How do I create a workout routine?

It’s that time of the year again. I’ve decided the joke my mirror plays on me every morning isn’t funny anymore. I have to get my fat ass to the gym.

But what do I do there?

I’m in law school now, so this routine has to be as efficient as possible. I don’t want anything that will keep me in the gym for more than three hours a week. I don’t want build enormous amounts of muscle, I just want to wear a medium size t-shirt without looking funny.

Any advice?


Bench Press
Bent Row or Seated Row
Overhead Press
Straight Leg Deadlift
Calf Raise

3-5 sets 12-8 reps per set

This shouldn’t take more than an hour, 3 times a week on alternating days.

You aren’t gonna like this but if you only got three hours a week, you aren’t gonna be able to do much.

You really need to be concerned about cardio. If I were you I’d forget how I look and start building myself up to running those three hours. If you can’t run then, swim, bike, do the stairstepper.

You want to be able to keep up a sustained aerobic activity for one hour at 60% - 85% of your optimal heart rate.

To find this take 220 (theoretical max heart rate) - age. Then take 60 and 80 percent of that and work up to doing an hours worth of aerobics.

For example I’m 45

220 - 45 = 175

175 X .85 = 149

175 X .65 = 114

So I want to do at least one hour of aerobics with my heart rate between 114 - 149. Closer to 149 the better.

If you insist on doing weights, it’s really easy. Just look at guys who have nice bodies and watch them and copy them. Of course you don’t want to be obvious about this. Muscle builds with change so whatever routine you do don’t more than two weeks in a row. Change it as much as possible. As soon as a muscle get’s used to being abused (by lifting weights) it adapts and stops growing.

I have six pack abs and if anyone asks me, “how do you get them, I say Running.” That’s what gets the weight off so you can see your abs. Running can be boring, but I use books on tapes and the time flies right by.

The problem with those formulas are that they are inaccurate. You need to do a treadmill test at a testing facility or self test.

I’m 49 and my actual max HR is 187(predicted is 171).

Self tests.

I do agree with Markxxx that you need cardio, I was going by your OP that seemed you were looking for a weight routine.

Would cycling to class be an option?

Simply not true. I have never worked out for more than three hours per week yet have managed to incease my bodyweight from 140 lbs. to 200 lbs. In the process I’ve gone from loose-fitting size S T-shirts to size L shirts tight around my shoulders and pecs. People I haven’t seen in a couple of years regularly comment on my jacked and buffed look (compared to what I was like three years ago). I’m stronger and in better shape than I ever was.

My barbell workouts take from 30 to 50 minutes, up to three times a week, and I also do 30-minute cardio sessions two to three times per week. My workouts comprise of compound exercises covering the entire body, two to four sets per exercise: deadlifting, chinning, dipping, dumbell rowing, military pressing etc. I switch things up every two months or so to keep the gains from stalling.

Being a full-grown ectomorph guy with next to no athletic background and no artificial enhancements means keeping volume down and intensity high is really important. For me, recuperating means a full 48 hours of rest between strength training sessions. Often with the stresses of everyday life, it’ll take three days of rest before I can do a satisfying workout again. This little amount of intelligent, progressive resistance training has done wonders on my look and health.

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength routine gets a lot of love on the internet. It’s designed for beginners and is very quick - compound lifts and (IIRC) no isolation work.

My program is similar to Starting Strength and is:

Day 1 - squat, bench press, barbell row
Day 2 - squat, military press, deadlift
Day 3 - squat, bench press, assisted pull-ups

with bicep curls, tricep push-ups, tricep dips, abs, good mornings and plyometric lunges inserted in where convenient. I’m going to drop the squat from Day 2 soon because it’s getting heavy and starting to interfere with my cardio and other physical activity. My workout takes about 1.5 hours but that includes about 10 minutes of cardio warm-up, stretching at the start and end, and chatting with my gym buddies. You could absolutely get the program done with an hour every session.

My understanding is that to lose fat the three most important factors in order are:

  1. Diet
  2. Weights
  3. Cardio

My body shape changed with weights alone, though my diet was always pretty decent - I haven’t really noticed a difference with cardio but I do it for health not fat loss.

Three hours a week is enough for a three day workout without any cardio.

