The Ultimate Workout Programming Guide

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, registered dietician, nor do I specialize in sports exercise. Use your best judgment when taking following advice into consideration.

Workout Routine Training Guide

I have worked out in many ways and tried various workout splits and routines in my short lifespan. I’ve read many workout books in my lifespan trying to find ways to meet my fitness goals and scoured the web for new scientific proof of fitness regimens working.

Here is what I have to say to find the perfect workout plan. The answer is simple although getting there is a little complex. The perfect workout depends on you, your body, your available time and your body goals. So, the answer is going to vary for different people. I know a lot of people will hate that answer. In fact, I hated that answer too. I wanted straight up facts. Tell me what to do, dammit! But the truth is that everybody’s body is different. What works for you may not work for others. So, let’s break down the perfect workout program down.

Here is a guide that you can read as a whole or skim through as needed. I’ve created sections to make this more reader-friendly.

Strength Training

I am going to define strength training as an exercise program that uses resistance to build strength, muscle and/ or endurance. This will be bodyweight exercise programs such as calisthenics, weight-lifting, and the use of resistance bands.

active adult athlete barbell
Photo by Isabella Mendes on Pexels.com

Splits

There are so many different types of ways to split your weekly workouts. Most of these splits are a way to save time if you have time constraints. There’s your Bro-split (the most popular), Upper/ Lower Body, Full Body (most popular for beginners and calisthenics), and your Push/ Pull/ Legs split.

Bro Split or Single Day Body Part Splits

The Bro split is pretty common amongst bodybuilders, “meat-heads,” and pretty much any gym goer out there. This is where each day of the week belongs to one or two body groups. With this split, workouts are shorter because there are just so many sets of reps you can do before total exhaustion. Because you are training one muscle group once a week, you have more recovery time for each muscle group.

This may or may not be the best way of training depending on how much gym experience that you have. This can be good for maintaining the current level of muscle that you have and is mostly good for people who are at advanced levels of fitness so that explains why its common around bodybuilders. If you are looking for muscle growth or are a newbie, I would recommend training each muscle group multiple times a week (at least twice) for maximum progress with your goals whether that be cutting/ weight-loss/ transformation/bulking/gains, whatever you like to call it.

Ultimate Workout Guide Bro Split Example

Upper/ Lower Body Split

This is where you split your workout into lower body and upper body days. This is also a popular split amongst people who enjoy fitness and getting a nice fitness physique. It’s the middle ground between full body workouts and the bro-split. With this split, you can train both upper and lower body twice a week which is great for improvements in endurance, muscle growth, strength, etc. This also is a time saver compared to a full body workout so, if you do not have time to be working out forever, this is definitely an option. With this split, you definitely get four workout days and three rest days. That’s not too bad. Formulate your week however you want. Just make sure that you get adequate muscle recovery in-between your workout.

Ultimate Workout Guide Upper Lower Body Split Example

Full Body

This is my favorite because if you miss a day in your workout week, you still worked for every muscle group out at least once. However, this workout split (it’s not even a split) requires the most time because there are a lot of muscle groups to hit so that’s a struggle if you want a short workout sometimes depending on your goals (strength, hypertrophy, endurance, etc).

With full body workouts, you can work out anywhere from twice to four times a week. One time may not do much for you and any more than four days may lead to overexertion and over-training. I know this personally from experience. Your body and your mind need rest.

Ultimate Workout Guide Full Body Example.PNG

Push/Pull/Legs

This split I have the least experience with. I only briefly tried this split when I was just experimenting with calisthenics. This where you divide your workout days into movements that use pushing, pulling and legs. Some people further divide their movements into bending/ hinging and squatting. Really all these workout splits all just depend on how neurotic you are. Pushing can be divided into horizontal and vertical pushing and as can pulling. The workout days are usually three to four workout days. Legs, usually, getting the short end of the stick because people love to skip leg day, it ends up with only one lonesome day on the calendar. I am biased because I have a weaker upper body and I am bottom heavy so, I admit my bias. You could change the schedule to have 2 leg days if desired by taking out one of the rest days.

