How To Write a Workout – Your Simple Workout Programming Template

how to plan a workout - simple workout programming templateThere’s all kinds of training programs and workout plans out there.  It’s easy to get lost in all of the ins and outs of what is a good program methodology.   There are times where a complicated workout scheme is the way to go, but sometimes you just want to come in, get a good, whole-body workout.  We use all kinds of different training methodologies at Relentless, depending on what an individual needs and has for goals.  But if you’re just looking for a great, scientifically-sound training session that is going to help you develop athletic strength, build some muscle, and have a little conditioning in there then here’s a simple workout programming template for you.

This training template is bare bones in that it doesn’t require any of the special toys that some, but not all gyms have.  If you have access to a simple set of dumbbells, a power rack, and a barbell then you can easily put a great workout together following this simple workout programming template.  Honestly, you don’t even need all of that, but the more tools you have the more options you have.

Let’s get to it.
Your Plan

Ok, artist I’m not.

The Athletic Warm-up

Warming up is key to a good workout.  Rather than do the same-old, same-old, we’re going to start with something that’s going to get your heart rate up a bit and actually help you, athletically.  For that end, I like some basic jump roping to the tune of about 50-200 reps.  Like I tell my athletes, if you’re good at jumping rope, shoot for 100-200.  If it’s a “three jumps and then swearing and resetting” scenario, go for the 50.

Then it’s on to a dynamic warm-up.  You’re looking at about five minutes here and the goal is to mobilize your joints, get your muscles warmed up, and reinforce or teach some basic athletic skills.  The reason why a dynamic warm-up is so much better than just old school hitting the treadmill or elliptical for five or ten minutes followed by some stretching is that this allows you practice movement and actually improve as an athlete.

We have a set dynamic warm-up for our Relentless clients, but basically here’s the bases I like to cover:  Lower Body Mobility, Upper Body Mobility, Core Stabilization, and Elasticity/Foot Speed.

To make it easy for you, I’ve put together a little form.  Pick 1-2 exercises from each column and do a couple of rounds in a circuit format to get ready to lift.

The Big Movement

Nick working that Band-resisted Deadlift

Now that you’re good and warmed up you’ll move on to your first lift of the day.  This is where you want to pick an exercise that will get you the most bang for your buck as well as be most technical, since you’re still fresh.  That means you’ll hit your squat or deadlift variation or get after a full-body lift such as a Sandbag or Olympic Lift Variation.

It’s hard to prescribe a rep range without more knowledge about the athlete or individual goals, but for the purpose of this discussion we’ll be looking at 15-25 working reps of the target exercise.  This can be something like 3-5 sets of 5, which is pretty common for us at Relentless, or 2-3 sets of 8-10 if you’re looking for something a little more high-rep.  The bottom line is you’ll be looking for something that’s going to build some serious whole-body strength and muscle, so choose exercises that focus on moving as many muscles as possible.

Pick one of the exercises below and hit it hard.

Pushing and Pulling for Muscle Building and Upper Body Strength

Now that you’ve worked on your big strength move, it’s time to build some upper body muscle and strength to support greater athleticism down the road as well as have you looking good.  What we’re going to do here is pick an upper body press and a lower body pull, taking care to arrange them so that they share a plane of movement (horizontal or vertical) so that you are developing good balance.  This attention paid to muscle balance will pay off down the road by helping your shoulders stay healthy.

To turn it up a notch we’re going to superset these two exercises, which means you’ll be hitting a set of one and immediately going to a set of the other before taking a brief rest.  This will help you save some time in the gym as well as keep your intensity up as one side of your body can recover a bit while the other is working and cut down on your overall rest time.

Pick a pairing of exercises and shoot for 20-40 total reps, so 3-4 sets of 8-12 or something in that range.

Huffy-Puffy and Gap-filling Stuff

Ok, so at this point you’ve got the big rocks out of the way and could easily walk out of the gym now and you’ve had done your body a lot of good.  However, for some goals it helps to do some assistance exercises or some conditioning.  That’s where some extra stuff comes in. This is where you pick a few basic bodyweight, kettlebell, or isolation exercises like curls and pressdowns.  I like to pick 2-4 exercises, put them in a circuit, and run through them a few times to get my bodybuilding/muscle building in while maintaining some conditioning.

You can pick your own exercises based on your goals, but I will offer some advice:

1.  Pick exercises that are actually useful to your goals.  Don’t do a random exercise just because you think you should or because it’s your favorite.  Do you want bigger arms?  Do some arm exercises.  Looking for stronger shoulders?  Bring on the raises.  Need some more core work?  This is the place.  Working on that handstand?  Practice it and do some extra shoulder and lat work.   Train with a purpose.

2.   Don’t over-do it.  This should be a part of the workout, not the whole thing.  8-12 total sets is probably enough for most people here.  For a long-term success strategy, you want to leave the gym still feeling good, not totally beaten down.


Finally it’s time to do some recovery and cool-down.  This is the part of the session where you shut down a bit and help your body turn down the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and get you into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system so the you can start rebuilding and preparing for your next session.

I recommend our clients hit the foam roller or spend some time doing some static stretching on tight areas or those that you’ve just worked, as your muscles are now warm, pliable, and ready to receive new information after a good workout.  This is also some time where you can do some really light cardio work to help burn off a little extra fat and calm your body down.

You can make training really complicated, and sometimes that is required for very complex goals.  However, for most people who just want a good workout then a simple template like this will cover all of the bases to build an athletic, high-performance physique and give you enough freedom to keep things interesting.

Want to see how I put together workouts using some of these principles using kettlebells?  Sign up on the right and grab your three FREE kettlebell workouts!

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