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One of the biggest indicators of success in the gym is having a gym training plan.

People who make it up as they go along, or just jump onto whatever machine happens to be available, rarely make any noticeable progress in strength or appearance. It’s also a big reason people quit the gym – why would you keep plugging away, spending money and time, on something that isn’t making any difference? You need a gym training plan.

So, obviously, as a gym owner, and personal training company owner, I’d always recommend getting a personal trainer to work with you, design a gym training plan for you, and get guidance on how to do everything properly. You’ll save months, even years of wasted effort, and probably spare yourself an injury or two.

But not everyone wants, or wants to outlay the money for, personal training. And that’s fine: this article is designed to pour out some of our knowledge for you, so you can have a go at creating your own gym training plan that has a fighting chance of getting your somewhere.

Let’s dig into the things you’ve got to consider:

Your start level of ability

Designing your own gym training plan comes with a BIG requirement. Being honest with yourself.

What does that mean?

Well, you’ve got to assess your current ability levels. Do you know how to handle a barbell? Can you bench press properly, bracing well, using your feet to drive, and thinking about hand positioning? Can you squat to a proper depth, making sure you hinge at the hip, externally rotate in the drive up, and lock the bar in with your lats? Yes? Great – you should programme in some barbell work as the mainstay of your training.

Was the answer no? Or that you’ve not even heard of some of those things? Then, regardless of how long you’ve been going to a gym, you’re a beginner – and unless you want to get hurt, you need to plan for your current level of ability.

Don’t over-estimate your skill or strength levels when you design your own gym training plan.

What goals are you trying to achieve with your gym training plan?

Before any planning, in any field, there needs to be an idea of what the hell you’re trying to achieve.

Do you want to be stronger? If so, what does that mean? Do you mean stronger than now – if so, how much stronger? Double? 10%? In what lifts? What would that extra strength MEAN to you? Is it just for show in the gym (which is absolutely fine as a goal) or do you want to apply it to the real world?

How about slimmer? How much slimmer? Are you prepared to lose some strength during the process, or are you adamant you must get stronger too? What would the end goal of “success!” actually look like? A size smaller dress? A belt buckle hole lower? A full-on six pack? What’s the goal?

All these questions impact your exercise selection, your rep ranges, the number of sets you do, whether you use supersets, how long the programme lasts – so they’re important. You’ve got to at least ask yourself the questions, or your program will just be guesswork.

The environment you train in is vital

Have you decided your goal is to hugely improve your bench press? One of the biggest components of that gym training plan will be frequency – literally, how often you can bench press in a typical week. We advise three times a week for short bursts, which often overcomes sticking points.

What if your gym only has two bench press stations, but 3000 members? How likely is it you’ll be able to get on a bench every time you train for a couple of months?

Flip that for squatting, or anything that needs a platform.

You’ll quickly start to see that you can have the perfect training plan, and it won’t stand a chance in your current training environment.

Sometimes you can fix that with a change of training time (pro-tip: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays are WAY quieter in most gyms than Mon-Wed-Sat, and 1pm-4pm is the usual dead-zone). But in some gyms, particularly the stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap chains, there’s never a dead time.

Your training environment, the kit available, the busy-ness of the venue, the supportiveness of the staff (need a spot, for example?) is key to success. Don’t under-estimate the value of paying a few quid more a week to go somewhere you can actually use the kit.

How much time can you dedicate to your gym training plan?

As personal trainers, we get inundated with enthusiastic new clients who are going to “hit it 6 days a week”.

Usually we nod sagely, and say nothing, knowing that will drop to three times a week at best once the initial first couple of week’s excitement dies off. In fact, we often discourage that before it even starts. Hardly anyone trains 6 days a week unless they are a professional athlete. It’s just not necessary for 99% of people.

A well-designed gym training plan will take into account when you ACTUALLY get to train, rather than what you THINK you’ll do. Not a morning person? Why do you think you’ll manage 4 times a week at 6am? Got kids? Why are you planning to be out of the house at bedtime 4 evenings a week? Love your Saturday night out? A Sunday morning training session isn’t likely.

We’re not saying you can’t change habits – of course you can, and that’s a huge chunk of what we do with clients – but you can’t change them all at once. Don’t expect that simply because you’ve written out a plan, that you’ll suddenly develop virtuous habits that take people years to hone.

Try and fit into natural gaps in your schedule, where you’re not overly impacting work, family and social life. You can always create more gaps as you get better at habit-change.

Your motivation levels should be reflected in your gym training plan

Sounds cheesy – but how bad you want it, huh?

If the gym to you is “something to do”, or “oh, I don’t really mind if I hot my goal or not”, then that intensive, gruelling, frequent plan isn’t going to survive week 2. Probably not even week 1.

Your “why am I doing this?” is really important. You will have times where you just cannot, for want of a better term, be arsed. The reason you are doing it needs to be bigger than the nonsense you’ll start telling yourself to justify skipping a session.

If you know you struggle to motivate yourself, then a tough training plan, that you aren’t sure you even know how to do properly, in a crowded gym, with no training buddy – well, we don’t even need to finish the sentence.

My current “why” is simple: I want to be as strong at 50 as I was at 40. I want to defy time, basically – one decade at a time. Daft? Maybe – but it drags me through sessions I would otherwise bail on. What’s yours?

Get in touch with us if you want a free personal training session to help you plan out your training – or if you just want a new environment to train in, claim a free 7 day trial at our gym in Nottingham.

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