How to Make the Ultimate Weekly Workout Schedule

Random workouts here and there may not be too difficult to plan. You show up at the gym, do whatever you feel like, and leave. But forming a consistent habit aimed at achieving specific goals is a different story. Once you get serious about sliding heavier weight plates onto that barbell, you’ll want to develop a weekly workout schedule.

There are a ton of moving parts that go into developing this workout routine, but nothing affects your success more than designing the perfect workout schedule. The way you organize your weekly workouts is subtly intertwined with nearly every other decision within your program. 

A muscular person deadlifting a barbell.
Credit: Standret / Shutterstock

Trial and error is a common way to develop the best workout plan for you. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to endless games of programming whack-a-mole. This article will take you through the factors you need to consider to design the perfect training plan for you.

What to Consider When Making a Workout Schedule

A veritable boatload of variables impacts your workout routine. Your program will be influenced by everything from your fitness level and experience with beginner workouts to whether you want to do mostly bodyweight exercises or more barbell-oriented weight training. 

Availability

The amount of time you commit to training is a huge part of planning, but the type of equipment you have access to also affects your options.

Equipment

Before diving head first into creating your workout schedule, assess what tools are at your disposal. Do you have a wide range of exercise equipment, or are your choices fairly limited? Your workout length, exercise selection options, and even recovery needs will be much different depending on whether you’re working with a fully-equipped gym or your own body weight and a single kettlebell.

Ask yourself questions like this: Are you performing full-body compound exercises with a barbell? Do you want to isolate each muscle group with a machine, or are you landing somewhere in between? 

A person deadlifting a kettlebell in the gym.
Credit: pikselstock / Shutterstock

[Read More: At-Home Workouts for Strength, Muscle Growth, Power, and More]

Your available equipment helps to guide you on which exercise you’ll be able to perform. In doing so, you’ll then know what kind of set, repetition, and rest scheme to design. In turn, this information dictates how long you should rest between workouts and reflects upon your program planning at large.

If you’re planning to work out primarily in a home gym, here are some pieces of equipment you might want to consider adding to your training tool kit.

Time

The amount of time you have available for your workout schedule is one of the most obvious factors to consider. Not only does it influence the amount of workouts per week, but also the length of time each individual workout lasts.

The amount of time you have to dedicate to each workout serves as a guidepost for how many and what types of exercises will help you most. For example, high-intensity interval training sessions tend to be much shorter and easier to pack into a tight schedule than powerlifting workouts (which include long rest periods between sets).

You’ll also need to schedule around other commitments. Do the kids have soccer practice Monday afternoons? Try squeezing in a Monday morning session, or use Mondays as an active recovery or rest day.

And if you know you can get in much longer workouts over the weekend, choose a workout split that lets you cover your whole body over the weekend. Spread out a reduced volume through the rest of the week accordingly.

Goals

What you want to accomplish in the gym plays a key role in organizing your workout schedule. Some of the most common goals include building muscle, getting stronger, or changing your body composition. Within each of these goals, there are different guidelines for how to arrange your workouts — including your workout split and schedule.

For example, getting as strong as possible usually means heavier weights, longer recovery between workouts, and moderate training frequency. Building muscle mass allows you to train nearly every day if you create a training split that allows you to recover. While one muscle group is resting, another is working, so your training frequency may get relatively high. 

Here are some overall guides for how your training might be arranged according to different goals:

Recovery

Recovery is the process your body goes through to return you to baseline after hard workouts. The aim is to train hard and ultimately improve workout-over-workout. Recovery entails rebuilding any damaged tissues, allowing your strength and coordination to return, and even your regenerating enthusiasm to train hard again. 

A good rule of thumb is to allow around 48 hours between tough training sessions per muscle group. Whether you plan full-body workouts, upper body-lower body splits, or anything in between, your ability to recover ultimately influences your training frequency — and success.

Outside-of-Gym Exercise

Even if it’s not an international set of workouts, your job, hobbies, or even just random chores like shoveling snow may well contribute to your overall weekly workload. The frequency and magnitude of these outside variables have the potential to influence your recovery. 

