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How to Build Your Own Workout Routine

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We love to work out, but whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or a newbie, sometimes it can be challenging to find a workout routine that checks all your boxes. Of course, you can always hire a professional personal trainer, but let’s be honest, sometimes there just isn’t enough wiggle room in the budget.

Other times you might have particular fitness goals you’re trying to reach. In these cases, sometimes, it’s best to create your own workout routine. So, where do you begin?

First, we recommend having a basic understanding of exercise and how you feel while completing a workout. Don’t attempt to build a workout program with zero experience in the gym, as you could injure yourself or set yourself up for failure when it comes to meeting your fitness goals.

Speaking of fitness goals, let’s begin there.

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Determine Your Fitness Goals

Before you build your workout routine, you should first get clear about your fitness goals.

Are your fitness goals:

  1. Lose weight or body fat
  2. Build muscle or “get toned”
  3. Build endurance
Woman doing Russian twists with medicine ball

You may have more than one fitness goal in mind. Of course, you can work towards some goals simultaneously, but in many cases, it can be of benefit to focus on one goal at a time.

For example, you might want to do all of these things mentioned above. Still, seeing as most workout routines generally range from about four to twelve weeks long, it can be beneficial to think of your fitness goals in phases.

Continuing the example above, you might want to focus on building muscle in the first phase of your workout routine, then enter a shredding phase in which you’re focused on losing body fat. All the while, you’ll be building your endurance.

Regardless of what your goal is, get clear about it. Next, it’s important to consider all the different ways you can meet these fitness goals.

Weigh Your Exercise Program Options

There are countless ways to meet the fitness goals you set for yourself. Keep in mind what equipment and facilities are accessible to you, and most importantly, what kind of exercises you genuinely enjoy.

One of the main benefits of creating a workout routine is ensuring that the entire program is enjoyable while still being challenging. 

These are a few workouts to consider (and combine):

  • yoga or hot yoga
  • group fitness classes
  • running
  • weight lifting
  • walking
  • recreational sports
  • cycling
  • roller skating or blading
Woman putting plates on bar on rack in gym

Regardless of your goal, it can be beneficial to “cross-train,” meaning combining several different ways of exercising. The benefits of cross-training include keeping things fresh and fun and forcing your body to adapt in more than one physical way.

We recommend selecting at least two methods of exercising. Weightlifting plus any form of cardio is a popular way to cross-train, and it’s one of our favourites. With this in mind, we will focus on building a weightlifting workout routine with cardio.

Don’t be afraid of selecting weightlifting and cardio, with the intent to switch up your cardio through your program.

Build Your Workout Routine

Once you’ve gotten clear about your fitness goals and selected a mix of exercises, you’re ready to build your workout routine from scratch.

There are some basic things to know before you dive into creating a lifting program.

Workout Routine Basics

Clock with sticky note that reads "daily routine"

In general, lifting programs should hit every muscle group in the body. Skipping a certain muscle group because you don’t like it or you want to focus on something else will result in an imbalance and increased risk of injury.

Most people aim for about five lifting days and add cardio as they see fit. Plan on no less than two days per week and no more than six. That being said, two days is better than none!

You can split your days in a couple of different ways, the most popular options being:

  • push/pull/legs
  • five-day split

PPL: Muscles that Work Together

The push, pull, and legs method is built around how the body uses certain muscle groups together to perform everyday activities.

On push days, the muscles involved in the act of pushing (think a pushup—shoulders, chest, and triceps) are worked.

On pull days—you guessed it, the muscles involved in pulling (think rowing—traps, biceps, and back) are worked.

On leg days, the entire leg and glute are worked.

It’s common to perform cardio around the PPL days and work out from five to six days total.

Five-Day: Each Individual Group

On the other hand, the five-day split targets each individual muscle group:

Weight rack with black weights
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Legs
  • Arms

On the corresponding days, the muscle group can be worked harder if necessary. Another benefit is that you’re lifting five days instead of three, which can increase overall muscle mass faster.

A Note on Core Exercises

People have different theories on including core work in their workout routines. For example, some people believe they should include core exercises almost every day.

Others feel that as long as you use proper form throughout your exercises, you’re giving your core most of the work it needs.

woman doing exercises with yoga ball

This can vary for individuals too, as sometimes you might feel particularly weak in the core, for example, when people are post-partum. We suggest including specific core workouts on at least one workout day.

