How to Build the Best Strength-Training Workout for You


In the early months of each new year, everyone flocks to the gym to get (back) in shape. Some hire trainers, while others find routines in books or magazines.

But many of us, well, we just wing it -- a few sets of bench presses here, some curls there, a few sit-ups, followed by a break to wipe your face with your shirt and secretly try to see if those abs have shown up yet.

Sound like you?

If so, stop. You need to give your rudderless workouts some direction. It’s time to make a plan that will actually get you the results you want, in the limited free time you have to exercise. The good news? You can strengthen your entire body in a 40-minute workout, performed three times a week.

Plan Your Workout


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Each workout consists of five exercises, which can be grouped into the following categories: upper-body push, upper-body pull, knee dominant, hip dominant and core strength. Upper-body push exercises include push-ups, bench presses (flat or incline), dumbbell bench presses (flat or incline), floor presses (barbell or dumbbell) and dips. Upper-body pull exercises are chin-ups (or lat pulldowns), pull-ups, inverted rows, dumbbell rows and barbell rows.

The knee-dominant exercises include squats (back, front or goblet), lunges (reverse, walking), split squats and rear-foot-elevated split squats (AKA Bulgarian split squats). While the hip-dominant exercises are deadlifts (conventional, sumo or trap bar), Romanian deadlifts (dumbbells or barbell), single-leg Romanian deadlifts, glute-hamstring saises, back extensions and hip thrusters. And lastly, core strength include planks, side planks, rollouts and renegade rows.

By working your entire body in each session, as opposed to focusing on a single area, you’ll burn more calories because you're using more muscles. You’ll also gain strength faster, since you’ll be working each muscle group three times a week as opposed to once or twice.

Build Your Workout


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Alternate between the first pair of exercises (A1 and A2), completing all four sets before moving on to the following three exercises (B1, B2 and B3). The rest interval between sets will depend on your needs -- just go when you’re ready. You want to make sure you’re fully recovered for each set so you can give it your full effort.

The lower-body exercises are listed first in each series for a reason: Most guys hate doing them. If legs were left for the end of the routine, lots of guys would give them a wimpy effort at best, or more likely, skip squats, deadlifts and lunges altogether. Take on those dreaded exercises right away, and then rally yourself for the fun stuff later in the workout.

If you still need help putting together a workout, try this example based on Workout 1: A1. Goblet Squat, A2. Lat Pulldown, B1. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift, B2. Push-Ups, B3. Front Plank (30 seconds).

And for Workout 2: A1. Deadlift, A2. Push-Ups, B1. Split Squats, B2. Inverted Row, B3. Side Plank (25 seconds/side).

Put It All Together


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Alternate between workout A and workout B three days a week. Your schedule will look something like this:

Week 1: Workout A, Workout B, Workout A

Week 2: Workout B, Workout A, Workout B

Try to give yourself 48 hours between workouts, but don’t worry if you occasionally have to schedule your strength work on back-to-back days -- or take an extra rest day here or there. The goal is to be consistent and get in those three workouts every week. Chart your progress in a logbook and always try to beat your previous performance by increasing the weight, the reps or both.