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How To Create A Basic Weight Training Program

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Woman Squatting Barbell

Whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle, gain strength, or improve your health weight training can be tremendously valuable. But, with the abundance of weight training exercises available online, getting started can be a confusing and intimidating step. For that reason, I've decided to provide this article as a reference to help you get a basic understanding of weight training. After reading this article, you should be able to step into the gym with clarity and confidence.

What is a program?

An effective weight training workout is not simply a random collection of exercises. Similarly, an effective program is not simply a random collection of workouts that make you tired, sweaty, and sore. Instead, an effective program should contain a set of workouts made up of a collection of exercises that are all specifically selected and ordered in a way to produce specific results.

While you may experience some sweating, tiredness, and occasional muscle soreness as part of a good workout or program, these things should not be assumed to determine their effectiveness.

Weight Training During Weight Loss

In the simplest sense, our body weight is composed of lean mass and fat mass. Our fat mass is made up of fat (obviously) and our lean mass is made up of everything that is not fat (muscle, bone, organs, etc). When losing weight, the objective is to lose fat while maintaining or even increasing the amount of muscle we have so that we'll end up with a toned appearance.

Contrary to what you might've heard elsewhere, the role of weight training in the above scenario is NOT to burn fat as the number of calories burned from exercise are relatively small. Trying to burn fat by way of exercise is like trying to dig a ditch with a spoon. You can do probably do it, but there is likely a more efficient tool for the job. In this case, nutrition would serve as a better shovel.

Along the same lines, you can NOT target an area for fat loss by doing exercises for that area. Just like you can't choose to burn gas specifically from the upper left corner of your gas tank, you can't burn fuel (fat) from a specific area of your body. As you lose weight by way of a solid nutrition program, the fat will gradually come off.

The main role of weight training is to build or maintain the amount of muscle we have so that, as we lose fat, we'll reveal a leaner, stronger physique.

So many exercises, so little time

While there are several possible approaches to creating a program, I would suggest starting with 6 basic movements that work most of the major muscle groups. In fact, the vast majority of exercises and machines you'll see at any gym will fall into one of these movement patterns.

Below is a list of each of these movement patterns, the muscles they work, and exercises that fall within each category. If you're unfamiliar with any of the exercises, you can do a quick search online or hire one of our trainers to show you the ropes. Simply make these movements the cornerstone of your weight training program and you can get started with minimal confusion and a solid foundation.


The Big Six

Movement: Horizontal Pull

Muscles: Mid Back (Rhomboids)

Exercises: Seated cable row, bent-over rows, inverted rows, machine rows

Mid Back Muscle Diagram

Movement: Horizontal Push

Muscles: Chest (Pectorals)

Exercises: Push ups, barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, cable flyes

Chest Muscle Diagram

Movement: Vertical Pull

Muscles: Outer Back (Latissimus Dorsi)

Exercises: Chin ups, lat pulldowns, straight-arm pulldowns, dumbbell pullovers

Lat Muscle Diagram

Movement: Vertical Push

Muscles: Shoulders (Deltoids)

Exercises: Barbell shoulder press, dumbbell shoulder press, lateral raises

Deltoid Muscle Diagram

Movement: Squat / Lower-Body Push

Muscles: Front of Thighs (Quadriceps)

Exercises: Squat variations, leg press, lunges, step ups

Quadricep Muscle Diagram

Movement: Hinge / Lower-Body Pull

Muscles: Butt and Back of Thighs (Glutes and Hamstrings)

Exercises: Romanian deadlifts, hip-dominant back extensions, cable pull throughs, hip thrusts

Glute and Hamstring Muscle Diagram

To put the big six exercises into a program, all you need to do is ensure that you train each movement at least once per week. If you were to do two weight-training workouts per week, you could select 3 of the movements for each workout and do one exercise for each of those movements. See the example below.

Sample Big Six Program

Day 1

Horizontal Pull

Eg: Seated cable rows

2-3 sets x 8-10 repetitions

Horizontal Push

Eg: Bench Press

2-3 sets x 8-10 repetitions

Squat / Lower-Body Push

Eg: Goblet squats

2-3 sets x 8-10 repetitions

Day 2

Vertical Pull

Eg: Wide-grip lat pulldowns

2-3 sets x 8-10 repetitions

Vertical Push

Eg: Barbell shoulder press

2-3 sets x 8-10 repetitions

Hinge / Lower-Body Pull

Eg: Hip-dominant back extensions

2-3 sets x 8-10 repetitions

Obviously this is an introductory routine and you might want to add more sets, repetitions, and exercises to target other movements as time goes on, but this is a very practical place to start. These basic movement patterns should ultimately form the foundation of any good program as they'll always account for the majority of your results.

Mark Young, BKin, is Head Personal Trainer at Heron Creek Yoga & Fitness, a locally-owned health facility located in the Ancaster Rotary Centre at 385 Jerseyville Rd W. Contact us for top quality professional care at our 10,000 sq ft facility which has plenty of equipment, a dedicated Yoga studio, and much more. Email:, phone 905-648-4571, ig @heroncreekyogaandfitness, fb heroncreekyogaandfitness

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