How to write your own workout plan for the gym

How to write your own workout plan for the gym

Before I teach you how to write your own workout plan for the gym, let me tell you the secret to having more motivation to workout… 

It starts with a good workout plan.

It’s way more fun going into the gym on a mission (aka with a plan), rather than just doing whatever you feel like doing until you’ve been there for an hour.  

Plus getting a new workout plan is like a healthy Christmas present. It’s exciting to see what exercises are in it. Usually it’s a mix of some of your favourites and some of the ones you hate, as well as some new ones to learn. I know my online coaching clients love getting their shiny new workout program each month and so do I. It gives you that boost you need to start each month strong.

Following a good workout plan will not only help with motivation, it will also get you better results than doing random swipe workouts you see from Instagram or making up shit on the spot.

This article is going to give you guidance on how to write your own workout plan for the gym. It applies to you whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat or both.

If you follow a proper workout plan and apply the 3 tips I share at the end of this article, you’ll get better results, and probably reduce the time you spend in the gym too.

Ps. There is a lot involved in writing a workout plan. There are books and courses on the topic. In order to simplify it, this article is generalised. I actually recommend having someone else write your workout plan for many reasons. If that isn’t an option for you, this is a good place to start so you can write an effective workout plan for yourself.

Pps. If you want me to send you a shiny new workout plan each month, you can apply to join my online coaching program here.


3 mistakes to avoid when writing your own workout plan for the gym:


#1: Using random exercises that you think will target certain body parts

“I do ab exercises because I want to get a flat stomach and I also do some bicep curls and tricep extensions to get rid of my arm fat.”

This is one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to writing your own workout plan for the gym.

You can’t target fat loss from certain parts of the body by doing exercises for that part of the body!

Fat loss happens all over the body and requires a calorie deficit. If you want to know more about setting this up check out my article here.

When it comes to muscle gain, you can choose where to build more muscle by focusing on that area. But, if you’re not focusing on getting strong all over your body, there’s only going to be so far you can grow your muscles.

The exercises that target single muscle groups are isolation exercises. It’s more difficult to get strong in isolation exercises. Your aim should be to get stronger in your compound movements. These work more than one muscle group at a time. They tend to follow movement patterns which you use in daily life. For example you use multiple muscles to bend over and pick things up or walk up stairs or pull open a heavy door. Getting stronger in compound exercises will help you get better results in less time in the gym, and also help you do regular life activities more easily.

Whether your goal is fat loss or muscle gain, the best exercises to build the majority of your workout routine are compound exercises. 


#2: Sticking to 15 reps for each exercise

You should be aiming to get strong in the gym.

This won’t happen if you’re doing 15 reps per exercise.

You need to be doing exercises in a variety of rep ranges. This includes 3-8 reps for strength as well as 9-15 reps for hypertrophy.


Rule #3: Tracking time spent working out

How long should your workouts be?

You don’t need to worry about time spent working out! Having that mindset of “I’ve been in the gym for an hour so that’s enough” is not how you need to approach your workouts.

More time spent in the gym does not equal a better workout.

What you need to focus on is intensity. This doesn’t mean you have to be sweating the entire workout. It means you need to be lifting at a heavy enough weight so that by the time you’re done with your workout, you’re done. If you’re pushing yourself and lifting heavy enough, you’ll know what it feels like to “be done”.

I bet you’re still wondering how long the average intense workout goes for…

It depends. If you’re a powerlifter requiring 5 mins rest between sets then you might need over an hour. In most cases 40 minutes to 1 hour is plenty. If you can keep lifting for more than 1 hour you probably haven’t used heavy enough weights.


How to write your own workout routine for the gym


Step #1: Choose how many days you can realistically train

Consistency is the key to getting results from your training and nutrition.

You need a plan you can stick to long term.

A 3 day program that you do every single week is going to get you better results than a 5 day plan in which you skip a few workouts each week.

If you’re used to training 5 days a week and enjoy the gym, then a 5 day program is fine. If you don’t enjoy working out or are super busy, then a 3 day program can get you good results too, especially if you’re new to training.

Most of my online coaching clients have a program with 4 workout days and 3 rest days per week.

Choose 3, 4 or 5 days and stick to it.


Step #2: Breakdown those days into the right workout split

How you do this will vary and there’s no right or wrong way.

