Home Exercise 101 Q&A Wednesday: Creating Your Weight Training Routine

Q&A Wednesday: Creating Your Weight Training Routine

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Left in the comments from last week:

Q: Erika, just wondering how did you come up with your weight training routine? I previously worked with a trainer, but will probably on my own now. I know some of the things we have done, but the great thing about my trainer was that he changed the routine up so often. Yikes..I don’t even know where to begin.


Look at those guns! They might be water guns, but they’re guns!

When I took my very first steps into working out, I was guided by the owner of my gym, who offered up two free sessions with either him or his wife/co-owner. He showed me around all of the equipment and provided me some insight on how to get the most out of my time in working out. I only lasted about six months at that gym before I moved… only losing 28lbs. Considering the intensity to which I was working, I should’ve lost more.. but as they say, you cannot out-train a bad diet.

After I started working out again (which came after I changed my eating habits), I started going to the gym and kinda just lifted and did every exercise I could do with the limited amount of equipment in my complex’s gym. As the gym became more crowded, I eventually faded to black. I had to create a routine that I’d be able to do at home. I was able to lose a good 90lbs just from working out at home on my own.

From that experience, I do have my fair share of advice that I offer up for anyone wanting to develop their own weight training routine.

Firstly, decide how many days a week you’re going to work out, and stick to it. Sure, there’s an accountability issue with skipping workouts, but it has much more to do with being efficient and effectively using the time you’ve set aside for weight training.

The first thing I learned the hard way is the value of working out “to muscle failure,” and that means that you’ve exhausted your body to the point where you cannot properly execute your exercise anymore. Which means, yes, you’ll need to chase that “burning” feeling that comes in the middle of an exercise. Your lifting is in vain if you never feel any struggle in the process of it.

The reason this is all so related is because when you work out “to failure,” you’re going to experience soreness. If you’ve decided to work out every day, you need to make sure you’re not working out the same muscles every day until they become sore. You’d never give yourself the opportunity to heal.

To quote:

Your muscles should feel sore on some days after you exercise. If you go out and jog the same two miles at the same pace, day after day, you will never become faster, stronger or have greater endurance. If you stop lifting weights when your muscles start to burn, you won’t feel sore on the next day and you will not become stronger. All improvement in any muscle function comes from stressing and recovering. On one day, you go out and exercise hard enough to make your muscles burn during exercise. The burning is a sign that you are damaging your muscles. On the next day, your muscles feel sore because they are damaged and need time to recover. Scientist call this DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness.


On one day, go out and exercise right up to the burn, back off when your muscles really start to burn, then pick up the pace again and exercise to the burn. Do this exercise-to-the-burn and recover until your muscles start to feel stiff, and then stop the workout. Depending on how sore your muscles feel, take the next day off or go at a very slow pace. Do not attempt to train for muscle burning again until the soreness has gone away completely. […]Exercise training is done by stressing and recovering. [source]

In other words… don’t burn out the same muscles every day.If you’ve made the decision to work out to failure every week day, you shouldn’t burn out your arms, abs and legs every single day. Stagger it – arms on Monday, abs on Tuesday, Legs on Wednesday. That gives your arms two days to heal, because they’re not being worked out to burn every day. That’s really important. Trust me.. I learned the hard way.

So, let’s say you’ve decided to lift weights three days a week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Marvelous. Pick a day to focus on each section of your body. Upper body for Monday, core for Wednesday, lower body for Friday. That’s the scenario I’m going to talk about for the rest of this post. And no, I’m not about to use overly technical titles for muscles and groups. It’s simply not necessary for me to “flex my intellectual muscle” on a “starting out” post.

Upper body includes your back, your shoulders, your arms, your chest and yes, that upper slope of your booty. Keep in mind that you target muscle groups together – your arms and your shoulders, your arms and your back, your upper booty and back, your arms and chest – which makes your exercises more efficient, thus cutting down on how much time you have to spend. (I like effective and efficient.) Never forget – exercises are just movements, and the body uses multiple muscle groups to execute movements.

Your core consists of the region of your body that supports your spine and pelvic areas. Basically, you’re talkin’ stomach, hips, lower back, and (in a way) your upper thigh area. People will claim that the upper thigh area doesn’t count, but I believe it has to be at least kept in mind because I know that when I get deep into my ab routine, my upper thighs burn. Not just burn, but burn.

Lower body? Thighs (all four sides – inner, outer, front and back), hips, booty and calves. I don’t know about you, but I love seeing that line from my ankle up to my hip because my muscles are so defined.

