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)