A Step-By-Step Guide For Constructing An Effective Workout!

Are you trying to design a workout program? But cannot find anything, anywhere about how to make an effective workout. Look no farther!

If you are new to the bodybuilding lifestyle or if you have been a bodybuilder for some time you may already realize that your muscular gains depend on your ability to control three variables: Training, Supplementation and Diet. The effect that each of these three variables will have toward the development of your physique will depend upon how closely each adheres to scientific and physiological principals.

In the article What supplements should you take? I detailed the basic supplements that form the solid basis of a bodybuilders supplementation program. In the article A step-by-step plan for body fat reduction! I detailed the underlying mathematical, physiological and scientific principals involved in designing a program geared to achieve maximal and safe fat loss.

This article aims to detail how to intelligently construct an effective weight-training program. I will present the underlying physiological and anatomical principals upon which effective weight training regimens are based. At the end of this article you will be able to intelligently create your own effective weight-training program suited to your specific goals and needs.


When designing a weight-training regimen several variables must be considered. These are:

    1. Current Health
    2. Personal goals
    3. Training Phase

For clarity I will discuss each in detail.

Current Health

The current status of your health is the first element that should be given consideration as this can affect secondary factors like recovery ability, susceptibility to injury and overtraining, and physical limitation.

For example, if a 35-year-old male with a history of back problems were to construct a weight training regimen the efficacy of heavy squats in his leg program or deadlifts in his back program would be questionable. Also, due to his age his recovery ability would be less, as would be his ability to gain strength quickly. This would be due to his decreasing levels of growth hormone and testosterone production. The decline in his androgenic hormone levels would leave him more susceptible to overtraining than his 21-year-old counterpart.

When constructing a weight-training regimen, it is essential that one consider individual history of illness and injury and avoid selecting exercises that will induce injury or irritate preexisting conditions.

Personal Goals

Your personal goals will determine the structure of your weight-training program. For example, do you wish to reduce bodyfat or add mass? Do you wish to remain the same size but gain strength? Perhaps your goal is to rehabilitate an old nagging injury. Whatever your personal goals may be, your training style and method will be adapted toward those ends.

Training Phase

Your training phase will depend upon your personal goals. Again, do you wish to gain muscle? Then your training phase will be mass building. Do you wish to reduce bodyfat? Then your training phase will be geared for fat-loss.

Regardless of training phase, knowledge of the human body and its parts is required. For maximum effectiveness you must understand what you are doing, why you are doing it and what results you expect to get from doing what you do.

The Human Body

When designing a weight-training regimen knowledge of the human body and its parts is essential. Being able to identify the major parts of the human body is needed in order to know what bodyparts to work, and what exercises serve to work those parts. When working midnight shift in a retail store I encountered a member of the cleaning staff who was about 5-foot-4 and weighed 130 pounds.

While arriving to work one evening he said to me "I can bench press 1000 pounds with my legs." Although I did not correct him at the time, it was obvious he was lying. When he accompanied me to the gym for a leg workout two days later he could not even squat 100 pounds! When I remarked that I was surprised he could not squat 100lbs when he can bench press 1000 pounds "with his legs", he told me that he is used to "only machines."

I told him I never knew machines could go up to 1000 pounds! I also told him that I never knew anyone who could "bench press" [a chest exercise] with his or her legs! A coincidence that we did legs right after his comment? Hardly! Unless you want to be like that guy and end up wasting your time in the gym, it is necessary to become familiar with the human body.

