How to design your own strength program

How I Design My Strength Training Workouts

How to design your own strength programStrength training can be challenging for many people, especially those who are new to exercise. If you have a gym membership, how easy is it to just jump on a treadmill? The weight room can be very intimidating too, especially when you’re around others who are fit or men who are muscular. Surprisingly enough, I am starting to see more and more women in the weight room. Last week when I was doing a strength workout, all four squat racks were being used by women. It was awesome!

My Top Five Reasons to Strength Train

  • More Mental Energy. My favorite days of the week are my strength training days. Lifting weights clears my mind the best out of all the exercise I do.
  • It Changes Your Shape. Nothing changes your shape better than lifting weights. Cardio will help decrease the number on the scale, but if you just focus on cardio, you have a good chance at losing muscle mass.
  • It Increases Your Metabolism. It’s simple, more muscle = more metabolism. Muscle burns more calories than fat, therefore helping you burn more calories throughout the day.
  • It Increases Your Self-Confidence. I lift weights for many reasons, but a big reason is feeling strong and confident. I can carry all my groceries in with one trip. I don’t hesitate trying new things. Most of all, I feel like I have the strength to protect myself or others in any situation.
  • Your Clothes Fit Better. Have you ever noticed that your weight hasn’t changed, but your clothes fit much better? This happens because you have you have lost body fat, not necessarily body weight. Muscle simply takes up less space.

How many days should I strength train? 2-3 times a week.

To truly see your body change it’s shape, you need to strength train at least two days a week. Your workout should target your entire body instead of just focusing on leg exercises or arm exercises. Ideally, 3 days a week can give you the best results.

How I design a program:

1.) Dynamic Warm Up (5 minutes)

2.) Core Exercises (5 minutes)

3.) Total Body Strength Exercises (30-60 minutes)

4.) Finisher (5-15 minutes)

1.) Dynamic Warm Up: Can you warm up by lightly moving on an elliptical or walking on a treadmill? Sure. But, that doesn’t necessarily prepare your body for a strength training workout. You should focus on all areas of your body: ankle mobility, hip mobility, thoracic spine mobility, shoulder mobility, as well as stability exercises to truly prepare your body for lifting weights. Your warm up is also a great indicator of how your body is feeling. If something isn’t feeling right in your warm up, it might be a sign you shouldn’t do a specific exercise that day. Read here for a basic warm up. 

2.) Core Exercises: I pick 1-2 core exercises to start my strength routine. Complete at least 2 sets of each exercise. For ideas, click here. 

3.) Strength Exercises: Now, on to the best part of your workout! This is where you can truly see your body change. Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing your program:

  • Choose a weight that you can do with good form, but challenges you. If something is easy, most likely your body won’t change. However, if you are just beginning a strength training program for the first time in years, pick up a weight that feels comfortable and make sure you are doing the exercise correctly before trying to challenge yourself.
  • Do you feel the exercise in the right place? When coaching clients, it’s easy for them to add weight to an exercise. But, if they aren’t feeling it in the right spot, it could be pointless. For example, if you are doing a lat pulldown but feel it all in your arms, you aren’t working the main muscle, your back. Most likely your weight is too heavy. Be sure to listen to your body movements and make sure you are feeling it in the right place.
  • Choose compound exercises over isolating exercises if you can only make it to the gym three or less times a week. EX: do a squat to work your legs vs. a leg extension machine. You’ll work more muscles and stabilize your core.
  • Add isolating exercises at the end of your workout if you have more time.

Each strength exercise is constructed on five main movement patterns: push, pull, squat/lunge, hinge and single leg exercises to work on your stability. This is a simple approach to creating a total body workout. Push and pull exercises have two movements: vertical or horizontal. For example, a push up or bench press is a horizontal push where a vertical push is an overhead press. You can choose one movement or both when designing a program.

Choose 1-2 strength exercises in each category:

Push: bench press, push ups, overhead press, dumbbell bench press, incline press, landmine press.

Pull: pull ups, cable rows, dumbbell rows, barbell rows, lat pulldowns, body weight inverted rows (using a TRX)

Squat/Lunge: back squats, split squats, elevated split squats, front squats, walking lunges, reverse lunges

Hinge: hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, deadlift variations, cable pull through, good morning

Intermediate-Advanced Exercises add a Single Leg Movement: Step ups, single leg deadlift, single leg glute bridge, single leg squat

4.) Finisher: If your schedule only allows you to exercise 2-3 times a week, I’d suggest doing a 5-15 minute interval workout at the end of your strength workout. Not only will you get the benefits of the higher intensity exercise, but it will help create more of a metabolic afterburn so your metabolism is elevated several hours after your workout. If you can exercise 4-5 times a week, you can complete an interval workout on a non-strength training day and complete a few isolating exercises for a finisher. For the past few months, I have been focusing on glute finishers where I’ll do several isolating glute exercises to finish my workout with a band.

Looking to start strength training? Try a basic workout here!

