How To Construct Your Own Effective Workout Programs

Many of you have started “fitness programs” as part of new year’s resolutions, and good for you! If you’ve invested in a structured program, or started working with a personal trainer, then even better for you! But I know that for many people, the expenses with either of these two options can be a problem. So today, we’re going to take a look at a few basic workout principles to help those of you “flying solo” begin to develop your own workout programs to help maximize your efforts.

Let’s Start With Basic Workout Principles

Navigating how to workout can get confusing, you’ll bump into terms like hypertrophy, muscle confusion, drop sets and super sets. None of these terms are rocket science, but to someone new to the game, they can be overwhelming and confusing. Rather than go into detail on what each of these – and the myriad of other terminology you’ll bump into – mean, we’ll focus on a few simple ideas that should help you increase the efficiency of your workouts and help you to see better results than if you simply wander into a gym with no real plan in place.

Principle #1: Working Opposing Muscle Groups

This is what the basis of this post will focus on. There are MANY effective ways to work out, and each have their own individual benefits. However, for the beginner, working opposing muscle groups may be the simplest strategy to follow, and it splits the entire body up pretty nicely into a five day workout routine that shouldn’t take too much time to complete.

So what does working opposing muscle groups mean? It’s pretty straightforward. You’ll be working muscles that are typically pretty relaxed when working their counterpart – things like your biceps and triceps for example. One exercise will focus on the biceps, and the next will focus on the triceps. You’ll bounce between the two (or more) muscle groups pretty quickly during your workout, with the idea being that the muscle group you just worked can rest a little bit while you target it’s counterpart. This leads to an effective workout that relies on less downtime between sets and a shorter overall amount of time you have to spend working out!

Principle #2: Sets and Reps

So when you’re working in the gym, it’s not enough to simply grab a weight and start moving it around, sweating a bit and then calling it done. When you workout, you should be following a formula to work a muscle. For pretty much ANY muscle you want to target, it’s pretty standard to perform the exercise between 8 and 12 times (these are called repetitions – or reps), a collection of these reps is called a set. Also standard is to perform 3 sets per muscle worked out? with between one to three minutes between each set. Following along?

Again, this is just a standard, there are MANY variations to this, but for our purposes, this is the methodology we’ll follow – 3 sets of 8-12 reps each. So how do you know the 8-12? This should be based on your goals. IF your goal is to gain mass and size, then you should focus on heavier weights and lower reps – putting yourself in the 8 reps range. If your focus is to shape and tone, then you should use lighter weights, with an emphasis on more reps – putting yourself in the 12 rep range. In either case, the last 2 or 3 reps should be difficult. If not, then select a heavier weight, if you can’t make it to your desired number of reps because it’s just too hard, then you should probably pick a lighter weight – don’t let your ego get in the way! The last thing you want is to injure yourself!

Principle #3: Working the same muscle multiple ways

Now that you understand sets, reps and how to select a weight, it’s important to realize that you need to work the same muscle in different ways. For example, when developing and “Arms Day” for yourself, you might select a Dumbbell biceps curl, an E-Z bar biceps curl, a hammer curl and a machine preacher curl in addition to your triceps exercises. This variety will help you to effectively workout the different heads of your biceps instead of just targeting one part of the muscle.

When creating your own program, start by selecting the muscles you want to target and then picking 3-4 different exercises to target each muscle.

Principle #4: Muscle confusion

One of the biggest mistakes a lot of beginners make when they start working out is they find a program that they like, and they stick with it for too long. Eventually, your body gets used to the new demands you’re placing on it in the gym. Your muscles get really good at performing the same movements over and over (your body prefers efficiency after all!) and you’ll stop seeing progress from your workouts.

Because of this, it’s important to create new workouts for yourself, select new exercises to target the same muscle groups (there are PLENTY of options out there!) and mix up your workouts. You’ll find that the plateaus generally break and you’ll begin seeing gains again. This doesn’t mean that you can’t return to your old workouts and see progress again, but it’s important to mix things up.

Generally speaking, changing your workouts up every 4 weeks or so is sufficient. On top of ensuring that you’ll continue to see gains, this will also help to keep your workouts less boring – it’s win-win!

Following these 4 tips should help you to create an effective workout program for yourself and ensure that your time in the gym isn’t wasted! But What muscle groups should you focus on? Great question!

What Muscle Groups Should I Focus On When Creating A Workout Program?

Triceps Rope Pushdown

It’s tough to put the above information to good use if you don’t know what opposing muscle groups work well together, so below is a quick list to help you get started:

  • Chest and Upper Back
  • Biceps & Triceps
  • Quads, Glutes and Hamstrings
  • Back & Shoulders
  • Core

A couple of notes on the above list:

  1. Core can be worked after each workout, not just on your core day. In fact, I’d recommend some kind of “light” core workout at the end of every workout – other than your dedicated core day. One exercise for each area of your core should be great supplemental work.
  2. Your Core is not just your abs, but should also include your obliques (your side muscles) as well as your lower back. A strong core (front back and sides) is essential to a safe workout program.
  3. Consider mixing some cardio and stretching days into your plan to ensure that you’re targeting all areas of your fitness.
  4. Begin each workout with some form of activity to warm up and get your heart rate pumping. Active stretching of the muscles you’re about to work and / or 10 minutes on a treadmill are both great options!
  5. End each workout by gently stretching the muscles you worked as well. Proper warmup and cool down are effective tools in minimizing injuries!

To give you an idea of what a workout day might look like, let’s look at a sample arms day:

ExerciseSet 1
Set 2
Set 3
Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Triceps Kickback
EZ Grip Barbell Curl
Rope Triceps Push-down
Machine Curl
Lying Triceps Extensions
Standing Hammer Curl
Triceps Dips
10 minutes on the treadmill warmup / 10 minute stretching cooldown

That’s pretty much it! The goal of this post isn’t to give you a day by day workout plan – for that, I have a specific post on a beginners workout program that you can check out. It follows a slightly different approach than what is outlined here, but covers in greater detail a diet plan and other crucial information that may be of help. However, the above outline should help get you on the right path to being able to use the internet to search specific exercises that you can then use to put together your own specific plan. Feel free to share your plan in the comments below, or email them to me, I’d love to see what creative things you guys come up with!

Know someone who might like this? Please share it with them, or via your social media network, it helps the blog out, and you never know who you might be responsible for motivating to live a healthier lifestyle!


U.S. News & World Report: What Muscle Groups Should I Work Out Together?

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