It’s up to you which split you choose for your workout routine, and keep in mind that intermediate and advanced lifters often include two to three leg days. Leg days are critical to overall health and fitness, as they are the biggest muscle group in your body.

You can take the same approach for targeting any muscle group. Want to build some caps? Include two shoulder days. Another basic piece of information to cling to when you build your routine is don’t lift the same muscle group two days in a row.

Taking at least a day before working the same muscle group is critical for the recovery phase. This brings us to our next piece—rest. 

Rest Days in Your Workout Program

Don’t be fooled by fitness accounts on social media that make you feel like you’re not doing enough if you’re not exercising every day. Rest is equally important. In fact, you likely won’t hit your fitness goals if you refuse to rest.

You need one rest day at the very least, and if you’re lifting very heavy, you should take two.

Many people who grow a genuine love for exercise have trouble resting but trust us, it needs to be a priority. So if you’re lifting heavy and can tell your body requires two rest days but that kind of kills you, let us introduce you to active rest.

Active Rest

side view of woman doing high knees

Active rest days are days in which you’ve planned to rest from your typical, high-intensity exercise (lifting). Instead of remaining completely sedentary, do something low intensity that gets your body moving, potentially even breaks a sweat, and still allows your body to recover.

Some experts believe that active recovery is even more beneficial than staying completely inactive, as it allows for blood to flow more freely, aiding in healing.

In general, unless you’re injured or really feeling like your body needs to move as little as possible, we recommend at least one active rest day per week.

Some ideas for low-intensity movement include:

  • a leisurely swim
  • a low-intensity yoga class
  • walking
  • a leisurely bike ride

Planned Days of the Week

Now that you’ve got an idea of your fitness goals, activities, split, and rest days, it’s time to plan your workout week.

It can be helpful to start by planning your rest days. Is there a particular day that’s always very busy for you? Alternatively, is there a day you always dedicate to family time?

Consider days like these for your rest days to help set yourself up for success. Next, assign your split days to days of the week.

For example, say you decide your rest days will be Thursdays and Sundays. A PPL split might look something like this:


Push Day


Cardio + Core Day


Pull Day


Rest Day


Leg Day


Cardio Day


Active Rest Day


Alternatively, a workout routine with a five-day split with the same rest days may look something like this: 


Chest Day


Back Day


Shoulder + Core Day


Rest Day


Leg Day


Arm Day


Active Rest Day


It’s a good idea to let go of some rigidity. Allow for life to happen, and if you can’t make it to the gym on a Monday, determine on a case-by-case basis (based on how your body feels) whether you want to push your days to make up for the missed workout or skip it altogether and have an additional rest day.


Regardless of the split you choose, it should include about three exercises per muscle group when you design a workout routine. So, three exercises for your shoulders, three for your biceps, three for your triceps, etc.

Black and white feet jumping onto box

Combination moves, like a shoulder press, count for all muscles used. In this case, shoulders and biceps work together.

This is where familiarity with exercises and the gym come in handy, as it’s very beneficial to search your memory for the exercises you enjoy for each muscle group.

You can also take to Google to search exercises for specific muscles as well, like “triceps exercises.”

Workout Routine Example

Now that you have a general understanding of how to create your workout routine let’s put it into practice with an example.

Let’s take a 30-year-old woman named Amy who would like to work out five days per week.


Man free hand rock climbing on low to ground rocks

Amy is interested in a multi-faceted approach to fitness, but in general, she would like to build muscle and shed fat to create a toned, strong physique.

With these fitness goals in mind, knowing her workouts need to be less than 90 minutes every day and that she can commit to exercising five days a week, we can build a workout routine for her.

Our workout will focus on building muscle first, with a walking warm-up to add cardio on exercise days.


Woman stretching over across chest

Amy is an advanced lifter, and she knows that lifting heavy typically leaves her body itching for a rest day after three consecutive heavy lifting days. She likes to start her Mondays with the gym to set the tone for the rest of her week. So, we will make her first rest day on Thursday.

On Sundays, Amy and her family have prioritized family days, so this is her second rest day. Since the family enjoys being active together, this will be the active rest day.

Next, after carefully weighing her options, Amy decides she’s interested in a five-day split with two leg days to prioritize booty-gains. She is also one year post-partum, so she’d like to prioritize strengthening her core.


Knowing what we know thus far, we can plan her weekdays. To accommodate for two leg days, we will combine smaller muscle group days.