Ultimate Workout Guide Push Pull Legs Example

Rest Times

By rest times, I mean how much time should go by between sets. These are the question that the really obsessive people ask, like me. Well, this all depends on your goals. Yea, you can wait until you feel well-rested but, will that might be too long or too short. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that are ruining your goals. For me, I rested too little because I felt like I needed to be in a state of constant exhaustion during my workout but, I was wrong. That was the old me. The new me knows that you need adequate recovery time for your ATP to be replenished in order to lift or workout at your best. So, here I am going to divide the rest times by training goals. These times also go for bodyweight exercises. Increase the intensity of the exercise by increasing Time Under Tension or changing the angle of the exercise. You don’t always need to increase the number of reps.

Strength

You should be resting anywhere between 2 to 5 minutes with the latter end being for exercises that work the lower body because they work on larger muscle groups. Remember, that you also need to be lifting heavy weights for this rest time so, you’ll actually need it. Test the rest times to see which works best for you.

Hypertrophy/ Mass Gains

Rest 1 to 3 minutes between sets using moderate to heavy weights. The heavyweights may require you to use the latter end of the rest period.

Weight-Loss

This requires short rest periods all the way to two minutes of rest. I would say 15 seconds minimum, especially for those high-intensity workouts. You can use moderate weights in these workouts.

Ultimate Workout Guide Rest Time Between Sets

Sets vs Reps

How many sets or reps are required for me to reach my goal? Many studies and people say different things. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Board of Directors, Juan Carlos Santana, its 12 to 20 sets per week per body part. I’ve also heard 60-120 reps per large muscle groups per week and 30-60 reps per small muscle group per week to muscle growth. If you are wondering why I’m harping on muscle growth, muscle burns more energy than fat and is denser so it looks smaller than an identical weight of fat. It also helps you to be able to eat a little bit more during the day because of its higher metabolism. So if you want, weight-loss or to look slimmer, getting some muscle could help.

Another way that requires less math to set up your sets and reps is this method like me:

  • Strength Training: 3-6 reps x 4-5 sets
  • Hypertrophy/ mass gains: 6-12 reps x 5-6 sets
  • weight-loss: 10-12 reps x 4-5 sets

Large Muscle Groups: Glutes, Quads, Back, Hamstrings, Abs

Small Muscle Groups: shoulder, triceps, biceps, calves

Some fitness parties say that reps don’t matter, it’s how long you do the exercise. Some say go to failure, any failure (form, exhaustion, etc). The reason why you see people doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps is that that’s how long it takes to exhaust the muscles if you take 4 seconds to do an exercise because it takes about 40 seconds to exhaust the muscle stores, apparently. With that being said, any rep range can work as long as you exhaust the muscles and that is often the theory behind some of the calisthenic workouts to gain muscle without adding weights. Try any workout slower and I promise you it will be way more challenging to complete the rep and you will definitely exhaust your muscles faster. That is what drives muscle growth.

Cardio

I have a love-hate relationship with cardio. It’s great for cardiovascular health but, I’ve always dubbed myself bad at it. My only thoughts about cardio were running. Running was equal to death and injured shins. Now, I’ve expanded my knowledge of cardio to other things. Some days, I walk. Some days, I do a YouTube dance aerobics video or I may just get out my jump rope which is actually easier on your knees than you might think. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio a week. I usually aim for 3 to 5 days of cardio a week, mostly moderate intensity.

topless man wearing grey and black shorts sprinting on concrete road
Photo by Antas Singh on Pexels.com

HIIT

High-Intensity Interval Training. This is the trend right now and if you haven’t heard about it yet maybe you’re under a rock. This is a modification of the Japanese Tabata workout which was 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes. This modification is a little easier on us regular folks out here. It is usually 30 to 45 seconds of work followed by 15 to 30 seconds of rest for 5 to 15 minutes, maybe even 20 minutes. Any longer than that, you should die. The point was is to be HIGH INTENSITY. There is a lot of moderate intensity cardio programs out there pretending to be HIIT. I usually jump rope for this or find something on YouTube. Most recommend only one to two days of HIIT because it is very taxing on the body.

