4 steps to design your personal workout routine
Workout routines have been, are and will be a hot topic in the fitness community. Everybody wants to know what’s the best beginner workout routine, what’s the best training routine for mass, what’s the best for strength, the best routine for women and so on.
There are literally thousands of questions being asked every day around this topic. Justly, there is no question about it; the way you train will have a tremendous impact on how your body will look, therefore it make perfect sense to continuously learn and experiment with different routines.
A very common workout routine is the ‘push, pull, legs’ program which I’ve followed when I first started working out, almost a year and a half ago (wow, it’s been that long already).
If you’ve been reading the blog you may know that until now I was hitting all my body parts just once a week (which is considered not optimal by many folks) by following a 5 days split program:
- Monday: Legs
- Tuesday: Chest, abs,
- Wednesday: Back, HIIT
- Thursday: Shoulder, abs
- Friday: Arms, HIIT
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
However, I recently decided to switch make to the ‘push, pull, legs’ routine and today was the first push day. Let me briefly tell you more about it and why I decided to switch from my 5 days split.
Alright, before we go into more detail here’s how my routine looks like right now.
My push, pull, legs workout routine
Monday (Push Day)
- Incline Bench Press (3 sets)
- Flat Bench Press (3 sets)
- Incline Dumbbell Press (3 sets)
- Triceps Cable Pushdowns (3 sets)
- Bodyweight Dips (3 sets)
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises (3 sets)
- Rear Delts Dumbbell Flies (3 sets)
Tuesday (Pull Day)
- Wide Grip Pull-ups (3 sets)
- Deadlifts (3 sets)
- Cable Rows (3 sets)
- Barbell Bicep Curls (3 sets)
- Dumbbell Bicep Curls (3 sets)
- Calves (4 sets)
Wednesday (Leg Day)
- Back Squats (4 sets)
- Stiff Legs (4 sets)
- Leg Press (3 sets)
- Leg Curls (4 sets)
- Seated Leg Extensions (3 sets)
Thursday is more or less the same as Monday, with more emphasis on shoulders and Friday is the same as Tuesday.
My 2 cents on training frequency
The main difference between my previous 5 days split and the push, pull, legs 3 day split is the training frequency. So, instead of hitting everything just once a month I am now hitting all muscle groups (except legs) twice a week.
Even though there is a big hype right now about hitting each body part twice a week, and this being considered the optimal training frequency, this is not necessarily true.
Training frequency is just a way of arranging your workout in a week. If you are getting in the volume you need in a week you are good, regardless you get it two training sessions or in just one.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say your optimal training volume is 100 reps per week for chest. You can get your 100 reps in just one chest focused workout or you can split them in two 50 reps workouts.
That’s why, according to scientific evidence there training one, twice or 3 times per week doesn’t matter that much as long as you get it the volume.
Volume and intensity are what should be in check for better outcome.
As you can see in the above push, pull, leg routine, on a push day I do 9 sets of chest. My rep range is quite low – 5 reps for the barbell pressing and 7-8 reps for the dumbbell pressing.
This totals 51 to 54 reps in a chest workout, which seems to be just a little bit over the right amount.
Why to switch to a different workout routine
So we cleared the fact that I am not making the switch to this new routine for a higher training frequency. Why then?
Well, mostly because I got tired of the old routine which I’ve been doing for the last 4 months or so. I strongly believe that making things more enjoyable will produce better results and better performance. If you are not happy with a routine, sticking to it just because someone said it’s the best it’s not a wise decision.
The best workout routine is the one that you enjoy most. When you like doing it, when you actually enjoy it, you will put it all the effort and give all you have, which will ultimately result in better progress and better results.
Another reason why I decided to make this change is because I’ve noticed I’ve been lifting the same weights on several of the main exercises I do for the last 4 weeks. I am sure this has to do with the fact that I am cutting and the caloric deficit is not helping at all, but changing the routine and the exercise selection a little bit can’t hurt.
It’s normal to hit plateaus here and there, especially if you’ve been doing the same exercise for a long time and if you are not a complete beginner anymore, but this doesn’t mean you should be ok with not making any progress.
Remember, getting stronger over time is the only way to getting bigger. If the weights are not going up (even by just a bit) you are not making any more gains. Progressive overloading is what your focus should be on all the time.
If your lifestyle or schedule changes, you will need to make adjustments to your training routine as well, so that it fits with your personal life. If you’ve been hitting the gym 5 days a week and all of a sudden for whatever reason you are now able to work out just 3 times a week of course your training routine needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Make gym a part of your life, not your life. Work your way around your schedule and make the training fit your personal schedule.
How to design your personal workout routine
I’ve always been a fan of teaching people how to do things on their own rather than giving them a recipe to follow strictly and this is what I am trying to do here. Yes, you can build your own personal workout routine if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Step 1: Goals and schedule
First and foremost, before you design your workout plan you need to know what your goals are and how much time you can dedicate to lifting weights.
If your goal is to lose weight your workouts might look a little bit different than if you want to bulk up, if you can train only 3 days a week there is no point in following a 5 days split and so on. It all depends on your goals and how much time you can put into it.
Step 2: Exercise selection
This is probably the most important thing when it comes to a solid workout routine. If you are reading this blog you probably want to get stronger and more muscular. Assuming these are your goals your workout routine should be build around compound exercises.
There are exercises that involve two or more joints in the movement, also called multi-joint movements. Bench press, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, pull-ups are common examples of compound movements.
Studies have shown that compound exercises are superior to isolation exercises (single joint movements) when it comes to muscle growth. You can’t get big doing only isolation movements.
Compound movements do hit more muscle groups at once and allow you to lift heavier weights because you are putting in more muscles and joints in.
Therefore, you should design your workouts so that the majority of the exercises you are doing are compound movements, and only a couple of them are isolation exercises that focus on specific muscle groups or areas.
Step 3: Heavy load
Another extremely important aspect of a good training program is training intensity – which refers to how heavy are the weights you are using. This is usually measured as percentages of your 1 rep max or how many reps short of failure you train (e.g. 85% of 1 RPM or 2 reps short of failure).
The science behind this lies in how our muscles work from an anatomic point of view. Lifting heavy weights target fast twitching muscle fibers which have great potential for growing in size and strength, while lifting light weights will hit slow twitching fibers which don’t have any potential for growth really.
That’s why you see a lot of guys in the gym lifting the same light weights forever and not making any gains.
So, you have the right exercise selection from the previous step, what you need to do now is set the rep range in each set so that it’s optimal for muscle hypertrophy.
This is debatable but the sweet spot is between 5-12 reps on your compound movements. You can stick with the 6-8 reps range if you like going heavy or you can go as high as 10-12 reps if you are have issues with your joints or if you want to focus more on form for example. This will mean using weights that are 80% of your 1 RPM or more basically.
Step 4: Right volume
Last step is to set the amount of total reps you do for each muscle group each week. Since we have set the reps per set, now you only need to determine how many sets you need to do for each exercise in order to hit the volume you need to do each week.
Again as per studies and scientific research a volume of 60 to 80 reps seems to be the sweet spot. If the average reps per set is 8 this means that you should do anywhere from 8 to 10 sets per muscle group each week.
You can adjust this based on your personal preference and based on how your body reacts to weight training. Personally, I like training high volume and I do up to 12 sets per muscle group per week, so look at this numbers as guidelines not as rules.
I hope this has been informative and I would love to hear your thoughts on workout routines. Which is your favorite and why?