A Cheat Sheet for Structuring Your Own Strength Training Workouts

When I first started lifting, I was on my own. I would look at forums or Pinterest for exercise ideas, try to build a plan, and get overwhelmed. It is easy to make things complicated. In fact, I would argue that so many fitness gurus make a whole lot of money off of making things more complicated than they need to be. The best antidote to feeling insecure in the gym is to have a plan. Here’s your guide to crafting a plan that is easy to understand and sustainable.

The main principle of building strength is progressive overload. This means simply increasing the number of reps you do, your time under load/tension, the weight on the bar, etc. That is it. Pushing yourself further than you did last week, last month, last year (on average, over time. There are absolutely times we need to rest… more on that in another post) is what makes you stronger. This is your guide to ditching the complex infographics and structuring your own workouts.

Upper / Lower Split vs Full Body Workouts

Depending on how many days you train, your training age, and your goals, you can organize your workouts in splits or simply do a full body workout.

When to Choose a Full Body Workout

  • If you train 2-3 days/week

  • If you are newer (less than 1-2 years) to resistance training

  • If you’re short on time

For a full body workout, focus on two primary movements (upper and lower body) plus back and core exercises.

When to Choose an Upper/Lower Split

  • You have more time week to week to dedicate to training (4-5 days/week)

  • You are an intermediate/advanced lifter that requires more frequency and overload for strength gains

Splits allow you to train one muscle group while another rests. If you want to go to the gym 4-5 days/week and have the time to get more work in overall, a split could be the best option for you.

Primary movements

  • Squat

  • Horizontal push

  • Horizontal pull

  • Vertical push

  • Vertical pull

  • Hinge

The Squat

Primary variations

Goblet Squat (Dumbbell or Kettlebell)

Free or to a box (box helps you practice tightness in the bottom and training the full range of motion)

Squat using TRX handles for support

Single leg squat aka pistol squat progressions (to box or from box)

Barbell Back Squat

Barbell front squat

Secondary Movements for Squat


Walking lunges

Reverse lunges

Bulgarian split squats

Lateral lunges

Glute Bridge

Banded glute bridge

Dumbbell glute bridge

Feet up glute bridge

Single leg glute bridge

Barbell glute bridge

Vertical or Horizontal pull

Close grip lat pulldown

Lat pulldown

Barbell row

Dumbbell Row

Cable machine rows

Tertiary Movements for Squat

Quadricep exercises (leg extension machine)

Hamstring curls

Machine or using a Swiss ball

Calf raises

The Horizontal Push

Primary variations

Barbell Bench Press

Close/standard/wide grip


Dumbbell Bench Press

Neutral grip

Horizontal grip


Sled push

Secondary Movements

Chest flyes




Horizontal pull (rows)

Tricep Extensions

Bicep Curls

The Vertical Push

Overhead press



Overhead carries with dumbbells or kettlebells

Secondary movements

Vertical pull (lat pulldown variations, pull-ups)

Delt Raises

Front/side/rear delts with dumbbells or in cable machine

Tricep extensions

The Hinge



Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

Single leg Romanian Deadlift

Secondary Movements

Goblet Squats

Pull throughs


Band Walks

Horizontal pull (rows)

Core Exercises for Every Workout

Dead Bugs

Side Planks (hand or forearm)

Planks (hand or forearm)

Leg raises

Russian Twists

Suitcase Carries

Comment below if you want to see videos of any exercises in particular. All of these can be found on YouTube, but I am currently working on building my own video library to better help y’all.