How to Create an Exercise Routine - Successful Steps to a Workout Plan

Create a Workout Plan

Get every single minute out of out Workout for Results

Many bodybuilding magazines address only the established, not the true amateur. I find this to be true in many genre publications. Go look at a guitar magazine, and you'll find they're addressing you as if you were a guitar virtuoso. Look at a yachting magazine and you'll swear the editors believe you own a vessel the size of Kansas.

The reason why publications do this is obvious. Make the reader feel like an expert from the start and he'll want to become one in reality. He'll buy the magazine or book that made him feel most like one in the first place. In fact, he'll become a voracious reader. That's great from a marketing point of view, but the downside to this approach is that there is a whole subsection of people who are new to bodybuilding, or new to playing the guitar, who are left in the dark because the most basic information has been omitted from their education. Trying to keep the reader feeling like an expert has its flaws. Magazines that take the assumptive approach in their choice of articles only really keep people feeling as if they know everything. They never actually educate the group of people who most need to learn the basics.

Then again, too much foundation-oriented material would probably alienate the hardcore, experienced audience and force them into an exile of boredom. You can't please everybody all the time, so you have to choose what matters most to you. Helping people become excited and knowledgeable about weight training has always been what has mattered most to me, so this column is long overdue.

When I first get together with new clients, I set aside time to ask them what their goals are. That a woman who is 20 pounds over-weight wants to get leaner may seem obvious, but I don't assume she wants to be as lean as a female bodybuilder or fitness athlete. I ask her what she envisions to be the right weight and look for her. Likewise, I don't assume every man who enlists as a client wants to become a pro bodybuilder. The goal is all a matter of perspective and how a person sees his or her body.

Here are the guidelines I use for putting together a good solid routine at any level.


In creating a routine that will work for you, keep in mind that you can't step into an Olympia-type training routine if you're just starting out. Make sure the workout goals fit your current state of fitness and where you want to go. Getting too ambitious along the way will only frustrate you.

Training Frequency

Decide how often you'll train each bodypart. For optimum recovery people need at least two days between training sessions for the same bodypart, so space workouts apart to allow for recovery. By the way, recovery time is essential for all bodybuilders, not just beginners. The only time you can train the same bodypart on consecutive days is when you are preparing for a competition, or are trying to reduce the size of a particular muscle group by purposely overtraining it.

Training Volume

Adjust your volume of training according to the frequency with which you train each bodypart. Volume here refers to the number of exercises per bodypart that one does per workout. If you train each bodypart frequently, you'll need fewer exercises per session. Each workout should include at least one compound movement - that is, a basic exercise, such as bench press for chest or squats for legs. Compound exercises involve moving more than one joint. To this compound movement add at least one or two other exercises, such as incline flys for chest or leg extensions for legs, which isolate individual parts of the muscle group. Generally they should involve just one joint.

Intensity of Routine

The workout as a whole should include some method that intensifies the work. For example, you can add intensity by increasing the workout pace so that the heart is pumping harder, both aerobically and anaerobically. Pace equals Intensity, as does the actual stress of the workout. Some people specifically designate "heavy" training days and "light" training days on their schedule so that they can manipulate intensity from workout to workout and week to week.

To be effective, compound exercises like squats and bench presses need more sets than other, simpler, exercises. They also require more sets to make them safe. Trainers commonly do 6 to 8 sets of squats, including warmups, to ensure joint safety and a gradual progression from lighter to heavier work.

Repetition schemes

A good rule for the intermediate trainer is 4 to 6 sets of compound exercises and 2 sets of simple exercises. Rep schemes usually involve 8 to 10 reps for upper-body movements and 12 to 20 reps for lower-body movements. Try experimenting with such techniques as forced reps and training to failure for short periods (one workout every two weeks). They're harder to recover from and always require a spotter or training partner.

Set and Repetition Intensity

The amount of stress you incorporate into you workout depends on the number of repetitions and sets, rest between sets (the less rest, the more intensity), and the type of sets. For example, forced reps (to failure and be-yond) increase intensity by putting greater stress on the muscle group than a normal set. Supersets, giant sets and pyramid sets change the pace, and demand different levels of energy at different times during the workout. All of these variations help to increase intensity, and for encouraging change and growth, intensity is the name of the game.

Other Factors to Consider

Warmup: Always include a warmup in your workout. Make a note of it in your plans when you construct your routine. Most training injuries can be avoided by a proper warmup, so neglecting it is senseless.

Warmup Times: Large muscle groups, such as legs, back and chest, need a warmup of 10 to 15 minutes, as well as a short cooling-down period. Smaller muscle groups need less time to warm up, averaging between 5 and 7 minutes. Their warmup is often an after-effect of working a larger muscle group. For instance, if you worked chest and then went on to train shoulders and triceps, you wouldn't need a warmup for shoulders and triceps.

Make Workouts Ability Appropriate

If you begin training at a level beyond your experience and capability, you risk serious injury right out of the chute. This danger is usually due to poor form. When you practice poor form for even a short time - either knowingly or unknowingly - you begin to adopt that incorrect technique and the habit becomes harder and harder to break. Injuries occur because supporting joints and ligaments aren't strong enough to compensate for poor form or too much weight, and can snap under pressure. Starting slowly and gradually building intensity and workload is the only way to ensure you will remain injury-free as you progress.

Use Proper Technique and Form

Proper technique is the key to getting the most out of your workouts while remaining injury-free. Here are some techniques that will help you to achieve your goals, no matter what they may be.

» Work muscles through full range of motion in all free-weight activity.

» Control the weight throughout the range so that you can stop at any point along the axis of motion.

» Maintain good posture. Whether you're standing, sitting or lying on a bench, there is always a correct position. (Don't arch back, twist or hunch.)

» Don't lock out when extending elbows or knees.

Work Large Muscle Groups First

To avoid exhaustion and possible injury toward the latter part of your workouts, always tackle large muscle groups first. Large groups are legs, back and chest. Smaller groups include shoulders, arms and calves, and should follow a large-muscle-group workout. Do more sets for large muscle groups. Although you will indirectly work surrounding muscle groups (e.g. work chest and you'll indirectly work triceps), you'll still need to work supporting muscles. What better time than after they have been pre-exhausted?

Progress Slowly

Progressing slowly is important because it allows your ligaments and tendons to catch up and become as strong, relatively speaking, as the muscle groups you are working. Before you increase the weights you're using, consider these adjustments first:

» Increase reps before increasing resistance and weight.

» Reduce the rest intervals you take between sets to increase intensity and workload.

» Change workouts about every six to eight weeks.

Breathe Correctly

Always exhale at the moment of highest effort. So when you're doing leg press, push air out of your lungs as you push your legs (and the weight stack) forward.

Start Slowly

This is the best advice I can give anyone embarking on a workout regimen. Believe it or not, people quit training because they defeat themselves, not because they can't hack workouts, don't enjoy them, or don't want to get huge. They quit because they bite off more than they can chew and become overwhelmed. Then they just walk away because they are on overload. Start out slowly and build gradually on number of exercises, intensity, and the amount of weight you use. Don't continually saturate your brain with new concepts.

Finally ...

» Consult a physician to make sure your health is sound before beginning any routine.

» Seek advice from a trainer or workout books.

» Set realistic goals.

» Make room in your life for exercise.

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