Photo by Craig Lovelidge / Unsplash

This is just a brain dump of how I program my weightlifting.

This isn't really a guide or strategy for how to get optimal results. There's plenty of those guides out there.

Personally, I feel like the difference between "good" programming and science-backed "optimal" programming is not as significant as people might imagine. Like 1% significant.

At the end of the day, like anything, consistency is what truly matters. So, this is how I've programamed my workouts to allow me to be consistent on good days, bad days, and everything in-between.

Identify Goals

Goals will be different for everyone. But it's important to shape your workouts around your goals at the time. I'll ask myself questions like:

  • How much time do I have per week to train?
  • Where does lifting fit in my priorities? Above other sports?
  • What's my end goal?

In my case, I have conflicts on two days each week, but can train the other 4 to 5 days with regular consistency.

In regards to my priorities: I'm currently also running. This is to train for the winter nordic ski season, but since that is still many months away it's a lower priority than my lifting.

And my goal is to look better, be more athletic, have a block of time in my week where I can listen to music & think, and see my brother at the gym.

With all this in mind, it's now time to figure out the training program. And the goals will impact how you program things. For example, if running was my priority instead of lifting, I might decide to only lift 1 or 2 days per week.

So consider your priorities as you read further.

Training Split

First, it's time to decide on a training split. When you lift heavy weights you break down your muscles and need to give them time to recover before you work them again. This recovery process takes a minimum of 1 day.

That's why training splits exist. They determine your strategy for training certain muscle groups and giving them optimal time to recover.

Here are the most common training splits:

Full body



I currently train using a full body split. Which means I train my entire body, then take a rest day, then full body, rest, every other day. There's many reasons I do this but the main one is this:


The gym is important to me, but so is the rest of my life. And last-minute conflicts come up all the time. I can't emphasize this enough. I have lifting as a high priority, but I still find myself frequently needing to move workouts around.

But, that flexibility is exactly the reason I love a full body splits. This split has the highest ratio of rest days to training days. This means that even if I have to "miss" a day in the gym it's not a problem.

There's always an ability to move rest days around and not impact your progress.

I try to be as consistent as possible going to the gym. I schedule my workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But, even then I still need to move things around a lot. Take a look at my log for my last month of lifting:

As you can see from this chart, it's extremely common for me to miss a workout. And this is almost always due to things outside my control.

If I was doing one of these other splits, it might be 3 or more days before I can train that muscle group again.

But, full body training means I can miss workouts no problem. I just take my 2-day rest day early or later in the week, then get right back on track.

Also, if I'm going somewhere for a weekend I can schedule around that easily. I can train on Thursday, take a rest on Friday and Saturday, then train again on Sunday. No missed workouts needed.

Exercise Selection

When it comes to exercise selection, I have two categories of exercises. One is main exercises, and the other is assistance exercises.

The difference between these two is primarily regarding how much focus/effort I put towards the exercise.

Main exercises - Compound movement. Usually 5-12 reps. Try to increase weight or reps every workout. Need usually a certain song & lots of focus to succeed at the lift. Needs 2-4 minutes of rest between sets. 3 sets each.

Assistance exercises - Typically an isolation movement. Usually 8-15 reps. Don't focus on increasing the weight. 1-3 minutes of rest between sets. I usually superset these to save time. 2 or 3 sets each.

Main Exercises

For my full body training split, I select 1 compound exercise in each of these 3 categories and those become my 3 main exercises. I always have 3 main exercises:

Legs - ex. Squats, Deadlift, Front Squats, Lunges

Push - ex. Bench, Incline Bench, Overhead Press

Pull - ex. Pullups, Dumbell Row, Cable Row, Chest-Supported Row

I personally do: Squat, Bench, & Dumbell Row. And I'll switch up these main exercises every 2 months or so. For example, I switched from flat bench to incline bench a couple months ago.

Also, sometimes I'll keep an exercise around for longer if I enjoy it still. Squats, for example, I've done every single workout since I started training.

Assistance Exercises

These are usually selected to make up for a body part that could be targeted well enough in the main exercises. Typically this is the arms, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, forearms, and abs.

