Trainer’s Guide to Workout Templates
Get the Basics…
Organizing your training into templates saves time without compromising effectiveness.
Follow the basic principles of program design when creating or choosing a template to use.
Choose from the provided templates based on your personal style and who you train.
See how Exercise.com’s workout creation software can help you deliver the best service to your clients.
As personal trainers, our biggest task and time-cost outside of actual client sessions is background work like workout planning. While those who approach their duties as a trainer casually may be content with making it up as they go, those professionals who take the job seriously often spend a great deal of time and energy making their clients’ programs.
That’s time that could put a limit on how much you can grow your personal business.
You can level up quickly to a system that saves time and prevents stress while assuring your workouts are better than ever. You’ll do so by employing training templates; either existing ones or those of your own design. In doing so you’ll save a ton of time without sacrificing the quality or personalization.
A template is simply a basic framework of a program into which you’ll add the movements, reps, and rest your individual client needs based on their goal and ability.
Here’s the reality: people who have similar goals are more alike than they are different. Thus, the training plan that is effective for getting one of your clients strong is likely great for the others or at least a 90% match. Why then would you start from a blank slate with every single one?
In this article, we’ll go over the need-to-know principles of workout design and some of the best templates for both strength training and conditioning.
Creating programs and workouts for your clients is faster and more organized with Exercise.com’s Fitness Business Management software. You can use our workout creator to generate and save your best templates letting you quickly edit or distribute them to clients at your gym or anywhere in the world. Request a demo today.
Understanding Program Design
Let’s go over some of the major considerations trainers should have in mind about program design. These are the laws that apply to any program or individual workout and will help you understand the templates provided below and will aid in developing your own.
– #1 Plan from the top down; begin with program goal, then workout goal, then exercise selection.
Always be able to identify the training goal that an exercise is helping you accomplish, how it fits into that workout, and how the workout fits the overall training goal. Avoid the common error of planning based around an exercise you want to have done without identifying why it’s being done.
– #2 Strength and Power should be trained before Endurance or Hypertrophy.
Strength, the ability to produce force, and Power, the ability to produce force rapidly, are only improved when trained at or near 100% readiness; an unfatigued state. If a particular muscle is fatigued and can thus only produce 70-80% of its true force potential, the work it can do will not induce a great enough stimulus to cause a strength adaptation.
Training for Endurance or Hypertrophy, on the other hand, can be done successfully under a state of fatigue. In fact, metabolic stress within the muscle is the goal when either fatigue resistance or growth is the desired training effect. When training these characteristics in the same workout, strength and power should, therefore, come first.
– #3 Movements involving the most muscle mass are most appropriate for Strength and Power.
More muscle involved correlates directly to more weight being utilized and this ability to handle a heavier load will be the driving factor in gaining strength.
– #4 Choose repetition range based on what the exercise should achieve and is appropriate for.
On the spectrum of reps that can be performed of an exercise, from the 1 Rep Max to the set of 20+, the characteristic being trained varies depending on what you select.
When the intensity is such that you can perform fewer than 5 reps, you will be training primarily strength as it is the limiting factor. Sets of 5 to 10 are in a range that is multi-purpose; equally useful for developing strength and hypertrophy. When maximum reps in a set number in the teens or greater, you are firmly in the hypertrophy/endurance zone.
Most exercises will lend themselves more to a particular range and goal. Those which are systemically stressful and require skill to perform like the squat and deadlift are best utilized in low to moderate rep ranges. Exercises using less muscle mass and weight load are more appropriate for moderate to high reps.
– #5 Exercises induce different levels of stress and thus require different recovery times.
Those movements which use the most muscle mass and greatest weight load induce more neurological stress and muscular fatigue. While this makes them most valuable for stimulating the body to adapt, it also means they cannot be trained effectively as often as low-stress secondary or tertiary movements.
– #6 Training must evolve with trainee advancement.
