Usually there are two types of people in the world: those who rely on others to figure things out and those who are true and true do-it-yourselfers. You see it in many aspects of life. Lawn services, meal delivery, tax preparers, and the unlimited list of handyman services offered from remodeling a home to hanging a ceiling fan.
Others of us are a bit more self-reliant. We prefer to learn, try things out, and get more proficient at almost any aspect of life. Putting together a training program should be no different. With the endless availability of training programs from YouTube videos to the latest training app, you’re never too far away from a brand new program. You could most-likely adopt a new program each day for the rest of your life and never get through them all.
So, if you’ve decided to be a do-it-yourselfer then read on. Consider this your crash course into structuring your own workouts. Grab a notebook. School’s in session.
First, a word about pre-made programs
I wanted to clarify something before all the hate starts rolling in. There are many great pre-made programs out there. Some of the more successful ones have been around for years if not decades for good reason. Putting together a program isn’t rocket science, but it does take some knowledge, awareness, and careful planning that is catered to your own situation, level of experience, and ultimately, your goal.
Another thing to keep in mind is to go ahead and try some of the programs out there. Doing it yourself can get a bit boring, to tell you the truth, and putting your training program into someone else’s hands can be a breath of fresh air needed to spark new progress and enthusiasm for training once again.
So if programming your own training is your bag then go for it. Just be open to other’s routines including a friend or group to keep things interesting. Remember, this stuff isn’t a sprint. It’s more of a marathon. So have plenty of patience to go along with your enthusiasm.
How to structure your workouts
The easiest way to begin is to break things down into parts. Let’s take a step-by-step approach. Don’t overthink these steps. Simply take each one with a practical perspective – you can always adjust along the way.
Steps to structure your own workouts
Define your goal
Yes, seems like both an obvious and boring start, but it is a crucial step. If you’re without a goal, your program will never get off the ground.
I want you to define your goal in more of a general sense. Sure, you could have a date set on possibly a wedding, vacation, or contest, but think more along the lines of programming. In other words, do you want to build muscle, lean up, increase your strength? Whatever it may be, write it down and be prepared to commit to it. This will set in motion the rest of your programming and always give you focus every time you enter the gym.
Another advantage is that it makes it personal. By having a clearly defined goal you avoid ego lifting, trying to impress others, and program hopping. You become much more focused when you enter the gym and this will be worth its weight in gold in the long run.
Define what it will take to get there
Okay, so your goal is in place. Before we get into the mechanics of programming, one more mindset shift needs to happen. Get your mind right when it comes to what you think it will take to get you to your goal.
What do you envision your week like, your training days, and your overall schedule? What sacrifices do you foresee as being issues? Are you willing to break into your new program and take on the initial shock of training hard and having a strict and disciplined day?
Also, ask yourself if you’re willing to be committed. Will you sacrifice comfort for your goal? Some commitments can include avoiding hitting snooze in the morning, prepping your food for the day and week, and showing up each day at the gym ready to work.
Whatever you see as a challenge, write it down and deal with it before you start. Be realistic but tough.
How many days per week?
This is simple, but can easily get away from you rather quickly. Most of us eagerly jump the gun and picture our perfect week void of any speedbumps life inevitably throws at us. With our utopian mindset we move on to commit to a staggering six days of training per week. Why not hit the ground running right?
If you’re a normal human being, you’ll point out that that’s not how life works. This is where we get to the nitty gritty and must force ourselves to be realistic. Do you have a family? A full-time job? Other social or extracurricular commitments? It’s all good and well, but we need to take those things into consideration.
Here is where we just want to start. Start with three or four days per week tops. For almost everyone, that is enough frequency to build muscle, gain strength, and/or shed some body fat. You could go with the classic Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine or if four days per week suits you better, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday may work well.
How long each day?
Another no-brainer is determining how much time available you have on each of those training days. Again, we want to be realistic. In the beginning a solid hour may be a bit daunting especially if you’re just starting out.
A good rule of thumb is to start with 30 or 45 minutes of actual training time. These are both realistic for most lifters without overcommitting and being overwhelmed. As stated above, we tend to want to go full bore right out of the gate and act like superman. If you’re on a beginner program or are coming back from a layoff then easing back into things will ensure longevity and avoid premature burnout.
It goes without saying that flexibility is a must in today’s world and it applies here too. There will be days when you simply can’t get to the gym whether it’s because of a family situation, school, work, or anything else life careens our way. The trick is how we handle these episodes.
I’m sure you have friends or family that have the best plans in place, but once a wrench is thrown into their gears they drop all plans and habits and vow to start over one day. The problem is, that one day is too far off or never comes at all.
The best practice is to chalk those days up to “that’s life” and just start back where you left off the very next day, even if that next day isn’t necessarily scheduled. The key here is to generate momentum. Look at your progress in terms of weeks and months instead of individual workouts. Think big picture.
Yes, some workouts will be missed, some will be not so great, while others may be cut short for whatever reason. The most important thing to do is to keep moving forward. A missed workout or two will pale in comparison to the weeks and months of consistent progress you’ve accomplished over the long-term.
When do you change things up?
It’s one thing to shift a few pieces around on any given training day, but it’s quite another to overhaul your entire program. Adding or deleting an exercise or two is natural. Some feel better than others, while some can potentially tear up our shoulders or knees, so it might be best to be flexible and open to change.
However, when it comes to wanting to revamp our entire program some careful execution is in order. First, identify what has changed. Is it a new goal? Has your schedule changed? Identify those changes and then go through the steps above once again and map out your new plan.
The main point is not to just jump ship and program hop. Stop, take serious inventory, and then form your new plan with purpose and intention. If you haphazardly shift gears and change too many variables at once, it’ll be very difficult to realize what was working and what was broken. Take a systematic approach and formulate your new plan with efficiency and effectiveness.
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Yes, throwing together a routine made up mostly of the big compound moves isn’t a bad way to start, but breaking things down to a few simple steps will go a long way toward long-term success. It isn’t rocket science, but it still takes some pre planning for real physique success.
So be deliberate in your planning, take one step at a time, and be prepared to make some changes along the way. Structuring your own workouts may just be the secret weapon you need.