Build Your Own Workout

I always hear people say, “I would work out if someone told me what to do”, or “I’d go to the gym if I had a plan laid out for me”.

If I had the means, I would do this for everyone who asked, but my profession is engineering and not personal training. I usually refer people to my favourite fitness blogs, magazines, or more recently, my own little fitness page.


I find it very easy to turn to a fitness blog, find a workout, do some Google searching if I’m unsure of the moves then take it to the gym or my living room. Just the same, there are many days where I throw together my own thing as you can see on the Fitness Page. However, either of these options can still be intimidating if you don’t know where to start.

I thought it might be helpful for some of my readers to have some basic guidelines on how to put a workout together. Like anything else, confidently creating and executing a workout comes down to time and practice. Maybe you don’t know the difference between tricep dips and a triceratops right now, but after a few workouts I promise you will start to remember the moves and get a little more comfortable with strength training. Everyone has to start somewhere!

Build Your Own Workout: Strength Training Basics

Follow the steps below to first determine your fitness level, then choose your focus area and exercises. Remember that what works for one person might not work for another. You can adjust your weight, exercises, reps, sets, etc. to get the most of your routine. If it doesn’t feel right the first time, make some changes and try it again.


1. Determine your fitness level.

How much weight?: For beginners, start with 5 lb dumbbells and no more than 10 lb barbells. Test out a few reps and increase or decrease as you feel necessary. Remember you can lift heavier for legs & back than you can for shoulders & arms.

How many reps?: The general guidelines are usually 12-15 reps for light-moderate weights or 8-10 for heavier weights. Get to know your body. There is a difference between fatigued muscles and aching joints! You will likely need to switch up your weight from one exercise to the next, depending on the target muscle group. If 8 lbs feels too light but 10 feels too heavy, use 10 and decrease your reps by 2-3. You will get better/faster results by increasing your weights.

How many sets?: Another general guideline is usually 3 sets of X reps for each exercise. You can either a) perform your 3 sets in sequence then move to the next exercise or b) perform 1 set of each exercise then repeat the entire workout 3 times. I recommend no longer than 30 second breaks between sets. If you are using option b), try resting for only 1 minute between each of your 3 rounds.

I always get a better workout the second time I attempt a given routine. Once you get familiar with the moves and your weight preferences it’s much more effective and its fun!

2. Chose two focus areas

Personally, I think it’s more effective to perform antagonistic workouts because you can rest less when alternating between muscle groups. Legs are the exception because you can switch between hamstring and quadricep exercises so its common to dedicate a day to just legs. I’ve provided some examples of common muscle group combinations below:

  • biceps & triceps
  • back & biceps
  • back & chest
  • chest & core
  • legs & core
  • shoulders & back

All to myself

3. Choose your exercises

I provided 8 exercises for each of the focus areas listed above. For combination workouts like chest & back, choose 3-4 workouts per focus area, alternating muscle groups from one exercise to the next. For a single area workout choose 6-8 exercises total. Again, the number of exercises you perform should depend on your fitness level. You can increase/decrease any aspect of the routine to get the most out of your routine.

For any exercises you are unsure of, type them into YouTube and the first link will likely be a short tutorial.


  • dumbbell curls
  • barbell curls
  • supinating dumbbell curls
  • hammer curls
  • outward bicep curls
  • bicep rows
  • 21s
  • preacher curls


  • tricep dips
  • tricep kickbacks
  • tricep push-ups
  • lying tricep extensions
  • overhead tricep extensions
  • one arm tricep extensions
  • close grip bench press
  • tricep pull-downs


  • lawnmower (one arm row)
  • bent-over dumbbell rows
  • wide grip barbell rows
  • close grip barbell rows
  • seated cable pulls
  • deadlifts
  • dumbbell pull-overs
  • lat pull-down


  • dumbbell chest press
  • barbell bench press
  • incline dumbbell press
  • wide push ups
  • dumbbell flys
  • cable flys
  • cable press
  • peck deck


  • military press
  • upright row
  • Arnold press
  • standing lateral raise
  • seated, bent-over lateral raise
  • alternating front raise
  • shoulder press machine
  • shrugs


  • barbell front squats
  • barbell back squats
  • sumo squats
  • split squats
  • step-ups
  • one-legged deadlifts
  • calf raises
  • leg press machine


  • side plank twist
  • stationary mid & side planks
  • wood chop
  • jack knife sit ups
  • Feiffer scissors
  • bicycle crunches
  • Mason twist
  • mountain climbers


Now that the framework has been laid, here are some basic workout examples to help you get started:

Ex. 1: Back & Biceps (4 of each exercise)

Perform 8-10 reps of each exercise with a heavy weight. Repeat entire sequence 3 x through, resting no more than 1 minute between rounds.

  • lawnmower, left side
  • lawnmower right side
  • barbell curls
  • wide grip barbell rows
  • hammer curls
  • deadlifts
  • outward bicep curls
  • lat pull-down
  • 21s

Ex. 2: Shoulders & Arms (4 shoulder exercises + 2 biceps & 2 triceps)

Perform 10-12 reps of each exercise with a medium-heavy weight; each set 3 times, resting 30 seconds between sets.

  • military press (S)
  • dumbbell bicep curl (B)
  • Arnold press (S)
  • lying tricep extensions (T)
  • lateral raise (S)
  • outward bicep curls (B)
  • alternating front raise (S)
  • tricep kickbacks, left and right (T)

Example 2 shows that you that the basics are easily build on. Things start to get really fun when you incorporate moves that work two muscle groups at once, like the swimmer’s press for biceps and shoulders.

I hope this helps some of you get started on your journey to a fitter, healthier you! No need for fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships to get the job done. You are both your own best advocate and your own worst enemy. Choose who you want to be and get your hands on some iron 😉

Happy lifting!

Liz xo


15 thoughts on “Build Your Own Workout

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  6. Nice blog Lizzie. I’m setting one up myself for runners which will include details relating to shoes, training and gym stuff. I hope to eventually put in material relating to diet as well. If anyone is in need of new runners I can get most runners for a fraction of the price sold at retail outlets. Let me know and I’ll source them from the suppliers. Train Hard! Scott

    • That would be great Scott! I used to love running but got away from it once my knees started bothering me. I learned that there are certain “techniques” which can help with knee and hip pain and also that your shoes make a big difference. I’d love to get back into running so let me know when your blog is live and I’ll follow 🙂

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