No program works forever. As a trainer, you know this intuitively even if you haven’t thought deeply about the cause. In basic terms, the more one has adapted already to a given stimulus, the more difficult it will be to illicit further adaption. What’s more, the work required for adaptation will become more and more stressful on the muscles and nervous system.
Whereas a beginner trainee is simply not strong enough in an objective sense to induce more fatigue than they can recover from, the intermediate-to-advanced client can quickly dig themselves into a hole in which performance and progress suffer. With that in mind, a more advanced client requires a more complex strategy for managing training stress; no longer will they be able to simply go to the max on every movement every time.
Weight Training Exercise Classification
When utilizing a training template, the best practice is to create a library of exercises broken down by purpose and priority. This will help you plug-and-play when it comes time to personalize the training program or make adjustments over time.
In this example, movements are categorized by the movement pattern, general region of the body, and priority level (primary, secondary, tertiary).
This priority level is determined by the potential for the movement to provoke an adaptive response; the more muscle mass involved, the more weight load utilized, and the more practical (outside the gym) carry-over – the higher the priority level. Upper Body PushUpper Body PullLower Body PushLower Body PullAbdominalPrimaryBench PressBarbell RowBack SquatDeadliftRolloutOverhead PressChin-up / Pull-upFront SquatHex DeadliftToes-to-barSecondaryIncline Bench PressMachine/ Cable RowLungeRomanian DeadliftHanging Knee RaiseDipPulldownLeg PressGoodmorningSit-upTertiaryDumbbell RollbackLateral RaiseLeg ExtensionLeg CurlPlankPushdownCurlCalf RaiseReverse HyperextensionCrunch
You don’t have to use the same collection of exercises to get the benefit of these templates. Fill out your library with exercises you have the most skill with and can coach effectively. Additionally, if you have access to specialized equipment such as a belt squat machine, find where that fits in your own movement hierarchy.
Strength / Hypertrophy Templates
– Three-Day, Full-Body
This template is as simple as it gets and is most effective for beginner weightlifters and, let’s face it, if you’re training the general population, you’re almost always training beginner lifters. See the video above for additional info on novice programming.
They are in the fortunate position of being able to utilize only those lifts with the highest bang for your buck, the primary exercises of each movement pattern. Because they’re not yet able to lift weight loads heavy enough to overwhelm their ability to recover, there’s no need for variations of intensity or complex fatigue management. They can simply train the lift and increase the weight each session.
Sunday – Rest Monday – Primary Lower Push, Primary Upper Push, Primary Lower Pull Tuesday – Rest Wednesday – Primary Lower Pull, Primary Upper Push, Primary Upper Pull, Abdominal Thursday – Rest Friday – Primary Lower Push, Primary Upper Push, Primary Lower Pull Saturday – Rest
Workout days with specific movements:
Monday – Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift
Wednesday – Hex Deadlift, Overhead Press, Pull-up, Rollout
Friday – Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift
Suggested set and rep scheme: 3-5 Sets of 5-8 Reps on all exercises.
– Four-Day Split
Best suited to an intermediate or advanced client, this template accounts for the increased training stress and time requirement that results from gaining strength. It does so by dividing upper-body and lower-body movements into separate training days with four sessions per week; a stark difference from the beginner template in the previous section (and one of the differences noted in the above video).
This is advised when one exercise per movement pattern or muscle group is no longer sufficient to elicit strength gain or growth and more volume of work is needed to continue progressing. Additionally, it provides an additional day for recovery before a movement is trained again compared to the full-body, every-other-day routine.
