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.
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
Bulgarian split squats
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
Cable machine rows
Tertiary Movements for Squat
Quadricep exercises (leg extension machine)
Machine or using a Swiss ball
The Horizontal Push
Barbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Bench Press
Horizontal pull (rows)
The Vertical Push
Overhead carries with dumbbells or kettlebells
Vertical pull (lat pulldown variations, pull-ups)
Front/side/rear delts with dumbbells or in cable machine
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
Single leg Romanian Deadlift
Horizontal pull (rows)
Core Exercises for Every Workout
Side Planks (hand or forearm)
Planks (hand or forearm)
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.