How to design a personal training programme yourself

What should I do in a training session?
The programme has to be personalised, taking into account your physique, age, goals, diet, amount of time available and many other factors.

Of course, I can write my own recommendations, but there is someone who knows you better: yourself. If you don’t dare to design a programme yourself, we’ll go over the basics and you’ll see that it’s not that difficult.

Maybe you already go to the gym and do something. Are you getting any results? No injuries? Is everything going well? Then don’t change anything and keep working on the same programme. But if you are about to start training (for example, having read that exercises with weights are the best load for weight loss), it is better to make yourself a correct programme for the best results.
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How long do you work out?
How much time can you allocate to exercise? An hour every day? Fine. Half an hour every other day? Also fine. The less free time you have, the more important it is to have a competent and effective programme. On the other hand, you don’t need to plough through 2 hours of training – you can do a great workout in 30 minutes.

By the way, where are you going to train? Are you going to go to the gym or are you going to buy some iron at home? Or will you do only exercises with your own weight?

I advise beginners to do a full-body workout 2 or 3 times a week.

How do I choose my exercises?
There should be at least one exercise in each workout:

For the quadriceps (front surface of the thighs),
Gluteus and biceps (rear surface),
a variation of the bench press,
hand thrusts,
something for the abs.
Yes, you can fully work your body with just 4-5 exercises.

Choose one exercise from each group to your liking:

1. Quadriceps – squats, lunges, single leg squats, box jumps.

2. Glutes and biceps – deadlifts, gluteal thrusts, inclines. 3.

3. Press exercises (chest, shoulders, triceps) – overhead presses, bench presses, incline bench presses, floor push-ups, chin-ups on bars.

4) Pull ups (back, biceps, forearms): Front and back pull ups, pulling up on the low bar or the rings, abdominal pull downs.

5. Core (abs, lower back and other core stabilizers) – planks, side planks, twists on a fitball, ‘rock climbing’, leg curls.

By performing one exercise from each category in your workout, you cover the main muscle groups. Of course, there are many more variants of exercises for each muscle group, but there’s no need to complicate things at the beginning of the class.

Another exercise option for the quadriceps.

Change exercises – if you do the same ones week after week, you will bore both your mind and body. (An important principle of strength development is controlled surprise of the load).

For example, you do bench press on Monday – then do a standing press on Wednesday and push-ups on the uneven bars on Friday. Starting the week with a squat? Continue with lunges on Wednesday and finish with box jumps on Friday. These variations will help you make steady progress (and keep your workouts interesting).

And one more secret – muscles don’t grow in the gym. They grow afterwards when you rest. So give your body 48-72 hours to recover from your workout. By working out three times a week, you leave enough time for rest and growth.

How many sets to do?
I suggest doing 3-5 sets per exercise (after the warm-up sets).

All in all you should have 15 to 25 work sets for all exercises in a workout.

Start, for example, with 4 sets in each of the 5-6 exercises. Excessive volume can do more harm than good; or it can indicate that the intensity is too low (you are wasting time).

How many repetitions in each attempt?
To get more calories out of your muscles, work in the range of 8-15 repetitions. If you easily do more than 15 reps, the exercise is too easy (and ineffective) – increase working weight or switch to a more difficult variant.

For muscle gain it is better to vary the number of reps. For example I am currently using Mark Rippeto’s strength program from Starting Strength (2nd edition) (5 reps in a bout with more weight), but in a few weeks I will switch to this program:

Monday – few reps (5-8) and heavy weight.
Wednesday – a lot of reps (12-15) and low weight.
Friday – medium number of reps (8-12) and medium weight.

When you force your muscles to adapt to different loads, they only get stronger and bigger.

What is the effect of different repetition ranges?
The low range (1-5) develops strength by making the muscles more dense (myofibrillar hypertrophy).

A medium range (6-12) develops strength and mass in about the same way.

A large range (more than 12) develops strength endurance and adds volume (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).

By varying the number of reps you improve all qualities, achieving a balance between endurance, strength and power.

You can also work in all ranges in one exercise, increasing work weights.

How much rest between sets?
The excellent book The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises, which is simply packed with useful information on exercises and training programmes, gives the following formula for rest intervals depending on the number of repetitions:

1 to 3 repetitions: Rest for 3 to 5 minutes
4-7 repetitions: Rest from 2 to 3 minutes
8 to 12 repetitions: 1 to 2 minutes rest
13 repetitions or more: Rest for 1 minute or less

So, if you change the number of reps, the rest varies accordingly: the higher the weight (and therefore the lower the number of reps) – the more you need to rest between sets. Give your body enough time to recover between sets.


