Designing a Workout for Your Dream Body

One of the most common problems I hear is, “I don’t know how to meet my goals.” Fortunately, it’s not as overwhelming as you might think to tweak the variables in a strength-training workout. And the reward is an outcome that you wanted instead of one you didn’t expect or didn’t get.

Envision Your Ideal Body

How do you see yourself benefiting from your beautiful, fit body? Do you want get into shape for a vacation? Knock out physically challenging tasks without injuring yourself? Be comfortable playing sports with your kids? Play beach volleyball in a bikini? (Now that is ambitious – but doable!)

I will describe how to get results below, but first you must identify the exact changes you’d like to see in your body.

Increase strength endurance. Being able to maintain force for prolonged periods of time requires endurance. I’m not going to cover muscle endurance here, because that is simply being able to perform the same task over and over for prolonged periods. For strength endurance, you need to combine methods for hypertrophy and strength (next).

Build muscle (hypertrophy). Even chicks want bigger, more defined muscles. If you do, you need to train (and eat) for muscle growth. That means more calories than you normally eat – men and women and lifting  heavy.

Develop muscle definition. The only difference between building muscle (above) and developing a lean, sculpted look is having lower body fat. This means clean eating. You’ll also need to lift hard and heavy.

Boost strength. You may’ve heard it before: You need to be strong to lift heavy, and you can’t get big (or defined) muscles unless you lift heavy. Or maybe you simply want to be stronger. Regardless, you need to train for this adaptation.

Lose Body Fat. In addition to eating clean and incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you should strength train for weight loss, and you can do that using circuits and supersets. See also my 12-week plan for increasing muscle and losing fat.

With any of these goals, you need to commit to hitting the iron. Are you ready? Will you give yourself what you deserve?

Train for Your Goals

Now that you’ve pinpointed your goals, you need to train based on your goals. Keep in mind that the more specific your goals are (such as, “I want a bubble butt”), the more specifically you can train.

Variables You Control

Use the following variables as a guide, and as you become more experienced, you should become concerned with a few additional components (covered in future posts), such as cycling your workouts (periodization). Also please keep in mind that how you train will depend on your fitness level.


Strength Endurance











Rest intervals

0-60 sec

0-60 sec

3-5 min


2-4x week

3-6x week

2-4x week

Tip: Also see this article about reps and sets.

  • Repetition: A complete movement of an exercise. Often referred to as a “rep.” How many reps you perform during each session depends on your goals.
  • Set: A group of consecutive repetitions.
  • Rest intervals: The amount of recovery time between each set. How long you rest has a dramatic effect on the results of your training [1]. In order to replenish your energy reserves you need to rest adequately between sets; however, you don’t want to rest too long or you negate the energy expended.
  • Intensity. Your level of effort. You can change the intensity by adjusting the reps and sets or the level of resistance.

    Intensity can be measured against your maximal effort (your one-rep max, or 1RM), but many beginning to intermediate lifters simply use this rule: Lift as much as you can lift for the target number of reps, ensuring that your muscles are fatigued by the last rep. That doesn’t mean you cannot do another rep (called lifting to failure); that simply means you could probably do only one more. If you can do more reps than your target range, increase the weight. Similarly, if you cannot complete the target number of reps, decrease the weight. The body’s job is to adapt, and your job is to stay ahead of your body’s adaptations.

  • Frequency: How many times per week you train. Again, this variable has a big impact on your success. Learn which training split is right for you and remember that more is not always better. As a general guideline, you need to leave 48 hours between training muscle groups, depending on your level and how hard you train.
  • Duration. How long you spend exercising during one session. This will depend on your fitness level and time constraints; anything beyond 60 to 90 minutes results in rapidly decreasing energy levels. Keeping your workouts below this range will allow you to maintain strength and energy needed to perform well.
  • Tempo. The speed with which each repetition is performed. Each rep has three phases – eccentric (lowering the weight and lengthening the muscle), isometric (holding the weight in a static position), and concentric (lifting the weight and shortening the muscle). These tempos are expressed like this: x/x/x or eccentric/isometric/concentric (for example, 2/0/2). Changing the time under tension can be used to help break through a plateau.
  • Exercises. Which weight lifting movements you choose will have a big impact on your progress. For each workout, concentrate on doing several compound movements (those using more than one joint) and only one or two isolation exercises. A good rule of thumb for muscle growth is 12-20 sets per week per muscle group (fewer for small muscles). So if you do 4 exercises for legs at 4 sets each, that’s 16 sets. That’s more than plenty for the entire week. However,  some people don’t respond well to once-a-week training, so understand which training split is right for you.