Sunday – Rest Monday – Primary Lower Push, Primary Lower Pull, Secondary Lower Push, Primary Abdominal Tuesday – Primary Upper Push, Primary Upper Pull, Secondary Upper Push, Secondary Upper Pull Wednesday – Rest Thursday – Primary Lower Pull, Primary Lower Push. Secondary Lower Pull, Primary Abdominal Friday – Primary Upper Push, Primary Upper Pull, Secondary Upper Push, Secondary Upper Pull Saturday – Rest
Workout days with specific movements:
Sunday – Rest Monday – Back Squat, Deadlift, Leg Press, Toes-to-bar Tuesday – Bench Press, Barbell Row, Dip, Pulldown Wednesday – Rest Thursday – Deadlift, Front Squat, Romanian Deadlift, Rollout Friday – Overhead Press, Pull-up, Incline Bench Press, Cable Row Saturday – Rest
Suggested set and rep scheme: 3-5 Sets of 5-8 Reps on Primary Movements 3-4 Sets of 8-12 Reps on Secondary Movements
The Push-Pull-Legs split further divides the work into distinct sessions and differs from the four-day split in that upper body movements are divided into push and pull sessions. In doing so, you create more time in each workout for additional exercises for the same movement pattern. These should be chosen strategically to bring up lagging lifts or muscles.
Note that whereas the previous templates were week-long cycles, this involves nine days to complete two iterations of push, pull, and leg training. As a result, sessions are not tied to specific days of the week.
From a practical standpoint, this is only appropriate for clients who prioritize training highly enough to train on any given day and likely need to be advanced enough to workout solo outside your sessions.
Week 1 Sunday – Rest Monday – (Push 1) Upper Primary, Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary, Upper Tertiary Tuesday – (Pull 1) Upper Primary, Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary, Upper Tertiary Wednesday – Rest Thursday – (Legs 1) Lower Primary Push, Lower Secondary Pull, Lower Secondary Push, Lower Tertiary Pull Friday – (Push 2) Upper Primary, Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary, Upper Tertiary Saturday – Rest
Week 2 Sunday – (Pull 2) Upper Primary, Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary, Upper Tertiary Monday – (Legs 2) Lower Primary Push, Lower Secondary Pull, Lower Secondary Push, Lower Tertiary Pull Tuesday – Rest Wednesday – (Push 1) Upper Primary, Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary, Upper Tertiary Thursday – (Pull 1) Upper Primary, Upper Secondary, Upper Secondary, Upper Tertiary Friday – Rest Saturday – (Legs 1) Lower Primary Push, Lower Secondary Pull, Lower Secondary Push, Lower Tertiary Pull
Workouts with movements:
Push 1: Bench Press, Dip, Incline Bench Press, Dumbbell Rollback Pull 1: Barbell Row, Pulldown, Machine Row, Curl Legs 1: Front Squat, Goodmorning, Lunge, Leg Curl
Push 2: Overhead Press, Incline Bench Press, Dip, Pushdown Pull 2: Pull-up, Machine Row, Pulldown, Lateral Raise Legs 2: Back Squat, Romanian Deadlift, Leg Press, Reverse Hyper
Suggested set and rep scheme: 3-5 Sets of 5-8 Reps on Primary Movements 3-4 Sets of 8-12 Reps on Secondary Movements 3 Sets of 10-20 Reps on Tertiary Movements
Add abdominal exercises as time allows. One option is to superset the abdominal exercise with the final movement from each workout drawn from the tertiary list.
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The Rules for Designing Conditioning Workouts
– #1 Use large muscle, multi-joint exercises
The more muscle involved and the bigger the range-of-motion, the greater the requirement on the cardiorespiratory system to supply oxygen. Thus, bigger movement equals more bang for your buck.
Additionally, in compound movements, muscle fatigue is spread throughout more tissue making it less likely to be a limiting factor when the goal is cardiorespiratory training.
– #2 Alternate major movement patterns
Look at exercises based on the gross movement pattern – pulling, pushing, flexion, extension.
By organizing the workout so that opposing patterns are paired together or alternated, we avoid muscle endurance limiting the time to fatigue before heart rate and respiratory rate have reached the desired intensity.
– #3 Avoid highly technical movements
Exercises that require significant attention to technique or are prone to technique breakdown with fatigue have no place in conditioning workouts.
Utilizing complex movements such as the snatch or clean and jerk with power and technique as the limiting factors is more dangerous and less effective than difficult but simple movements during which the trainee can simply focus on their effort and not giving in to fatigue.
