How to Design a Workout Plan: Ultimate Guide for Beginners

By Joanna 10/08/2020 In
Fitness Tips

Having an effective workout programme is extremely important towards achieving your fitness goals. You can’t just have a goal and expect to achieve it, if you don’t have a clear and detailed plan. Without it, you’re probably wasting your time and effort. 

Here’s what we need to know, there isn’t a “one plan fits all” solution. That’s because we are all different. Creating an exercise programme varies based on your age, goal, fitness level, lifestyle and more. Even with tons of workout videos out there, you still need to have the knowledge of knowing why you’re doing this workout, rather than just blindly following it..

So what I’ll be sharing with you today are the foundations to start a simple yet effective workout programme. It might sound daunting, but once you know the basics and build from there, it isn’t difficult, in fact it’s a lot of fun. I’m going to try to keep it really simple and break it down into 5 steps.


1) Consistency 

Consistency is the number ONE factor that will get you results. You have to train frequently, across a long period of time. So let’s get it right from the beginning, this is a long term commitment that needs discipline. There’s NO shortcuts in getting the results you want. 

Hence, the first step is to assess your own lifestyle and create a personalised workout program that will be consistent for YOU. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many days in a week can I dedicate to exercising?
  • How long can each workout session be?
  • What time of the day suits my schedule?

Grab a piece of paper and write it down. For instance I would like to workout 5 days in a week and have two rest days. My workout days will be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. My rest days will be Wednesday and Sunday. For each session, it’ll be an hour long and I like to get it done first thing in the morning before I start my day. Be specific and realistic because we want this to be a do-able plan, not something which you’ll give yourself excuses down the road. 

If you can dedicate 1 hour everyday, that’s great. But if you’re tied down to work or family commitments, and can only spare 20 - 30 minutes a day, that’s absolutely fine as well. Working out for a longer period of time, doesn’t necessarily equate to better or quicker results, rather, it’s about how consistent and efficient your workout is, in order to achieve results. I’ve known of so many success stories from people who can only spare 20 - 30 minutes a day doing FIO workouts, but because they were consistent, they saw results.

Another common question I get asked often is “When is the best time to workout?”. The simple answer is, there is no such thing as “the best time to workout”. The best time is when it’s most convenient for you and fits your schedule. That way, you’re more likely to stick to your routine instead of having reasons not to train.  So if morning is best for you, then stick to the morning, if evening works better, then keep your workout to the evening.

Once you have figured out your training schedule, make a commitment to yourself to complete that training no matter what, knowing that consistency is the most important thing in creating a successful programme.


2) Variety 

The next part to figure out is “what workouts should I do?” There are so many workout videos out there, but you have no idea where to start and what to do.

For beginners, it’s important know that you have to perform total body workouts focusing on all major muscles in order to burn fat and increase lean muscle mass. I’ve said this too many times, but allow me to say it once more, we CANNOT SPOT REDUCE FAT!

Typically, there are two types of training - Strength Training or Cardio. Of course there are also workouts which combines both such as HIIT, interval or circuit-type training. These types of trainings are some of the most effective and efficient way to burn fat and tone up in a short period of time.

Let’s look at the difference between Strength Training VS Cardio:

Strength Training or Weight lifting

Exercises aimed at improving your strength and to build lean muscles. Strength training is important because the more lean muscles you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be, that means your body will be burning fat more efficiently even when you’re at rest. Examples of exercises include push-ups, squats, lunges, tricep dips, pull ups and more.

Cardio or Aerobics

Exercises that are intense enough to increase your breathing and heart rate at a continuous and consistent pace. Cardio exercises are important to build stamina, to burn calories and excess fat from the body. This include activities like running, cycling, brisk walking, swimming, dancing, hiking and more.


Which should you be focusing on? That really depends on your goal. If your goal is to lose weight, then you need a combination of both cardio and strength training. If your goal is to gain weight, then you need to incorporate a lot more strength training into your program and only perform cardio occasionally. 

So let’s say my goal is to lose weight and add more muscle tone, based on my workout days, I can split it to: 2 days of strength training, 2 days of HIIT conditioning workouts, and 1 day of low intensity or steady pace cardio.

For example: 

Monday - Lower Body Strength Training

Tuesday - Total Body HIIT / Conditioning Workout

Thursday - Upper Body Strength Training

Friday - Total Body HIIT / Conditioning Workout

Saturday - Barre, Yoga, Pilates, Brisk Walking, Swimming or Hiking


3) Volume

The 3rd factor to figure out is your workout volume - how many reps and sets to do, how heavy to lift and how long to rest in between exercises. These are mainly for Strength Training. I’ve received quite a number of questions asking if 2kgs is enough or if 5kgs is enough. I can’t give you a straight answer, because it comes down to your strength and goals.