The Major Muscle Groups

The major muscle groups that bodybuilders need to be concerned with are:

Pectorals [Chest]:

  • Upper
  • Middle
  • Lower

Deltoids [Shoulders]:

  • Anterior [front]
  • Posterior [rear]
  • Medial [side]


  • Inner Head
  • Outer Head



  • Latisimus Dorsi
  • Erectors




  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves


Training Split & Frequency

After you have identified the body parts of concern to bodybuilders, you are able to determine what structures will be the subject of your workouts, when those workouts should occur, and in what order. For your benefit I recommend the following split:

    Day 1: Deltoids, Triceps
    Day 2: Back, Traps
    Day 3: OFF
    Day 4: Legs, Forearms
    Day 5: Chest, Biceps
    Day 6: OFF
    Day 7: OFF

The above schedule, as presented in The Ultimate Mass Building Workout, is deal for many reasons. Because each body part group is worked once per week, this split allows not only for maximum growth potential, but also for total recovery of a body part. This recovery time is needed because of the intensity associated with each workout. The split also allows for three days recovery in a seven-day period. Again, this has to do with intensity and the desire to avoid over-training. While the split above is ideal to avoid overtraining, it is not rigid. It allows the user flexibility. I shall explain.

In bodybuilding there is a principal known as priority training or the priority principle. The priority principal states that whatever bodypart is a priority to work get worked first. Thus on Day 1, if triceps were a weak bodypart or the goal of the bodybuilder was to put on muscle to his/her triceps, triceps would be worked first before shoulders. If shoulders were the priority, they would be worked first before triceps. This flexibility can be applied to every working day.

Here is brief explanation behind the split provided.

Day 1: Deltoids should be worked before triceps as triceps assist in deltoid pressing movements like seated shoulder presses and military presses. To gain maximum benefit from deltoid compound pressing movements, ancillary muscles must not be pre-exhausted.

Day 2: Back and trapezius are worked together because the trapezius is the upper back. Traps are also worked during lower back exercises like deadlifts and chin-ups and wide-grip pull-ups.

Day 3: Recovery from previous two days of intense exercise.

Day 4: Working forearms on leg day allows for the forearms to be worked when they are fresh. During upper body movements forearms may be partially pre-exhausted. Forearms are worked last as one requires their use as stabilizers when performing squats.

Day 5: Chest is worked before biceps as biceps do play a minor role in chest movements like dumbbell flyes and bench press. This allows chest to rest while biceps are being worked and will not result in bicep over training.

Day 6-7: Two days are required to recover from intense exercise.

The above split takes into consideration main and ancillary muscle groups. For example, working triceps on the same day as chest would be overtraining because triceps assist in heavy bench-pressing movements. In the same sense so do shoulders. Thus, the schedule calls for working these body parts on differing days so as to ensure optimal muscular stimulation and avoid overtraining.

Some bodybuilders have recommended working bodyparts such as chest and shoulders together but I never do this. Why? Exactly for the reason given above. Deltoids are worked extensively in pressing movements like flat bench and to a lesser degree in movements like incline bench. Virtually all chest-pressing movements involve the use of the deltoids. Even dumbbell flyes involve the deltoids as stabilizers. While their involvement is limited because of pectoral control over the weight, they still do have a role to play.

Shoulder injuries amongst bodybuilders are common. Thus to avoid injury and overtraining these bodyparts should be worked on different days in your training cycle. The same rationale applies to all bodyparts. To prevent injury and overtraining, be sure to reduce overlap as much as possible.

Have You Ever Injured A Rotator Cuff?

Not Sure.

Exercise Selection

Once you have familiarized yourself with main muscle groups as well as the days on which you are going to train those groups, it is necessary to select exercises according to your stated goals. If your goal is to add mass to your frame compound movements are the logical choice. If you are training to lose bodyfat, the incorporation of isolation movements in the higher repetition ranges is recommended.

For your benefit, compound and isolation movements are explained below:

Exercise Types

All exercise movements, regardless of type [compound or isolation] operate on a ratio basis. Put another way, all movements primarily work one target muscle or group and fiber type, and to a lesser degree another [or other] muscles or muscle groups or fiber type.

Compound movements primarily work one muscle group, and to a lesser degree work others. The term "lesser" is relative as "lesser" is still significant enough to elicit growth from ancillary muscles. Illustrated, the ratio of primary:ancillary stimulation with compound exercises would be 75:25 % respectively. Done in low repetitions compound movements work fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Isolation movements primarily work specific muscles within muscle structures [i.e. the medial deltoid in the deltoid complex]. Illustrated, the ratio of primary:ancillary stimulation from isolation exercises would be 95:5 % respectively. Done in high repetitions isolation movements work slow-twitch muscle fibers. Provided is a brief explanation of each movement type.


