Planning Your Fitness Routine – Part 1: How Do You Even Plan To Train?

Have you ever gone to the gym, only to arrive and have no clue what you’re going to do for the day?

As they say: failing to plan, is planning to fail! Don’t let your training routine be up to random whims, or by that unpredictable mood of yours! You’ve already completed the first goal which is getting to the gym in the first place, next it’s time you take charge of your training too!

First and foremost, have an objective in mind! Plan out what you’re going to do for the day, and stay focused. Are you going to be doing a full body exercise? Maybe a little upper body, or lower body instead? Or maybe working on a couple of specific muscle groups, because you’re on a tight schedule?

Next, prioritize your big Compound Lifts – such as the Bench Press, Squats, and Deadlifts, just to name a few – rather than only having Isolation Exercises, which work on specific muscle groups (e.g. the Bicep Curl). Your training should involve your Main (Compound) Lifts – which should form the bulk of your day – before finishing off with Accessory (Isolation) Works, which are secondary exercises specifically targeting your weaker areas.

If you’re trying to squat heavier for strength, your Accessory Works would involve exercises targeting your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Or maybe you’re just not satisfied with your delts? Well, work on those delt-isolations then!

Your exercise should look something like this:

  • Main Lifts – Bench Press, Squats, Pull-ups, and Dips 
  • Accessory Works – Cable Crossover, Split-squats, Lat Pulldowns, and Tricep Extensions

So now that you’ve got your exercise to-do list down, do you know how much of each exercise you’ll need to do?

We can do that by multiplying the Sets and Reps together! This helps you determine the Total Training Volume you’re achieving for the week. The simple formula basically goes:

  • Sets x Reps = Total Training Volume 
  • e.g. 20 Sets of Chest Exercises x 10 Reps = 200 Reps of Chest Exercises Per Week 

Personally, I prefer to determine my Total Training Volume to be based on Sets, rather than Sets x Reps. My reasoning for that is because no matter whether you’re pumping maximum effort into that 10RM, 5RM or 1RM (Rep Max) per Set, you’re still only doing said 10, 5 or 1 Rep.

However, more is not necessarily better! You should be gradually increasing your Training Volume over a course of 3-6 weeks, and before De-loading (we’ll talk more about that in a bit) for a week. Once done, you can pretty much repeat the cycle again!

Have you ever trained so hard for weeks, only to feel so tired and super unmotivated to go the gym? And even if you manage to get yourself into the weight room, you somehow find yourself unable to bench as effectively – even so much as to realise the amount of weight you’re trying to bench has dropped? You probably need a De-load Phase, to help you out!

The idea of De-loading is to allow your body to recover from the accumulated stress from weeks of training, essentially preventing Overtraining (yes, that’s a thing)! After all, it’s important to take a break on a long journey.

When you De-load, you decrease your Training Volume (which again, is the total amount of Sets and Reps), and Training Intensity – which is the amount of weight you’re training, by 50%. This has the added benefit of encouraging you to practice your lifting form and techniques, focus on your Accessory Works, and should also allow you to include low-intensity cardio to promote recovery.

Don’t get me wrong: you’re just taking it slow for a while to recover. It’s not an excuse for you to stop your training routine completely!

Now to put all that talk about Sets x Reps, Training Volume and De-loading together, here’s a sample table of how you’d schedule your training sessions:

If you’re going for higher amounts of Training Volume (although as a reminder, more might not necessarily be better), you probably should de-load after training for about 3 weeks instead.  Here’s how that looks:

Alright, let’s sum things up for today’s lesson!

  1. Plan your training days, make sure you’ve good a well-structured routine!
  2. Prioritize you big Compound Lifts (Main Lifts) first before your Isolation Exercises (Accessory Works), if you want to gain a significant amount of muscles and strength.
  3. More training is not necessarily better, as your body definitely needs to take a break and recover, after high amounts of Volume Training or Training Intensities – give it a break to perform better.

Now I’m sure you have other questions like “How many reps should I be doing?” or “When should I increase or decrease the weight?” – well, stay tuned for Part 2 of my Planning Your Fitness Routine series!

This article is Part 1 of a 3-part series, by Certified Fitness Professional, John Fong. Cover photo by Xion Photography.

John Fong

Manhunt Singapore 2017 Finalist. Personal Trainer at Aileron Wellness. My mission as a Fitness Professional is to be able to educate and empower people, so that one day, they are able to take charge of their own training, nutrition, and most of all, their life!

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