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How To Structure A Workout Routine

How To Structure A Workout Routine

Average: 4.2 (6 votes)
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Not sure if the training system you created is good to go or horrible? The following four steps will help you build a quality muscle building workout from the ground up.

What follows is simple method of structuring workouts. This is the only way to set up a muscle and strength building program, but I do believe it to be a sound way.

Before we begin it should be noted that all workouts are merely starting points. What looks good on paper rarely works perfectly in the real world.

Once you build a workout on paper, be prepared to make minor adjustments after hitting the gym. You may find that a certain lift taxes your shoulders unless you raise the amount of reps per set. It's also likely that a certain training day might run longer than expected.

Don't get frustrated if your new workout isn't perfect. Make a few adjustments and give it another week. Continue to refine your program until it fits your needs.

How to Build a Workout Routine

Step #1 - Determine Your Training Split

I suggest training 3 to 4 days per week. This is the best place to start.

Many lifters live by the belief that more is better. More might be better for you, but how will you know unless you construct a 3 to 4 day protocol and run it for 6+ months? You don't.

Tricep ExtensionsSpend time learning how to maximize your training using 3 to 4 workouts per week. You will learn a lot, and likely realize that training 5 days per week really isn't needed. This is not to say you can't lift 5 days per week if you want to; you can. It's simply better to learn how to maximize workouts and evolve your training before you jump into more training days.

If it makes you feel any better, most of the advanced lifters I know train 4 days per week. Not all, but the majority of them. On off days they do cardio, conditioning work or simply rest.

Here are some sample 3 to 4 day training splits you might want to consider:

  • 3 day fullbody workout.
  • 3 day push, pull, legs split.
  • 3 day upper/lower split. ABA workouts one week, BAB the next.
  • 4 day upper/lower split.
  • 4 day body part split.

It is beyond the scope of this article to detail what each of these splits looks like. There are numerous split examples on the Muscle & Strength site. Take some time and poke around. Find a training split that appeals to you.

Step #2 - Plug In Compound Movements

Each training day requires a base of meat and potatoes movements, also know as heavy compound exercises. I suggest no more than 2 to 3 heavy compound movements per day. Intermediate lifters may also opt for 1-2 heavy compounds per day.

These movements should be the best of the best; the cream of the crop. Examples of top compound movements include:

  • Posterior Chain - Squats, Deadlifts, Heavy Good Mornings, Low Rack Pulls, Romanian Deadlifts, Zercher squats, Front Squats.
  • Pressing Movements - Bench Press, Military Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Push Press, Dips.
  • Pulling Movements - Barbell Rows, Dumbbell Rows, Pull Ups, Power Cleans.

Other quality compound exercises include (based on primary focus):

  • Legs - Leg Press, Hack Squats, Walking Lunges.
  • Chest - Incline Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, Decline Bench Press.
  • Back - T-Bar Rows, Yates Row.
  • Shoulders - Arnold Dumbbell Press, One Arm Overhead Dumbbell Press.
  • Triceps - Close Grip Bench Press, Bench Dips.
  • Biceps - Chin Ups.
  • Traps - Low Rack Pull and Power Shrug Combo

Let's look at an example.

Chest and Triceps Day. So you decide to run a 4 day workout split that features a training day dedicated to chest and triceps. After thinking things through, you decide to utilize 3 heavy pound movements:

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Close Grip Bench Press

Fleshing this out into a complete workout, your training day might look something like this:

  • Barbell Bench Press - 3 sets x 6-10 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press - 3 sets x 8-12 reps
  • Pec Dec - 4 sets x 12-15 reps
  • Close Grip Bench Press - 3 sets x 8-10 reps
  • Cable Tricep Extensions - 4 sets x 10-12 reps

Seated Press

Step #3 - Flesh Out Your Training Day Exercises

Now that you have 2-3 compound lifts plugged into your training days, it's time to flesh out your workouts with other exercises. I recommend no more than 5 to 6 movements total per session.

Now that the big compound movements are programmed in, feel free to add in the following lifts (as appropriate):

Exercises should not be randomly chosen. You want a program that makes sense. Use the following guidelines for each body part:

  • Major Body Parts - 3 to 4 exercises
  • Minor Body Parts - 1 to 2 exercises

How many exercises you use may depend on how many sets per exercise you prefer. At the end of the day, set total is also as important as the amount of exercises used. Use the following guidelines for set total per bodypart:

  • Major Body Parts - 9 to 16 sets
  • Minor Body Parts - 6 to 9 sets

Major Body Parts. Major body parts include chest, shoulders, back, quads and hamstrings.

Minor Body Parts. Minor body parts include traps, forearms, triceps, biceps, abs, and calves.

You can go as high as 20 to 25 sets per training day. I recommend you choose your exercises first, start with 3 sets per exercise, and then add sets if needed.

