Ready to build a workout routine? From exercises and plans to schedules and equipment, there’s a lot to plan and it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. However, a custom workout program is easy to create if you do it step by step.
Factors that can help include your nutritional goals, your free time, age and endurance level. So, to avoid overcomplicating the process, we will focus on sets, reps, and programs that make it easy for you to get started. That way you can make adjustments as you progress.
Let’s build a custom workout plan that can help you get strong and we’ll make it a plan you can stick to.
With tips on training properly, finding the right gym, weight training and various routines for your body weight, in this workout routine guide, we will cover:
- How to get in shape
- Exercises to lose weight and build muscle
- How many reps and sets you should do
- Rest time between sets
- How much weight you should lift
- How long you should exercise each day
- Circuit training and supersets
- How many days are best to workout
- Recording your progress and workouts over time
How to Get in Shape
Before you start any workout, you need to answer a few key questions. These can help you outline your weight loss and strength training goals.
Questions to ask include what are your fitness and weight loss goals? Are you trying to lose weight, gain weight, bulk up to compete, or build muscle? Are you preparing to compete in an event?
Whatever goals you have, write them down. As you progress in your workouts, your goals might change so factor in the SMART method:
Make your goals achievable and keep them clear. Saying you want to lose weight is a generalization. Saying you want to lose two inches off your waist, hips and thighs is more specific.
Your goals should be easy to measure, e.g., losing 10-lbs and tracking your weight loss, fat loss and muscle mass.
Gaining one pound of muscle every few weeks is a goal but gaining 10 pounds of muscle will take several weeks.
Create a workout routine that fits your likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies. That way you won’t burn out early on. You will also want to break up your workouts. Working out for 10-minutes three times daily is the equivalent of someone who works out 30-minutes a day.
Set a timeline for your goals and know how much time you need to commit to exercising. This can help keep you on track especially if you don’t work with a trainer.
Deciding Where and When to Work Out
Weight training is a great way to burn fat. But to get started, it is important to set up realistic times when you can exercise. Having a workout routine that you can routinely follow will help with your weight loss goals and as you build muscle.
- For weight loss: With your diet considerations, factor in that reducing 250-500 calories can result in you losing one to two pounds weekly.
- For gaining muscle: To gain more muscles, if you add 250-500 more calories, you can expect to gain lean muscle of around 0.5 pounds weekly.
Fitness Center, Park or Home Gym?
Another consideration is to factor in where you are going to exercise if you are not using a gym. Perhaps you have a garage or spare room where you can set up your equipment. The benefit of working out at a gym is that you can start with a trainer and have help from others at the gym.
With a home workout, you may need exercise equipment and dedicated space. Exercising outdoors is ideal if you have a park in the area. But which is best if you have all three options available? Typically, you should target your workout routines around the type of training you want, i.e., if you want to lose weight or strength train.
A few questions that can help:
- Do you have 10-minute bouts of time to exercise in the morning, midday or the evenings?
- Are you comfortable exercising outdoors in public or at a gym with others?
- Do you want to save money on a gym membership by exercising at home or in a park?
- Do you want to exercise year-round and not have to worry about the weather?
Answering these questions can help you find the RIGHT place for your workouts. Next, let’s focus on the types of workout routines you can build. And don’t worry. You’ve got this!
Exercises to Build Muscle Mass and/or Lose Weight
Sometimes people complicate even the simplest exercises. They combine a bunch of lifts and have no goals in sight, and end up injured. Wrong! The best way to exercise is to pick five or six exercises and focus on the movements and your muscles.
When you exercise, focusing on compound movements in a full-body routine a few times a week lets you consistently build muscle and lose weight. Hence, it’s full-body and recruits other muscles.
Workouts should exercise the following muscle groups:
- Back, biceps and your grip or pulling muscles
- Butt, the back of your legs (hamstrings)
- Chest (pecs or pectoralis muscles), your shoulders and triceps or pushing muscles
- Core muscles like your low back and abs
- Quads or quadriceps in the front of your legs
Doing compound exercises in this manner is isolating specific muscle groups. As an example, a pushup is compound but bicep curls on an exercise machine are a form of isolation specific to those muscles.
When you recruit specific muscles like this by doing compound exercises, you can improve your flexibility, muscle endurance and aerobic endurance. However, factors in isolation exercises are often movements that only affect single muscle groups or single joints. Hence, the compound exercises that you do will target the five muscle groups above.
Here are examples of a few sample exercises you can do:
Butt and Hams
- Good Mornings
- Hip Raises
- Straight Leg Deadlifts
Core Abs and Low Back
- Exercise ball crunches
- Hanging leg raises
- Jumping knee tucks
- Mountain climbers
- Planks and side planks
- Box jumps
- One-leg squats
Pushing Exercises (Chest, Triceps, Shoulders)
- Bench press
- Incline dumbbell press
- Overhead press
Pulling Exercises (Forearms, Back, Biceps)
- Bent-over rows
- Bodyweight rows
Tip: If you pick one exercise from each group, you can practically exercise every muscle group! Way to go pro!