Consider how your hobbies and responsibilities may interact with your workout program. They might sync up well, and your workouts themselves help fuel your hobbies; or, they may be complete opposites. Perhaps you love to bodybuild in the gym but prefer hard hikes or outdoor cardio during the summer months. 

A person walking for weight loss.
Credit: Oleggg / Shutterstock

[Read More: What Is NEAT and How Does it Impact Your Training and Weight Loss Potential?]

Your workout schedule must accommodate your out-of-gym needs to ensure full recovery. For example, you might not want to do heavy leg day the day before an intense outing to the park with your kids. On the other hand, programming leg day ahead of a long leisurely stroll through botanical gardens might be exactly what your lower body needs for gentle active recovery.

How to Make a Workout Plan

Designing your specific workout plan goes hand in hand with choosing your workout schedule. You’ll need to select a goal; determine how much you’ll be training each muscle group; land on an appropriate split; then choose your exercises, sets and repetitions, and ultimately how you’ll progress.

Choosing Your Main Goal

You absolutely might want to accomplish more than one thing in the gym. Build muscle and get stronger? (Spoiler: it’s not just you. It’s called powerbuilding, and we’ve got a great guide to how to do it linked below.)

To be clear, you will likely get both stronger and more muscular during your workout routine if you’re training hard and eating enough nourishing food. But especially if you’ve got a bit more experience under your belt — or you want to make gains quickly — you’re best off picking a main goal and treating any other goals as more supplemental.

[Read More: The Ultimate 10-Week Powerbuilding Workout Routine for Mass and Strength]

Sure, you want to bulk up, but is your real burning desire to deadlift 500 pounds? If so, place that goal front and center. On the other hand, if you would love to heft heavy weights but are hyper-focused on building muscle right now, focus mainly on hypertrophy.

Of course, these aren’t the only two choices. Determine whether you are designing workouts around muscle gain, getting as strong as possible, increasing power, changing your body composition, or even prepping for competition. This choice tells you what the most appropriate next step is in the creation of your workout schedule.

Determining Volume Per Muscle Group

Once you have chosen a goal to be the main driver of your programming, figure out how much you want to train. In training, volume refers to how many sets and reps you’re doing of a given exercise, and with how much weight. Sometimes, you’ll think of how much volume you’re doing in a day — but when you’re planning your program, you’ll also want to consider overall weekly volume.

Training volume is a standout variable when you aim to build muscle. Some research points you to 10 or more hard sets of an exercise as a great baseline goal per week. (1) Slightly higher volume may be even more beneficial, as long as you’re recovering adequately. (1)(2)

A fit person doing deadlift in the gym.
Credit: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock

[Read More: Get Freakishly Strong With the 5×5 Workout Program]

Start to organize exercises and set and repetition schemes accordingly. Be sure to account for compound movements and isolation-style exercises in your planning here. Otherwise, you may accidentally start to plan too much volume for a single muscle within your program. 

For example, if you want to seriously grow your glutes, you may opt for a lot of butt-focused moves. But all those lunges will also tax your quads and even hamstrings — not to mention that squatting and deadlifting also significantly tax these muscles. Make sure you’re accounting for all that volume sneaking up on each muscle and plan your recovery accordingly.

Choose a Workout Split

Your workout split has a huge influence on your program. There are a plethora of options here, so you’re able to get creative and really tailor your workout schedule to your needs. Beginners may find success using any number of choices, whereas more advanced or busy lifters might need to be a bit more picky.

Here are some classic training splits:

  • Push-Pull-Legs
  • Muscle Groups/Body Part
  • Upper Body-Lower Body
  • Exercise-Specific

The idea with splits is that while your lower body is recovering (for example), you can still train your upper body. That way, each part of your body gets a chance to rest appropriately while still gaining full-body strength.

With an exercise-specific split, you’ll prioritize one main compound exercise each training day — say, the squat on one day, bench press the next day, and deadlifts on the third day. For total body training in your exercise routine, add accessories that go with each main lift. As an example, you might add pull-ups and biceps curls to your deadlift day and lateral raises and triceps extensions to your chest press day.

