Why pay a personal trainer to build a workout routine for you when you can do it yourself. This guide will teach you the basics on how to design your own gym workout plan for building muscle. After you learn these basics then you can talk to the more knowledgeable personal trainers to build a routine that matches your goal.
Different Workout Routines
There are many different types of routines in order to build muscle. The ones that I will specify are generally based in the gym because the equipment available. You can also structure your workout plan for any specific goals with what I am about to discuss.
These are the most basic workout routines in its simplest form. You can fuse many of the routines in to fit your preference and goals. Before you create your own gym workout plan one must know different types of workout routines.
Full Body Workout Plan
The full body workout plan is generally considered the most basic. This routine is what’s mostly prescribed to people starting out.
The idea of the plan is that you target all the muscles of your entire body. As a result of you focusing on all the muscles you will have to decrease the amount of volume you do for each muscle.
This workout can be done several times a week. It is excellent as you train your muscles multiple times a week.
- Great if you only have 1 or 2 days to workout sessions a week.
- Allows good muscle balance as you are working the entire body.
- Each major muscle group can be worked on several times a week – potentially more muscle growth.
- Generally this routine does not provide enough individual muscles stimulus to grow as the volume is too low.
- Can be exhausting as the full body routines incorporate many compound lifts in one workout.
Upper Body/Lower Body Workout Plan
Upper body/lower body workout involves splitting your routine into an upper body day and a lower body day. For the upper body you can target all muscles such as the chest, back, shoulders and arms. When it comes to training your abs and core, it can be done on either upper or lower body days.
This work is great as you can generally hit everybody part twice a week with moderate volume.
- Provides a well-balanced routine.
- Each major muscle group can be worked on at least twice a week – potentially more muscle growth.
- Provides moderate volume for maximal muscle growth per workout which generally is not enough for upper body days. Hitting your back, chest, arms and shoulders in one workout is a lot to do.
Push Pull Routine
This routine is very popular among bodybuilders. The push pull routine consists, one day of pulling exercises and the other pushing exercises. That basically means chest, shoulders, triceps one day and back and biceps the other day.
You can have several push and pull workouts within in a week. The way you manage your push pull workout with training legs and abs is entirely up to you. So you can add abdominal exercises in your push day for example and legs on your pull.
You can also split the legs into two sections. Therefore you can focus on quads on push days and hamstrings on your pull days. Some incorporate legs on an entire separate day similar to a split routine.
- Good for muscle balance. Provides good focus on both you anterior and posterior muscles.
- Excellent routine for achieving new personal best (PB) for main compound exercises as you have more dedicated time within a workout session.
- Allows moderate volume on each muscle group.
- Dependant on how the routine is planned you don’t get enough frequency for each muscle group.
The infamous split routine made most famous by bodybuilders. This routine is usually prescribed for more experienced lifters. In split routines you can do pretty much do what you like. Most split routine consists of a chest day, back day, arm/shoulders day and leg day.
For really creative individuals or for people who get bored with the same exercises then split routine can really change things up.
- Ideal for maximising personal best (PB) for main compound exercises like squats, bench and deadlifts as you. You have an entire workout dedicated to a given muscle group.
- Allows high volume on each muscle group.
- Great for really shaping individual muscle groups.
- Dependant on how the routine is planned you don’t get enough frequency for each muscle group
- Can create muscle imbalances as people tend to train favoured muscle groups and neglect less favoured.
Order of Exercises
The way in which you order your exercises within your workout plan makes a huge difference in the success that you will achieve.
There are some simple rules that should be followed in terms of where to place compound exercises, isolation exercise and even free weights versus resistance machines.
However some rules are made to be broken depending on your fitness goals. I will give examples of this at the end of this section.
Compound Exercises First
The first rule of thumb is to place your big compound exercises first. Regardless of the workout plan that you’re on you want to base your workout around these compound exercises. Compound exercise involves more than one muscle group which means they are more demanding on the body.
You want to be at your strongest when you do these. You are usually fresh at the beginning of your workout prior to any exercise excluding warming up. When you have warmed your muscles go straight in and exercise. Examples of compound exercises are: squats, deadlifts, bench press bentover rows etc.
Following from your compound exercises you can then add accessory exercises or otherwise known as isolation exercises. These exercises isolate a specific muscle group which do not overwork your central nervous system unlike compound exercises.
Isolation exercises are generally used to compliment a workout. Examples of these exercises are: leg extensions, tricep extension, chest flyes, bicep curls etc.
Exercise order when rules are broken
Compound exercises go first then followed by isolation exercises. In a typical chest routine you might see something like this:
Chest Routine Example 1
So in this workout example the bench press is placed first and then followed by an isolation exercise also targeting the chest muscles (cable flyes). The third exercise is then another isolation exercise but targeting the triceps instead. This is a good example, as this exercise works on the bigger muscles first then finishes with the smaller ones (pectorals and triceps to finish).
