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How to structure a workout program

  • Estimated Read Time: 4 min
  • Posted: 25/09/18
  • Category:
  • Author: Chris Kinsella

So you’ve decided to start going to the gym but when you arrive you realise you haven’t got a clue what to do.  Now you’re here! You have no workout program so you decide that you’ll just stick with what you know – 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 on the cross trainer and 10 on the bike.

Not only is that a little dull but you are missing out on a huge opportunity to utilise all the treats the gym has to offer – and more importantly the results that these can provide.

So here is workout builder 101. The basics of how to structure a program, maximising results in the time you have available.

Getting started – The basics

There are 4 key variables you must utilise in order to keep your program challenging – Repetitions (reps), sets, weight and rest.

Reps – How many times you complete a given movement each workout.

Sets – A group of reps you perform separated by a period of rest e.g. 3 sets of 12 reps.

Rest –How long in time you rest in between sets.

Weight – The total load you lift in any given repetition or set.

How you manipulate these 4 variables will affect both the intensity and results of your program.

For strength – The best rule of thumb for strength is low reps (1-5), high(ish) sets (5 or more), longish rest (2-5 minutes) and heavy weight (the heaviest you can).

For weight loss – You will want to keep your heart rate higher so you’ll do more reps (8-12), less sets (2-4), shorter rest (45-60secs) and lower weight than for strength (60-70% of your maximum).

For endurance – Endurance requires high reps (15-25) medium number of sets (3-5), short rests (20-30 seconds), and low weight (40-50% of your max).

There’s nothing wrong with manipulating any of the variables from workout to workout. If you complete all your reps of a given exercise you can add another set, increase the weight, reduce the rest or add more reps. Weight is the  easiest variable to change.  However, if you get to a sticking point on one of the exercises, changing one of the other variables will add intensity, as well as ensuring you continue to progress.

How to structure your program:

Work your biggest muscle groups first – chest, back and legs.  Follow with shoulders, then arms and finish on your abs. Your abs are utilised on every exercise where you need to stabilise your body. This is mainly free weight exercises as machines do the stabilising for you.

If you are new to exercising then 2 sets of 12 reps with 60 seconds rest inbetween is a good starting point.  Your program may look like:

Dumbbell bench press – 2 sets of 12 reps

Lat Pull down – 2 sets of 12 reps

Squats – 2 sets of 12 reps

Lunges – 2 sets of 12 reps

Barbell shoulder press – 2 sets of 12 reps

Cable tricep pushdown – 2 sets of 12 reps

Dumbbell bicep curl – 2 sets of 12 reps

Abdominal crunches – 2 sets of 12 reps

This will hit your whole body in one go and take around 30-40 minutes. As you progress you can then start to manipulate the variables – rest, reps, sets and weight.

What about cardio?

Whilst there is great debate in the fitness world about when to do cardio, it really is personal preference. Cardio is a great calorie burner and can be performed with more intensity if done when you are fresh at the start – but then you probably won’t be able to lift as much weight. Decide on your goals and then try both ways and see what works for you.

Hopefully this post has given you the ability to structure a workout program. If you found it useful share it with your friends and groups or leave a comment below. It’s one of the most confusing aspects of training but easy once you know how.

If you are wanting to automate the process though, the Robofit app is coming soon. Planning to launch in late November 2018 this app will not only create you a program but manipulate all the variables discussed in this post, ensuring you continue to progress with every workout.

We are currently looking for beta testers for the app. If you would like to be selected as a potential tester and we will be in touch.


  • April 7, 2019 at 7:35 pm
    Lizzie says:

    Thank you for the terrific post

  • April 12, 2019 at 4:00 pm
    here says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post

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