It’s fun to come up with your own workouts and programs! I always enjoyed it. When I first got into lifting heavy, strength programming was part of the training, part of the fun.
But many people don’t try because they are worried about doing strength programming ‘wrong’ or they just go round and round in circles.
It’s tempting to go to the gym and just do what you enjoy/what you’re good at (these are usually the same thing).
So here’s my method for constructing a quick and easy strength workout that will actually benefit you. This works even if you only have 20 minutes!
The super quick and easy strength programming method (20-30 min session)
Step 1: Exercises
Pick 4 exercises you’re weak in. You know what they are.
Examples for me are are overhead pressing, single leg stuff, triceps, conventional deadlift. To name only four…
Tip: mix up the body parts/movements so that you are training upper and lower body, front and back of body. You’ll end up with a full body workout.
Step 2: Reps
Assign a rep number to each exercise. I usually go for 5 or 8. I usually do 5 on the big, heavy exercises like deadlift and 8 on the smaller exercises like tricep extension.
As a rule of thumb, 5 is good for strength building and for exercises that have a huge demand on the body, like a deadlift.
8-12 is good for strength building in smaller exercises or with weaker muscles, or for fitness (getting out of breath). Strength athletes benefit from a bit of fitness – it helps to get through long workouts and conditions smaller muscles.
Step 3: Sets/Rest
Decide how many sets or rounds you want to do. I usually do 5 rounds. I can be done in 15-20 minutes.
I’ll do all the exercises circuit-style without an official rest period but if I’m training for strength I’ll wander between exercises rather than run, getting a bit of recovery in.
A rest period trick I learned from a past weightlifting coach, Giles Greenwood, is to slowly wander to one end of the gym, touch the wall and slowly wander back. Giles used to do this between sets of front squats: enough time for a couple of minutes recovery, but gets you in a rhythm and means that you don’t have to sit around or stand like a panting lemon between sets.
Obviously if you are in a commercial gym at peak times, you’ll need to guard your weights like a hawk so this option isn’t necessarily available to you.
Strength programming examples for a 20-30 minute session
5 minute dynamic warm up
A1 Deadlift – 5 reps
A2 Pull up – 5 reps
A3 Dumbbell split squat – 8 reps each leg
A4 Standing overhead press – 8 reps
5 rounds (1 warm up round with easier weights, then 4 working rounds with a challenging weight)
B1 Barbell back squat – 8 reps (focussing on consistent depth)
B2 Bent over row – 8 reps
B3 Good mornings – 5 reps
B4 Lying tricep extension – 12 reps
The slightly extended quick and easy strength programming method (45-60 min session)
If you’ve got a bit more time, try it this way.
Pick a heavy ‘exercise of the day’. It might be a squat or a deadlift. It might be a smaller exercise like a push up or a single arm press, but you want to go super heavy with it.
Do 5-6 sets of your heavy ‘exercise of the day’ with 1-3 reps per set. Go as heavy as you can while maintaining good form and range of motion.
Do the super quick method above as the rest of your workout.
Example: for someone who wants to get better at pull ups
A Weighted pull up – 5 sets x 3 reps
B1 Dumbbell prone row – 8 reps
B2 Bulgarian split squat – 8 reps each side
B3 Push ups – 10-12 reps
B4 Prone lower trap raise – 10 reps
Example: for someone who wants to improve their clean
A Clean – 6 sets x 2 reps, increasing weight with each set
B1 Front squat x 5 reps
B2 Bent over row x 5 reps
B3 Clean pull x 3 reps
4-5 rounds with 1-2 minutes rest between rounds
Bung anything you like at the end. Have fun! You might want to do some core work. Or get all hot and sweaty with a sled. Or perhaps a bit of chest and arms if it’s a Friday night.
The main work is over, so do whatever you feel like.
Examples of finishers
Core work: Plank x 3 – 60 seconds work, 60 seconds rest
Metabolic: Prowler or sled push, every 30 seconds for 5 minutes
You should warm up before lifting heavy. Start with a pulse-raiser for 3-5 minutes (e.g. rowing machine, jumping jacks) then do a mobility routine. There are loads on youtube. De Franco’s Agile 8 is a good one.
The quick and easy strength training program
You can probably see how you can apply this to a week’s training. Each session pick a different ‘exercise of the day’ and different circuit exercises. So if you are training 3 times a week, that’s 15 exercises per week.
Do a 3 week block where you repeat the same workouts for 3 weeks, increasing the difficulty each week. This is important, by the way. In strength training, we don’t want to do a completely different workout every time because we want to adapt to the current set of exercises, and this takes a few sessions.
Lo and behold, you have a macrocycle! Which is a short term block of training.
Yes, people have written enormous text books on programming and periodisation, but if you’ve never done your own program before, I encourage you to have a go.
You’ll get to know your body in a different way, when you work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths; when you consciously try to get better each week; when you stick to the same workout for a few weeks instead of ‘changing it up’ every single time.