Do you know how to create a workout routine? To some it might seem like a simple exercise, while to others, it’s a daunting task. The truth is that it’s not overly difficult, but many still go about it the wrong way.
A Strength/Hypertrophy Routine
If you’re not totally sure how to create a workout routine, it’s hard to go wrong when you focus on building strength first. In fact, strength-based hypertrophy is going to almost always be a good choice, no matter what your goals are – bulking or cutting for instance.
For each muscle group, start with barbell exercises whenever possible. At least one compound exercise per body part is a good idea. Variations of overhead press, bench press, squat, row, and deadlift can all be done for 3-5 sets of 5-6 or 6-8 reps. From there, you can add another compound exercise (barbell or dumbbell) for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, or go with an isolation movement for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. This will take care of your strength and muscle building needs. For instance you may choose:
- Flat Barbell Bench Press – 5 Sets of 5 Reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Flat Dumbbell Flyes – 3 Sets of 12 Reps
- Barbell Deadlift – 4 Sets of 6 Reps
- Weighted Pull Ups – 4 Sets of 8 Reps
- Dumbbell Rows – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Barbell Squats – 4 Sets of 8 Reps
- Reverse Dumbbell Lunges – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Dumbbell Calf Raises – 4 Sets of 12 Reps
- Barbell Shoulder Press – 4 Sets of 8 Reps
- Front Dumbbell Raises – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Lateral Dumbbell Raises – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Alternating Seated Dumbbell Curls – 4 Sets of 8 Reps
- Barbell Bicep Curl – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Alternating Dumbbell Hammer Curls – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Reverse Grip Tricep Push Downs – 4 Sets of 8 Reps
- Regular Narrow Grip Tricep Push Downs – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
- Overhead Cable Tricep Extensions – 3 Sets of 10 Reps
This is just an example of the above strength/hypertrophy based method which is a great starting point. Of course there are many programs and routines you can use (check out these workout routines for men), but it’s best to start off simple, perfect the basic compound exercises, and progress/experiment from there. When you’re ready to do so, you may also be interested to read our write up on the different types of strength training.
Program Cardio Next
Now that you have strength and hypertrophy taken care of, you can add cardio to the mix. Starting with slow, boring cardio isn’t exciting, but it will ensure you have a solid aerobic base built. Sufficient aerobic capability is going to be necessary before moving onto any hard, interval-based cardio. It’s also going to make sure you have enough work capacity to hit the weights hard. Using any cardio machine 2-3x/week for 30-40 minutes will suffice – this can be the treadmill, rowing or elliptical machines.
Once you’re ready to take the intensity up a notch, you can add 1-2 interval sessions per week. These don’t have to be super long, and can actually precede your aerobic cardio. After a brief warmup, do 10 minutes alternating 30 seconds on (pushing as hard as possible) with 30 seconds off. Then follow up with another 20-30 minutes of easy cardio. It’s best not to do cardio and weightlifting on the same day. If you ever do, then it’s best to focus on the weights first followed by 20-30 minutes of light cardio at the end. Learn more about aerobic vs anaerobic training here.
Athletic / Specific Goal Considerations
Most of what’s been discussed so far has been for a very general strength and hypertrophy program. If you’re an athlete or have other specific performance goals you want to accomplish, you’ll need to add elements for these, too.
Athletes are in need of explosive power as much as, if not more than, they need strength. This means you should add some sort of specific power training to the mix. You really don’t have to do anything overly complicated for this, though. Adding 3-4 sets of maximum effort box jumps and plyo pushups to your routine is often enough to convert the strength you’re building into explosive power.
As far as adapting your routine for specific performance goals, there’s no one general recommendation that would work. What you’d do to increase your max pullups for a military PT test is different than how you’d increase your gas tank on the BJJ mat. However, know that practicing your actual event or task in addition to doing your gym workouts will go a long way toward advancing your performance.
What Type of Workout Split Should You Use?
This is another one of those questions that doesn’t have one single “correct” answer. A new lifter just looking to get in shape might want to go with a full-body routine, alternating between two different workouts. At the same time, the trainee who wants to focus purely on strength might want to do the same sort of thing, only a more intense version.
A “push/pull/legs” program separating out shoulders/chest/triceps, back/biceps, and quads/hamstrings/calves has worked well for many bodybuilders. And upper/lower splits tend to be popular in the athlete training world.
As a general rule, routines that focus on performance should be comprised of fewer exercises and workouts. That way, you can put more focus and effort into just a few exercises, getting you more “bang” for your training “buck”. This also allows you to get more rest and recovery since you’re likely training at a higher intensity. At the same time, it leaves gas in your tank for your actual sport practice.
In the bodybuilding world, you can get a little more detailed and involved. Novices will want to stick with the less volume-heavy routines because they don’t have the experience, work capacity, or training stamina. They also really don’t need to be putting effort into “extra” exercises like cable crossovers or leg extensions when they really should be focusing on basics like bench press and squats.
However, once you reach the intermediate bodybuilding stage, you can feel free to start adding more to your routine. This is when you can start doing multiple exercises per body part to train it with more volume and hit it from different angles. This also allows you to add in isolation movements so as to directly target the muscle. It’s at this point when you may choose to focus on one muscle group per session or mix up your splits so you are able to fit in the additional exercises.
Keep it Simple
If all else fails, keep it simple. Even if you’re a very advanced trainee, you can still make great progress by sticking to just the basics. Many lifters are in a rush to add new techniques and exercises. While these can be helpful, you may not necessarily be ready for or even need them. If you have to err on one side or the other, you’re always best working harder with a more simple routine than making it too complicated and not being able to put sufficient effort in across the board.
In the end, creating a workout routine ends up being as much art as it is science. Know what it is specifically you want to accomplish going in, focus on strength and aerobic cardio, then advance from there. You can always adjust as you go along, so don’t be afraid to experiment with things and see what works best for you.