A bodybuilder bench pressing in the gym.
Credit: Maksim Toome / Shutterstock

[Read More: The Ultimate Workout Split to Build Strength and Muscle Mass]

Depending on your preferences and goals, you can mix up your training style accordingly. Maybe you prefer to add a day to your workout where you’re focused on HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or LISS (low-intensity steady-state cardio). You can also add core exercises to whichever training day feels most appropriate, or set them aside for their own day.

Regardless of your split, always plan rest days where you’re not strength training so you’re giving your muscles time to recover. You can technically still do weight lifting on active recovery days as long as your loads are light and just enough to get your blood flowing to promote less stiffness in your muscles. But still plan some regularly scheduled days to truly rest.

Exercise Selection

With your main goal, training volume, and split chosen, it’s time to choose some exercises. Your goal is a big driver of exercise selection and is heavily dictated by specificity. Specificity is the training principle that your body makes specific adaptations to the imposed demand of training

For example, if you want to improve your one-rep max in particular lifts, aim to emphasize the specific exercises you’d like to get strong at. As a powerlifter, you should prioritize the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Similarly, an Olympic lifter should primarily train the snatch and clean & jerk. Everything else serves as accessories to help those moves get stronger.

[Read More: How to Choose the Right Powerbuilding Exercises for Your Goals]

If your goal is about muscle building, you’ll have a bit more freedom with exercise selection. You’ll want a combination of big compound movements with specific isolation exercises to target the muscles you want to grow. 

Make sure to keep your exercises balanced, though. Just because you want to build a bigger chest doesn’t mean you can neglect pulling moves for a strong back. A balanced body and musculature will help muscle-building overall. 

Sets and Reps

The number of times you do an exercise without rest (repetitions) gets grouped into sets. So, if you do six repetitions, rest for a specific period, and then do another six repetitions, you’ve done two sets of six reps. 

How many sets and reps you do (and how heavy the weight is) makes up your total training volume. Two sets of three reps is less volume than two sets of eight reps. But if your sets of three are significantly heavier than your sets of eight, you might actually be squeezing more volume into your heavy sets. 

A muscular person doing the renegade row.
Credit: PeopleImages.com – Yuri A / Shutterstock

Generalized set and rep recommendations follow:

  • Very low rep schemes (sets of one to three reps) generally help improve power and technique under heavy load.
  • Low rep schemes (sets of three to six reps) taken close to failure help to drive strength gain. 
  • Moderate repetition ranges (sets of six to 12 reps) are very effective at building muscle mass.
  • Higher repetition ranges (sets of 12 or more reps) are generally recommended for muscle endurance. 

However, these are generalized recommendations. If you push each set toward failure, the difference between set and rep schemes largely comes out in the wash. (3) In other words, there is a lot of overlap between these generalized recommendations: you can build muscle in lower rep schemes and you can get stronger in moderate and higher rep schemes. (3)

Progress Your Workouts

Progressive overload is one of the most important concepts in all of your training. The basic idea is that your program should include ways to gradually increase your training intensity over time. You don’t want to suddenly slam extra 45-pound plates onto the bar. Nor do you want to go from lifting primarily in the three-rep range and suddenly go up to 12 reps per move.

But, you do want to change your training stimulus to continually give your muscles a new challenge without completely changing your routine. Keep your exercises the same during each training cycle — for at least four to six weeks — but shift some parameters around to keep improving.

[Read More: Everything You Need to Know to Build Your First Workout Program]

Here are some variables you can manipulate with progressive overload. Choose one technique at a time and only implement the changes gradually — a few seconds, reps, or pounds at a time, as appropriate to each technique.

  • Load (increasing the weight on the bar)
  • Volume (more reps or more sets)
  • Tempo Training (spending more time under tension)
  • Classic Tempo Training
  • 1 ½ Reps
  • Eccentric Loading
  • Long-Length Partial Reps
  • Pause Reps
  • Rest-Pause Training
  • 21s
  • Changing Rest Periods (decreasing rest time to improve work capacity)

Because progressive overload is so important, BarBend has a few articles focused on the principle. Check them out here:

How to Track Your Progress

To chase specific results, tracking your progress can be incredibly important. Keeping a training journal, performing benchmark workouts, testing your one-repetition maximum (1-RM), or monitoring your physique changes can help a lot, depending on your needs and preferences.

