When starting the gym, you may have relied on a program given to you by your trainer or followed a program you downloaded from the internet. Having now become familiar with the majority of the exercises, you want to create a fitness program with all your favorite exercises, completely adapted to your own needs. Very good idea. But it needs attention.

How do you know that the structure of the program you want to do, the choice of exercises, and the intensity of training are all correct? Or at least as right as a pro would get them. Read below the steps you should follow so that the program you created for you is as complete, efficient, and balanced as possible for the goals you have set.

Step 1: Selection of fundamental exercises

By now you should have understood that good work is not done without the use of fundamental exercises. Sure the machines serve their purpose to a point, but you want to put on muscle mass. And a proper fitness program for this goal should include all the movements you will see below without exception:

  • Seated – any variation of these
  • Pulls – any variation of these
  • Shoulder presses – any variation of these
  • Chest compressions – any variation of these
  • Rows – any variation of these

And if you are more advanced…

  • Deadlifts

Not only are the above tremendously effective at increasing your overall strength, but they help release hormones that will fire up the metabolism, creating the right environment for muscle growth. Regardless of what phase you’re in (bulking or buffing) the above exercises and their variations should not be ignored.

Each of the above fundamental exercises has at least 3 free weight variations that you should spread evenly throughout your program as the first exercises to be performed on a given training day. For a supplement, you can add some exercises with pulleys and at the end 2-3 exercises with equipment.

Step 2: Creating balance

On an individual level, we all have muscle imbalances that we need to pay a little more attention to. The most common muscle imbalance is in the muscles of the back of our body as (almost all of us) pay more attention to the so-called “mirror muscles”. Therefore, the exercises we mentioned above, although fundamental, distributing them equally in a weekly program can intensify a pre-existing muscle imbalance.


See objectively where you need to put more emphasis on your body (not what you like to do) and “tilt” your training to benefit this more. Some additional tips:

  • As a general rule, and because it’s a fairly large muscle group, you should aim for almost double the training volume for the back than you do for the chest. This is the only way you will be sure that you give it equal “importance” from the chest.
  • If you want to split your back training into 2 days, choose one day to do movements that bring the arms above the head (pull-ups) and one day to bring the hands to the abdomen (row).
  • If you want to do a superset of competing muscle groups (eg chest & back) always choose the pulls/rows movement (back) first and then the press movement (chest). First biceps (pull) and then the triceps (press). First biceps femoris (pull) and then quadriceps femoris (pressure).

Step 3: Training volume

The correct weekly amount of exercises/sets (or training gain) plays a very important role in the success of a program.

If you want to build an exercise program for muscle mass, a single bench exercise with 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions is not enough. The key to muscle growth lies in training volume. Even if that means going lighter on the bar, if you’re going to take shorter breaks, you should simply increase the sets to the point of muscle failure. What you want is to cause the greatest possible muscle damage in the gym, which combined with proper nutrition and rest will cause the greatest possible muscle growth in the body.

Training for muscle mass does not require a lot weight as many people think. We don’t go for powerlifting or breaking personal records. If you want a general framework then remember around 18-20 total sets for the big groups: back/butt/quads or for areas you want more work (no the chest is not a big muscle group…), around 12-15 for the medium muscle groups: chest, hamstrings, biceps, shoulders and around 9-12 total weekly sets for the small groups: biceps, triceps, calves, trapezius.

Step 4: Rep Range

Every muscle group in our body is not the same and therefore responds differently to a given rep range. Although muscle stimulation is a purely individual matter, certain muscle groups tend to respond almost universally to high reps and others to low reps with more explosiveness.

Postural muscles (legs) and back muscles respond best to a high rep range. Working eg quads with 8-10 (at 70%RM muscle gain) is not giving them a good enough stimulus, these muscles need more than 12 closer to 15 reps to start developing. Chest on the other hand and shoulders are sufficiently stimulated with 6-8 repetitions only (always at 70%RM). The rest of the teams want a standard 8-10.

Step 5: Choosing the right superset

A common mistake many makes is to exhaust a muscle that contributes to the movement of the next exercise in a superset. For example, there are quite a few who “pair” rows in a superset (bent row with dumbbells and row on the pulley with an open grip). This pairing guarantees an immediate drop in performance because the biceps have already reached their peak performance and the result is a loss of grip.

If you absolutely must include a pair of supersets in your program, it should be a superset of competing muscle groups (front-back) or a superset of competing movements (press-pull, row-stretch) or a “decompression” superset, where one exercise works as a decompressive extension of the other. Example: Pulley pull-ups are considered decompression in a barbell bent-over set.


As you can see, we didn’t mention anything groundbreaking or something you hadn’t already thought of. Everything is a matter of common sense combined with the right knowledge to become an ideal act to create a fitness program just for you.


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