Design Your Own Gym Program

Designing your own gym program doesn’t have to be complicated for the vast majority of people. By using a few basic criteria anyone can design an effective gym program for themselves in a few easy steps based upon one underlying principle.

The Overload Principle

This is the primary principle that all training programs are built upon. The Overload principle states that in order to progress and improve, putting the body under additional stress beyond what is normal is key. The idea is the level of stress is constantly increasing, the body will need to continually adapt to be able to keep up. When you overload your muscle tissues, you create small micro tears in the muscles. Once you have recovered, your body will lay down more muscle cells to ensure it doesn’t happen again. By repeating this process over and over again allows us to become fitter, healthier and stronger. It’s important that you know your limits as increasing the load too much above your tissue capacity can lead to larger muscles tears otherwise known as an injury.

Graph to explaining the overload principle

Training Goal

Your training goal will have a significant impact on your training program particularly in your rep range, weight selection, and exercises you complete. According to American College of Sports Medicine weight selection is decided entirely based upon how many reps you want to do. Training at different intensities will affect what body adaption occurs.

  ACSM table

Try to think of your rep ranges as more of spectrum than a category. The training effect difference between 9 to 11 reps won’t drastically change your body composition, and as long as you continue to utilise the overload principle you will still see the benefits of your hard work.

Workout Splits

Your workout split is a fancy name to decide what work out you should do on a particular day. The only factor to decide on your workout split is time. How long can you workout for and how many times a week can you come to the gym? Typically most people will set aside 3 days in their week to complete a gym workout with most workouts lasting between 45 to 60 minutes. Depending on the number of sets, you can normally fit in 6 to 8 exercises per workout. You can split these workout days in to several ways, e.g. 1 upper body on a Saturday, 1 lower body on a Sunday and 1 full body workout on a Wednesday.

Exercise Selection

Now we have our rep range, weight selection and workout splits we just need to decide on what to fill it with! To decide this, it’s helpful to break exercises down in to categories. Often exercises can be broken down in muscles groups e.g. legs, chest, back and arms. Exercises can also be broken down in to movements, typically these are categorised in to a press, lift, push and pull. Depending on your workout split you’ll want to select a variety of exercises from each category or a handful of exercise from 1 or 2 categories.

Image explaining the push, pull, lift and press categories of exercise

Exercise Order

Okay we now have all the parts needed for your own gym program but what order should we complete our exercises in? If its an upper body exercise it’s always best to start “centrally” meaning it is always better to do a ‘chest press’ before a ‘tricep cable pull down’. This is because on a ‘chest press’ while it does use your chest muscles it also uses your tricep muscles. If you did your ‘tricep cable pull downs’ before your ‘chest press’ it’s likely your tricep muscles would fail before your chest muscles do, meaning you would only get the benefits of the overload principle in your tricep muscles and not your chest muscles.

For lower body, it’s best to start with your compound movements first such as a ‘squat’ or ‘deadlift’ before moving on to more isolated exercises like a ‘knee extension’ or a ‘hamstring curl’. The reason being, performing compound movements requires you using a whole range of muscles whilst some leg exercises only require a small group.

Putting It All Together

So that’s it, that’s all the components you need to design a gym program. You should try to stick with each program for 6 to 8 weeks before switching it up again. To show you how it all fits together we’ve shared a couple of examples for you below.

Example Gym Program One

Maddy has her wedding day coming up in 8 weeks and while she runs most weeks she’s wanting to feel her best for the big day so she’s decided to join Link Health and Fitness. Maddy wants to come after work 3 times per week and spend no more than 60 minutes per session. She also wants to continue her weekly run.

Gym program for Maddy example

Example Gym Program Two

Ben had a hiatus from exercise for past year or so and has decided to join Link Health and Fitness to start looking after himself a bit more. His goal is to be able to meet the World Health Organisation Guidelines for physical activity and get a bit stronger. He’s a full time project manager and father so he doesn’t have much free time but is looking to prioritise what time he does have to exercise. Ben can come to the gym twice a week and walks his dog every the morning. All up he does about 150 minutes of walking per week.

Gym program for Ben example

Where Can I Learn New Exercises?

Finding new exercises can be a pain staking process but at Link Health and Fitness you’ll have access to a whole range of video based gym exercises specifically dedicated to our gym so there is no confusion seeing what’s on screen and putting it in to practice!

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