How to Design a Resistance Training Program

Healthy Living

How to Design a Resistance Training Program

This post originally appeared on DiabetesStrong

I firmly believe that resistance training is one of the best tools to reach your fitness goals, and is something that almost everybody should incorporate into their fitness routine. However, if you are new to resistance training, it can be a daunting task to get started. What exercises should you do? How often should you do them? How many sets and reps? How do you even perform the exercises correctly?

In this post, I will show you how to design an effective workout routine that will help you reach your goals, no matter if you are just starting out or are an advanced lifter.

Get comfortable in the weight room

I know that many people find the weight room to be an exotic and slightly intimidating place, inhabited primarily by big grunting guys in sleeveless shirts.

So, first things first: the weight room is for everybody, whether you are starting out, starting over, are a man or a woman! You wouldn’t blink an eye if one of the big grunters used the cardio equipment and, believe me, no one will bat an eye if you decided to pick up some iron.

I’ve never seen anybody look down at somebody who worked their butt off in the weight room, so let’s just put our insecurities and self-consciousness aside and have some fun getting stronger with resistance training.

Designing a beginner program

If resistance training is completely new to you (or you just haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years), I suggest you start out with the fundamentals. What I mean by that is doing 2-3 full-body workouts per week, focusing on strengthening your largest muscle groups (we have several workout videos with full-body gym workouts in the workout video library).

If you work out more often than that, you need to train different body parts each time to ensure that you are not working the same muscles two days in a row, but in the beginning, focus on the major muscle groups every workout.

Later on, you can start sculpting specific body parts that may be lacking, but you need to build your foundation first.

The main body parts and muscle groups that you would want to work are:

Legs: Smith machine squats, dumbbell squats, sumo squats, vertical or horizontal leg press, lunges, and Romanian deadlifts

Back: Assisted pull-up, lateral pulldowns, cable or machine rows, T-bar rows, and extensions

Chest: Bench press, incline press, chest press machine, machine flys, assisted dips (leaning forward), push-ups

Shoulders: Military press, machine shoulder press, lateral raises, front and side raises, rear delt machine

If you have the time for it, you can add in a few sets for the arms and core, but you use these muscles a lot when you work the larger muscle groups, so you really don’t have to.

Triceps: Rope pulldown, machine dips, assisted dips, dumbbell kickbacks

Biceps: Dumbbell curls, cable curls, preacher curls, machine curls, concentration curls

Core: Crunches, plank (variations), leg raises, bicycle crunches

I suggest you design a workout with 6-7 exercises and do 3 sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise. That should take you about an hour to get through.

Stick with your routine for 4-6 weeks and try to increase the resistance or rep range week by week, as you get stronger. A good way to ensure that you make progress is to write down how much you lift on each exercise and try to add 3-5 percent to that the next time you work out. This is possible in the beginning, but after a few weeks, you will, of course, have smaller and smaller weight increases every week.

Designing a more advanced program

When you have built up a strong foundation, you can consider working different body parts each time rather than doing full-body workouts. The split will really depend on how many days you’ll be working out. I like a 5-day split where I do legs twice a week, back & biceps once, chest & triceps once and shoulders once. It looks like this:

Day 1 – Legs (low-rep)

Day 2 – Chest & Triceps

Day 3 – Rest

Day 4 – Back & Biceps

Day 5 – Legs (high-rep)

Day 6 – Shoulders & Abs

Day 7 – Rest

I do legs twice a week because it’s the largest muscle group and the one that gives the most bang for your buck, both when it comes to increasing insulin sensitivity and building a strong physique.

Choosing exercises

Focus on large “compound” exercises that work several muscles at once, especially in the beginning. Squats or leg presses will work your entire lower body and core, which makes those exercises great for any workout routine.

The most important thing is to do the exercises correctly and to push yourself. Every good gym should offer a free introduction by a personal trainer who can show you how to do the main exercises. You should definitely take advantage of that or hire a trainer for just a few sessions to show you the ropes and get you into resistance training.

Suggested next post: How Resistance Training Affects Your Blood Sugar