Your Weight Training Program, Your Way!

Starting Your Own Weight Training Program

Table of Contents

Here's a quick table of contents for your ease of navigation. Enjoy!

About sets and reps

How many sets should you do?

My personal workout: an example

Periodization Workout

Keep your own strength training log

Want to write a SMART article?

I'm sure you're dying to finally hear the secret behind the perfect weight training program and getting those beach-worthy abs and fantastic arms. The good news for you is that I have the secret! And here it is...

hard work!

That's right, you're the only one that has the power to do it. There's no pill, dietary supplement, food, drink or other concoction that will allegedly "convert fat into muscle" or "flush" the fat out of your body. Remember what your parents or guardians used to tell you when you were little?

If it's too good to be true, then it is!

lat pulldowns

And if you really wanted to read about a strength training secret, I just gave you the only secret there is, and that is hard work! There's nothing out there that'll do it for you. The key to changing your body is to change your habits, your lifestyle and, perhaps, your diet.
Starting a weight training program is a great place to start!

If you're ready to do this, then you've come to the right place! This page will present ways to help you create your own weight training program, built for you and only you! After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Are you ready? Don't forget to warm up and then stretch!

Avoid all the marketing scams claiming to rebuild your body for a minimum fee of $29.99. These do not work! Why?

1. They're short term. There's no way you can follow someone else's program, be happy with it or sustain it for a long period of time. You need a plan to work with your schedule and on your terms. Just because it worked for Schwarzenegger doesn't mean it'll work for you. We're all different! Therefore your weight training program will be different.

2. They cause plateaus. Following the same routine for a long period of time will cause you to reach a weight plateau. Don't fall into this trap! The workout might be effective over the short term, but you'll reach a maximum weight and plateau until you change the program in some way. Variety is key!

3. You'll lose interest. These programs are often boring and don't necessarily focus on your weaknesses.

dumbbell press

4. Along the same lines, such training programs are often more focused on what society believes you should focus on. For example, suppose you have less-than optimal pectorals (a.k.a pecs or chest muscles). Some run-of-the-mill weight training program focused on building your chest will do you no good. Why?

Because you need great arm, shoulder and back strength to maximize your efforts on the bench press. Just doing bench presses and other chest exercises every time to build a bigger or stronger chest will be completely ineffective unless you also work the required accessory muscles. The fact is that a weight training program is a full-body commitment.

Without your arms, you have weak shoulders. Without your shoulders, you have a weak chest. Without your shoulders and arms, you have a weak back. And, finally, without strong legs, you have a weak upper body. It's just that simple.

Building a better you starts with the inside and works outward. The smarter you are, the smarter you'll work and the better your results.Remember, it all starts with you!

This page is a great place to begin with on this website, whether you're just beginning strength training or you're an advanced athlete looking for some tips. Also check out the page on basic weight training concepts for some other tips and techniques. So, what are we waiting for?

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Let's first start with some basics...

Sets and Reps (or repetitions)

A repetition (or rep for short) just refers to a single performance or complete motion of an exercise. Let's take the bench press for example (we all know what that is, right?); lifting the weight from rest, slowly letting it down towards your chest and finally pushing it back up to its starting position constitutes one repetition, or one complete motion of the exercise.

A set is a grouping of successive reps. With the bench press example above, if you complete 10 repetitions and place that bar back onto it's resting area, you've completed one set of 10 repetitions. Workouts usually consist of variable numbers of sets and reps, depending on your weight training goals.

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How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do?

bicep curl This is one of those mythical aspects of a weight training program that many people, including avid gym-goers, don't quite understand. In fact, this is one reason that many people choose to hire personal trainers or go for the "personalized weight training program for a small price" situation. If we just understand what exercises to do, how often and how much to do them, we'd be set, right? Right!

The number of sets you do is determined by the fitness goals you set out for yourself and the progress you've already made in your weight training program. Do you want to build muscle or increase the tone of your current muscles? Are you ready to take your strength to the next level? More on this topic below.

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How Much Weight Should You Lift?

It's always been generally accepted to use heavier weights and perform fewer repetitions (less than 8 or 10) when your goal is to get bigger and stronger. On the flip side, building some strength and maintaining your current muscular structure involves doing more repetitions (10-12) with lighter weights. What do I mean by lighter weights?

What I mean is, use a weight that's challenging enough for you to perform 10-12 times, but not so light that you could bust out 20 reps without a wince. This is simply too light and you're more likely to get bored than actually work your muscles. You should always try to have a bit of a struggle in your last 2-3 reps, no matter if you're trying to get huge or just toning your muscles (this includes you, ladies!).

By struggling for those last few reps, you're pushing your muscles to work harder than they normally do. This forces them to grow, compensating for that extra stress you're putting on them. Using weights that are too light will simply fail to do any of this - your legs, arms and butt will not tone up unless you challenge them! A key for any weight training program.

Personally I find it extremely important to mix these two methods whether you're a bodybuilder, marathon runner or stay-at-home mom. Your muscles are made up of so-called fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers...

Fast Twitch and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers

Fast twitch fibers are there for high power and low endurance. Any sort of forceful, explosive movement such as the upswing of your squat requires fast twitch fibers. Getting a great jump off the starting line in a race requires explosive movements, thereby requiring fast twitch fibers. The force doesn't last long, however, as the lactic acid starts to build up (this is the source of the "burning" that many people refer to).

man doing leg press Slow twitch fibers are those lower power, but longer-lasting strength fibers that work at a reduced intensity. These are important for sustained exercises or activities. In other words, more reps and lighter weights. Actions such as jogging, riding your bike and the never-ending stirring of the immiscible pot of home-made mayonnaise. Any activity requiring any sort of duration will involve slow-twitch fibers.

