How to Make a Workout Plan from Scratch (Livestrong)

Posted: Jan 17, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Livestrong on January 17, 2023.


How to Make a Workout Plan from Scratch

By Caroline Juster

Any goal requires a road map — and any fitness goal requires a training program. A good workout plan contains all the right elements to you set you up for success. Creating your own workout program from scratch can feel overwhelming, so we've broken it down into easy-to-follow steps.

The art and science of writing exercise programs is called program design. It's one of the most important skills coaches and trainers must master, because programs provide blueprints for helping clients and athletes get to where they want to go.

There are many factors that go into writing a great program, and getting good at it takes practice. I've been training clients in person and online for nine years, and I continue to refine my program design systems all the time.

Below are eight steps you can use to create fun and effective 4-to-6-week workout programs for yourself. I provide insight and advice from two certified personal trainers, as well as insight from my own program design system.

This process might take you up to an hour the first time you try it, but in time you will become so efficient that you can write a program in 15 minutes or less.

1. Get Clear On Your Goals

You need to identify your main training goal before you start writing your program. Different goals require you to manipulate different variables at the gym, and it's important to know what those are so you can direct your efforts in the right direction. Nobody wants to put in months of hard work only to find out they didn't end up where they wanted to go.

Leann Hatler, CPT, suggests taking a personal inventory before you set out to write a training program for yourself.

"Consider what you are looking to achieve, what your timeline is to get there, what skills you already have to move toward your goal as well as what you need to do differently to make progress possible," she says. All of this information can help you make better programming decisions.

We'll cover writing workout plans for these four common training goals:

  • Get stronger
  • Build muscle
  • Improve your endurance
  • Lose body fat

Some of these goals play well together. Others compete with each other, making it difficult to see big progress toward both during the same training program. (It's absolutely possible to get stronger and build muscle at the same time, but it's tough to both build serious strength ‌and‌ serious endurance concurrently.)

Don't stress if you want to improve multiple aspects of your fitness. There's an important training concept called periodization that says you can organize your training in such a way that you develop multiple physical qualities over the course of a year. This means that so long as you train consistently, you can ultimately achieve many different goals.

Start by picking one main training goal to target for a 3-to-4-month training block. Other qualities will be maintained while you focus on your main goal. You'll use multiple 4-to-6-week training programs that build upon each other over the course of a single block of training. Once you complete this block, you can choose a different goal for the next 3 to 4 months.

2. Determine Training Frequency and Split

Training frequency refers to how often you train each week. It's important to determine training frequency early in the program design process because it helps you organize your workouts. How often you train depends on how much free time you can devote to the gym as well as your prior training experience.

Decide how many workouts you're going to do each week and what you'll be targeting in each workout. Keep in mind that you will repeat each workout four to six times as you work through this training phase.

Why four to six times? This seems to be the sweet spot for most trainees to reap the full benefits of a workout program. "If you change things up too often, you won't get better or stronger, but if you stick to the same things the same way for too long you are no longer stressing the system as much and won't create further adaptation," says Wesley Showalter, CSCS.

Beginners need to lift weights twice per week at a bare minimum in order to see progress. More experienced trainees can maintain their results with just two lifting workouts, but three or more workouts may be necessary if they are actively trying to get stronger or build muscle.

Some intermediate and advanced trainees can lift weights as often as five to six times per week, so long as they are managing other life stressors and prioritizing recovery outside the gym. If you train with a high frequency, it's best not to train large muscle groups such as your legs, back and chest on consecutive days.

But more training is not necessarily better. You can't force progress in the gym, and trying to expedite your results can leave you feeling burnt out and frustrated.

"Be realistic with how often you are going to train," Showalter says. "I often see people who try to do too much too fast in the gym all the time. They beat themselves up for not hitting expectations, then quit." It's much better to set the bar a little bit lower and consistently hit all your planned workouts than to set the bar too high and constantly fall short.

Once you've decided how many days you want to lift weights each week, it's time to pick a training split. Training splits dictate which movements and/or muscles you plan to train during each individual workout.

Here are a few possible training splits you could select depending on how many days per week you plan to train.

3. Pick Your Set and Rep Ranges

Picking sets and reps is the most important step in designing a training program. That's because sets and reps dictate your volume and intensity, which are the two variables that ultimately have the most impact on your results at the gym.

Volume refers to the total amount of work you're performing. You need more volume if you want to build muscle or improve your endurance. Intensity refers to how heavy you are training. You need more intensity if you want to get stronger.

Volume and intensity are inversely related. This means that when you are training with more volume (ie. more sets and reps), you won't be able to use as much load and vice versa. It's important to keep this in mind when selecting sets and reps so you design a program that is in line with your goals.

Aim to perform at least 10 sets per muscle or movement pattern (eg. squat, hip hinge, upper body push, upper body pull) each week. Keep in mind that this will be divided up across multiple workouts and there will be some muscle overlap with different exercises.

For example, you don't need to do 10 sets of tricep isolation exercises if you also did several sets of bench press or overhead press. Depending on how many days you train per week, you will likely do 3 to 5 sets per exercise per workout.

Building serious strength requires you to lift heavy loads, so you'll need to do sets with fewer reps. "Keep the reps low (1 to 6) and the intensity (weight/load) high with long rest periods between heavy sets when training for strength," Showalter says.

Most of your strength training should occur in the 3 to 6 rep range. Every once in a while you can perform heavy sets of 1 or 2 reps, but don't do this every single week as it can be hard on your body.

Building muscle is different than building strength. You don't need to go quite as heavy so you can perform sets in a variety of rep ranges and still see results. Many coaches suggest performing primarily sets in the 6 to 12 rep range for hypertrophy. Just know that you can actually perform sets with many different rep ranges and still build muscle so long as you perform at least 10 sets per muscle group each week.

If your goal is to improve muscular endurance, you need to perform some longer sets. Showalter suggests performing lots of sets in the 12 to 15 rep range. Stick with 2 to 4 sets per exercise when you're using high reps.


Occasionally, you can push yourself with sets as high as 25 to 30 continuous reps. I don't recommend going any higher because the loads you'll need to use will be too light to elicit changes in your body.

How Reps and Sets Should You Do?




Strength endurance

12 or more

67 percent or less


6 to 12

67 to 85 percent

Maximum Strength

6 reps or less

85 percent or more


1 to 2 reps (single-repetition event)3 to 5 reps (multiple-repetition event)

80 to 90 percent 75 to 85 percent

Source: American Council on Exercise
Read the full article here.
More ACE in the News