What type of program is best for getting in shape?

March 8, 2014

Q: I’m a little confused on how to organize a program that will work for me. In the past, I went to the gym with out a plan of attack. I would usually do whatever I felt like doing at the time, which usually meant arms, shoulders and a little bit of legs. How do you suggest I divide my program?

A: There are many ways to organize your training routine depending on your lifestyle and level of training. Remember to start with the basics. Weight training is like building a house; you want to build a strong foundation before you ever think about putting on the roof. Here are a few routines ranging from beginner to advanced trainee to help get you started.

Full-body workout

Pick one exercise for each body part and do two to three total sets per exercise. Complete this workout two to three times a week with at least one day of rest between training sessions. This workout allows you to hit each body part more frequently, but the low volume of sets gives your body plenty of time to recover. This routine is great for people who are just starting to lift weights, those who have taken off for a long period of time or people interested in toning up and dropping weight.

Three-day training split

Divide your workout into three body parts per day and double the volume with two exercises and six total sets per body part. This workout allows you to hit each muscle group with more intensity, but still lets you get everything done in three days. This workout is a step up from the full body, but can be finished without adding an extra day to your training schedule. It’s a great transition from beginner to intermediate lifter.

Four-day training split

This program only works two body parts per day, but is much more intense than the others I’ve mentioned above, because each body part is trained with three to four exercises and a total of nine to 12 sets and only one time per week. This type of training split is more advanced and is generally for more experienced lifters who are more focused on adding size and strength.

One body part a day

This program allows you to pay full attention to detail by training each body part with four to five different exercises and a total of 12 to 15 sets. The advantage is that you can hit each muscle from every angle with a high volume of work. The disadvantage is it will take a full seven days to complete one entire training cycle. This routine is generally reserved for body builders and hardcore lifters who are much more serious about training than the average person.

No matter how you decide to organize your program, it’s important that you have a plan and increase the difficulty of your training split as you get stronger and capable of greater workloads. The body responds to small changes, and you can keep it guessing by trying to rotate all of the above programs.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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