How to Design a Workout Program

Committing to a workout program can seem overwhelming. Whether you’re a total newbie just getting started or a seasoned athlete looking for a change, narrowing down the countless options — not to mention weeding out the fads — feels like a daunting task.

If you want to achieve a healthy lifestyle, what you need is a well-constructed workout program that you can stick to. This part is vital because consistency is key. You want to be realistic with your expectations and what amount of time you're willing to dedicate so that you can set challenging but reasonable goals. 

Despite having different program options and various training approaches to choose from, an ideal program should be tailored to address your needs and meet your goals. In other words, the best workout program is the one that’s specifically designed for you.

man climbing rope

A workout program that takes you through grueling 90-minute sessions five days a week might deliver insane results. But if you can't feasibly stick to that long-term, it's a moot point.

As you undergo the process of creating your own workout program, you’ll learn to think like an expert.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to create a successful workout program that will help you reach your specific fitness goals and make you a stronger and healthier version of yourself.

How to Design a Workout Program

1. Get Specific About Your Goals (And Write Them Down!)

The first step to designing the most effective workout program is by asking yourself a very important question: "What are my goals?" 

Do you want to add mass, lose body fat, or maintain? Are you just trying to get in shape as a retired athlete or are you in the offseason looking to bounce back to competition shape? Maybe you're a stay-at-home parent or a busy professional who's simply looking to improve their fitness a little bit. 

Do you want to increase your strength or improve your mobility? Does your sport require something specific, such as better explosiveness for an Olympic weightlifter?

We ask you these questions to help you get thinking about what you want. And don't be afraid to get specific. Additionally, write your goals down. Research has demonstrated time and time again that people who write down their goals are likelier to achieve them.

notebook and pen

Doing these two things will ultimately make your workout program more effective.

Whatever your workout program goal may be, the key is to design the routine that will work best for you.

2. Begin to Draft a Workout Program Based on Your Goal

The type of programming you'll follow will depend on your goals, experience, and guiding philosophy.

For example, if you want to get rid of some stubborn body fat, your programming will look different from someone who's focused on building muscle. (Side note: This is why losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously isn’t that easy. It's possible, just not easy.)

Let's get one thing out of the way: Whether you're a beginner or an experienced athlete, you should incorporate both cardio and strength training into your workout program. This goes beyond aesthetics. It's about health. Bear in mind, though, that cardio doesn't have to mean jumping on the treadmill.

But having both is important. Cardio exercises without strength training may result in shrinking muscle mass, and that's hardly ever a good thing. 

Now, let's get a little more specific. Here are a few examples. This information isn't exhaustive but is rather meant to set you on the right path.

If You're Trying to Shed Body Fat

Try focusing on HIIT — high-intensity interval training. 

HIIT tends to combine the best of all worlds: cardio, explosiveness, and resistance training. You need all three to successfully build muscle and fight fat (and maintain it).

man doing burpee

HIIT calls for short bursts of intense exercise followed by short periods of rest. Think of something like a tabata: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for eight rounds, four minutes total. 

Here's an example:

  • 20 s high-knees
  • 10 s rest
  • 20 s burpees for max height
  • 10 s rest
  • 20 s lateral jumps
  • 10 s rest
  • 20 s sprint in place
  • 10 s rest

Repeat once more.

You can swap in other exercises, of course. But the reason this is so effective is because of how demanding it is on your body. You get max calorie burn, and resistance training, and a serious cardio workout. 

If You're Trying to Build Muscle Mass

Grab a barbell. Grab a kettlebell. Seriously, just grab something heavy and lift it. 

This is how you build muscle. 

Powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and bodybuilding are all good paths to take if you're looking to add strength mass to your frame. In order for your body to build new muscle, you have to stress the muscle you currently have. 

This creates microtears in the muscle. When you spend time resting and recovering (which you should be doing!), those tears heal over. This is what causes our muscles to get bigger. 

So, those two-pound dumbbells you've been lifting? It's awesome that you're moving your body, but they're not going to cut it if you want to build muscle. You need to go heavier and increase your weight progressively over time.

We want to be very clear here. Just because this is the approach for building muscle does not mean it won't also help you burn fat. In fact, weightlifting is an excellent method for keeping you lean. And that goes for you too, ladies.

woman exercising with dumbbells

However, we're talking about zeroing in on your goals and getting as specific as possible.

3. Commit to a Schedule, Frequency, and Volume

How much do you need to train to see results? How many days a week? Hours per day? What about sets and reps? 

The bad news? There's no one-size-fits-all answer. The good news? There's no one-size-fits-all answer. Again, it depends on your goals and what you're willing and able to commit to.

Very generally speaking, you want consistency and regularity. So, you want to avoid skipping the gym all week and then "making up for it" with a three-hour session on Sunday. It's better to spread this out into 30-45-minute sessions scattered throughout the week. 

Sets and Reps

You have lots of options here! Don't let that scare you, though, and certainly don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. 

You know by now that tabatas are a simple way to organize your workout programs. If you're focusing on powerlifting, the 5x5 program is very common and effective. 

male athlete performing deadlift

If you're an Olympic weightlifter specifically, take a look at Prilepin's Chart, if you haven't already. It tells you everything you need to know about what weights to lift based on your one-rep-max, and for how many reps. No guesswork involved.

4. Adapt and Adjust Your Workout Program Over Time

Three months from now, the exact programming you're following today probably won't be challenging. This is why you'll need to increase the difficulty over time. 

If you're using Prilepin's Chart, this is pretty simple, because your numbers will increase as your one-rep-maxes increase.

athlete wearing sunglasses snatching

If you're doing 5x5, you consistently add weight over time until you start failing reps, at which point you back off.

For those focusing on leaning out, there are countless ways to increase difficulty. For instance, you can start doing your tabatas with added weight. Think light dumbbells or kettlebells. You can also go for longer than four minutes or do multiple tabatas consecutively. 

The options go on forever. The point is to continue stressing your body so that you continue making progress. If 20 seconds of high-knees are no longer challenging, you need to move faster, do them for longer, or add weight. 

You get the idea.

As you go through these steps, you'll start developing your own workout program. Or, at the very least, it'll make it far easier for you to select a pre-made workout program online that'll suit your needs and goals. 

Atlas Wearables is there with you every step of the way. Apply today and learn how we can help.