Workout Routine Example
When starting your workout routine, ideally you want to train 2 to 3 times a week. But how do you start and what does a sample workout look like?
Notice in the example below that we say “rep” and “set”. Your reps or repetitions are how many you will do in a row. Your sets are the number of times you complete reps.
As an example, squats with barbells have 5 reps for five sets. Meaning, that you will complete 5 squats in a row, break briefly and then do 5 more in a row a total of 5 times. In another example, with the planks below, doing 3 sets for a minute each would mean doing one plank and holding it for a minute then releasing. Then do another, and so forth. You can do these exercises out of order and the good news is they will build muscle and help you lose weight.
Here is a great example of a beginner workout routine:
- Deadlifts with barbells: 3 reps for 3 sets
- Dips or push-ups: 12-15 reps for 3 sets
- Inverted rows or pull-ups: 8-10 reps for 3 sets
- Planks: 3 sets for a minute each
- Squats with barbells: 5 Reps for 5 sets
Add Workout Variations and Modifications
As you start doing your workout routine, one problem that can occur is boredom. Because you are doing the same exercises a few times a week, your body will get used to them. You might also start to become inconsistent or lose proper form with doing the same exercises month after month. This is often called a wall or workout plateau, and you want your muscles to stay challenged.
To avoid this:
- When doing bench presses, mix them up and do overhead presses the next time
- Instead of the same deadlift sets, change your reps and sets
- To mix up your squats, do front squats instead of lunges
How Many Reps and Sets to Do
Often people starting a fitness regimen will ask how many sets or reps are best. Ideally, you should start with 3-5 sets total for every exercise you do. Then, commit yourself to 8-10 or 12-15 reps for each set. But what’s the difference and why wouldn’t you do more or less? A few guidelines can help.
When exercising, doing 8-15 reps for each set can help you burn fat and build up new muscles. However, if you find that you can easily do 15 reps, then the weight is too light and you should increase it. The opposite is also true. If it’s too hard for you to lift the weight, then reduce it. But it’s also helpful to break your reps down further:
- 1-5 Reps: These can build strength and dense muscles (myofibrillar hypertrophy).
- 6-12 Reps: This increases muscle size and strength or what’s called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
- 12+ Reps: These build endurance within the muscles (and why lifters do longer sets).
Hence, you can do light weights for more reps and still build muscle. But find a sweet spot like 5 or 6 exercises with 8-10 reps each and 4 or 5 sets total. Do not increase your sets or you will start to feel fatigued which can lead to injury.
How Much Time to Take Between Sets
Generally, when it comes to brief rest periods between your sets, you want to take the least amount of recovery time possible. However, your muscles still need adequate rest or time to recover.
That brief 30-90 seconds can help you regenerate your energy and prep for the next group of reps. It also helps to ensure you can practice good form and proper technique to reduce your risk of injury. So, let’s look at how long to rest between sets. What you will notice is that over time, you will need shorter and fewer rest periods.
Rest period for sets (make adjustments where you need to):
- With heavy lifting: Do 1-3 repetitions and rest for 3-5 minutes between each set
- Lifting for strength: Do 4-7 repetitions and rest for 2-3 minutes total between sets
- Lifting to build mass: Do 8-12 repetitions and rest 1-2 minutes after each set
- With endurance lifting: Do 13+ repetitions and only rest briefly
How Much Weight to Lift
Lifting weights and working out programs your neuromuscular system. Hence, another area to explore with your workout routine is how much weight you should lift.
Generally, the weight should be heavy enough where you can feel the burn but not so heavy that you can’t get through your sets. Hence, you might have to experiment with lifting different weights to find your sweet spot. But veer toward lighter weights and not heavier ones as you don’t want to injure yourself.
The next area to focus on is when to increase your weight. According to the NSCA’s 2-for-2 rule, typically, if you can do 2 reps over a set, then increase your weight slightly.
- Beginners: Increase your weight load by 2-5 lbs for upper body workouts and 5-10 lbs for lower body exercises.
- Advanced: Increase your weight load by 5-10 lbs for upper body workouts and 10-15 lbs for lower body exercises.
How Long Should You Exercise
When it comes to the duration of your workout routines, usually 45-minutes to one hour is good for exercise.
Personal trainers might suggest that within 45-minutes you can do 3-5 sets of about 5 basic exercises. That comes out to 15 to 25 sets total. However, don’t forget to include your warmup and cool-down stretches post-workout.