MIC

This is what I call Moderate-Intensity Cardio. This is where the majority of the cardio class are in terms of intensity. I like to keep this around 20 to 40 minutes. It’s challenging but, you won’t die. The aerobics classes, Pilates classes are all here. You can modify running to fit any of these three cardio levels. Sprinting will be for HIIT, running/ jogging is more of MIC.

LISS

Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio is that treadmill walk. It’s pretty calm and very great for beginners and awesome on your knees. This is 30 and up. This is the stuff you can talk through and continue for a long time. This can be done most days of the week if desired. It is also good to do on active recovery days.

Recovery

Recovery depends on you. I like active rest days but sometimes, I need a passive rest day where I just lounge on the couch all day.

woman doing yoga pose facing sea
Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

Active Recovery

Active recovery can include MIC and LISS. Cardio has been shown to help prevent some soreness after strength training. You can also do yoga. Remember, there are many types of yoga and it can be as intense as you desire. Research the yoga types first before trying it. There are fast-paced yoga practices and there are slow restorative yoga practices. Yoga is definitely good for keeping some flexibility and also calming down after a crazy week of intense workouts.

Ultimate Workout Guide Sample Workout Week

Passive Recovery

This is the traditional rest day where you just rest on the couch and enjoy your rest day. Sometimes, we all need a passive rest day where we just do nothing. You know your body best, learn to listen to it. Passive rest is especially required if you injure yourself. Do not push through a workout if you get injured. You could make it worse.

Proper rest should allow your injuries to heal. If your strain or sprain anything, it should heal with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) in 2 to 4 days. If not, see your doctor something else might be wrong. If the pain is too intense to do anything, definitely see your doctor. Something might be broken. To prevent injuries, focus on the quality of reps not quantity. Working out in good form prevents injury. There are tons of YouTube videos and books with professionals that can teach you new movements if you cannot afford a personal trainer. I know I can’t.

Soreness

Soreness is common with working out. In order to alleviate some symptoms of soreness, make sure you are well hydrated throughout the day, workout day or not. Try to move around throughout the day, believe it or not, it does help with soreness. Make sure you are sleeping 6-8 hours a day. Your muscles are built and recovered when you are sleeping. Make sure you are eating well. You cannot replenish your strength or fix your muscles if there is a scarcity of nutrients to help your body do its job. Food is fuel, not your enemy.

Side note: If your soreness if closer to your joints such as your elbow, it might not be soreness. You may have a problem. Soreness applies to the actual muscle tissue, not the joint or bone. Modify your exercises to avoid any injury flare-ups such as avoiding jumping with knee injuries.

Nutrition

selective focus photography of pasta with tomato and basil
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Supplements

Supplements are a huge industry. The may or may not help but, as a pharmacy student, I have to say this: because supplements are not regulated in the US, it is very hard to know if a supplement is safe or even works. If you feel like your supplements are working, then go ahead but, be cognizant of this as you choose your supplements. Do your research. Personally, I just take a multivitamin.

Cutting

I know that we like fast results and think that by drastically cutting your calories you will get massive weight-loss. That is true to a point but, it is not sustainable for a multitude of reasons.

  1. You will be very irritable on extremely low calories because you may be eating just enough or less than enough calories to survive on and your body could go into starvation mode.
  2. You will lose water weight and hang on to fat. The other things you lose are muscle, not fat. Especially, if you are not eating a lot of protein to replace it.
  3. Your metabolism will decrease and once you go back to eating regularly, that will cause fat gain.
  4. Repeat cycle again.

