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Planning and Progressing a Resistance Program

By WLR's Personal Trainer, Nicola Glanville PTI REP Level 3

Designing Your Resistance Training Program

  • Warm up with 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling or skipping - gradually increasing in intensity.
  • For the most effective total body workouts, include exercises that work all of the major muscle groups i.e. legs, back, chest, shoulders arms and core.
  • A workout should be balanced so that opposite muscle groups get worked equally i.e. back and chest, quadriceps and hamstrings (the muscles in the front and back of the upper leg). If you neglect a muscle group whilst working the opposite muscle group you risk causing muscular imbalances within the body that could lead to postural problems or injury.
  • Start your program with exercises that work groups of muscles. i.e. the medicine ball squat works the core and the legs. The legs consist of many muscles: hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes (bum muscles) etc. This type of exercise is called a compound exercise because it works many muscles.
  • Plan to complete exercises that only work one muscle at the end of the programme i.e. the Bicep Curl.
  • Warm down with another 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity slowly increasing in intensity.

Sets and Repetitions

To get the most out of your resistance program it is important to ensure that you are working out at the right intensity. Check out the guide below to work out how many sets and repetitions of each exercise you should be completing to achieve your aim.

  • Repetitions (reps): one complete movement of a certain exercise.
  • Sets: A number of reps performed in sequence, without a rest.


Exercise: Bicep Curls

  • Sets: 2
  • Reps: 15
  • Rest period: 30 seconds

This means that you should complete 15 bicep curls, rest for 30 seconds then complete another 15 bicep curls.

Decide what your aim is and then follow the sets/reps guide below:

Weight loss and muscle endurance

Follow these guidelines if you want to burn more calories and increase your overall muscle strength:

  • Sets: 2 – 3
  • Reps: 15
  • Rest period: 30 - 60 seconds
Increased muscle tone

If you want more muscle definition then this is the level that you should be working at.

  • Sets: 3 - 4
  • Reps: 12
  • Rest period: 1 - 2 mins
Increased muscle strength

If you need to improve your strength for short bursts of heavy activity then these are the exercise ranges that you should be adhering to. Maybe your job involves some heavy lifting.

  • Sets: 4 - 6
  • Reps: 5
  • Rest period: 3 - 5 mins

How Heavy?

As a guide, you are using the correct weight if the last rep is so tough that you can only just complete it without losing your technique. If you know that you could do another 5 more then the weight is too light! Conversely, if you have to use momentum to get through the set then the weight is too heavy.

How Fast?

As a general rule try to exercise in time with your breathing i.e. with the Shoulder Press breathe out as you lift the weights and breathe in as you lower them. If you can’t lift the weights without holding your breath then they are too heavy.


If you want to achieve results it is imperative that you challenge yourself. As your body adapts to meet the challenge that you set for yourself the exercises will get easier. This is the time to change something. If you remain in your comfort zone with the same work-out for months on end you will not get results.

Below is a list of variables that you could alter to ensure you’re your body is getting the most out of your resistance workouts.

Note: Only change 1 variable at a time.

  • Sets: Increase the number of sets that you are completing to the top end for your aim.
  • Rest period: Decrease the rest period in between sets to the lower end for your aim.
  • Weight: Increase the resistance with heavier weights.
  • Routine: Instead of completing one exercise at a time, why not try a circuit? Complete one set of each exercise then start at the beginning with the first exercise and complete the second set of each exercise.

WLR's consultant personal trainer Nicola Glanville regularly writes news and features on all aspects of exercise.

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You can track your diet, health & fitness with the Weight Loss Resources exercise diary and database. You can see how many calories you burn and how many you consume. Try it free for 24 hours.

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