I want to start off with weights because I want some muscle to go along with the fat loss. Once I get my weight routine down then I’m thinking about slowly incorporate cardio.

Since you’re unsure of how to put a weight routine together, do you know how to safely squat, deadlift, etc? Those are great exercises, but if you do them incorrectly you could really hurt yourself. You’d be better off finding a competent trainer and having them teach you correct form and give you a routine.

But if you do know how to do them safely, what about going to the gym for 45 minutes, 4 days a week, and doing 25 minutes of weights and 20 minutes of cardio each time. You could break your weight training into upper/lower body, for instance:
Monday: Squats, deadlifts, calf exercise, 20 minutes of cardio
Tuesday: Bench Press, Pull ups, rows, push ups, shoulder press, 20 minutes of cardio.

Take a day off, repeat. Throw in some ab/lower back strengthening stuff on whichever day you have more time.

Or, go say only 3 days a week, but work your entire body each time and then do cardio at the end, whichever works better for you.

Three hours a week is plenty of time. Forty minutes lifting, twenty minutes aerobics, you’re golden.

It doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, too complicated. Three sets of eight in the basic lifts - squats or leg presses, bench press, pulldowns or rowing, calf raises, curls, and crunches.

If you are really pressed for time, do dips and chins, crunches, and hypers, as many sets of 80% of your max reps in each exercise as you can in twenty minutes, and then twenty minutes on the StairMaster or exercise bike for your legs.


I highly recommend kettlebells.
They might look gimmicky, but I think they’re the single greatest piece of personal fitness equipment ever invented. My entire home gym setup is two kettlebells (16kg, 24kg) and a doorframe pullup bar, and after every workout I feel like an ox. I am fitter in every sense of the word. There are so many benefits and I don’t want to sound like a salesman, but just take a look around this website (especially here), order Pavel’s Enter The Kettlebell and a 16kilo bell. It has the potential to be the greatest personal investment you make, and it doesn’t require any obsessive 6 week rotation workout plans, gym subscriptions, protein shakes or anything.

The kettlebell, and the way it is taught by Pavel, is an entirely different philosophy from most workouts I’ve seen. There’s no false cardio/weights dichotomy, a lot of myths about strength and power are debunked, and there is absolutely no posturing or “fake” muscle building. Trust me it will change the way you look at fitness and strength.

I would never recommend kettleballs to somebody who hasn’t yet learned to properly recruit their posterior chain. I’m assuming you’re doing the typical clean and press that everybody loves them for.

MissIntent’s post contains some excellent advice. Learning how to properly and safely preform the big compound exercises (bench, squad, deadlift) is one of the best ways to get back in shape.

While I don’t want to single out Mojo Pin any sensible workout regime will include - at the least - protein supplementation.

Yeah, it’s called eating too much. Somehow I don’t think you can put on 20 lbs of lean muscle mass a year simply by lifting 3 hours a week.
One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is diet. You aren’t going to lose much fat just by working out a few hours a week because you simply can’t burn that many calories. You need to watch what and how much you eat. Also, you have to watch making yourself hungry by working out, causing you to eat more.

This comment is extremely dismissive and a little misinformed. Without any knowledge of his bodyfat or routine you’ve got no idea what kind of gains he’s talking about. All muscle comes with a corresponding bit of fat since the only sensible way to gain lean mass is with a constant caloric surplus. His routine includes high-effort compound movements and a low-volume high-load approach is ideal for his cited body type.

Just out of curiosity, can you preform a proper squat?

Three hours of lifting a week is more than enough time under the iron to make significant gains. If it isn’t, you’re not working hard enough or must already be a hulking Adonis. But, yes, diet is important; more important than lifting, actually. It’s also equally more difficult.

ETA: As for the OP, you mention that you want to wear medium T-shirts. This indicates you want to build lean mass. You also call yourself a fat-ass, implying you want to lose bodyfat. You’ve got to pick one or the other as doing both simultaneously is unrealistic, and construct a nutritional plan to match. Your workouts shouldn’t change much.

I’m not really “fat,” just loosely shaped. I’m 5’10’’ and weigh 165lbs, and my pot belly shows when I wear a medium size shirt. This has to change.