Dynamic Warm Up

Core Exercises

Strength Exercises

  1. Hip Thrust – 3 sets of 20 reps
  2. Dumbbell Single Arm Row – 3 sets of 10 reps
  3. Squat – 3 sets of 10 reps
  4. Push Ups – 3 sets of 10 reps
  5. Step up – 3 sets of 10 reps

Finisher: 8 rounds of rowing (30 seconds work/30 seconds rest)

Popular personal development books

Six Books That Have Changed My Life – Better Health & Relationships

I have been drawn to personal development books for the last five years. As a matter of fact, until recently, it’s all I read! Out of all the books, I wanted to share six books that have ultimately changed my life for the better.

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Stick to a budgetThis book has completely changed my life as far as my relationship with money. While I always valued saving money every month for a rainy day, I often would spend mindlessly. I wasn’t very aware of prices at the grocery store, constantly dined out and I spent money at Nordstrom every single month…just because. After reading this book, I realized I never really knew where my money. How much was I spending on groceries, dining out, the mall or putting into my savings account? I also realized I wanted to start traveling more, but how could I afford it? Read how I transformed my budget to start traveling more here.

I read this book in 2011 and ever since then, I have made time to create a monthly budget every single month. In my monthly planner, I write down how much money I want to save in my savings account and travel savings account, as well as calculating how much money goes towards groceries, paying bills, gas, restaurants/shopping & misc. spending like toilet paper, dog food or unexpected expenses. I know where every penny goes every month. I’m not perfect with my budget and I don’t follow all of Dave’s tips. He’s a firm believer in an envelope cash system. I use my credit card for everything since it’s a cash rewards card, but I make sure I pay it off every month. Since I have unlimited bank transfers, I track my expenses as they come in and simply transfer money to my credit card from my checking account as if my credit card was a debit card. If you are wanting to learn how to be on top of your finances every month, read this fantastic book.


The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

This book has changed my relationship with my husband and loved ones. It’s so intriguing how the author breaks down the five ways individuals receive/”feel” love. My love language: acts of services. I love it when my husband cooks dinner, washes my car or helps around the house. This is where I feel love the most. My husband’s love language: quality time. He loves it when I give him my undivided attention. We used to get in small arguments because I have a bad habit of playing on my cell phone or computer. I actually used to get mad at him because he would get mad at me. I always thought, “what’s the big deal about being on my cell phone?” After reading this book, I understood the deep meaning behind his frustration…he just want to spend quality time together! Now I make a conscious effort to speak his love language every week.


The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

how to break bad habitsThis book has helped me in many ways in life but mostly my relationship with food. You’l learn how a habit starts, turns to autopilot then how to break the bad habit. The author explains it’s all about identifying your habit loop (cue-routine-reward). Your cue & reward will never change, but it’s your routine that needs to change in order for you to change your behavior.

What causes my food cravings? I learned a few things that pinpointed why I get cravings for sugar or comfort food by identifying the cue, my routine and reward. What’s my cue? The two most common things: what’s my mood & who am I with? Most of my young adult life, I always searched in my parents’ pantry for junk food when I was bored. I also usually consumed junk food with my family. It’s something we have always bonded over…and still do. What’s my reward? My reward was usually the desire of doing something fun together (good food = good time) or if I was eating out of boredom, I was looking for a distraction. Find a new routine – I had to ask myself what other things could I do when I’m bored that doesn’t involve eating & what other things are fun that don’t involve food with my family? I learned we could save our favorite foods for special occasions.


Food Freedom Forever by Melissa Hartwig

I’ve blogged about my Whole30 experience here. But, what happens after you complete a Whole30? How can you introduce your favorite comfort foods back into your life without them causing negative side effects or worse, feeling out of control with your eating? Melissa creates a guide for success. What I enjoyed most about this book is it teaches you how to identify when you are starting to slip back into old habits. This will happen to anyone. She provides the four most common ways people fall off track with their healthy eating, but offers great tools to get back on track. When I completed the Whole30 in January, I felt great for three solid months. I didn’t have any strong urges for sweets, but enjoyed something when I really wanted it. It wasn’t until after my trip to NYC (aka dessert paradise) where I noticed I had moments when I was eating food that really wasn’t worth it. Sure, the food choices tasted good, but they truly fell into the average category instead of the “wow” category. Plus, the more I continued to put these things in my body, the harder it was to control my cravings. Once I noticed my cravings were really starting to elevate, I knew it was time to do a Whole30 reset to get back into check.


The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

how to improve your willpowerThis was one of the first personal development books I read and it still is one of my favorites. A Stanford professor, Kelly McGonigal, provides the science behind willpower, the mental traps most of us struggle with and other factors that relate to our self-control. Best of all, she gives practical steps on how to become more mindful of your actions & how to strengthen your willpower for lifelong changes. Each chapter has a recap of action steps. This book doesn’t just focus on weight loss or better health, but hits all aspects of life.


The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

As it states on the back of the book, the author “reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us joy and create needless suffering.” He explains the four agreements: don’t take things personally, be impeccable with your word, don’t make assumptions and always do your best. It’s true, when you follow these agreements, you simply feel happier. I related to all four agreements. What happens if I don’t make assumptions about a relationship? What if I told myself I did my best? What happens when I don’t take things personally? This book was an eye opener and has really helped me transform my thoughts about myself, my relationships with friends & family, my work environment and even being around strangers.