People talk about different exercises within a routine in terms of reps and sets. A “rep,” short for “repetition,” is just one complete motion. If I’m doing leg lifts, then one rep consists of my lifting my leg and lowering it back to start position. A “set” is just a grouping of reps. So, if I tell you that I do 4 sets of crunches, 35 reps each? That means I do 35 crunches, then stop, then another 35 crunches, then stop, then another 35 crunches, then stop, then another 35 crunches… then I die inside — I mean, then I’m done.

Don’t be convinced that you have to do a specific number of reps in order to be efficient – you don’t. You only have to develop that burn. That’s it. So if that burn means 10 reps in each set, or 40 reps in each set… do what you’ve got to do. In between each set, give your body time to rest a bit – for me, I gave myself 2 minutes at first, and was gradually able to decrease the time – and then on to the next set or exercise.

What weight should you choose? Something that feels almost too light, because after you move with that weight 15 times, you’ll certainly feel a burn. Don’t be afraid to take the time to do a few reps with a weight to figure out just how much weight you can handle.

As far as what exercises you should do… that depends on your goals. Keeping in mind the fact that “Terminator-style muscles” definitely do not happen overnight, so you shouldn’t worry about “bulking up out of nowhere,” what do you want to see? Firmer arms? More defined slope in your booty? Tighter thighs? (Please remember that the amount of fat your body has determines how visible your muscle definition will be.) What do you want to benefit from the most? A more secure posture? Stronger arms?

Your best resource from this point is, really, Google Video or, perhaps… some website with a section of exercise videos just for you. Pick the ones that keep you most intrigued and help you feel that burn, and you’ll stay going. Pay close attention to how the exercise is done – even the minor details – so that you can learn how to best benefit from the exercise without injuring yourself. Your trainer kept switching up the routines for three reasons – 1) to keep you interested, 2) to keep your body guessing and 3) to keep you from getting too comfortable (take that last one how you will.)

I know that I left out quite a bit, so I’m asking everyone else – what else do you think is important in creating a routine? I’d like to leave out “what exercises to do” in regards to this post, because that deserves more specificity than this post should offer right now. But what tips do you have?

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Gules October 20, 2010 - 11:29 AM

This is an amazing post. It summarizes everything you need to know to figure out how to set up your own personal routine. So, great job on that. I personally like to do circut training and most times it does involve both upper and lower body. I do these type of workouts because I don’t ever get bored and work up quite a sweat. What I love more that that is working them both at the same time (think squat and shoulder press with free weights). I find it effective and efficient,which are pluses for sure. That being said, your suggestions are absolutely on target for those just starting out.

Summer October 20, 2010 - 12:22 PM

What role do protein shakes play in muscle building?

Erika October 20, 2010 - 12:32 PM

Protein is a necessity in building muscle, so adding protein to one’s diet aids in helping the muscle to heal. There are a few more details, but that’s usually the biggest reason.

I used to take them, but I don’t anymore. I’d rather eat my protein that drink it.

Nicole October 20, 2010 - 1:04 PM

Hey! Awesome! You picked my question =)

Thank you, THANK YOU, Thank you for your detailed response. I will definitely begin here and never thought to divide my strength training based on parts of my body. I remember the “failure” technique from my training days….!

Ok, Ok I am too pumped! Gonna start writing out a plan. =)

One tip that I have is consistency. I know that every wednesday and saturday I am doing something. I try to create my workout schedule ahead of time. The only thing I had been leaving out is exactly what ( I previously decided once I reached the gym). So now I will create a full plan….and increase my workout days.

Thanks Erika! I love this site.

Streetz October 20, 2010 - 2:33 PM

Excellent coverage on the basics Erika! No overload and you hit all the key points!

For someone beginning, I’d suggest total body workouts. Basically weight training over the entire body. You can find them everywhere online. The Abs Diet circuit by mens Health has a great beginners circuit.

Mon wed Fri do that circuit for like 6-8 weeks and along with eating right, you should be good. Then you can graduate to other intense weight training exercises!

cjbrownsc October 20, 2010 - 4:38 PM

Great post, Erika!

I am currently a member of a gym but the trainers there have never been helpful unless you actually sign up to be one of their customers. I prefer to work out alone and not feel like I “need” a trainer to see results.
I think this post will give me a great starting point to set up a really good strength training regimen that will give me the results that I desire. Thanks!

PS: Your arms look great!

Norn October 21, 2010 - 9:08 AM

I think its also a help if you do your workout AT THE SAME TIME on your scheduled days.
the more “SACRED” you make the workout ritual, the more likely you are going to RESPECT that time allotment, and the more you will respect yourSELF!

