing it” when I’m sure I could be getting better results from the time I put into it by actually following a thought out plan (like I do for running). Thank you for sharing!

  21. Your plan is so detailed and thought out! I’m so impressed. Thanks for sharing it. Sometimes it’s so hard to just get started but you really lay it all out there and make it easier!

  22. Shannon says:

    I wish I had your love of strength training! I love cardio, but weights bore me. Not good! Thanks for sharing your plan…good inspiration for me 🙂

  23. Melissa says:

    I have to admit I’m a little nervous planning my own workouts but you have made it look so simple!!

    Thank you for all the tips. I’m going to start a spreadsheet with all my favorite exercises and then plan from there.

    Thanks for all the info!

  24. Mellissa says:

    I have been using the Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises to plan my workouts and I have been loving it! I do prefer to do full body just for the sake of time though.

    • Tina says:

      Full body is by far my favorite. I’m doing upper/lower/full right now to ease back in a bit. But full body splits will always be my all time favorite. So effective too!

  25. I am big into planning my workouts. I think that is the trainer in me! I am weird about ensuring I hit every muscle group at some point through out the week and planning helps me to do so. I don’t usually write everything out but more a ballpark plan in my head!

    PS… I loved your previous post!

  26. Great post, Tina! I have to get better about strength training. I went to Bikram last night and my day called for “stretch and strengthen” on my half marathon training schedule, so I think that counts. But besides occasional yoga and The Shred, I am not good about it!

  27. Wow that was REALLY enlightening. I also can’t stand strength plans that do one body party each day. BORING!

  28. i know that i really do need to plan my workouts ahead of time otherwise i just wander around and don’t get a good workout in! i’ve started planning recently, but your planning method has much more structure than mine! thanks for sharing.

    just curious, why is doing an arm day, chest day, legs day, etc. your least favorite way to break up strength sessions?

    • Tina says:

      I personally don’t like it because it usually a) means more days in the gym to hit every body part and b) you only hit each body part once per week. Others you hit 2x/week so its usually more effective to do those types of splits and c) doing all chest/back/etc moves for an entire workout bores me. LOL

  29. I found a great workout in a book of my husband’s: Stength Conditioning for Football. That’s my current routine!

  30. I do enjoy making up my own rotations, but sometimes I can stress myself out a bit. I think variety and change is great.

  31. Allie says:

    Awesome post! This was very informational as I feel like when I go to lift weights I don’t really know what I am doing hahah. I posted today about babies/kids and it made me think of you 🙂 Have a great day!!!

  32. I am HORRIBLE at planning, so I’m super impressed! 🙂

  33. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tina Reale, Tina Reale. Tina Reale said: My go to method for creating strength training plans. Step by step guide – #fitblog […]

  34. Anne Marie says:

    This is SOOO helpful 🙂 Thanks for sharing lady!!

  35. […] you to Tina for the inspiration to take my strength training into my own hands. Check out her post on how to create strength training […]

  36. Anna Marie says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! strength training is so intimdating and I am right now trying to figure out a new work out plan for the fall semester. I usually rely solely on work out classes telling me what to do and when to do it so I am having to use some self-discipline to start coming up with strength plans. I love the upper body, lower body and full body plan!

    • Tina says:

      It can take some getting used to but once you get a good set up and running list of exercises you like, its so fun and relatively easy. 🙂

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