5 Components of a Smart Strength Training Workout

How to plan and execute a workout that actually works!

Jamie Staley, CPT, Pn1

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

“It does no good to be strong in the wrong exercise.”

Louie Simmons

I was trying to decide if I wanted to use Louie Simmons or Taylor Swift for this opening line, and that pretty much sums up who I am as a person. (If you are not familiar with Louie, he is an elite powerlifter and owner of Westside Barbell in Ohio. Netflix did a documentary about Westside that will truly blow you away.)

Anyway, let’s get into today’s topic: how to make a strength training workout that actually works.

As a trainer, I see some things in the gym. I see a lot things. Some things I wish I could unsee. But what kills me the most is people wasting their time doing stuff that they have no idea why they are doing it or how to do it properly. Not because I want to shame people, but because I care about them and want everyone to make the most of their time in the gym!

And since you and I are friends, I want to save you from this gigantic waste of time and save you an injury (or seven).

Disclaimer: if you are brand new to strength training, it will benefit you to hire a trainer. You don’t even have to hire me, just any trainer that knows what they are doing for even just one or two sessions. It is very difficult to get a handle on most of these things without real time feedback on form and examples of proper programming.

However, if you have a basic understanding of strength training, let me help you develop a workout that will improve your strength, help prevent injuries, and have you loving the gym!

1. The Warm-up

The very first thing most people get wrong is how they start their workout. Take the time to do a 5-10 minute warm-up of some light cardio, dynamic stretching, or both. Mentally, this will help you get ready to focus on your workout and physically it will raise your body temperature and prepare your muscles for the work you are about to do.

If you use a treadmill for your warm-up, that is perfectly fine, but don’t forget about your upper body. Do some arm circles, swing your arms while you walk, and do some targeted dynamic stretching for your upper body!

2. Appropriate Volume

This is a loaded statement because what is appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for the next. Volume is also determined by multiple factors including reps, sets, number of exercises, weight used, rest time, tempo, number of workouts per week, splits, etc.

For the general population, strength training 2-4 days per week is a good place to be. As far as each workout, a rep range of about 8-15 for 2-3 sets is also pretty standard. The number of exercises you use will also vary greatly. If you are short on time, there is nothing wrong with doing a few exercises and getting on with your day. Just be careful not to go too far in the opposite direction and overload yourself with 20+ movements only for the sake of doing more.

3. Basic Movement Patterns

When it comes to strength training, do not sacrifice effectiveness in the name of creativity. What are the basic movements? Squatting, hip hinges, lunging, pushing, and pulling. Do a variation of each of these and you’ve got a total body workout done. Add in some accessory arm or core work if you want and you’re done in under 10 exercises.

Do not get crazy with combination moves, trying to make everything a balance exercise, or trying to make everything a cardio exercise. Balance training and cardio have their place, but they don’t need to be combined with strength training. If your goal is to get stronger, focus on the basics. They will always work. Always!

4. Proper Form

Now here is where a trainer comes in real handy. Depending on the exercise, proper form can be extremely tricky and improper form can lead to an injury real fast.

If you don’t have a trainer and you aren’t sure if you are doing something right, you can find tutorials on YouTube. When in doubt: lower the weight, slow down, focus on the muscles that are supposed to be doing the most work, and film yourself so you can review it later.

5. Consistent Tracking

If someone was doing a “Couch to 5k” program, but never kept track of when they ran, how long they ran, how far they ran, how they felt while they ran, or what their mile splits were; how successful do you think their running program would be? I would think not very successful.

Why is strength training any different?

If you aren’t tracking when you train, what exercises you do, what weight you used, what reps and sets you used, what tempo you used, and how you felt during and after, how do you know that you are making any progress?

This necessary step is often skipped, but so necessary! Grab a notebook and just keep a simple log. No need to use an app or a fancy log (although they are cool). Even the notes app on your phone works just fine!

The best part about this is looking back and seeing how far you’ve come and how your strength has improved. I keep a detailed log for every client for every workout and I love reviewing it with them!


Does your workout routine need attention? Let me help!

If tackling a new exercise regime on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and have experience with a wide array of clients.

I will coach you through an individualized plan to meet your goals and help you gain strength and confidence, while cutting through the confusion. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, motivation, and guidance to make lasting change.

In-person or online coaching available! Send me an email at jsfncoaching@gmail.com and let’s chat about your goals!

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