Best Dang Workout Program Design to Build a Better Body & Be More Awesome

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In previous Train to Be Awesome articles you saw my favorite Best Dang Exercises to Build a Better Body and Be More Awesome for the upper body and abs and the lower body.

Today you’ll be presented with my favorite workout templates you can use to Build a Better Body and Be More Awesome. Be sure to use the exercises from the articles mentioned above in the following program designs for the best results.

Best Dang Workout Splits

A split simply means how the workouts are organized. My two favorite splits are total body workouts (which aren’t really “splits” at all) and upper/lower splits.

I prefer those splits because they allow for enough training frequency for each muscle group and are great for achieving maximum results in minimum time. Most of my clients strength train 2-4 days per week, and these splits work very well.

These workout splits also prevent you from wasting time in the gym. You get in there, work hard, and then get out. You only spend time and energy on the exercises that will make your body, and mind, even more awesome.

Total Body Template

If you just want to look and be awesome without spending more time than necessary in the gym, total body workouts are tough to beat.

Some of my favorite workout programs revolve around 3 workouts per week with 3 main exercises performed for 3 sets each.

Here’s a video that shows an excellent example of that layout with trap bar deadlifts, parallel bar dips, and dumbbell rows.

That workout, from my first warm-up set to my last work set, took about 35 minutes to complete. Depending on time and energy I may include a few sets of accessory exercises like lateral raises, reverse crunches, and curls.

As you can see, total body workouts revolve around big, compound exercises first.

Here’s a more thorough example of how I design a total body workout template.

Workout 1

  • 1) Squat variation (e.g. back squat, goblet squat)
  • 2a) Horizontal pull (e.g. inverted row, dumbbell row)
  • 2b) Horizontal push (e.g. bench press, push-up)

Workout 2

  • 2a) Vertical pull
  • 2b) Vertical push

Often times I’ll use those 2 workouts and rotate them back and forth, especially for beginner trainees.

For intermediate+ trainees I usually include a third workout.

Workout 3

  • 1a) Single leg exercise (e.g. rear foot elevated split squat, reverse lunge)
  • 1b) Horizontal push (e.g. push-up variation, parallel bar dip, dumbbell bench press)
  • 1c) Horizontal pull (e.g. chest supported row, dumbbell row)

Accessory Exercises

You can also include a few accessory exercises or conditioning work after each workout. This is the time to work on weak muscle groups or the body parts you’d like to receive more attention such as the upper back, glutes, biceps, triceps, calves, and abs. You can also perform conditioning exercises like kettlebell swings or, my personal favorite, jump rope intervals.

If you choose to include accessory work I like the rule of 3 here, too; 3 exercises for 3 sets each performed in a circuit.

Here’s an example of some popular accessory exercises I’ll include after one of the workouts shown above.

  • A) Dumbbell lateral raise
  • B) Reverse crunch
  • C) Back extension

You can perform 3 sets each for about 10-15 reps per exercise. Easy peasy.

Upper/Lower Split Template

An upper/lower training split is useful for intermediate and advanced trainees. If you’ve used total body workouts for an extended period of time, an upper/lower split can provide a welcomed change of pace.

Just like with total body workouts, you should still use primarily compound exercises. I also suggest not training more than 2 days in a row.

Here’s a more thorough example of how I design an upper/lower workout split template.

Workout 1 – Upper Body A

  • 1a) Horizontal pull — strength focus 5-8 reps (e.g. dumbbell row)
  • 1b) Horizontal push — strength focus 5-8 reps (e.g. weighted push-up, bench press)
  • 2a) Vertical pull — moderate reps, 10-12 (e.g. chin-up, pulldown)
  • 2b) Vertical push — moderate reps, 10-12 (e.g. one arm shoulder press, seated press)
  • 3) Optional Accessory Work (e.g. lateral raises, curls, extensions)

Workout 2 – Lower Body A

  • 1) Squat variation — strength focus 3-8 reps (e.g. back squat, goblet squat)
  • 2) Posterior chain — moderate reps, 8-12 (e.g. back extension, RDL)
  • 3a) Single leg exercise — moderate reps, 8-12 (e.g. lunge, step-up)
  • 3b) Ab work — 8-15 reps (e.g. ab wheel rollout, hanging knee raise)

Workout 3 – Upper Body B

  • 1a) Vertical pull — strength focus 5-8 reps (e.g. chin-up)
  • 1b) Vertical push — strength focus 5-8 reps (e.g. one arm dumbbell push press, standing barbell press)
  • 2a) Horizontal pull — moderate reps, 10-12 (e.g. inverted row)
  • 2b) Horizontal push — moderate reps, 10-12 (e.g. dumbbell bench press, push-up)
  • 3) Optional Accessory Work (e.g. lateral raises, curls, extensions)

Workout 4 – Lower Body B

  • 1) Deadlift variation — strength focus 3-6 reps (e.g. trap bar deadlift, convention, rack pull)
  • 2) Posterior chain — moderate reps, 8-12 (e.g. good morning, single leg RDL)
  • 3a) Single leg exercise — moderate reps, 8-12 (e.g. rear foot elevated split squat, walking lunges)
  • 3b) Ab work — moderate reps, 8-15 (e.g. reverse crunch, fallout)
  • 4) Optional Accessory Work (e.g. glute bridge, seated calf raise)

Upper/lower splits allow you to use more exercises for each muscle group per workout compared to total body workouts. You also hit each muscle at a slightly lower frequency, which can be a very good thing for intermediate+ trainees who need more recovery between workouts.

