How to Create Your Own Strength Training Program

How to Create Your Own Strength Training Program

Person grabbing weights at a gym.

By: Chrissy Arsenault, RD

Have you heard STRONG is the new skinny? There are many health benefits of strength training, aside from looking better physically and obtaining your “dream body”. Strength training can help you build muscle strength, improve balance, keep bones strong, help your body burn off more calories, and take stress off your joints. Since muscle also burns more calories than fat, strength training can be very helpful when you are looking to lose weight and keep it off.

Not sure where to start? No problem! Follow our step-by-step guide to create your own strength training program.

Step 1. Determine your overall fitness goal/vision.
Different people train for different reasons. Pick a goal you would like to work on for the next 4 weeks. What changes do you want to see in the next few weeks?
For best results, align your fitness goals with your nutrition plan. Talk to a Registered Dietitian if you need guidance with meal planning.

Be fit (for general fitness/muscular endurance)
Gain muscle & be strong (for muscular hypertrophy – example: bodybuilding)
Be strong (for muscular power – example: Powerlifting & Olympic weightlifting)
1-3 sets
12-20 repetitions
2-3 days a week
3-5 sets
8-12 repetitions
3-6 days a week
1-3 sets
3-6 repetitions per exercise
3-5 days a week

Step 2. Determine your measurable goals.
Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) to stay on track. These goals will depend on your overall vision.
Some examples are: gain 3 lbs of lean body mass in 6 weeks, lose 3% body fat in 8 weeks, or hit a squat personal record (PR) of 200 lbs.
Weigh yourself weekly, check your body fat % and take measurements (example: waist, hip, bicep, chest, etc.) at the beginning and end of your program.
You may also want to take before/after photos from the front, back, and side, as well as some progress photos, to really see your body transform from week to week!

Step 3. Decide how many days a week you can dedicate to strength training.
Pick a realistic number of training days and figure out when your workouts will fit in to your day.
Treat each training day like an appointment so that you stay committed – put it in your planner, set alarms on your phone, and scribble it down on your daily to-do list.

Step 4. Divide up your training days based on your fitness goals.
You may want to do a full body workout for 2-3 days a week, a push/pull split or upper body/lower body split for 4 days a week, or divide by muscle groups (back/biceps, chest/triceps, legs, shoulders, etc.) for 5-6 days a week.
Choose what body parts to work on different days of the week unless you are doing full body workouts.
Prioritize your training days depending on your fitness goal. For example, if you have 3 training days available and you want to work on lower body strength, you may want to do two lower body days and one upper body day.

Step 5. Pick the exercises you will do on each training day of the week.
Research what exercises you want to include in your routine. Examples of websites that have video guided instructions for exercises are and
Considerations: What exercises am I comfortable with? Where can I do this exercise? What equipment do I have available?
Pick about 6-10 exercises for each training day. Perform compound & multi-joint exercises first.

Step 6. Repeat for 4-8 weeks.
Print out your training program to bring to the gym, put it on your phone, or write it down before you head out.
In order to continue to see progress, you have to switch up your program – this is called “periodization”. Pick a new fitness goal, change the frequency of your training, switch up the sequence of exercises, or try out new exercises.

Other Tips.
Every workout should begin with a 5+ min warmup and 5-10 min cool-down.
Make your strength training FUN! Make a training song playlist that gets you pumped up, train with a friend, or buy some outfits that you feel confident in while working out.

*Check with your physician prior to starting any exercise program. Stop any exercise program if you experience pain.
**Proper form is important to prevent injury while exercising. Check with a fitness professional if you are unsure how to complete an exercise or use a machine. If you have access to a gym/fitness facility, you may want to check if they offer complimentary equipment orientations or have free personal training consultations.

References: 1) ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription 2) ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer 3) ISSA Fitness – The Complete Guide