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How to Design a Personalized Weight Training Routine

Updated on December 26, 2016
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Mahmoud Elboraey, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with a Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education and Sports Science.

Resistance training is probably the single most controversial type of training there is, as it is surrounded by hundreds of myths and misconceptions. Resistance training is also the field of fitness where proper manipulation of volume, load, and rest can play the most drastic role in determining the outcome of a given program. By manipulating these aspects of a given program, the expected outcome could change from improved muscular endurance to increased muscular strength or even muscle hypertrophy.

Training principles and their application to resistance training

In designing any type of resistance training program, the following principles should be observed and applied:

1. Specificity:

The development of muscular fitness is specific to the muscle group that is exercised, the type of contraction and the training intensity. Strength and endurance gains are also specific to the speed and range of motion used during the training. For example, in isometric training strength gains at angles other than the training angle are typically 50% less than those at the exercised angle.

2. Overload:

To promote strength and endurance gains, workloads have to be greater than normal. A number of exercises, sets, reps, percentage of RM (Repetition Maximum) and duration can all be manipulated to tax the muscular system beyond what it is accustomed to.

3. Progression:

Training volume, or the total amount of work performed per session, must be periodically increased in order to continue overloading the muscular system and achieve further improvements in muscular strength and/or endurance. However, doing too much too soon, could cause excessive muscle soreness and increase the risk of injury. Therefore, the progression needs to be gradual. Usually, as your muscular system adapts to a given resistance, you become able to perform more reps with that weight. Thus, the number of reps you are able to perform will indicate when the resistance needs to be increased throughout the training program.

4. Initial Strength and Diminishing Returns:

Individuals with lower initial strength will show greater relative gains and a faster rate of improvement in response to resistance training compared to those starting with higher strength levels, due to the greater gap between the beginners’ strength level and their genetic potential. However, as you start approaching your genetic potential, the rate of improvement slows and eventually plateaus.

5. Reversibility:

The positive physiological adaptations and improvements in muscle structure and function achieved through resistance training are reversible. When individuals stop exercising (or significantly reduce the training volume), detraining occurs and, within a few months, most of the training improvements are lost.

Different ways for splitting a resistance training program

Depending on the goal of the program and the rest period needed between training sessions, the program could be split over two or more days using one of the following methods:

1) Regional Split:

The body could be split into Upper, core, and lower regions to be trained on different days. Example: Upper body on Saturdays and Tuesdays, Core on Sundays and Wednesdays and Lower body on Mondays and Thursdays. Rest on Fridays.

2) Segmentation:

When the training volume is particularly high, it could be helpful to divide the body into several segments that are trained on different days. Example: Saturdays, Chest & Elbow flexors; Sundays, Abs, obliques and deep back muscles; Mondays, Lats, and Elbow extensors; Tuesdays, Shoulders, and calves; Wednesdays, Upper-back, Quads and Hip Adductors; Thursdays, Hamstrings, Glutes and Hip Abductors; Fridays, Rest.

3) Opposition:

The body can also be split into pairs of opposing muscle groups that are trained over the days of the week. Example: Saturdays, Chest & Upper-Back (including Post. Delts); Sundays, Lats & Delts; Mondays, Arms (Elbow and wrist flexors & extensors); Tuesdays, Abs, Obliques and Deep back muscles; Wednesdays, Hip & Knee flexors and extensors; Thursdays, Hip adductors & abductors with Ankle plantar and dorsi flexors; Fridays, Rest.

4) Agonist/Antagonist:

You could also choose to train agonists and antagonists on different days of the week. Example: Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays: Chest, Delts, Elbow & Wrist flexors, Abs & Obliques, Hip flexors and Knee Extensors, Hip adductors and Ankle dorsi-flexors. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: Upper-Back, Lats, Elbow and Wrist extensors, Deep Back Muscles, Hip extensors and Knee flexors, Hip abductors and Ankle plantar-flexors. Fridays: Rest.

Guidelines for designing a resistance training program:

Since most of us are average human beings who want to achieve a reasonable combination of muscular strength, size, and endurance, I am going to focus this article mainly around guidelines that apply to the average person. However, the table below will also provide you with the needed norms for training bodybuilders and weight-lifters.

Resistance Training Guidelines

Exercises per muscle group*
% RM*
Rest between sets
Maximal Strength
3-5 mins
90 sec - 3 mins.
30-90 secs
Toning/Body Sculpting
30-90 secs
70 & Below
30-90 secs
Fat Burning
70 & Below
0-20 secs
* Each one of these columns is inversely related to the one on its left (i.e. the higher the %RM, the lower the reps; the higher the reps, the lower the sets and the higher the sets, the lower the number of exercises per muscle group and vice-versa).

1 RM Estimations

% RM
16 or more
60 or less
  • N.B.1: From the above table, you can see that a program designed for hypertrophy, would also achieve a significant strength and endurance gains
  • N.B.2.: Resistance training loads higher than 80%RM are associated with higher instances of injury and dropout.
  • N.B.3.: Most researches suggest that resistance training programs involving 4 sets or more result in overtraining, decreased benefits and a higher risk of injury.
  • N.B.4.: The 1RM value could be determined from the number of reps you perform using a sub-maximal weight. Use the adjacent table for that.

Steps for designing a resistance training program:

  1. Identify the primary goal of the first program (mesocycle): Strength, muscular endurance, hypertrophy or toning.
  2. How much time and what frequency they are willing to commit to this program.
  3. Depending on your goals and time commitment, determine the way you are going to split the program.
  4. Using results from your assessments, identify specific muscle groups that need particular attention (particularly tight, particularly weak, etc.).
  5. Select exercises that target all the major muscle groups of the body and incorporate exercises that address muscular imbalances gleaned from step 4.
  6. Based on your goals and current strength and endurance levels, determine appropriate starting loads, reps, and sets for each exercise, as well as the appropriate amount and type of rest between sets (active recovery or total recovery).
  7. Set criteria for progressive overload. For Example Increase resistance by 5% when 10 to 12 reps can be performed in two consecutive sessions.

The concept of Active Recovery and that of Periodical Recovery:

Active Recovery basically refers to the concept of doing active work for one muscle or muscle group while another is resting. To allow a muscle to recover from a previous effort, only that muscle needs to rest. During that rest period, other muscles could be trained. This will allow you to use your time more effectively and prevent boredom. For Example: If your program involves performing two sets of each exercise with a 30-second rest in between, you could perform one set of an upper-body exercise (bench press), then one set of a lower-body exercise (leg press) while the chest muscles rest, then repeat both again.
The concept of active recovery can also be applied to training days. Since we know that muscle groups should be allowed at least one day’s rest between sessions, you could train certain muscles on one day while training others on the next day. This would allow the muscles of day 1 to rest while other muscles are being challenged on day 2.

Periodical Recovery refers to the fact that you may benefit from a periodical rest from resistance training altogether. For Example: If you know that you are going to spend two weeks in July by the beach, you could advise them to walk and swim daily and use that time as the Stabilization period between two mesocycles.

Best of luck!

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