The exercises I typically do here include bicep curls, tricep extensions, romanian deadlifts, and side lateral raises.

I treat these as fully optional. If I feel great I'll do them, if not I'll skip them, do some of them, or do less sets.

It's important to note that even if you skip these you're still working these muscles with the main exercises. A bench press will inevitably use your triceps. A row will inevitably use your biceps. So, I treat these as extra credit. If I skip them, no problem!

I'll swap the exercises every month or so. For example, swapping cable tricep pushdowns for overhead tricep extensions.

Progression Scheme

The next important point is progression scheme. I think it's really important to go in and do the same lifts week to week and actively try to improve at them.

I do something called double progression which sounds complicated but really it just means increasing the number of repetitions within a rep range, then increasing the weight once you hit the top of that rep range.

So for a program where I'm trying to squat 3 sets for 6-8 reps, my workouts might look like this:

[monday] 3x6 Squats @ 100lbs

[wednesday] 3x8 Squats @100lbs

[friday] 3x6 Squats @ 105lbs

As you can see, I added weight when I hit the top of the rep range on my first set. I find that a rep range of 3 reps (ex. 6-8, 8-10, 10-12) and an increase of 5lbs is optimal.

Generally if I can do 8 reps of 100lbs that's around equal in difficulty to 6 reps of 105lbs.

I also track these lifts in KeyLifts, and I love looking back at the graph to see how much stronger I become over time.

When programming my assistance exercises, I'll also have a rep range. But I'll increase weight more based on how I'm feeling.

Program Template

So that's basically how I program my lifts. Here is an example program I would run:

Main Exercises

3x6-8 Squat
3x6-8 Bench
3x10-12 Dumbell Row

Accessory Exercises

2x10-12 Bicep Curl w/ Superset: 2x10-12 Tricep Extension
2x10-12 Romanian Deadlift w/ Superset: 2x10-12 Lateral Raise

This workout will take between 30-90 minutes. The assistance exercises are always optional, so sometimes if I'm time constrained I will skip them.

I tend to skip them about 30% of the time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I'm meeting with friends, or I want to go for a run, or I'm just hungry and want to go eat.

The main exercises alone usually take 45 minutes. I'll take my time and try to rest fully and push the sets hard. But, these can be done faster if I'm in a time crunch. I'll just need to lower the weight for sets 2 and 3 so I don't need to rest as long.

33/33/33 Rule

One point that I want to emphasize is how important it is to have a minimum viable workout. What I mean by that, is you need a workout that you can complete even on your worst days.

I generally like to think of that as 33/33/33 Rule.

I find that:

33% of the time I feel great. I'm strong, the music has me amped, I'm excited to be in the gym, I'm loving life.

33% of the time I feel okay. I feel fine, but it's not a particularly exciting workout. Just another day at the office.

33% of the time I feel horrible. I feel weak, stressed, sad, overwhelmed or maybe a combination.

I optimize my training so that I can do it in any of these 3 moods. If I'm feeling great, I do all the assistance exercises. I might even add a 3rd set to them. And maybe run afterwards.

But, if I feel bad I'll just do the 3 main exercises and go home. And that's still a winning day, because my measure for success is defined as simply getting those 3 main lifts done.

It also helps when I'm feeling bad and considering not going to the gym. It's motivating to know that a successful workout takes only 30 minutes. I can convince myself to go if it's only 30 minutes.

And occasionally a surprising phenomenon happens. I'll go to the gym on a day I don't want to and I'll end up having an okay or even a great workout! In fact, this happens almost 50% of the time. So, workouts can be a superpower that can flip my entire day around.

And, one final point here:

Your minimum viable workout doesn't need to include going to the gym at all. It can be a 15 minute workout of bodyweight squats, pushups & situps.

At the moment lifting is high enough priority that I'll go almost every time, but in the future that might not be the case. For example, in the fall I plan to prioritize my running and cardio training.

At that point, my plan is to set up a home gym with dumbells to reduce the friction. So there's lots of flexibility.

Okay, that's the brain dump.