Let’s get to the basics of understanding sets and reps.

“Sets” refer to repeating the same exercise a certain number of rounds. For instance, performing 10 squats is one set and you may want to repeat it for another 2 more sets with rest in between sets. For absolute beginners, I would suggest that you start with 2 sets. And as you progress, increase to 3 or 4 sets per exercise.

Repetitions or “Reps” refers to the number of times you perform an exercise during a set. So for instance, it can be 10 reps of squats. How many reps you should perform varies depending on your goal and fitness level.


To give you a training baseline:

  1. 12 - 20 reps or more is primarily to build muscular endurance and size. Endurance means to train your muscles to perform a certain move for an extended period of time. Doing high reps, means you will be lifting lighter loads. And because you want to improve endurance, that means shorter rest between sets, 30 - 60 seconds.
  2. 6 - 12 reps is hypertrophy training. Hypertrophy is an increase and growth of muscle cells, achieved through weight lifting. This training is for all of you who want to tone up and and improve muscle definition. Because you are lifting heavier, with lower reps, the rest time between sets will be about 60 - 90 seconds.
  3. Less than 6 reps is to build super dense muscle, strength and power. Because the reps are lower, that means you are going to be lifting a lot heavier weights, focusing all your effort into those few reps. You’ll also need longer to recover and the rest time between sets is about 3 - 5 minutes long.

Hence depending on your training goal, you will need to adjust the weight accordingly. For example, if you are training for hypertrophy, and you can perform up to 20 reps, then the weights are too light. You have to increase the load. 

You also have to adjust the weight according to the body parts you are training. Your leg muscles are a lot bigger, hence you can lift a lot heavier, compared to your shoulder muscles. You can’t just stick to one weight and perform the entire body. And remember, proper form is extremely important in order for you to engage the right muscles and avoid injuries. Every rep should be a quality rep!


4) Progression

Now that you have a solid workout program and you are consistent with it, the next important factor is Progression.

To keep improving and seeing results, your workouts need to get harder over time. You can’t just stick to a “beginner” workout which you’ve been doing for the past 2 months and wonder why am I not seeing results. If you fail to progress in your training, that’s when you’ll hit a plateau.  

Saying that however, DO NOT make things harder too quickly. I do understand that some of us and get really impatient and want to lift heavier within the next few sessions. It takes time to build strength and endurance. Progress slowly and gradually. This way, you’ll still create change but without the risk of injuries, which may cause you to miss your training days.

As a rule of thumb, you want to train for 4 - 6 weeks at any given level of difficulty before adding more challenge to your training.

Training progression can be:

  • Increasing the work load, that means lifting heavier weights or even increasing your running speed.
  • Increasing workout volume, whether it’s more reps, sets or intervals.
  • Increasing the workout time
  • Reducing rest time
  • Or introducing tougher moves.

There’s no one straight answer to how you can progress in your workout, but the longer you train and understand your body, you’ll start to make adjustments to your training in order to challenge yourself and also to keep things fun, fresh and not so monotonous. That way, you will look forward to your training sessions.


5) Track

We often take this for granted, but keeping track of your workout sessions are extremely important. It’s the only way where you can look back, review each session, track your progress and even celebrate your successes along the way. Have a fitness journal and keep track of every single workout. Your record should be both objective and subjective.

Objective - record the exercises, weights, sets, reps, workout duration and rest time.

Subjective - record how your body feels, recovery level and mental state.

Having these records will allow you to see what’s working and what’s not, so that overtime, you can create a training program that’s effective and efficient for you. It really does take time to figure out your own body. You can’t just create a training program and know that it’ll work immediately. You’ll need to constantly adapt and make changes along the way. 

Besides that, having a record is also a great way to keep you accountable to your goals. For instance, you’ll know if you managed to fit in 5 days workout a week as planned. This information is key to show you results and to keep you going.



Now that you know the foundation of building a solid workout program, I want you to put this into action and try it out for yourself. To guide through your fitness journey, I’ve also designed a well structured training program every month on my fitness app called, FIO. All the workouts are effective, easy to follow with clear instructions and they are led by internationally certified trainers. So you are in safe hands. Plus the workouts can be done at home with very minimal equipments.

Do check it out for free on or download on the App Store or Google Play. With all that knowledge and information, let’s not forget that nutrition and diet is still 80% of results. To see permanent results, it’s a combination of having an effective training programme, eat a well balanced diet that fits your goal and get enough rest daily. 



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