These are some examples of splits you can use:


Step #3: Add exercises to each day

Exercise selection depends on your workout split, your skill level and goals. Generally, you can choose 3-4 compound exercises and 3-4 isolation exercises to add to each workout. 

Most importantly, you need to add enough training frequency.

You want to be aiming to hit each muscle group twice per week. This can be directly or indirectly, and means you need to know what muscles are being used for each exercise you choose. For example, a bench press doesn’t just work your chest, it also works your triceps, front of shoulders, back and core. 

Depending on how advanced you are, you might need to train some muscle groups more frequently than twice per week, but it’s a good place to start. Muscle growth happens when protein synthesis is stimulated in that muscle. Generally protein synthesis stays elevated for around 24 hours after a workout, in those muscles you trained. By training twice per week you allow enough time for recovery but also keep muscle protein synthesis elevated for longer.

Aim to include exercises that use each of the major movement patterns: lunge, squat, pull, push, hinge and carry.

This means that you can choose whatever exercise that suits your skill level as well as your body profile or any injuries you have, so long as it follows the movement pattern. For example, if you can’t do a barbell back squat you can choose a goblet squat and progress up to doing a barbell back squat. If you’ve had a shoulder injury, then a neutral grip shoulder press will be better than a pronated grip. 


Step #4: Add sets, rep ranges and rest time

This is where a lot of variability comes in.

You can follow these basic guidelines:

  • the total number of working sets for each workout should be between 15-25 sets (this can be achieved in various ways, for example 5 exercises with 4 sets for each exercise)
  • Rep ranges can vary depending on the exercise but generally you should start each workout with a strength focus (3-6 reps) and finish the workout with high rep work (10-20reps).
  • Supersets can be included after your strength exercise/s to make your workouts more efficient and also get your heart rate up a little
  • Rest periods will vary but generally you need 2-5 mins between sets of 3-7 reps, 1-2 mins between sets of 8-12 reps and 45 sec-2mins between sets of 13 or more reps.

Starting your workout plan with your strength focus exercises for lower reps ensures you can put all your energy into getting strong on those exercises. If you put them at the end, you’ll already be tired and won’t be able to lift as heavy.


Step #5: Add cardio appropriately

You should do any cardio at the end of your weight training session, not before. This will ensure you have as much glycogen as possible in your muscles to fuel your weight training.

You can choose a HIIT style finisher, intervals or steady state cardio. It’s optional and ultimately will depend on your goal and what you enjoy.


3 Keys to making progress

If you have been following a workout plan and feeling stuck it could be because you need to pay attention to one of these:


Key #1: Overload

Tracking your workouts is crucial to making progress. You need to go into each workout with a goal to do a little bit better than what you did last time you did that workout.

You can do this by increasing your weights used.

Adding reps or sets,  decreasing rest, doing the same weight but with better form or with an increased range of motion are improvements you can make on last week’s workout.

It won’t be possible for all exercises each workout. You should aim to improve on your main compound exercises and as many others as you can.

Hopefully you can see why doing different workouts each week isn’t helpful. You can’t try to do a bit better than last week if you’re doing a different routine with all different exercises!


Key #2: Changing programs at the right time

You shouldn’t mix up your workouts each week, but you also shouldn’t stick to the exact same program for months. You’ll eventually get to a point where progress stalls. Once you get through a program, the next program should build on the previous one.

It should address any weaknesses in exercises from the current program, and have a slightly different focus. For example, you might be focus on lower reps and higher weights for main movements in your first program, and then you’d focus on higher reps and lighter weights in the next one. Or you might focus on getting strong in a conventional deadlift in the first program and then change it to getting strong in a deficit deadlift in the next one.

Your new workout plan should help you to continue to progressively overload either by enabling you to get stronger or by adding volume. It also helps with motivation and to keep things interesting. You can look to change your program every 3-8 weeks.


Key #3: Eating the right amount of food

You can’t rely on working out alone to get you your dream body. You need to compliment your workout plan with a nutrition plan that is based on your body and goal. This comes down to eating the right quantity of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Read this to learn more.


The End

This should give you an idea of how to write a workout plan for the gym. You can apply similar principals for writing a home workout program (obviously the exercise selection will be limited to what equipment you have). If you’re unsure about anything I recommend you get someone to write your program for you. There is an art to program design that comes with experience and hasn’t been covered in this article.

If you want to be told exactly what exercises, sets and reps you should be doing for your specific goal, along with how much food you need to eat, you can apply to work with me here.