– #4 Identify the training variables and make it scalable
Know what’s being trained by each movement in the workout, don’t just work out to get tired. The workout as a whole and each component part should have a purpose.
Select the movement that helps you best accomplish that effect and identify ahead of time what variable will be scaled up to yield future improvement. For example, with the goal of endurance in a long duration activity, one may choose a stationary bike. The variable to scale up would be time, the constants would be RPMs and resistance.
– #5 Choose work/rest ratio based on max output or max duration goals
As in strength training with weights, when the goal is maximum work output, each set or work interval should be performed as close as possible to 100% capacity. This requires adequate rest between efforts so that high output can be maintained and the accumulation of fatigue is avoided.
When training for maximum duration or endurance, however, one needs to work in a fatigued state to improve fatigue resistance. Exercises will be performed at submaximal intensity for longer periods and with little or no rest between efforts.
For the following workout templates, let’s look at the following collection of movements:
Battle Rope Slam (Upper dominant) Lunge (Lower dominant) Dumbbell Thruster (Full-body extension) V-up (Abdominal Flexion) Kettlebell Swing (Hip Extension) Renegade Row (Full-body Isometric, Upper Push and Pull, seen below)
Keeping the exercises consistent for all the examples, you’ll be able to more clearly see how each workout differs in structure. The movement patterns these exercises represent do not necessarily need to be copied but have been chosen in accordance with the exercise selection and order rules listed above.
– Total Work
Assign your client or group the total amount of work to be done in the workout based on reps per movement. It will be up to them to break down as needed.
Insist that the rep quota for each exercise is completed before moving on to the next. This is most useful for endurance as it encourages the trainee to complete as many reps as they can in each effort.
Reps – Movement 100 – Battle Rope Slams 100 – Lunges 50 – Dumbbell Thrusters 100 – V-ups 100 – Kettlebell Swings 50 – Renegade Rows
How to progress: Increase the total rep count for each movement, particularly those which the trainee completed in only two or three sets.
The circuit is a collection of exercises performed for multiple predetermined rounds in the same order. This example maintains the same volume of work for each movement as given above in the Total Work template, but provides one advantage:
The division of reps into smaller sets means the trainee should be able to perform those reps at a higher intensity compared to performing an exercise to exhaustion. This is useful for training clients to work at maximum output with recovery between bouts.
5 Rounds of: 20 – Battle Rope Slams 20 – Lunges 10 – Dumbbell Thrusters 20 – V-ups 20 – Kettlebell Swings 10 – Renegade Rows
How to progress: Increase the number of rounds or decrease rest between exercises.
– As Many Rounds As Possible
The AMRAP workout is a type of circuit training. Rather than strictly controlling the volume of work like the traditional circuit, the total work is open-ended and speed in each exercise can vary.
This is useful for testing the capacity of a new client for whom you have no accurate gauge of how much work they can complete in a given time. Additionally, this style is suited to group training as it accounts for a variety of fitness levels; high-performers will perform several rounds, novices will perform few, but all who work to their full capacity will get a training effect.
X Rounds in 30 minutes 20 – Battle Rope Slams 20 – Lunges 10 – Dumbbell Thrusters 20 – V-ups 20 – Kettlebell Swings 10 – Renegade Rows
How to progress: Trainee must complete more rounds within the time period with each repeated session.
– Every Minute on the Minute
The trainee will perform the assigned number of reps for each exercise when a timer goes off at one-minute intervals (as seen in the demo video above). Exercises should be performed as fast as possible to leave rest time before the next minute begins.
The EMOM format encourages maximum output to complete the exercises quickly but also requires work in a pre-fatigued state due to the ready-or-not nature of the set start time.
A) Top of every minute for 10 minutes 10 – Battle Rope Slams 10 – Lunges
B) Top of every minute for 10 minutes 5 – Dumbbell Thrusters 10 – V-ups
C) Top of every minute for 10 minutes 10 – Kettlebell Swings 5 – Renegade Rows
How to progress: Increase the required reps within each one-minute interval.
