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How to Create a Workout Plan, With Advice From Personal Training Experts

Whether you’re working towards a specific goal — like a marathon or a deadlift personal record — want to get into better shape or just want to make fitness a consistent habit, you need a workout plan. If you splurged on a new treadmill, a spin bike or a rowing machine that now sits idly in the corner, collecting dust or piles of clothes, you’re not alone.

One 2012 study conducted by a market research company for found that 73% of people who set a fitness-related New Year’s resolution gives up before meeting their goal. Why? Responses were scattered between a few different reasons:

  • 42% of people said it was simply “too difficult” to follow a workout regimen
  • 38% of people said that once they fall off a program, it’s too hard to get back on it
  • 36% of people said it was hard to find the time to dedicate to their fitness goals

These are all common obstacles when making exercise a consistent habit, and even if you do find yourself in the gym most days sometimes it can feel like you’re working out aimlessly without a concrete goal in mind. Furthermore, it can be easy to fall into workout slumps where you’re repeating the same moves and workouts all the time, which can get boring.

The solution to nearly all of these qualms? A thoughtfully strategized workout plan.

In this piece we’re going to cover:

  • What is a workout plan?
  • Who can benefit from a workout plan?
  • Tips for creating and maintaining a workout plan, with advice from certified personal trainers

What is a Workout Plan?

A workout plan is a regimented workout routine that you create, implementing all the styles of movement you like — from cardio to strength training, powerlifting, barre, pilates, stretching and more, depending on whether you have a goal or not, and if you do, what that goal is.

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You can plan your workouts for a few days or even up to a few months out depending on what you’re working towards – and they can serve as a motivational reminder, a way to get excited about your visit to the gym, or even a rock-solid routine you agree to stick to no matter what.


Who Could Benefit From a Workout Plan?

If any of the following scenarios fits you and your current circumstances, you could benefit from creating a workout plan.

  • You want to reach a lofty physical goal like running a marathon or lifting a heavy amount of weight — these goals require training, building strength and gaining endurance, and you can only do that with consistent, strategic workouts.
  • You’re a person who likes going to gym, but isn’t quite sure of what to do once you’re there.
  • You’re new to working out and love structure and goals in other areas of your life.
  • You’re intimidated by the gym environment, and want to know exactly which moves you’re going to do, and for how long, every time you walk in.
  • You love efficiency, and want to ensure the time you spend in the gym is being used as efficiently as possible.

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How to Create a Workout Plan

Certified personal trainers are workout plan experts, but since not everyone can afford 1-1 sessions with them, we decided to consult a handful of them for this piece so you can use their wisdom to create a productive workout routine for yourself. Here were the tips they had to offer, and the advice they had for anyone — whether you’re an advanced gym rat or brand new to the fitness scene.

1. Start With Self-Reflection

The first step in creating a workout plan? Deciding why you want one and are creating one in the first place.

PJ Shirdan, the Founding Coach at FightCamp and NASM and TRX Certified Personal Trainer explained that “Self-reflection is key! Understanding yourself, your goals, your level of commitment, any limitations, and even things like what type of accountability you can have access to will help you to build a plan that will be successful.”

He noted that when he’s creating a plan for an athlete, he looks into everything from their workout history and current fitness level, to their time and budget too. “A fit, former college athlete, who is in their 30’s and currently training for a marathon, will have different weekly, daily, monthly milestones to hit. A sedentary person in their 50’s, looking to get into shape, will progress at a different pace.”

Josh Gardner, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and CEO and Founder of Kickoff, a remote personal training platform, noted that nailing down a fitness goal and targets is “essential” and “will help you assess how much cardio/strength training you need.”

Read More: FightCamp Boxing System Review


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2. Craft a Smart Goal, If You’re Using One

Having a concrete goal in mind is helpful for crafting a workout plan, but it’s certainly not essential. Your goal can simply be getting stronger, faster and more fit as time goes on. You can create a cardio and strength regimen that’ll help you do just that, without an endpoint or specific metric in mind you’re trying to hit.

