How to structure your workouts in 4 easy steps

written by Philip Stefanov  |  JANUARY 19, 2021

It doesn’t matter whether you train three or six days per week. Structuring each workout will always (or at least in the majority of cases) follow the same rules.

Begin your workouts with compound exercises. They allow you to train each muscle that is involved with a higher load. This doesn’t mean that doing close-grip bench press is going to be better for your triceps than doing dumbbell kickbacks. There are other things worth considering. (Such, for example, is bad technique.)

But, there is a big advantage to doing the bigger movements early in your workouts. For instance, taking advantage of your strength early before your muscles become fatigued is important. You can overload your body with more weight and more repetitions.

Here are four good steps you should follow when putting together the workouts for a program:

Step #1: Start with a heavy, compound exercise (flat bench press, close-grip bench press, barbell squats, deadlifts, overhead barbell press, etc.).

Step # 2: Once you’re done with that, move to secondary exercises that will assist your main movements:

  • dumbbell press/hammer strength press for chest
  • cable tricep pushdowns/tricep dips for triceps
  • leg press/hack squat/split squat for legs
  • barbell or dumbbell rows/pull-ups/pulldowns for the back
  • overhead press variation/side lateral dumbbell raises for your shoulders

Step #3: After that, you can move to a second accessory exercise. The goal is to build training volume that will produce muscle growth over time. These exercises are also great for targeting weak points that are prohibiting you from making good progress on your main lifts.

Step #4: By this point, you can either start training a different muscle group or continue adding more volume for the current group. For example:

  • If you’re training legs, do some calve or hamstring accessory work
  • If you’re training chest, consider a fly exercise to finish off
  • If you’re training back, do an exercise for your traps or lats
  • If you’re training shoulders, include a movement for your rear delts 

Think of the compound lifts as the foundation of a building. Once you lay it down, the accessory work is going to be the tall, beautiful skyscraper built on top.

Until next week,


P.S. If you’re interested in learning about volume, frequency, intensity, progressive overload, and much more, click here to read my guide on training for optimal growth.


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