Keep a Training Journal

A training journal is one of the most common tools used to track progress. From the days of Arnold and the legendary pen-and-paper etching of each and every rep to more digital tracking on your phone today, the log book is a staple in tracking progress

Not every workout ends up being a world beater, but having a physical reference of what you were able to accomplish workout over workout helps you set your daily standard and pursue increases where it counts.

[Read More: The Best Online Workout Programs For Coaching, Cardio, Value, And More]

Tracking your warm-up weights, any swaps or alternatives you need to make, or even more subjective measures like how you felt on the day are fantastic pieces of data for you to consider.

Perform Benchmark Workouts

Benchmark workouts are a great way to test if your routine is having the effect you’re hoping for. These types of workouts are a staple in CrossFit, but any type of athlete can perform their own. 

The idea is this: As you start your program, perform a specific workout that’s in line with your goals. Train for a few weeks or a few months, depending on your schedule. Then, perform the same workout again. Compare your results to measure how you’ve progressed.

Test Your 1-Repetition Maximum

Lifting your max weight in a given lift is another cornerstone of progress tracking. Particularly with strength or power goals, testing your squat or deadlift at the beginning of a training program helps build your initial workout schedule. From there, test your maxes again after a solid few training cycles to see where you’re at.

This valuable information is critical in appraising whether or not you’ve designed an effective workout routine. From exercise selection to your workout schedule, knowing if you’re progressing helps to modify any number of variables in the next iteration of your program.

Monitor Your Physique

If you’re aiming to build muscle or lose body fat, monitoring your physique can serve as a barometer for your progress. Whether you’re breaking out the skin fold calipers, going for a DEXA scan, or simply using the mirror, checking out any changes to your physique may help you stay motivated and make adjustments where needed.

Be aware that while it might be tempting to make measurements or check yourself out in the mirror daily, science suggests that less rigorous monitoring may be more helpful. (4) Research indicates that scheduling a weekly check-in with a health coach and weekly supervised weighing may be more helpful and healthful than daily weighings and scrutiny. (4) 

Plan to Win

Your workout schedule is something that evolves along with your goals and progress. From beginners all the way to advanced athletes, you’ll experience changes to your goals, lifestyle, and preferences that impact your overall workout plan. 

Still, you’ll notice fairly consistent considerations in every iteration of your training. From goal setting, determining training volume, a split, exercise selection, sets and reps, and measuring progress, you now have a framework to ease the stress and guesswork.

FAQs

Designing a workout schedule brings a lot of details to the table. Here are some frequently asked questions to clear the air.

What is the best workout schedule?

The best workout schedule is the one that suits your needs. Everyone has a unique set of circumstances, including your fitness goals alongside family and work commitments. The best workout schedule is the one that you’re able to commit to wholly and perform with consistency. This is what produces the best results for you.

What is a good daily workout time?

Once again, this is largely a matter of what time of day you will stick to in a consistent routine. Some athletes may be able to sustain a daily five-in-the-morning schedule with consistency, while that might be the fastest way to burn other lifters out. 
Choose a time that works for you — even if that’s a different time on different days of the week — and stick to it as best as possible. Allow yourself some flexibility to make sure that schedule changes don’t completely throw you off your game.

What is considered a good workout routine?

A good workout routine takes the time to account for all the moving parts that are specific to your life and needs. You’ll want to hammer out the hard details of your goal, then asses your available resources (time, equipment, hobbies, or other commitments). 
From there, a good workout routine will be one that you can perform consistently and employs the principles of progressive overload to ensure that you don’t get stuck on a strength plateau.

References

  1. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082. 
  2. Baz-Valle, E., Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Alix-Fages, C., & Santos-Concejero, J. (2022). A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of human kinetics, 81, 199–210. 
  3. Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 32.
  4. Helms ER, Prnjak K, Linardon J. Towards a Sustainable Nutrition Paradigm in Physique Sport: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2019 Jul 16;7(7):172.

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