It's important for you to work both sets of fibers because this gives you a more complete workout. You're utilizing every aspect of your muscles and on a great path to creating a strong body that's ready for anything! It can be a fantastic addition to any weight training program.

As a word of advice, if you use this mix and match technique, only work one set of muscle fibers per workout. For example, don't do 15 reps of bench press at a lighter weight then do 6 reps of t-bar rows at a higher weight. This creates an imbalance and has the potential for injury down the road.

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So How Many Sets Should You Do?

This mainly depends on how far you've progressed in your weight training program. If you're just starting (or restarting after a long break) your weight training program, I would suggest doing one set of the high rep/low weight combination for each exercise during the first few weeks. Again, just as in any other point in your training routine, the last few reps should be pretty challenging for you to complete.

personal trainer The integrity of your weight training program may well rely on technique and form. With that said, always remember to maintain correct lifting form with each exercise. Coming out of this form can result in working the wrong muscles, hitting a plateau and worse, injuring yourself. If you feel that you can't finish the rep with correct form, you need to stop. This is where a spotter (someone to make sure you don't get stuck under the bar!) becomes extremely important, especially for power exercises such as the squat and bench press.

After the first few weeks to a month of performing only one set, try bumping it up to two or three sets for each muscle group. With upper back muscles, for example, perform 3 sets of a trap (trapezius) exercise, 3 sets of lat (latissimus dorsi) exercises and maybe 3 sets of rhomboid exercises.

But what if you want to be a bodybuilder? This is where the real heavy lifting comes in. If this is you, you need to get to the point of doing 15-20 sets for each muscle group per workout. Sounds like a lot? That's because it is! It's important to realize that this sort of intensity isn't required to maintain healthy living. Even doing one set per muscle group is consistent with living healthily - it just all depends on your fitness goals! With this in mind, not everyone has the genetic makeup to really be successful at bodybuilding. I'll leave this conversation for another time.

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My Sample Workout

Monday Chest and Back Muscles
Tuesday Rest (maybe some cardio stuff)
WednesdayArm and Shoulder Muscles
ThursdayRest with some cardio (jogging or something similar)
FridayLeg and Thigh Muscles
SaturdayRest and Recovery
SundayRest (maybe a round of golf)

With this little workout scheme, I've grouped together antagonizing muscles in each workout. I find this helpful to make sure that I'm maintaining a balance of development. In other words, I don't want my biceps much stronger than my triceps, nor do I want my chest to overpower my back muscles. This is a great way to avoid certain injuries (such as torn muscles). It's not good to have one muscle group much stronger than its opposing muscle!

This is the basic structure of my personal workout routine, but remember, it's geared towards my own personal goals. Everyone's different! The point of this page is to create your own weight training program. Using mine won't necessarily be useful or helpful.

It's just an example! Work your training routine around your own schedule and on your own terms.

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Here're some other techniques that are commonly used to help break up your weight training program into groups of exercises...


periodization graph Periodization. This one is great for beginners starting a weight training program because it helps with goal-setting, organization, motivation and helps prevent overtraining. It's been proven to work for even the most experienced athletes - - this is where any beginner should focus their energy.

The push/pull method.

Here you're simply going to separate each push and pull muscle to be worked on separate days. For example, pull muscles (biceps, back, abs and hamstrings) on Monday, push muscles (chest, triceps, quads and shoulders) on Tuesday, pull on Thursday, and so on.

Upper and lower body.

As the name implies, you'll be doing lower body on Monday, upper body on Tuesday, and so on. I'm not a real big fan of this one because it can be mentally and physically draining. I would only recommend this method if you're aiming to become a bodybuilder and plan on spending hours at the gym.

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Keep a Strength Training Log!

Maintaining a strength training log can be an essential asset to any weight training program. How?

It keeps you motivated! There's nothing more satisfying than seeing yourself progress. This is a way to keep yourself from quitting!

workout journal You don't waste time trying to remember how much weight you lifted. We've all been through this. It's extremely frustrating when you can't remember if you did 20 lbs or 25 lbs on the biceps curl last time. It really hinders your progress trying to experiment all over again. Furthermore, this experimenting wastes costly energy you could be using to challenge your muscles instead of figuring out where you stand.

It informs you of your weaknesses. Are you working a single muscle group too much? Are you hitting a plateau for a specific group? These little things stick out like a sore thumb in your workout log and makes it easy to break out of the plateau!

You learn from your mistakes. If your hurt your shoulder last time on the military press, write it down. Skip it in your next workout and supplement it with a different, less-stressful shoulder exercise. It's a great way to keep track of what you should and shouldn't do.

You'll have a plan!

It always feels good to have a plan of events. What are you going to buy when you get to the grocery store? In many ways, a strength training log works the same as a grocery list. You know what you're going to do, how you're going to do it, and how much you're going to do it!

Again, keeping a strength training log or journal can really be an asset to your weight training program. It's a great way to get over your struggles and keep yourself on the right track.

Now you've got all the information you need to get started! Browse around to some of the other pages around the site to find more information about specific muscle groups, exercises, techniques and nutrition.

Remember, weight training isn't the only key to being fit and healthy... nutrition plays a huge role. Don't forget to feed your body what it needs to build and maintain itself!

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