Getting your client prepared for training with a warm-up may be the first step on a day-to-day basis in the midst of your program, but when designing that program it should be one of the final steps. Here’s why:
The role of the warm-up is preparation for the movement that’s to come in the workout and must, therefore, be specific to what those movements are. It should also prepare the body for the right intensity and duration of exercises as determined by the sets and reps. Covering both of these needs requires that we’ve already decided upon what the workout will consist of.
A generic assignment like “ten minutes on a stationary bike” is not adequate preparation for strength training, nor is jogging adequate preparation for anything besides more jogging. Here’s what we must accomplish in the warm-up:
Increase blood flow to muscles being trained
Elevate core temperature to aid tissue pliability
Prepare muscles and joints by moving them through a range of motion similar to the coming exercises
Ready the nervous system to engage powerful muscle activation
The order of activities in a warm-up should be such that it moves from general to specific in relation to the training movements. For a session in which the primary movement is the Barbell Back Squat, here’s an example:
WARM-UP ORDER: GENERAL → SPECIFIC
Squat warm-up: Row 500m, 20 Walking high knees, 20 Walking lunges, 20 Bodyweight squats, 10 Box Jumps, 10 Barbell squats with an empty bar
Each of these serves one or more of the warm-up’s four goals. All of them contribute to increasing blood flow, elevating body temperature, and improving joint ROM. Box Jumps in particular engage and prepare the nervous system due to the powerful, high-speed muscle contraction of jumping. And finally, the most specific is the Barbell Squat itself which we’d ramp up from an empty bar to the highest weight for the day.
While the planning of warm-ups should be an in-depth process, that doesn’t mean warm-ups need to be lengthy or complex. In fact, a well-thought-out warm-up where every movement is there for a reason will get your client prepared quicker than a random assignment that wastes time and energy. The above example is a process of only 5-7 minutes.
For full-body weight training, use the same criteria and add warm-up movements as needed to prepare for other exercises. In certain types of training, like bodyweight-only conditioning workouts, the exercises themselves can serve as the warm-up. Simply have your client complete a warm-up round where each exercise is performed at a comfortable pace and low intensity.
Exercise.com Can Help!
The best way to organize your training programs and to streamline the planning process is to utilize Exercise.com’s all-in-one Business Management Software which helps you manage all of the sales and financial aspects of your business in addition to upgrading your fitness assessment and workout programming capabilities.
Here’s a quick walkthrough to show how easy it is to create and deliver your training programs:
1) From the Plans tab, select Create New Plan to display this dialog box where you’ll create the program outline.
Give your program a name, and assign frequency and objectives. Give it a checkout description so your online customers can register for the program through your customized mobile app.
2) Here is the week view of our program, Beginner Strength Training. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday now have empty workouts, next let’s fill those in by selecting Build Workout.
3) Now, in the workout creation area, we’ll add exercises from the left sidebar. You can type the name into the search bar which will pull results from the exercise library or select from the Favorite and Recent Exercises tabs that the software automatically generates based on what you’ve used.
Having added the exercises, you can fill in all of the details on each one; sets, reps, rest, and even tempo. By default, each exercise will show the collapsed view which saves space on-screen until you expand it (if needed) to add extra details like variation between sets and technique notes.
4) Back in the week view, we now have ready-to-go workouts which can be easily duplicated to more weeks or moved with a simple drag and drop feature.
The new program can be assigned to clients and published to be available to new clients online.
To learn more about leveling up your training and business with Exercise.com, schedule a demo call with our team today. On the call, we’ll show you how our software is helping elite-level trainers with customized business solutions and what it can do for you.
Colton Tessener is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and gym owner from North Carolina. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from UNC-Wilmington and has 10 years of hands-on experience in coaching clients of all types on improving physical performance. His gym, Arise Athletics, has been recognized locally as Small Business of the Year and named one of the Best Gyms in Wake County (Raleigh, NC).