Now let’s imagine your fitness goals have changed slightly. Now your goal is to also target your chest but you have noticed that your tricep muscles are noticeable weaker than your chest. When you bench press your triceps fatigue quicker than your chest muscles. Take a look at the second workout example below:
Chest Routine Example 2
Exercise Sets Reps
Cable Flyes 3 10
Bench Press 4 10
Skullcrusher 3 10
Tricep Extensions 3 10
You can now see that the order of the chest dominant exercises has been switched. So the isolation exercise has been placed first in the order of the workout. This is due to your fitness goals altering slightly. You want build your chest muscles and get stronger yet your triceps are preventing you from pushing heavier.
Basically the bench press involves your chest, triceps and even your shoulder muscles. In this case your triceps are the weaker link. Your chest doesn’t have opportunity to be fatigued as your triceps tire first. By placing cable flyes first you isolate the chest prior to bench pressing.
Furthermore there is an additional exercise added (skullcrusher) in the effort to strengthen the triceps.
Free Weights and Resistance Machines
You currently know how to organise the order of your exercises in terms of compound and isolation. The next step is deciding whether to use free weighted exercises or resistance machines.
Free weight exercises are hands down more effective than resistance machines. They inflict more muscle tissue breakdown which promotes more muscle growth. Free weight exercises are simply more demanding as your stabiliser muscles are also fired, along with the target muscles being worked.
Place free weight exercises first in your routine before any resistance machines. Here is an example comparing a free weight and a resistance machine exercise.
Let us look at the barbell bench press. This exercise requires your core, forearms and even your back muscles to stabilise the weight. These stabiliser muscles are called upon on every rep from the beginning to the very end of the exercise. The barbell also places addition weight from gravity on chest muscles when you press the weight up and control the weight down.
Compare the barbell bench press to the chest press machine. The emphasis on the exercise is now placed solely on the chest and triceps. Because you are not physically carrying the load the stabilisers are switched off. There is no gravity so the force of the weight only comes when you push bar/handle. There isn’t much force pushing down on you when you have to control the weight down.
Utilising Resistance Machines in Your Routine
Resistance machines have their place in your workout routine. As a result of free weight exercises being more beneficial does not mean that resistance machines are useless. Free weight exercises are demanding which makes resistance machines very useful to focus on the target muscles with no distractions.
After a brutal bench press session you may find that you are too fatigued to do barbell incline bench press for example. Instead you can use the smith machine version of the incline bench press. This will target the area that you still want to focus on without over pushing your muscles which can lead to loss of muscle or slower recovery.
Focus on the big compound exercises using free weights and then adding resistance machine exercises when appropriate. Conclude your workout routine by training your smaller muscle groups with accessory exercises.
How Many Sets and How Many Reps?
How many sets and how many reps should you do? This is something that I have asked myself in the early days of training.
This is a general guide with regards to reps, but please do not take it to heart and follow it religiously:
Rep Range and Muscle Target
If building muscle is your goal the ideal rep range is to do 6-12 repetitions. With respect to sets and reps the general guideline is: the more reps you do on a given exercise the fewer sets you perform.
Below is an example of sets in relation to reps:
- 20 reps of 3 sets
- 8 reps of 4 sets
- 5 reps of 5 sets
These are general guidelines and rules for reps and sets but my answer to how many sets and reps should you do is all of them. By this I mean implement various rep ranges into your routine and focus on getting stronger each week.
You muscles are made from different muscle fibres and some are only activated on heavy yet a low rep range. It is best to try activating all the muscle fibres within your body and the best way to do that is to train in a variety of rep ranges.
Do forget to add rest days into your routine. Major muscle group usually take 48 hours to recover from a workout but if the workout is too intense then expect roughly a week.
Add rest days which allow your muscles to recover ready for the next workout. If you creating your own 3 day full body workout plan then add rest days in between your workout.
This workout might look something like:
Monday – workout
Tuesday – rest day
Wednesday – workout
Thursday – rest day
Friday – workout
Saturday – rest day
Sunday – rest day
Trial and error is crucial in the first 2 weeks to better coordinate your recovery during your rest days. One rule I always use is never train when your muscles are sore.If they are still sore means your workout is either too intense or you shoulder alter your rest day to allow more time for recovery. When you become a more advanced lifter then you will know the type of soreness you can train through.
Workout Plan Putting it All Together
This is a summary of what I covered in learning how to build workout plan for gaining muscle.
- Select the type of routine (full body/split routine etc.) that’s ideal for your lifestyle.
- Compound exercises before isolation exercises.
- Free weight exercises before resistance machines exercises.
- Train your bigger muscle groups first.
- If you are a beginner then start your routine with 13-20 reps 2/3 sets for 2-4 weeks. Get stronger and then start to introduce different rep ranges and sets.
- Stick to one main rep range relevant to your goals. Do not forget to mix things up and add variety in your rep ranges.
- Space out your rest days evenly throughout the week.
Understanding these fundamentals will give you the tools to build your own workout routine. One final note is that there isn’t one magical routine that will build your ideal body. You need to switch it up and change your program every 4-6 weeks. It doesn’t have to be a complete change it could just meaning changing a few exercises, changing reps/sets etc.
Good luck and if there are any questions please comment below or get in touch via our contact page.