That being said, make slow cuts in your diet and try to eat as much home cooked, unprocessed food so you are getting all your nutrients and the cut doesn’t seem as drastic. Take a multivitamin since you be eating less and getting fewer nutrients from food. If your nails become brittle and you start to lose your hair, you might be eating too little. Your weight is not worth your health.

Maintenance

You’ve lost the weight or gained the muscle and now you want to keep it on. Find out your maintenance calories and continue eating like that or try to make a connection with your body. Use your mind-body hunger cues and try to eat when your hungry and stop when you are full. Counting calories and weighing food is not sustainable forever. Try to learn more about the nutrition in the foods you eat.

  1. Don’t forget to eat vegetables.
  2. Try adding new foods to your diet every now and then to make sure you are not lacking in any micronutrients.
  3. Eat the rainbow.
  4. Every type of food has its time and place.

Bulking

This is what some people consider the fun part. Do not eat whatever you want. Excess calories can still turn to fat if you are not careful. Eat fuel that can turn into muscle. Excess calories turn to muscle if they are added slowly. Don’t just add 1000 extra calories to your daily diet. Make sure you are training too. Bulking also doesn’t mean you don’t have to do cardio. Cardio can help get rid of the fat. Try a lean bulk. That means a larger amount of the same food you eat during a cut/ diet. A large bowl of salad, more carbs, and protein. Do not overdo it on the donuts.

  1. Don’t use bulking as an excuse to eat junk. That is just taking an early step into health issues.
  2. Lean bulk. Still eat mostly from the perimeter of the grocery store if that’s what you can afford.
  3. Don’t forget your vegetables.
  4. Every day is not a cheat day. Complex carbs are great and so are simple carbs if you can eat them in moderation and/ or time them right i.e., post-workout.

Transforming/ Recomposition

Fat cannot just magically become muscle. You lose fat then, you build muscle. If I could turn my fat into muscle I would be one extremely happy woman. My tips are to eat well. Eat for your body and your soul. Everything comes in moderation. Eat your vegetables and your cake too.

  1. Hack your meals to be healthier. It may not always work out well but at least you tried.
  2. Try adding vegetables to every meal. Think of healthy additions rather than subtraction.
  3. Transformation= cutting + bulking

Special Notes and Conclusions

The workout program that works for you will not work for everyone. I can only give you a general guideline. Part of the work is believing in what you are doing. That is the placebo effect which can be a great thing. Find what works for you. Some people recover faster than others and only require 1 or no days of rest. Others may require 2 days in a row of rest, however, being sore does not always mean you should rest. You can work out while you are sore. Wait after the first 2 weeks or so to see how your rest periods affect you.

Consider gaining some muscle if you have been on an eternal diet with no progress with your stomach fat. Some people find that gaining more muscle helps to burn that extra fat especially if it’s just a little fat remaining.

As far as eating healthy, start slow. Going from one extreme of eating to another will not garner long-term results for most of the population out there. Start adding healthy foods to your diet and seeing which ones you like rather than thinking what to remove from your diet. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket if you can afford to do that. If you can’t, canned foods and microwaveable foods are also a good start. There are steamable vegetables and low sodium canned vegetable and beans. You can rinse canned goods before cooking to remove extra salt. Find Pinterest recipes to try and get excited about it! Look forward to being a healthier and happier version of yourself! Do not diet. Make a lifestyle for yourself. There is no one right way to eat. Find what works best for you. For some that will be paleo, keto, vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, and for some that might be none.

Don’t forget to take a mental break from training too. Your mindset also affects your progress. Thank you for reading/ skimming this long post. Don’t forget to follow my blog for more posts like this.

© 2018 Shika Tamaklo

Updated 10/29/2018

Updated 11/6/2018 Original Title: The Ultimate Guide for Making Your Workout Program

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Shika Tamaklo is a pharmacy student attending Mercer University. She is a college lifestyle blogger who writes on fitness, health, student life struggles and, occasionally dabbles in creative writing.

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