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building your own workout routine

How To Build Your Own Workout Routine

By Carmen Grange


Why are you here?

Why are you reading this article?  What makes you want to change? Have you been working out for a while and not seeing results?  Have you not yet began working out but you want to achieve a different physique?  What is your overall goal?  These questions are all pretty basic and you should be able to answer them quickly, but where do you go from here?  


When designing and implementing a workout program, you must first begin with “what is my goal?”.  Do you want to lose weight, build muscle, gain strength, increase power, or a combination of those?  Answering this question first will guide you in the right direction of a good starting point.  But just for the sake of clarification, let’s define each of these goals.


  1. Lose weight: fairly self-explanatory, except for one thing.  “Weight” does not mean “fat”.  To lose weight is a combination of fat, water, and muscle.  Losing weight is unhealthy and probably not the course of action you want to take.  You want to lose fat, right?  These two concepts are different.  People tend to lose “weight” through starvation and excessive cardio.  Fat loss comes from proper dieting, appropriate cardio, and…yes, even lifting weights.
  2. Build muscle: well, this is certainly exactly what it sounds like.  Building muscle means increasing the size of any one particular muscle or group of muscles.
  3. Gain strength: you may think that muscle hypertrophy (increased muscular size) is synonymous with strength, and in a sense, it is; however, major strength gains are accomplished differently than muscle hypertrophy.  Strength gains require quick bursts of energy for short periods of time (i.e. high-intensity efforts of 1-5 reps), whereas building muscle is characteristic of moderate efforts (~85% of 1-repetition maximum) for longer periods of time (8-12 reps).  Strength gains are achieved by performing Olympic-style lifts that specifically target major groups of muscles (i.e. quads, back, and chest), rather than smaller muscles (i.e. biceps, triceps, calves).
  4. Increase power: power is also characterized by short, explosive bursts of high-intensity efforts.  Power is associated with many sports (e.g. football and basketball).  Having the ability to quickly charge a quarterback at the blow of a whistle or jump from the ground to the basketball hoop for a dunk are both acts of power.  Increases in power are achievable by practicing those skills relative to sports movements in short, explosive, repetitive efforts.


What are you doing now?


If you’ve already begun your workout routine and you’re not seeing improvements you should ask yourself, what am I doing and why isn’t it working?  Many people will start going to the gym and initially see vast improvements, but a few months later, they realize they are no longer making progress.  First off, recognize that this is normal.  Most people go through stagnant periods where they are not making any changes regardless of their efforts.  The good news, it’s fixable.  Every once in a while, it is ESSENTIAL to change your routine.  Add some different exercises.  Change your intensity at the gym (reps and sets) or the frequency at which you workout.  And believe it or not…you have to take a break every now and again.  And when I say “a break” I don’t mean a day or two.  I mean a week…at least.  You don’t necessarily have to completely stop working out, but you do need to deload.  Lower the intensity and frequency for a week so your body can recover.  By the following week, it should be ready to work at near full capacity again.

building your own workout routine


How Often Should You Workout?


This question really has no definite answer.  It’s dependent upon the individual.  When just beginning a workout regimen, you should limit your weekly exercise to 2-3 times.  Starting a workout regimen can be stressful and you may tire yourself out and possibly quit.  You’re also at a greater risk for injury if you try to workout 5-6 times without first becoming acclimated to exercise.  If you’ve been working out for at least a few months, I recommend exercise 4-5 times per week to achieve your desired physique.


How Long Should You Workout?


Exercise duration depends on what kind of exercise you’re participating in.  Cardio exercise can be done anywhere from 20-60 minutes. High-intensity exercise (~75-85% of your VO2max/max heart rate) only requires about 20 minutes of exercise.  Moderate intensity exercise (~55-74 of VO2max/max heart rate) provides the most benefit during a 25-40 minute workout, while low-intensity exercise (~ < 54% of VO2max/max heart rate) provides benefits during a cardio session greater than 45 minutes, and typically not exceeding 60 minutes.  If you opt to only do weight lifting, I recommend limiting your workout to approximately 45 minutes.  This way, you sustain energy for a sufficient period of time and you do not overwork your muscles.  Keep in mind that it is okay to combine both cardio and weight lifting.  In this case, try not to exceed about 90 minutes of total workout time to avoid protein metabolism for energy.


How Many Reps and Sets Should You Do?

building your own workout routine

Depending on what kind of exercise you decide to engage in (weight loss, muscle hypertrophy, strength, or power) your number of repetitions will vary.  For weight loss, you will engage in weight lifting characteristic of endurance exercise.  That is, you should perform 15-25 reps per set, and 2-3 sets, at loads less than 67% of your 1-repetition maximum (RM), with 30 seconds rest (or fewer) in between sets.  Muscular hypertrophy training is most beneficial by engaging in an exercise of 6-12 reps, 3-4 sets, at loads between 67% and 85% of your 1-RM with 30-90 seconds rest in between sets.  Strength and power programs are similar in their intensity of training: these exercises should be done with 1-5 reps per set, 3-5 sets per exercise, at loads between 80% and 95% of your 1-RM, with 2-5 minutes of rest in between sets.



Notes: for optimal benefits in all of the goals mentioned above…


  1. Stretch before and after workouts.
  2. Warm-up: whether you are doing just cardio, just weights, or a combination of both make sure to warm-up your muscles prior to the start of your exercise.
  3. Keep a journal: how are you going to know if you’re making progress if you can’t keep track of what you’ve done and where you plan to go?
  4. Finally…know what you’re training and what your goal is.