How do I design a personalized weight-lifting workout to build muscle?

To build a resistance training program for muscle building, select 3-4 exercises per muscle group and divide them into 3-4 workouts throughout the week. Following a split routine allows for rest periods for each muscle group while still staying active. For example:

Monday – Back

Tuesday – Legs

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Chest

Friday – Shoulders and Arms

Saturday – Sport

Sunday – Rest

Each exercise should have 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

If you have no idea what you are doing, don't know how to use the weights or machines properly, and don't understand what loads might be appropriate for your skill level, I highly recommend you spend at least SOME time with a qualified, certified trainer.

That being said, I'll assume you have knowledge of exercises, techniques, and loads you can handle.

Think of your body as a machine that moves about joints and in several directions. Also visualize movements as "push" and "pull."  You want to pick exercises that balance out all of that, either in one workout or across a few days' worth of sessions. You can do supersets, compound sets, split routines... plenty of choices.

When it comes to loads, reps, sets, and rest - you want to focus on hypertrophy (to stimulate the building of muscle). Guidelines recommend 3-6 sets, 6-12 reps, 30-90 secs rest, and a load that is approx. 67-85% of your 1RM. If you don't know your 1RM, or it's an exercise not appropriate for RM testing, experiment with weights until you land on a load you can safely handle for 6-12 reps.

Finally, to progress, use the 2x2 rule:  when you can do two more reps at the end of your final set for two sessions in a row, increase the load.

A solid lifting routine AND a good nutrition plan (keep up your protein - we love the dotFIT line of products) will have you rocking it! 

Tim Ferriss

To calculate the starting weight for muscle building let's look at a hypothetical workout.

Pull-down: 8 reps × 80 lbs p 8 reps × 110 lbs
Machine shoulder press: 8 reps × 30 lbs p 5 reps × 60 lbs

Here is how things might look for a semi-trained 150-pound male doing the pull-down (weights will differ from person to person of course, and that's why you need to budget at least an hour for the first workout):

Note: "(f/2)" indicates "fast but controlled" on the lifting portion and a two-second lowering.

  • 90 lbs × 5 reps (f/2)
    (1-min rest)
  • 100 lbs × 5 reps (f/2)
    (1-min rest)
  • 110 lbs × 5 reps (f/2)
    (1-min rest)
  • 120 lbs × 5 reps (f/2)
    (1-min rest)
  • 130 lbs × 5 reps (f/2)

After you fail to complete five reps, calculate 70% of your last full five rep set. Take a three- minute rest and perform a 5/5 cadence set- to- failure using this weight. For the shoulder press, use 60% of the last successful five- rep set instead of 70%.

Then we do the math using an example of failing to complete 5 reps of 130lb: 120 × 0.7 = 84, and we round up or down to the nearest weight we can actually use on a machine or bar, which leads us to 85 pounds.

(3-min rest)
85 lbs × 8.4 to failure (5/5)

The 8.4 just means your failure was reached at 8 + 4/10 of a repetition. Take a five-minute rest, then repeat this process with the shoulder press.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.