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How to Create a Targeted Workout Plan for Every Fitness Goal

Learning to create a workout plan isn't complicated. We break down the principles for designing a workout plan for every one of your personal fitness goals.

Table of Contents

Designing a workout plan can be an intimidating challenge. But if you deconstruct the plan to fit your lifestyle, you can create a workout plan that fast tracks you to your personal goals.

How to Set Your Workout Schedule

Decide how many days you want to work out. It’s important to factor in all your obligations outside of the gym so you can be realistic with how many days per week you plan to commit to training. Anywhere from 3-6 days a week is standard for most people.

Usually if you’re only working out a few days a week, then your focus is on more compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and presses that utilize multiple muscle groups. Whereas if you’re able to go to the gym 5-6 times a week, you can dedicate entire days to working out one or two specific muscle groups.

When researchers have compared high frequency training to low frequency training, they’ve found that there’s not a significant difference between the two as long as volume was equated for strength or muscle building gains. [1,2]

In other words, high frequency or low frequency workout plans can work for your strength or muscle building goals if your weekly volume is enough. At least 10 sets per muscle group per week is a good starting point for most people trying to build muscle.[3]

For beginners, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a training frequency of 2-3 days per week to start.[4]

Define Your Workout Goal

Pick a goal which you’d like to prioritize, such as building muscle, losing weight, increasing strength, or improving athletic ability. Once that has been identified, you can focus a workout plan around achieving this goal. This means building your sets, reps per set, and rest intervals around this goal. In general, for strength focused goals, you’ll benefit more from using relatively higher loads and lower reps. For muscle building goals, you can benefit from both high load/low rep and moderate load/high rep training.[5]

Weight loss focused goals will depend on your total energy expenditure, so the number of total calories you burn in a day will be most important. For weight loss focused goals, combining cardio and weightlifting into a workout plan can be effective in combination with a diet.[6]

Pick the Best Muscle Groups to Work Out Together

Choosing the best workout split will depend on how many days you can train and your specific fitness goal. Most basic workout programs follow one of the three following splits: 1) Total Body 2) Upper/Lower 3) Single Muscle group.[7]

Total Body programs focus training major muscle groups from the upper and lower body in the same workout. These types of programs are popular with field sport athletes and Olympic lifters because they predominately include compound movements like squats and power cleans which efficiently target multiple muscle groups.

Upper/Lower programs split workouts into upper body focused days and lower body focused days. These types of training programs are popular with strength athletes like powerlifters and some bodybuilders because it allows for a more targeted focus on specific muscle groups.

Single Muscle Group programs split workouts into dedicated days for specific muscle groups (ie leg days and chest days). This type of training is popular with many bodybuilders because workouts can be hyper focused on a singular muscle group.

In general, single muscle group programs require you to go to the gym more days so that each of the major muscle groups can have a dedicated workout day. While a reasonable total body program may be done with just 3 workouts in a week.

Set Active Recovery & Rest periods

Make sure you rest enough between sets to support your goals. The National Strength & Conditioning Association’s general guidelines for rest are 30 seconds or less for muscular endurance training, 30-90 seconds for hypertrophy (muscle building) training, and 2-5 minutes for strength or power training.[8]
These are general guidelines.

When to Add Cardio in Your Workout Plan

Both continuous endurance training and high intensity interval training can contribute to positive improvements in body composition and aerobic capacity.[9] Aerobic exercises are associated with beneficial metabolic and cardiovascular effects.[10]

So, if you’re interested in improving your overall fitness, you may benefit from adding cardio to your routine.

Research on concurrent training (combining strength and aerobic exercise in the same program) has found that strength, hypertrophy, and endurance focused athletes can do concurrent training programs without experiencing significant decrements, if the proper modalities are selected.[11] So, if your main goal is increasing strength, make sure your cardio workouts aren’t too long or frequent to prevent them from interfering with your strength goals.

Track & Measure Your Workout Goals

Good training programs are unified in their principle to cause a stimulus to the body that causes it to adapt. Having benchmark goals that you aim to achieve by the end of a week, month, or months can help you track and measure the success of your training program.

Some common measures you can include to track progress with your program include being able to increase the total weight you can lift for a 1 rep maximum on an exercise, increasing the number of reps you can do with a weight that is a certain % of your 1 rep maximum, increasing the rep speed you can lift a set weight % of your 1 rep maximum for, shortening your rest periods between sets, or increasing the total amount of volume you can do in a workout.[12] Some common composition measures you can track include your body weight, BMI, body fat %, and waist circumference.

You can choose to track just one of these measures or multiple.

So now that you’ve identified your goal, and understand the factors to build your workout plan, it’s time to put it on the schedule! Here’s a few tried-and-true examples to get the ball moving.

Total Body Workout

Sunday – Workout 1 (Squat, Floor Press, Kettlebell Swing, Pull Ups)
Monday - Rest or Active Recovery
Tuesday - Workout 2 (Power Clean, Goblet Squat, Chest Flys, Dumbbell Rows)
Wednesday - Rest or Active Recovery
Thursday - Rest or Active Recovery
Friday – Workout 3 (Lunges, Leg Curl, Bench Press, T-Bar Rows)
Saturday - Rest or Active Recovery

Sample Upper/Lower Split Program

Sunday – Lower Body Day
Monday - Upper Body Day
Tuesday – Rest or Active Recovery
Wednesday – Lower Body Day
Thursday - Upper Body Day
Friday - Rest or Active Recovery
Saturday - Rest or Active Recovery

Sample Body Part Split Program

Sunday - Rest or Active Recovery
Monday - Chest
Tuesday - Back
Wednesday - Rest or Active Recovery
Thursday - Legs (Quads/Hamstrings)
Friday - Shoulders/Calves
Saturday - Arms/Abs

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