Guide to Building a Strength Training Routine

When I talk with people who are interested in strength training, I find that most of them have some knowledge of various exercises, and have possibly even tried a few, but are unsure of how to plan a routine. Now, there's nothing wrong with engaging in any kind of movement without planning exactly what you will do, but I find that being able to at least group some exercises together increases confidence and self-efficacy which can help with overcoming the fear of starting altogether.

Some benefits of strength training include improved confidence and body image, decreased back and body pain, increased or maintained bone strength, increased mobility and balance, and increased muscle mass and general strength.

Steps to Building a Routine

1. Plan how often you will train

When I help others plan a strength training routine, I usually find out how often they plan to train each week, which is usually 2-4 days per week. A general guideline that I stick with for myself and others is to do full-body exercises if training 2-3 days per week and split-body exercises if training 3-4 days per week.

2. Choose a general routine

For full-body routines, I include both upper- and lower-body muscle groups and change the exercises for each day during a week of training. With split routines, you can either alternate upper body and lower body every other training day or choose to focus on one or two major and one or two accessory muscle groups each day of training, while moving through all of the muscle groups during the week.

3. Focus on major muscle groups

The base of my strength routines focuses on major muscle groups because these are the muscles we use most often and are most related to our mobility, balance, and strength. These muscles include those of our chest, shoulders, back, upper legs, and gluteus muscles. My secondary focus includes accessory muscle groups which are smaller muscle groups that assist our major muscles. These muscles include biceps, triceps, forearms, lower legs, and abdominals. When you exercise the major muscles, you are also strengthening the accessory muscles, so you can choose to target specific muscles based on your strength goals or train them all!

4. Alternate major and accessory muscles for efficiency

My favorite way to train and what I like to recommend to beginners and those who plan to train 2-3 days per week is to focus on major muscle group exercises while including accessory muscle group exercises between sets of the major muscle exercises. This increases efficiency so you don't have to spend more than 30 to 60 minutes a day on strength training. This works best if you are doing a full-body routine by alternating upper- and lower-body exercises so you allow adequate rest of the the major muscles. The following is an example:

  • Upper-body major muscle exercise (3-5 sets) + lower-body accessory muscle exercise in between sets
  • Lower-body major muscle exercise (3-5 sets) + upper-body accessory muscle exercise in between sets

Easy Exercises for Beginners

Below, I list the exercises that I find are the easiest to learn and perform correctly when just starting out. These are also great when you are limited on time because you can perform most of these at home with a set of dumbbells or have multiple options at the gym so you don't have to wait for specific equipment or machines.


If this has been helpful for you or you have additional questions, drop a comment below! More information and guides on this topic will be coming soon!