What factors should be considered when designing a personal fitness program?

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Today I’m bringing you a guest post from Steve Theunissen (pictured below), who has been a certified Personal Trainer in New Zealand since 1987. As a personal trainer, he has created thousands of individual fitness programs for people of all ages and fitness objectives. Today, he’s telling us all about what factors should be considered when designing a personal fitness program. This will help you if you are starting out as a personal trainer, it can help you judge fitness programs created for you by personal trainers and for those more knowledgeable about fitness it can help you create a program for yourself. Over to Steve…

Photo of muscular man lifting a bar. What factors should be considered when designing a personal fitness program?

8 factors to consider when designing a personal fitness program

Define your fitness goals

Your path to a fitter, healthier you starts with a clear understanding of your goals. When thinking about what factors should be considered when designing a personal fitness program the first thing you need to decide is what do you want to achieve from your fitness plan?

Is your focus on strength gain, adding lean muscle, improving your cardio fitness and endurance, or becoming more flexible?

Be as specific as you can when formulating your goals.

“I want to get in shape” is not a goal; replace it with something like, “I aim to increase my upper body strength to perform ten full push-ups” or “I plan to run a 5k race in under 30 minutes.”

Establish quantifiable targets for your goals so you can monitor your development. So, rather than saying, “I want to gain strength,” get specific by including measurable targets. Here’s an example …

“I want to be able to do 3 push ups by October”

Set up a system of mini goals and rewards

Once you’ve got your main fitness goal, I recommend breaking it up into stepping-stone goals. These smaller objectives provide you with a sense of accomplishment as you go along.

They also provide you with more immediate goals to focus on. Here’s how to set up a system of mini-goals and rewards:

1. Establish Clear Mini Goals: Establish concise, targeted mini-goals that support your broader fitness goals. If your main objective is to lose weight, for example, your smaller objectives might be to lose a particular amount of weight, take an inch off your waist, or reduce your body fat %. Make sure that these mini-goals are doable in a timely manner and are realistic.

2. Establish a Timeline: Set a deadline for completing each micro goal. A deadline creates a sense of urgency and helps keep you on track. Consider segmenting your exercise plan into phases, each with a specific set of smaller objectives. This enables you to concentrate on only one element of your fitness at once.

3. Recognize Your Successes: Acknowledge your accomplishments no matter how minor they may seem. Rewards serve as motivational reinforcement and can increase your drive. Rewards can come in a variety of forms, like treating yourself to a favourite meal, buying exercise equipment, going to the spa, or even taking a day off to unwind.

4. Be Consistent: The secret to achieving your mini goals is consistency. Recognize that setbacks or plateaus may happen, but don’t let them stop you from achieving your long-term goals.

5. Modify Goals as Necessary: Your journey to fitness depends on your flexibility. Don’t be afraid to change a mini-goal if you discover that it isn’t feasible or has to be modified. To keep moving forward, pay attention to your body and make modifications as necessary.

6. Share Your Objectives: Sharing your mini goals with a friend, relative, or exercise partner helps increase accountability. They can assist you, cheer you on, and even join in on your celebration of success. 

Photo by x ) on Unsplash

Establish a training frequency

Having established your fitness goals, you can plan your training frequency. The key here is to be realistic.

Establish how many days per week you can realistically commit to your workouts. The more realistic you are, the more consistent you’re likely to be.

While consistency is essential, allowing your body adequate rest for recovery is equally crucial. Overtraining can lead to burnout and injuries.

Strike a balance that works for you, taking into account your fitness level, age, and recovery capacity.

Your training frequency may vary depending on your fitness goals. If you are working your muscles with resistance training, you should allow 48-72 hours of recovery before working the muscle again.

If your focus is on cardio, you can train with greater frequency.

Keep in mind that recovery days are not “off” days but essential components of your fitness program. Use them to perform active recovery activities like walking, stretching, yoga, or light mobility exercises.

Establishing a training frequency that aligns with your goals and lifestyle allows you to create a sustainable exercise routine supporting your fitness journey.

I recommend training no more than three days per week if you are a beginner. This allows your body to ease into the program and allows a full day’s recovery between sessions.

After three months, increase to four to six days per week.

Apps such as the Workout Labs Fit, Centr, TiffXO or Evlo might also help you immensely in achieving your fitness goals.

Select suitable exercises

You’re now ready to select the exercises that will make up your workout program. While you should prioritise exercises to support your goals, try also to include movements to cover all aspects of fitness.

Cardiovascular exercises, strength training, exercises to increase muscle endurance, and mobility exercises should all be included in a well-rounded program.

The following table provides you with a selection of exercises categorised by fitness focus.

