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Hitting your goals is all about finding that happy medium. Go too hard, and your lifts can suffer. Conversely, too much rest can keep you from consistent gains.

Designing a program that is optimal can be overwhelming for even the most knowledgeable individual. Read below to learn more about building the workout that is right for you.

Setting Goals

Begin with setting personal goals. They may be fitness, aesthetic, or health related in nature.

Be sure to set short-term, readily attainable goals in addition to loftier, longer-term ones. Short-term goals serve as important check points along the way; they can enhance confidence and motivation.

Choosing Your Split

After setting goals, determine the time you are able to dedicate to training each day… this will dictate your “split” (or schedule).

The more training days you build into your plan, the less rest days available. Two or 3 day splits make total-body workouts possible, since full rest days may be taken in between each session.

Conversely, 4 to 6 day splits necessitate workouts that focus on 1 or 2 muscle groups. This staggering method ensures that each muscle group has sufficient time to recover in between workouts.

I recommend at least one full day of rest each week, regardless of what your goals may be.

Read The 5 Signs You’re Overtraining

Exercise Selection

With a goal and split in mind, it is now time to choose exercises for each workout. Selection depends on a number of factors; goals, preference, skill level, and available resources should all be considered.

Athletes typically desire explosive power. Classically, lifts like bench, squat, and deadlift have been implemented in conjunction with Olympic lifts. Plyometric activities can be helpful as well.

Other goals may be aesthetic in nature, where the aim is to develop as much muscle and definitions as possible. Again, multi-joint exercises like bench, squat, and deadlift are employed, but specific muscle groups are targeted as well with machines and free weights.

Weight loss goals can be met with a variety of exercise choices. Muscle development helps enhance metabolism. Burn extra calories by combining movements. For example, DB curls or shoulder press can be performed simultaneously along with step-ups.

Your resources can be a large part of the exercises you choose. Your goals can be obtained without any equipment at all. Conversely, if you have access to heavy DBs, but no spotter, this may not be a viable option.

Select safe exercises that optimize your chances of reaching goals.

Read The 5 Minute Guide To Perfecting Your Form

Sets, Reps, Weight, and Rest

Your workouts may be further varied by how you manage sets, reps, weight, and rest. Again, these variables can be strategically determined as a means of maximizing your opportunity to meet goals.

Three to five sets of a given exercise are typically ideal. The number of sets you choose can simply be related to the amount of time you have to dedicate, or to a desired level of fatigue you wish to experience.

Reps are a much more important factor. Choose 1-3 reps to build power, 4-12 to enhance strength and definition, and 12-30 to promote endurance and vascularization. Ideally, the last two or three reps in each set should be challenging.

Weight selection is important for both safety and gains. Again, aiming for challenging reps at the end of each set should be a useful guide. Push yourself more if you have access to a spotter, but never sacrifice form for more reps or weight.

Rest is another important variable that can be used to your advantage. For those looking to lose weight or health related benefits, choose shortened rest periods between sets. For those that wish to enhance strength, select longer rest periods so maximal effort can be put forth each set.

To Sum It Up

  • Set your goals. Training can enhance strength and endurance, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and stabilize weight.
  • Realistically determine how much time you have available. Determine your split. 2-3 day splits allow for total-body training and scheduled rest days. 4-6 day splits allow for more targeted sessions and rest built in by staggering muscle groups.
  • Exercise selection is based on goals, preference, skill level, and available resources.
  • Sets can vary greatly. 3-5 is plenty, but more or less can be implemented based on your time and goals.
  • Choose 1-3 reps for power, 4-12 for strength, and 12-30 to maximize endurance and vascularization.
  • Choose a weight that allows for the last 2-3 reps of each set to be challenging.
  • Keep rest periods to 1 minute or less to enhance endurance, vascularization, and definition. Rest 2-3 minutes in between sets if you wish to maximize strength.
  • Check out nerd fitness for more help designing your program


Anthony Dugarte M.D., C.S.C.S.


About Dr. Dugarte

Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S. is a Cleveland, Ohio native who has enjoyed success in sports, as well as academics. He accepted a full athletic scholarship to attend Kent State University and graduated, Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. At Kent, Dr. Dugarte was a member of the Golden Flash Football Team and earned Academic All-American Honors as a defensive lineman.

He is currently the Research Fellow for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Dugarte has 8 years’ experience as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Keywords: exercise; programming; sets; reps; weight; rest; goals; gains; split

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