A few effective exercises include:

  • Glutes: Squats, barbell hip thrusts, back extensions, lunges, hip extension, and more here)
  • Quads: Squats, leg press, leg extension, lunges
  • Hamstrings: Lying leg extension, hip extension, stiff-legged deadlift
  • Calves: Seated calf raise, standing calf raise, calf press
  • Back: Back extension, deadlift, lat pull down, cable row
  • Chest: Incline chest press, flat bench press, dumbbells flyes, push ups, dips
  • Shoulders: Arnold press, iron cross, military press, rear delt flyes
  • Triceps: Triceps push downs, lying tricep extension, overhead tricep extension, dips
  • Biceps: Concentration curl (or preacher curl), Barbell or dumbbell bicep curl, cross-body curl, hammer curl

Also check out the many online guides for learning to perform exercises, such as and

Keep Progressing

Mix up the rest, intensity, tempo, reps, and/or sets on a session-by-session or weekly basis to keep your body adapting. You can also rotate two or three workouts.

Perform your newly created workout for four to six weeks. Be patient – one of the biggest reason people don’t see results is because of “program hopping.” After that time period, back off the intensity by about 20 percent and let your body recover for a week or two, depending on how heavy you’ve been lifting. After this time, change the exercises, but stick to the same basic principles: compound movements and only a few isolation movements. Remember that the basic principle of weightlifting is progressive overload, so continue to increase the weight any time it’s possible to do so with good form.

Enjoy your workouts! And don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.

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  1. AWeSOMe article!
    thank you for helping to keep me inspired and on track.
    keepin’ it real,
    gene @boutdrz recently posted..JULY DIY5KMy Profile

  2. i love is suzanne! so useful helpful and inspiring!
    lindsay recently posted..Reminders and RecipesMy Profile

  3. great article. I am a beginner and I started a full body routine a few weeks ago….I am already seeing changes.
    Doing It My Weigh recently posted..8 Weeks and 13 PoundsMy Profile

  4. You are awesome! I can’t WAIT to get home and explore this a little more in depth..but as I am at work…
    ragemichelle recently posted..Great ExpectationsMy Profile

  5. very helpful, I love it.

  6. Great post.good chart to help people with there goals.

  7. The bomb! Well written. 🙂
    Jeannie recently posted..Sometimes I Just Need Some YogaMy Profile

    • @Gene- You’re welcome :). You help me too!
      @Lindsay- Thanks for stopping by despite my errant blog reading ways!
      @Changingmyweighs- Love to hear from beginners. They see results most quickly ;). Thanks for stopping by!
      @Michelle- You mean you won’t risk your supervisor’s wrath for me??
      @Amy- Thanks!
      @Ndem- I hope so 🙂

    • Thank you hon!

  8. What a fantastic post! Thanks Suzanne for doing this!
    Sheri @ TheMotivationalGirl recently posted..Stress Less Weigh LessMy Profile

  9. Wow! Not sure how I missed this! What an amazing overview of the different components of different types of fitness measurements.
    My wrists are lean – they’re the first to get lean – alas my belly is not. But I’m not ready to give up my half and half!
    For me? I think I want to have better cardiovascular endurance and capacity at higher intensity. So instead of being winded swimming hard for 1 lap in the pool – I’d like to be able to maintain that pace for 2 laps. Not sure what you call that…. but that’s what I want.
    And a slimmer belly of course. ha!
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Beginning Mountain Biking | I REALLY Rode in Tahoe!My Profile

    • Kris, you’re always striving for more. I know your workouts are a LOT different than this but you are organized about what you do and that will get your results!

  10. Perfect article, thank you! This is definitely where I need to start.

    Strength endurance is my goal – I’m a runner and a chaser of a 5 year old 🙂

    Thanks for your help. I’m sure I’ll creep around your site for more.
    Kristen @SEO Runner recently posted..Forks Over Knives and Nov Goals – EarlyMy Profile

  11. OK, I have to be “mean” and say what about those “I want to tone but I don’t want those big muscles, that is so manly”, lol. If I had a penny for every time I heard that. I’ve been trying to build for a figure competition and every ounce of muscle I get is a result of so much training and nutrition and supplements and I go nuts hearing that 🙂 When will that big fat lie go away from women’s heads. Awesome post, Suzanne.
    Brankica recently posted..Importance of Pre-workout and Post-workout MealsMy Profile

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