Kathryn October 25, 2010 - 12:28 PM

The website bodybuilding.com has a plethora of workouts as well as video demonstrations of most exercises. Although there is some hard core bodybuilding information on there that doesn’t necessarily apply to me or my goals, it’s still my “go-to” when I have a question about weight lifting and form.

Barbara November 11, 2010 - 5:27 PM

This is a great post, & it just want I need to read today. Thanks

E. May 18, 2011 - 3:37 PM

This was incredibly helpful, I am going back to the gym after my finals next week Friday and I wasn’t sure where to start and the trainers at the gym are useless (university gym so it’s run by students).
Anyway, thanks for all the great articles.

Tammy June 1, 2011 - 4:25 PM

Man….. I totally forgot about the burn leading to muscle failure. I personally don’t fatigue easily, meaning I’ll easily end up doing 30mins per muscle group before I really get to a burn. I was doing p90x, I’d burn, kinda. But I’ve yet to experience muscle failure on someone else’s workout programs. Maybe I’ll just have to do my own thing so I can actually see some results.

Leelee June 11, 2011 - 6:54 PM

If you’re not feeling the burn almost until 30 mins of a body part, you should definitely try using a heavier weight.
I use P90X and I use between 15-20lbs and my arms are dead and feeling like jello when I’m done.

This post was excellent, great question and an Awesome answer.
Keep Pushing Ya’ll!

JazzFest December 19, 2011 - 12:23 AM

My friend has an Ipod touch and she was telling me about an app where you can plug in the amount of time you want to work out, the equipment you have (mat, dumbells, nothing), the muscle groups you want to focus on, and it spits out a workout for you! Modern technology truly amazes me…

Tachae January 11, 2012 - 9:46 PM

I would LOVE to know the name of that app!

JazzFest January 24, 2012 - 8:15 PM

Sorry for the late reply!

She said it’s called GAIN fitness.

Pamela January 11, 2012 - 6:05 PM

What is the app? I’d like to take a look.

Sherry May 10, 2012 - 2:24 PM

Great Post! Quick question: I’ve been told you can do an ab routine everyday. Is that not so?

Erika Nicole Kendall May 11, 2012 - 10:33 AM

If you’re physically capable of doing ab routines back to back days, then your routine isn’t effective enough. Wear your abs out on one day, give them the next day to relax.

Nikita May 10, 2012 - 6:24 PM

What do you think about adding swimming into a workout a trainer told me u can work out everything in the water verses using the weights. Have anyone tried there daily workout at a gym.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 11, 2012 - 10:32 AM

Can it bring results? Of course.

Goldeelocks May 12, 2012 - 12:48 AM

Girlllll. You had to be reading my mind! Im preparing for my first 5k, June 9, and I hate lifting weights but I know I need to! I just struggle with getting a routine together. You inspire me!

FitandFly August 31, 2012 - 11:26 AM

What would you recommend as far as adding cardio?

Would you suggest 45 min of cardio and 45 min of strength traning, for example:

Monday – Cardio and Lowerbody

Wednesday – Cardio and Core

Friday- Cardio and Upper Body

Erika Nicole Kendall August 31, 2012 - 12:41 PM

I think, if you’re going to stick to a M-W-F training schedule, your best bet is circuit training. Check out this post, and let me know if that gives you a better idea of what you can do.

Fit freak July 10, 2013 - 4:15 PM

I love you girl. I just love you & this blessing called a blog!

Poetri313 August 29, 2013 - 1:09 PM

I am at the beginning of my workout program. I am 274 pds. @ 5’2. Should I stick to the circuit or Should I implement the weight training at the beginning? I’m not sure where to begin.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 1, 2013 - 9:32 AM
Lenora B Pierce September 13, 2013 - 12:28 PM

Ericka, your site always have an answer to questions I have in my mind. Thanks and keeping the posts coming

kballou March 5, 2014 - 10:05 PM

What do you think of Kettlebells vs Free Weights?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 7, 2014 - 10:13 AM

Kettlebells are basically differently-shaped free weights… which means they’re awesome. LOL

Kenya March 5, 2014 - 10:11 PM

I’ve been working out with Kettlebells the last month. what do you think of Kettlebells vs Free Weights?

Val Goss May 8, 2014 - 9:58 AM

I am a bit confused as to where to start. I have plenty of friends who do different things in the gym and suggest everything they do I should do.i was doing 2 hrs at the gym 4 days a week working different parts of my body was good. But I am being told I shouldn’t do it that way. Also any suggestions when one reaches a platue?

Carmen May 7, 2016 - 6:38 PM

I think this post was very informative with great detail. You gave straight to the point information and real talk examples. Thank you I look forward to getting started. I’m so big on my cardio but I needed to incorporate weight lifting now I how to go about with a schedule.

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