Compound movements are movements that work one specific muscle group more than others but also work the others to a significant degree. The best-known compound movements are the deadlift, squat and flat bench press. Here is a brief explanation of each of the "big three."

Flat Bench Press: The target muscle is the pectorals, but deltoids and triceps also share a significant amount of the work, as they assist in the movement.

Squats: A quadriceps exercise that also involves hamstrings, buttocks, lower back and abdominals.

Deadlifts: A lower back exercise that also involves the trapezius, deltoids, forearms, abdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks.

Compound movements are effective for inducing muscular hypertrophy when done in low repetitions because of the stimulation of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This stimulation leads to dramatic increases in muscle size and anabolic hormone levels within the body.


Isolation exercises exist to isolate specific muscles. Isolation exercises are effective for bringing out muscular definition. This is achieved by the stimulation of slow-twitch muscle fibers, and by the pumping of blood and nutrients into the target muscle by using high repetitions.

The ultimate purpose of an effective weight-training regimen is to train both fiber types. Depending upon training phase, which is dependant upon your goals, the ratio or percentage of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fiber training will call for adjustment [which is achieved by adjusting repetitions]. The effectiveness of any workout regimen is determined by its ability to adjust the ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch fiber training, in response to your goals. Once you have determined your training split, training frequency and have determined your training phase and exercise selection, you must calculate percentage values for your weight-training regimen.

Compound Exercises Vs. Specialization Exercises!
Learn more about compound exercises from the legendary Arthur Jones!
[ Click here to learn more. ]

1 Repetition Maximum

When reading popular fitness magazines one will see phrases such as "do 12 repetitions at 65%" or "do 7 repetitions at 80%." To many beginners this can be a confusing statement. The question is: 65 or 80 percent of WHAT? To answer this question many beginners often assume that they must "work harder" or "give it more effort." The reasoning is that "if it feels tough I must be working hard." However, this approach is flawed.

The difficulty with expressions and concepts like "work harder," "give it more effort" and "give it all you've got" is that they cannot be defined into concrete term. Put another way, they are totally subjective expressions and cannot be expressed in real-world, workable, terms. Expressions of the subjective type offer absolutely nothing material with which to work and therefore are of little use when attempting to make or measure progress in a weight-training regimen.

In the article Bodybuilding: Its true nature! I discussed the scientific method and outlined how and why bodybuilding is a science. The principles of the scientific method apply here.

When constructing a weight-training regimen, regardless of training phase, one must utilize mathematics to ensure that the program will be effective. To do this it is necessary to establish your one repetition maximum (1RM) for the exercises you have selected.

When formulating a workout plan for muscle gains 1RM is crucial. Thus the utilization of 1RM charts to determine 1RM is recommended.

To calculate your 1RM and to use the 1RM calculations as framework for the construction of a weight-training regimen, use the split provided above, selecting exercises appropriate to your training phase and record the weights you lift for one week. Click here to determine your 1RM!

When using your 1RM to construct a weight-training regimen, bear in mind the following:

Mass Building Set Guidelines

  • For movements that are more compound than isolation use four sets of increasing poundage and decreasing reps.
  • For movements that are less compound and more isolation use three sets of increasing poundage and decreasing reps.

Here are the percentages of 1RM you should use per set:

    Exercises using three sets: 1st: 75%, 2nd: 85%, 3rd: 95%
    Exercises using four sets: 1st: 65%, 2nd: 75%, 3rd: 85%, 4th: 95%

Isolation / Fat Loss Guidelines:

  • For isolation movements use four sets while increasing poundage and keeping repetitions the same.