I’m going to do the Starting Strength routine that Kayeby posted. I guess I’m going to end up losing body fat with that routine. The point is mainly to look good and stay healthy; I don’t have any goals for building strength.

This shouldn’t be a problem. It took two years of inactivity for me to reach 165bls. I just don’t gain weight.

Just make sure that you dedicate some serious internet-video-, gym- and stretching-time to getting into proper squatting shape.

You sound like you may trend towards an ecromorphic kind of build, in which case you may want to try limiting your volume (low reps) while increasing your intensity (high weight.) I’m particularly fond of 5x5 with the big compound movements.

YMMV; good luck! (don’t forget to dial in your diet, it’s the more important factor here)

Congratulations! Once you’re sick of Starting Strength, or your gains are slowing, there are lots of intermediate programs that follow on. I started doing Bill Starr’s 5x5 program, but added/subtracted auxiliary exercises as I developed a better understanding of what my fitness goals were.

Make sure you check out Rippetoe’s squat videos - I found them immensely helpful for learning about how deep to squat, how far apart to stand, and how to come out of the squat. For deadlifting I like these articles. has a ton of useful information, including muscle diagrams, what exercises work those muscles, and workout templates.

Every thing is hyper-linked so you can peruse the different routines they highlight, what muscles to work in those routines (in what order), what exercises work those muscles, and how to perform those exercises.

Crawlspace, that is a fantastic site you linked to. Thanks!

You assume wrong, you serially interconnected tubular entity. No, I do clean clean and presses of course, but I also do regular swings, turkish get ups, the snatch, and a few other things.

No worries, I don’t feel attacked or anything. When I started lifting kettlebells I sure didn’t know how to engage my posterior chain. Or any other muscle fully. Honestly I think Pavel Tsatsouline teaches proper muscle engagement very well, and as long as you pay attention, a kettlebell is the fastest way to building up your posterior chain and learning how to recruit every muscle in your body. I just followed directions and everything made sense.

Also in my experience protein is important of course, but I never felt the need to supplement with creatine and whey protein and what have you. A good steak or chicken dinner every day? Thank you very much. A precisely calibrated “diet” and regiment of protein supplements, for before and during and after workouts? Err, no. If you know gym rats you know I’m not exaggerating.

You mean endomorphic? I thought that ecto-meso-endo model was kind of a crock of bs? I know body builders seem to like it, but you might as well say “skinny, medium, fat” and lose the weird psychological profiling baggage :). I still very much agree with your low rep high intensity recommendation though. And the compound exercises, come to think of it. I just think that being able to work out with one piece of equipment with rather simple movements in your own back yard is an advantage in itself, and I know the results can be phenomenal. There’s almost no need for a workout “routine” with the kettlebell the way it is with weights. You just swinging back and forth with the right form, pick it up over your head with the right form, and already you’re on your way to gaining basic strength and losing fat like nothing else.

e: quotes

Well, different things works differently for different people (and if there’s one truth in bodybuilding it’s precisely that) and kettleballs apparently work for you - that’s good! If your program is also teaching proper form then it’s probably just fine; form isn’t so important on things like bicep curls and shoulder presses - it’s absolutely crucial for safely squatting and deadlifting.

I still insist that protein supplementation is a vital component of any muscle-building endeavor. Conventional bodybuilding wisdom stipulates a gram of protein per pound/kilogram (depending on who you read) of lean body mass. It’s extremely hard to scarf down 100-odd grams of protein in chicken breasts and lean ground beef every day - but you can chug a nice, frothy 30g beverage that’s almost, but not entirely, unlike a chocolate shake in five minutes or so. How much dedication you want to put into your diet is obviously a continuum but strict nutritional goals can really make the difference in terms of results.

The ecto-meso-endo separation is indeed a crock of bullshit, technically. But, like the BMI or Type-A/B nomenclature, it’s a useful approximation for <mumble mumble distribution of muscle twitch something mumble> which is the more scientific version these days.

Anyway, fitness debate is really an endless (and, to me, quite stimulating) conversation. What really matters is going into the gym (or backyard, or whatever) and doing SOMETHING hard, for around an hour. Do it three times a week or so, and eat some extra protein. The really hard part is keeping it up for months and for years; significant changes take a long, long time.