However, if you’re going to use a defined goal, craft it smartly. One of the biggest reasons people fall off the wagon, so to speak, when it comes to working out is they create goals that are far too lofty for their current fitness level, and feel impossible, or they bite off more than they can chew.

Shirdan explains that “ALL goals should be SMART Goals.” Smart is actually an acrostic.


Before choosing a workout goal based on what seems trendy, or will be impressive to others, consider what’s in line with your current interests, what seems interesting to you, and which challenge is feasible in terms of your current lifestyle.


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3. Nail Down the Logistics

Logistics are what make the world go round. After you’ve done some introspective thinking, and decided on a goal, you’ll need to work out the logistical kinks in your grand workout plan. The who, what, when, where and why — except you already have your why.

Who? Who are you working out with, if anyone? A personal trainer? A friend? A partner? Having a motivational buddy can be super helpful in sticking to a workout plan, but isn’t essential.

What? What types of exercise will you be doing? Strength and cardio? Yoga? Rock climbing? Nail down exactly what movements you’re going to do in each workout, or which classes you’re going to attend for each session.

Kathryn Alexander, a Certified Personal Trainer with a masters degree in exercise physiology, recommends “doing a full body training session if one is training 3 days or fewer. From here, you have a list of crucial movements and exercises you need. Then you divvy those out according to how you split your sessions.”

She went onto explain “If you are doing 3 days per week, you’ll get a squat, push, pull, trunk and carry exercise in every session.”

Read More: The Best Ab Exercises

When? This is an important bullet point. WHEN are you going to dedicate the time to working out? Time constraints can be a major limiting factor for many people, so factoring this into your workout plan right off the bat is key.

Gardner explained that “Ideally, a person should exercise at least 3 times a week. But if you can only spare two days, you could mix up your workouts to include both strength and conditioning, cardio and performance training. If you can workout 5 times a week, it is better to leave a day between your strength training workouts to allow your muscles to recover.”

Where? Lastly, where is the final bullet point you’ll want to nail down. Are you going to workout at a gym? In your home gym? At your favorite boutique studio or outdoors? It might be a combination of the places listed, but make sure you specify.

“A workout plan at the gym will vary greatly from an outdoors exercise or even a home workout,” said Gardner. “Because you’ll have different equipment available, your workout plan will vary. Determine what tools you have done where you’d like to workout to include all the possible variations in your workout plan.”

Read More: The Best Arm Workouts for Men


A Workout Plan Template

Alexander sent along a helpful list of questions for creating a regimented workout plan of your own, if you’re interested in drafting one. She explained that “A thorough plan includes planning for both exercise adherence, and planning for the exercise specifics.”

Create Your Exercise Plan

  • What are your goals? Where do you want to be?
    • Physical goals, Performance goals, Procedural goals
  • Where are you now?
    • Injuries, Deficiencies, Strengths
  • What is your training age (exercise experience)?
  • How many days per week do you plan to exercise?
  • How long do you have to exercise per session?

Planning Before You Get To the Gym

  • What equipment do you need? What kind of facility do you need?
  • When will you go?
  • What do you need to bring?
  • Will you plan to have a pre-workout drink, a post-workout drink, hydration, or anything else you should pack beforehand?
  • Do you need to invest in anything else before you start, like good shoes?

Workout Plan Example

The average gym-goer will get plenty to work with from answering the questions above, and working towards a concrete goal. If you want to get super technical, you can also consult a fitness professional who can create a super detailed plan down to the length, rep count and weight of each movement.

The screenshot below is for a weightlifting regimen created by a professional strength coach for an MLB baseball team. The goal is lifting 1200 pounds in a single day through a combination of a squat, bench press and deadlift. It’s a lofty goal, one that you should only attempt under the guise of a professional.

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Taylor Galla | SPY
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Taylor Galla | SPY