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Factors You Must Consider When Designing Your Workout

Before starting to put together a training program, the initial thing you need to assess is what your current goal is.  Are you looking to build muscle mass, reduce body fat, achieve maximum strength levels, increase power, increase quickness, or just maintain muscle mass over the long term?  The answer to this question is going to predict exactly what type of weight lifting program you should be using, and likely, what type of cardio training you’ll add in to complement your efforts in the gym.

Once the primary objective of the program is determined, then you need to look at the finer details that go into designing your workout.  By considering these inclusively, you will be sure you’re forming the perfect workout for yourself that will help you reach your goals.

Here are the main factors that you must consider as you go about designing your workout.

Workout Frequency

The first factor is the workout frequency.  Are you going to train two days a week? Three days a week? More?  Figuring out how many days of the week you want to spend in the gym should be one of your first decisions since that will lead to the decision of what type of split to use.  Obviously, if you want to be in the gym four days out of the week, you cannot opt for a full body program as that would not allow for at least one day of rest between working each muscle group. 

The second point to keep in mind when assessing frequency is your overall recovery ability.  It’s vital that you consider both muscular recovery, which is how quickly your individual muscle groups are able to recover between workouts, and CNS recovery ability.  Even if you find that you are not sore or fatigued in a given muscle group the day after training, if your CNS has not recovered from that session, you’re going to have a reduced strength output capacity.

A good way to assess CNS recovery is to ask yourself how you feel after a very intense day of training – say a hard leg workout.  If you were to go into the gym the next day and attempt a chest workout, how productive would you be? Would it be likely you’d be able to obtain a new max? Or, would you find that you’re not quite as strong as you typically would be if you had taken a full day off the day before?  If you answered the latter, that is CNS fatigue coming into play and a sure sign that many days of training in a row, even if they are different body parts, is not going to be a good set-up for you. Your CNS requires more down time between lifting workouts.  In this instance, a full body workout performed two- to- three days a week would be ideal.


Volume is another important factor that comes into play with any workout program you’ll design.  High volume programs are going to be best for those who have been training for a longer period of time. Their bodies are more capable of handling this volume, as are those who have amazing recovery ability and who are eating a hypercaloric diet to accommodate to this type of training.  A high-volume training program combined with a low-calorie diet is a sure way to achieve muscle loss quickly, so anyone looking for fat loss needs to be very careful of this issue.

The types of exercises you are mostly performing must be factored into the total volume of the workout aspect since compound lifts are going to be much more energy-demanding than isolation exercises.  To put this into perspective, imagine going into the gym and performing ten sets of bicep curls versus ten sets of squats.  Which will you feel more drained after?  The squats will be more draining because they are hitting a large number of muscle groups at once, while the bicep is isolating just one small muscle in the body.  The more ‘big’ lifts you use (bench press, deadlift, squat, row, shoulder press, etc), the less total volume the workout should be. 

Remember that to figure out sheer volume of weight lifted for a workout, you will multiply your total sets by reps by weight lifted, which gives you total poundage for the session.  Ideally, you want this poundage value to increase over time, but don’t get too hung up on that raw number. When you’re initially making adjustments to various programs, variables it can sway slightly.  It’s the long-term trend you want to monitor.

Rest Periods

The total rest periods you plan to use during your workout are another factor that must be integrated into the whole set-up.  Many individuals think that when aiming to obtain a goal of fat loss they should reduce their rest periods and perform more of a circuit-style weight lifting program, but this is not always the case.  It will depend on your overall diet as well, but maintaining intensity on the bar (that is the total amount of weight lifted) should be the first and top priority.  You may get a bit more calorie burn by taking a circuit training fashion style with your workouts, but this will come at the expense of a total strength loss.

When using a higher total weight lifted with your workouts, you will want to increase your rest periods between sets accordingly.  For sets in the higher rep range of between 10-12 reps, a rest period of 30-45 seconds will typically be what you want to aim for.  If you are shooting for 8-10 reps per set, then you’ll want to lengthen the rest period to somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds, while if you plan to use a rep range of 3-5 reps, really focusing on maximum strength, then you should be using a longer rest period, somewhere around 2-3 minutes.

Note that this is not always the rule, but the vast majority of the time it will be. At some points in your workout, rather than working on increasing the weight (if you aren’t ready to make that adjustment yet for example), you may instead work on decreasing the total rest taken as a means to continually progress.  As time passes, once you are able to generate the same amount of force over a shorter total period of time, you’ll likely find that bumping yourself up to the next weight level can become easier.

Periodization Set-Up

The last design factor to think about is periodization.  This means considering the overall month-to-month or yearly structure of your workout program and what it is that you want to accomplish.  For example, if you plan to compete at some point in the coming year, you will need to determine which months you are going to focus on building mass and which months you will need to switch the focus over to stripping the body fat off to get ready to step on stage.  It’s vital that you take a year-long overview into account so you give yourself enough time to transition between workout program types.

Most people traditionally focus on building muscle during the colder winter months where they are covered up more by winter clothing, thus being lean isn’t quite as important, then they move over and start cutting fat in the spring time so when beach season hits, they’re ready to show off all their hard work.

Athletes are another select group of individuals who will really take into account total periodization as they’re going to have to focus their training programs around playing seasons.  It would not make sense to be really focused on muscle building when they are playing the games that are most important since they will already be putting in a great deal of time on the court or field, compromising their total recovery ability.

Be sure with your periodization schedule that you also make room for at least a few weeks of downtime each year (preferably you would do this every 3-4 months) as this is vital for full recovery and to give your mind a break from the psychological demands of training.

By considering all of these variables as you formulate your workout, you can be sure you’re training in the best method possible and that you are going to be one step closer to your intended goals.

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