Here are the percentages of 1RM you should use per set:

    Exercises using four sets: 1st: 45%, 2nd: 55%, 3rd: 65%, 4th: 75%

Bringing It All Together

I shall now provide an example of how to incorporate 1RM values into the construction of a weight-training regimen, regardless of training phase [i.e. mass building or fat reduction]. I will illustrate how poundage increases are achieved in a weight-training regimen and how you can use 1RM calculations to maximize your gains.

Subject Profile:
Sex: Male
Age: 21
Mass: 233lbs

Sample Lift Chart Of Compound Movements

Exercise Deadlifts Squat Flat Bench Press
Poundage (lbs) 200 300 250
Repetitions 10 10 10
1RM (lbs) 267 400 335

In the example the subject performed the three exercises listed and recorded his poundage. He then determined his 1RM by using a 1RM calculator.

Now that the 1RM calculation has been obtained the numbers may be used to calculate the poundage to be done in the following workouts. Consider the following calculations:

200lbs x 10 reps = 267 1RM
215lbs x 7 reps = 267 1RM
255lbs x 2 reps = 267 1RM

The above equations demonstrate that when constructing a mass building or fat loss weight training regimen it is important to gear your sets and poundage so that even though the poundage increases and the repetitions decrease as you move from set one to set three or four, the resultant 1RM value for each set remains the same. Put another way, you need, using a 1RM calculator, to adjust the variables [poundage and reps] so that the resultant [1RM] works out to be equal to the 1RM you initially calculated from your recorded poundage.

But what happens if the poundage values you had recorded previously and your newly recorded values differ? In other words, what happens if your 1RM for a given exercise is 267 pounds, and you are able the following week to do 255 for 3 reps instead of two? This is where step 3 of the scientific method [as outlined in Bodybuilding: Its TRUE nature!] comes into play. It states:

Its TRUE nature!
From reading theory after theory, you most probably have many questions about the 'sport' and your place within it. You may be, understandably, confused.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    STEP 3: Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

As mentioned, you recorded your lifts during the first week on the program and you calculated your 1RM. You also manipulated the dependent variables of POUNDAGES and REPETITIONS to keep it consistent with the independent variable 1RM. You then worked out at the gym and recorded how much you were able to lift for a specific number of sets and repetitions. To your surprise you can do 3 reps at 255 instead of 2 reps at 255. This means, simply, that you have increased your 1RM and that you must, therefore, adjust the percentages of each set and the rep and weight values for each set to maintain consistency with the value of your new 1RM.

To illustrate, consider the following:

Week Exercise Poundage Repetitions 1RM
1 Deadlifts 255 2 267
2 Deadlifts 255 3 278

In this example, when attempting to determine how much work should be done in the following workout, the layout would appear as follows:

Week 2
1RM: 278
Exercise: Deadlifts

1st set (65% of 1RM): 200lbs x 12 repetitions [278(.65)]
2nd set (75% of 1RM): 210lbs x 10 repetitions [278(.75)]
3rd set (85% of 1RM): 235lbs x 6 repetitions [278(.85)]
4th set (95% of 1RM): 265lbs x 2 repetitions [278(.95)]

Therefore, the following weeks deadlift requirements would appear as above, resulting from the new 1RM.

For your convenience I have included templates that will enable you to record your poundage and repetitions. I have also included a template that will allow you to track the value of your 1RM for the exercises you perform. By updating these you can know for sure if you are becoming stronger over time. Over the course of several months you will be able to visually chart your progress to illustrate your strength gains.

One subject using the principles outlined here constructed a mass building program and gained 30lbs of lean mass in four months and did so naturally. By using the principles outlined in this article to construct your own weight-training regimen, regardless of training phase, you too can make impressive gains.

Conclusion / Summary

The construction of an effective weight-training regimen necessitates the consideration of personal goals, pre-existing medical conditions and current health status.

Further, the application of the scientific method and physiological and mathematical principles will ensure that the weight-training regimen is sound and will be effective and useful toward the fulfillment of ones stated physique goals.

Exercise Bulking Guide

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Fat Loss Guide

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1 Rep Max List

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