I also like to flip-flop the movements and make sure each movement (deadlift and squat variations and each push and pull) is performed with a strength emphasis and with higher reps. You can see how the upper body pushes and pulls flip-flop each workout as well as the squat and deadlift variations. This is a great way to build strength, sculpt muscle, and be even more awesome.

Combine Both Templates

Some of my favorite workout programs alternate phases of total body workouts and an upper/lower split. The manipulation in training frequency and layout is great for sculpting some muscle, burning fat, boosting strength, and also keeping boredom away due to the change of pace. That’s why I rotate both in the exclusive Train to Be Awesome Guide Workout Program.

Alternate Phases

A typical training cycle lasts 4-6 weeks, so you can rotate total body workouts and upper/lower training splits each phase.

  • Weeks 1-4: Total Body
  • Weeks 5-8: Upper/Lower Split
  • Weeks 9-12: Total Body
  • Weeks 13-16: Upper/Lower Split

I’ve used that format very successfully over the years.

Alternate Weekly

You can also combine total body workouts and an upper/lower split in the same training phase. For example, if you prefer to strength train 3x per week but only want to train each muscle group twice, you can combine them this way:

  • Workout 1 — Lower body workout
  • Workout 2 — Upper body workout
  • Workout 3 — Total body workout

This allows you to hit each muscle group twice each week.

How Many Days Per Week

Do You Want to Strength Train?

Do you only have 2-3 days per week to dedicate to hitting the gym? No problem.

Do you prefer to do a workout on an every-other-day-basis? You’re all set.

Do you really enjoy lifting 4 days per week? You’re good to go.

It doesn’t matter how many days per week you can dedicate to working out — there’s a solution for you.

And this is something important I stress to trainees – be realistic in the number of days you can, or want to, work out each week. Don’t force yourself to work out 4 times per week if you know that’s unrealistic, or you just don’t want to go to the gym that frequently.

Heck, I used to love lifting at least 4 days per week, but then I got burned out and wanted to take a small break. I decided to scale my strength training back to 2-3 days per week. And ya know what? I still made excellent progress. Perhaps even better, I wasn’t burned out from training so frequently anymore.

It’s very important that you enjoy your workout program, so set it up accordingly.

Total Body Workout Training Days Per Week

Total body workouts allow for maximum flexibility. Plus, if you miss a scheduled workout you don’t risk falling behind as would be the case with a typical bodybuilding split. Here are the criteria for using total body workouts:

  • If you only have time, or only want to, workout 2-3x per week
  • Or, if you prefer to perform a workout on an every-other-day basis

The layout you choose depends on your schedule and preferences. Just remember – Quality trumps quantity any day. Many people, especially those who’ve been working out most days of the week for an extended period of time, could benefit from working out less. Don’t be afraid to experiment with training only 3 days per week. You could possibly get the best results ever.

Upper/Lower Split Training Days Per Week 

Typically I use an upper/lower workout split for trainees who want to workout 4 days per week. It’s also a great change of pace if you’ve been using total body workouts for an extended period of time.

Here are the criteria for using an upper/lower split:

  • Intermediate+ trainee
  • If you want to work out 3-4x per week
  • Or, if you prefer to perform a workout on an every-other-day basis

The “workout on an every-other-day basis” you see in both the total body and upper/lower split above simply means you like to perform a workout every other day. Both work very well and I’ve used both successfully.

Best Dang Rep Ranges to Build a Better Body

The main rep range I use, depending on exercises and training level, is between 3-12 reps; this is one of the first rules to Lift Like a Girl and Look Absolutely Awesome. I generally use reps of 12+ with more advanced trainees, isolation exercises, pre/rehab work, or for crazy challenges like high rep squats (but that’s for intermediate+ trainees and not beginners).

Lower reps — especially heavy singles, doubles, and triples — are excellent for building maximum strength. And let’s face it; being strong is most definitely awesome.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re using a combination of barbells and dumbbells or just your bodyweight; you can still get crazy strong.

As you saw in the Upper/Lower Workout Template above, you can use a variety of rep ranges within the same workout. You can also rotate rep ranges on different training days. Using 3 total body workouts per week as an example, you could use sets of 5 reps one day, sets of 8 reps on another, and then sets of 10-12 on the third workout to hit a variety of rep ranges.

And just remember, don’t make the mistake of not working hard enough. No, it’s not necessary and I don’t recommend pushing each set so hard you end up screaming and squirming to complete the last rep. But, you’ve gotta work hard and make progress.

Start Building a Better Body & Be Awesome

You’ve seen the best dang exercises for the upper and lower body, and now you have the best dang workout templates to build a better body and be even more awesome. All that’s left for you to do is choose your training split, plug in the recommended exercises, and start being even more awesome.

If you’d rather have a complete and proven system that will show you exactly how to build the body you want and will love, then Click Here to check out the exclusive Train to Be Awesome Guide.

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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • sweetonnh

    This is sooo helpful! I wish you lived closer to me so we could train together!

  • kelly

    Love this!

  • http://www.rawfitmama.blogspot.com RawFitMama

    Amazing. Concise. Perfectly worded.

  • Debbers

    thanks for all the awesome

  • Emma Lowe

    This is super helpful!! Thanks so much for this. Question, for the 4 day split plan how many sets do you recommend. I see the rep range but was unsure on sets. Thanks so much for any advice!!