So to make this a bit more clear, let's return to our chest and triceps day example. Your compound exercise selection was:

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Close Grip Bench Press

You decide to use 6 total exercises on this training day: 4 for chest and 2 for triceps. You add in 3 quality movements and your training day now looks like this:

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Chest Dips
  • Pec Dec
  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Cable Tricep Extensions

Now, set the baseline at 3 sets per exercise:

  • Barbell Bench Press - 3 sets
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press - 3 sets
  • Chest Dips - 3 sets
  • Pec Dec - 3 sets
  • Close Grip Bench Press - 3 sets
  • Cable Tricep Extensions - 3 sets

Concentration Curls

This is a total of 18 sets. You can add more sets to the mix if you'd like, but 18 sets per training day is plenty when after quality muscle gains.

Let's say you decide you want to do 14 total sets for chest and 8 for triceps. This is one possible way to structure the program:

  • Barbell Bench Press - 4 sets
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press - 4 sets
  • Chest Dips - 3 sets
  • Pec Dec - 3 sets
  • Close Grip Bench Press - 4 sets
  • Cable Tricep Extensions - 4 sets

To reach the additional work, we simply added in more sets per exercise rather than adding exercises. 

2 More Chest and Tricep Workout Examples

Here are two more examples of possible chest and tricep workouts. The first is based on a 5x5 bench press day using only 2 total heavy compound movements, and the second upon a classic old school 8 sets x 3 reps bench press protocol using two heavy compound movement.

  • Bench Press - 5x5
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press - 5 sets
  • Pec Dec - 4 sets
  • French Press - 4 sets
  • One Arm Dumbbell Tricep Extension - 3 sets
  • Bench Press - 8 sets x 3 reps
  • Chest Dips - 3 sets
  • Dumbbell Flyes - 3 sets
  • Skullcrushers - 3 sets
  • Rope Tricep Extensions - 3 sets

Step #4 - Structure Your Reps Per Set

Reps per set can vary depending on goals. As a general guideline, I recommend the following reps per set averages:

  • Compound Exercises - 5 to 10 reps per set.
  • Isolation Exercises - 8 to 15 reps per set.
  • Machine Exercises - 8 to 15 reps per set.
  • Leg Exercises - 5 to 20 reps per set.
  • Cable Exercises - 8 to 15 reps per set.

There is no magic rep range. Progression of weight is most important. Adjust your reps per set to fit each individual exercise, and upon your needs.

The above suggestions can really be molded into numerous variations. Let's look at possible bench press combinations.

  • Bench Press - 5 sets x 5 reps
  • Bench Press - 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Bench Press - 3 sets x 6 to 10 reps

Note About Frequent Training

There are 2 primary type of frequent training:

  • Upper/Lower Splits. You train 4 times per week: upper body twice, and lower body twice.
  • Full Body Workouts.  You train the entire body three times per week.

Regardless of how you train a body part (once, twice, or three times a week) you will be performing about the same number of sets per week. If you prefer 15 sets of chest per week on a body part split, this would translate into:

  • 7 to 8 sets per training day on an upper/lower split.
  • 5 sets per training day on fullbody workout.

Also understand that you don't have to use the same exercises throughout the week. On a full body workout you could perform bench press one day, pec dec the next, and chest dips on the final day.

Final Thoughts

Remember that the guidelines in this article are just that - guidelines. No workout on paper will be perfect once you hit the gym.

Be prepared to make adjustments. This is a much better option than program hopping.

Switch exercises, modify sets per exercise, or change rep schemes if needed. Do what it takes to create a training day that is effective, and that fits your individual needs.

If you have questions on this article, please leave them in the comments section below.

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    Average: 4.2 (6 votes)
  • About The Author
    Steve is a powerlifter who has also spent 20 years training in bodybuilding. He is a national level competitor training for an all-time over 50 raw world record.
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Comments (10)

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jhelt
Posted Wed, 09/25/2013 - 23:59

Hey Steve

Thinking about starting to build a home gym. I want to start with dumbbells and a squat rack. I also want to get some good olympic quality bar bells and plates. any suggestions on where to look for decent equipment.

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Steve
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 15:39

I would Google "New York Barbell." I purchased all my equipment from them.

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poncho
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 16:44

Hey steve...
If I do a three day work out vould I work on upper then lower , then upper body.. is that a gd .. wsy of working out .. thanks. .

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Steve
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 16:56

Hi Poncho,

You could do this:

Week 1 - Upper/Lower/Upper
Week 2 - Lower/Upper/Lowr

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Divyansh Murdia
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 17:08

my weight is fyn but the body mass is low what is best for me in diet

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paul
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 17:39

Hi Steve, what would be a good workout for someone with no equipment

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weohnsn
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 19:04

one of my chest/tricep workoputs starts with a giant set. I did this one today. 50 pushups, dumbell bench press, bench dips, triceps pressdown. 4 sets pyramiding up in weight. ...pushups decrease in reps. Bench dips are body weight.

then i move on to super setting incline Bench with over head extensions

then straight sets of incline flys, pec deck and single arm press downs....4 sets each, 8 for the press downs

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BARRY
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 19:41

need a good protein for over 50,any suggestions....

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Steve
Posted Thu, 09/26/2013 - 19:49

Hi Barry, I would check out the top selling brands from our store. Each product contains reviews.

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tmora1
Posted Thu, 12/12/2013 - 14:46

Most studies I read a lot of muscle this off 5 days?

And I see you do once in seven days why?

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