Leg Day


Shoulder + Chest Day


Back Day


Rest Day


Arm + Core Day


Leg Day


Active Rest Day


Now we can build a workout routine for each day by selecting three exercises per muscle group.

To illustrate how we’ve accounted for each muscle group, we will mention the major muscles targeted in parenthesis following the exercise name. Sometimes, the muscles will be used more than three times.

Monday – Leg Day 1

  1. Warm-Up 10 to 20-minute incline walk on the treadmill
  2. Dumbbell Walking Lunges (glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves)
  3. Barbell Squats (glutes, quads, hamstrings)
  4. Calf Raises (calves)
  5. Barbell Sumo Deadlifts (hamstrings, glutes)
  6. Barbell Hip Thrusts (hamstring, glutes)
  7. Leg Press and Leg Press Calf Raise Superset (quads, hamstrings, calves)
  8. Leg Extensions (quads)

Tuesday – Chest, Shoulder + Core Day

  1. Warm-Up 20-minute incline walk on the treadmill
  2. Pushups (chest, shoulders)
  3. Military Press (shoulders)
  4. Bench Press (chest)
  5. Dumbbell Fly (chest)
  6. Dumbbell Lateral Raises (shoulders)
  7. Planks (core)
  8. Hanging Leg Raises (core)
  9. Bicycle Crunches (core) 

Wednesday – Back Day

  1. Warm-Up 20-minute incline walk on the treadmill
  2. Chin-Ups (lats, traps, rear delts)
  3. Let Pull Down (lats)
  4. Straight Bar Press Down (lats)
  5. Single Arm Cable Row (traps)
  6. Barbell Bent Row (traps)
  7. Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Fly (rear delts)
  8. Cable Cross Over Pull (traps, rear delts)

Thursday – Rest Day

Amy can choose to be sedentary or take a walk depending on how her body is feeling.

Friday – Arm + Core Day

  1. Warm-Up 20-minute incline walk on the treadmill
  2. Dumbbell Bicep Curls (biceps)
  3. Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension (triceps)
  4. Hammer Curls (biceps)
  5. Triceps Rope Pull Down (triceps)
  6. Concentration Curl (biceps)
  7. Skull Crushers (triceps)
  8. Plank with Alternating Shoulder Touch (triceps, core)
  9. Plank Jacks (triceps, core)
  10. Mountain Climbers (triceps, core)
  11. Reverse Crunches (core)

Saturday – Leg Day 2

  1. Warm-Up 10 to 20-minute incline walk on the treadmill
  2. Lightweight Full Range of Motion Squat (glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves)
  3. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats (hamstrings, quads, glutes)
  4. Raised Dumbbell Sumo Squats (glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves)
  5. Banded Dumbbell Glute Bridge (glutes, hamstrings)
  6. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift (hamstrings, glutes)
  7. Sissy Squats (quads)
  8. Dumbbell Calf Raises (calves)

Sunday – Active Rest Day

Woman doing yoga pose in front of sunset

Amy can do family yoga, bike rides, swimming, walks, or any other low-intensity activity with her family. This activity can change with the seasons and stages of her family’s lives.

Determining Sets and Reps for your Workout Routine

If you’re not a beginner, you likely have an idea of what your sets and reps need to be to push your muscles to the limit.

Man behind rope cable pull machine

If you are a beginner, start with two sets of 15-20 reps. More advanced people likely need three or four sets of 10-12 reps.

In general, if you’re more focused on shedding body fat, go with higher, lighter reps (15-20). Conversely, if you’d like to gain weight, go with lower, heavier reps (10-12).

Your weight selection should depend on your reps. It should be a challenge, but not impossible, to meet the minimum reps. Ideally, your muscles will be burning by the time you finish the last reps of the set.

Note: It’s okay to say that you will do four sets of 4-6 reps for your whole workout routine. Even so, some exercises are different as far as the weight you can bear, and the number of reps required to feel the burn.

Don’t be afraid to do some exercises that require lower weight at higher.

For example, you will likely be able to do many more calf raises than you can squats at the same weight.

Similarly, you might have to drop the weights way down for a reverse fly, but perhaps you can crank out 15 reps.

The bottom line is that listening to your body is always the best practice when it comes to creating and executing your self-designed workout routine. It’s easy and cheap to do once you understand the basics! Then, after determining your fitness goals and schedule, it’s easy to plug in your most convenient rest days and add exercises you love for each muscle group in your workout split.

Before you know it, you’ll be crushing your fitness goals and designing workout routines you’re totally in love with!

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