Further reading: ‘The ideal rest interval between sets’.

What weights should I take?
The simple answer: weights that allow us to perform a given number of repetitions with no energy left over at the end of each lift. How do you determine this? By trial and error. When you first start training or learning a new movement, be careful not to overexert yourself.

If you only do exercises with your own weight, make them more difficult as your form improves. Can you do 20 push-ups now? So now ordinary push-ups do not provide a significant load, choose a more difficult variant.

Have 20 squats with your own weight become too easy? Try squatting with a small weight (it may be a kettlebell or a bodybar) or start squatting on one leg. Constantly experiment and test yourself by increasing the intensity of your training.

How long should a workout last?
It’s best to aim for 45 minutes (and up to an hour in general).

If you stick to the recommended 15-25 work sets, you’ll get everything done in that time. Add 5-10 minutes of warm-up and a bit of stretching at the end – an hour is still enough.

If you spend much more time in the gym and still have energy left, then you’re clearly under-worked in terms of intensity.

What should you do if you don’t have 45 minutes? The following two techniques will only improve your form:

1. Alternating sets with less rest in between

Let’s say that today you have 4 sets of squats planned, followed by 4 sets of dumbbell presses. If you rest for two minutes between sets, that’s about 20 minutes, including the repetition time.

But instead, you can alternate your exercises: do a squat approach, rest for 1 minute and start the presses. Then rest again for a minute, the next set of squats and so on.

As you’re working out different muscle groups, some will ‘rest’ while others are working. And you will save time and add stress to your cardiovascular system. It’s a win-win situation.

Here’s an example of a complete workout:

4 sets of lunges alternating with 4 sets of dumbbell presses on the incline, rest intervals of 1 minute between sets.
A few minutes rest to catch your breath and the next set.
4 sets of straight legged deadlifts, alternating with 4 sets of wide grip pull-ups, rest intervals between sets are 1 minute
3 sets of planks, stretching – and off you go home!
2. Circuit training

With its help you can lose weight faster (i.e. end up spending more calories, taking into account the effect of EPOC – note Zohodnik), but be warned, you will have to sweat. The circuit consists of approaches to each exercise, which are performed one after another without pauses. If you manage it, you can repeat it one more time, and again, and again.

Here are a couple of programmes from my website:

Home circuit training for beginners

Squats without weights – 20 repetitions,
Push-ups – 10 repetitions,
Walking lunges – 20 repetitions,
One-armed bent-over pull (if you have a dumbbell or some apparatus at home) – 10 repetitions,
Plank – 15 reps,
Jumping Jacks – 30 repetitions.
Circuit workout at the gym

Back squat with barbell – 12 repetitions,
Lunges – 12 reps (if legs are too tired after squatting, instead of doing lunges work on machines: leg curls, leg bends, toe raises – all 12 reps),
Dumbbell press on an incline bench – 12 repetitions,
Jerk pull-up – 12 repetitions,
Arm curls with rope handle – 12 repetitions,
Lifting barbell on biceps – 12 repetitions,
Dumbbell side curls – 12 repetitions,
Jumping rope – 60 seconds.
In the gym, of course, it is more difficult to do a circuit workout, some of the apparatus may be busy. Choose a time when there are fewer people around.

Write everything down!
Make sure you keep a training diary! You have to register your progress in each exercise – whether you managed to increase the working weight or do more reps with the same, reduce the time of the whole workout. Write everything down so that you can compare it with your previous achievements.

Summary: how to design a programme
Let’s summarise by briefly repeating all the important points:

1. ALWAYS warm up – 5-10 minutes on a rowing machine, ladder or exercise bike, running, jumping, etc. (Read more: why you should warm up and warm down – Zohjnik’s note).

2. Choose one exercise each for the main muscle groups – quadriceps, thigh biceps and gluteus maximus, cor, press and hand pulls.

3. Perform each exercise in 3 to 5 sets of work.

4. determine the range of repetitions and appropriate rest intervals between sets. The heavier the weight and the fewer repetitions, the longer the rest in between.

5. Add variety, so you’ll never get bored! Vary the exercises, vary the number of sets and reps. Increase the efficiency and cardio-vascular load by alternating exercises and circular workouts.

6. Try to stay within an hour.

7. Stretch AFTER exertion.

8. Write everything down in a training diary.


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