Take 10-minutes to stretch before your workout and then allow for 10-minutes after your routine. That can help prevent injury and reduce tight and stiff muscles.
Create custom circuit training workouts and supersets
Often one of the fastest ways to workout and burn the most fat is through a circuit training workout. It’s called circuit training because you move from one exercise to the next.
Examples include Tough Mudder and CrossFit.
With little recovery time, your body is conditioned and strengthened in different muscle groups. The best way to achieve this type of full-body workout is with supersets (alternating sets) and circuits.
Alternate sets / supersets
Supersets are a way to do two different exercises back-to-back as it targets two separate groups of muscles. Hence, you might go from the dumbbell press to squats and then return to the dumbbell press.
The goal is that when you switch from one exercise to the next, you’re resting the other muscle group. Hence, you’re getting two workouts in but in less time. And with the shorter rest period, your heart is working harder so you burn more calories and fat.
Here is an example of a workout:
- Start with the dumbbell press (incline version) and then switch to lunges. Do 8-10 reps for a total of 4 sets and take 60-seconds to rest between each set. Take a brief rest to let your body prep for the next group of exercises.
- Start with pull-ups (using a wide grip) and then switch to deadlifts (straight leg version). Do 8-10 reps each and rest for 60-seconds between your sets.
- Start with planks for 3 sets with 60-seconds of rest in between, and then get an Uber home!
Unlike supersets, circuits aren’t limited to two exercises. They include every exercise and you do not stop. You will go from one exercise to the next and repeat them up to 4 times in a row or more.
Look for example circuit workouts as you can find hundreds of variations online and on YouTube. Mix them up and you will find that you can crush your workouts, so have the towel and water or electrolytes ready!
When to Do Your Workout Routines
Generally, those new to exercise and excited about working out might want to start every day. In their minds, they think doing exercises Monday through Sunday isn’t a big deal. However, that’s not correct as your body needs time to recover. What ends up happening is you start fast and strong and then burn out or you might experience an injury and never go back to exercising. Instead, get in the habit of having 2 to 3 full-body workouts that you complete every week.
Muscles build up when you break them down and it’s with your workouts and rest periods. Muscles need about 48-hours of recovery time so please take caution that you don’t overexert yourself.
Ideal workouts might be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Or try Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise on the other days but you won’t do full-body workouts. Use the other days for yoga, cardio, aerobics, HIIT, spinning and other types of exercise. Factor in that you need recovery time to reduce the risk of developing injuries. That way you can get fit, look fabulous and have fun!
Keep a Journal or Workout Schedule
Your fitness routine should be mapped out and measured. That way you can monitor your progress and work on targeted areas.
Create a journal or schedule in an app like Evernote and keep track of when you start increasing weight or changing your reps. Pay attention to when you finish your routines faster or need more time. You should also take your measurements to help chart the changes in your body as you progress.
Because you are gaining lean muscle mass, you will start to gain weight before you start losing this. So, don’t get frustrated or give up. Keep going!
If you don’t want to use Evernote, try Excel, a journal, notebook, workout app or simply use your calendar or Word.
- Write out your reps, sets, exercises and weights.
- Compare your current progress to your last workout.
- Factor in when you add or change your sets, reps and weight.
Another reason to chart your progress is that it’s a journey you’re taking with your body, so enjoy your workouts, mix them up and enjoy the time. Your workout routines are a stress-reducing, healthy way of living and you will become stronger, more flexible and have more stamina. Happy exercising!
Start with 5 exercises and do 8-10 reps for each exercise for 3-4 sets total. Give yourself a few minutes to rest between sets.
Workout is the adjective or noun form while work out is the verb form. It’s a workout if you do exercises like strength training and burning fat. You would use work out like if you were going to work out with a friend.
With 5 main muscle groups that you want to target during a workout, here are a few exercises that can help you do a full-body fitness regimen:
– For your butt and hamstrings, (deadlifts, good mornings, hip raises, straight leg deadlifts and step-ups).
– For your core and low back, (exercise ball crunches, hanging leg raises, jumping knee tucks, mountain climbers, planks and side planks).
– For your quads (box jumps, lunges, one-leg squats and regular squats).
– For pushing exercises to work the chest, triceps and shoulders, do the bench press, dips, incline dumbbell press, overhead press and push-ups.
– For pulling exercises to strengthen and tone your forearms, back and biceps, do bent-over rows, bodyweight rows and chin-ups.
A full-body exercise incorporates all your muscle groups.
It varies. Some people do 20 pushups a day. Others strive for 100. Athlete Hershal Walker did hundreds of pushups and sit-ups each day to improve his health and build muscle (he also didn’t have access to a gym or equipment growing up).
To add more to your workout routine, why not check out The Best Bicep Workouts?