Strength Focus
Bench Press
Pull Ups
Muscle Building & Endurance Focus
Dumbbell Bench Press (Chest)
Bridge with Leg Extensions (Quads)
Hamstring Curls (Hamstrings)
Glute Kickbacks (Glutes)
Lat Pull Down (Latissimus Dorsi)
Dumbbell Front Raise (Shoulders)
Alternate Dumbbell Curls (Biceps)
Lying Triceps Extension (Tricep)
Cardio Focus
Step Ups
Rowing Machine

Check out this extensive directory of workouts and get inspired.

Plan your sets, reps, and loading intensity

Having selected your exercises, you now need to determine the sets and repetitions (reps) for each movement.


  • Aim for 3-5 sets of each exercise for strength and muscle gain.
  • 2-3 sets are ideal for both cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
  • Instead of using sets, flexibility exercises usually involve several stretches held for a defined amount of time. Begin with a 15-second hold and gradually increase as your flexibility improves.
  • Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets.


  • The number of times you perform a certain movement as part of a set is referred to as a repetition.
  • Target a lower rep range of 5-8 reps per set for strength gain. This encourages heavier lifting.
  • Aim for 8 to 12 reps per set for hypertrophy (muscle size).
  • Higher rep ranges, from 15-20 per set, are best muscular endurance workouts.

Loading intensity

  • The amount of weight or resistance used during an exercise is referred to as the loading intensity. For strength and muscular development, pick a weight that will make it difficult for you to complete the appropriate number of reps with good form.
  • For endurance training, the last 2-3 reps should be challenging.
Photo by Carl Barcelo on Unsplash

Develop a progression strategy

Making a customised fitness program requires more than simply planning for a strong start; it also requires thinking about consistent growth over time. You must develop a progression strategy in order to accomplish this efficiently.

This keeps your workouts interesting and progressive while also avoiding fitness plateaus.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set up clearly defined milestones: Divide up your long-term fitness objectives into more manageable, shorter milestones. As you monitor your progress, milestones give you a sense of success and encourage you.
  2. Increase intensity gradually: You’ll need to up the Intensity when your body becomes used to your initial workout plan if you want to keep seeing results. This can entail progressively increasing resistance or adding additional weight to your exercises in order to increase strength and muscle mass. Consider lengthening workout times, boosting speed, or modifying incline levels when performing cardiovascular exercises.
  3. Maintain a workout log: You are able to keep track of your workouts, sets, reps, and loads by keeping a workout notebook. By reviewing your journal, you may discover where you need to improve and ensure you’re developing steadily. 

Don’t neglect cardiovascular endurance

While building muscle and strength is important, don’t forget to prioritise your cardiovascular endurance. Cardio workouts play a vital role in improving your heart health, boosting stamina, and aiding in overall fitness.

Here’s how to incorporate them effectively into your fitness program:

1. Set clear cardio goals: Define specific targets for your cardiovascular workouts. Consider factors like duration, Intensity, and frequency. Examples of goals might include running for 30 minutes without stopping, completing a certain distance on the stationary bike, or achieving a particular heart rate during your workout.

2. Choose cardio activities you enjoy: To make cardiovascular training sustainable, select activities that you genuinely enjoy. Options include running, cycling, swimming, dancing, brisk walking, or even group fitness classes like Zumba or spinning.

3. Mix up your cardio routine: Prevent boredom by diversifying your cardio workouts. Vary the activities, such as alternating between running and cycling or swimming and jump rope. Cross-training not only keeps things interesting but also engages different muscle groups.

4. Determine workout intensity: Balance your cardio workouts by including both moderate-intensity and high-intensity sessions. Moderate-intensity activities, like brisk walking, should be sustainable for longer durations. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be shorter in duration but involves bursts of intense effort followed by recovery periods.

5. Plan cardio frequency: Decide how often you’ll engage in cardiovascular training. This might range from three to five times per week. Consistency is key, so ensure your cardio sessions align with your overall fitness program schedule.

6. Ensure proper warm-up and cool-down: Warm up and cool down before your cardio sessions. Do dynamic stretching and light cardio to warm up and static stretching to cool down.

Prioritise muscular strength

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Prioritising muscular strength is essential to creating a tailored fitness program for women. Some women might be hesitant to include strength training in their regimens, concerned that they’ll gain weight or become overly muscular.

But these concerns are unfounded. Here’s what strength training will actually do for you:

  • Create lean muscle
  • Boost your metabolism
  • Improve bone health
  • Enhance posture and stability
  • Develop functional fitness
  • Help balance your hormones
  • Improve your self-confidence

When it comes to strength, what factors should be considered when designing a personal fitness program?

  1. Include a range of exercises that focus on various muscle groups.
  2. Learn proper form. I recommend taking a couple of sessions with a personal trainer to get expert guidance.
  3. Rest 48-72 hours before working a muscle again. 

These muscle gain exercises may be of interest.

What factors should be considered when designing a personal fitness program – wrap up

You now have it within your power to start on a transformative journey toward becoming a healthier, stronger, and more vibrant version of yourself. Keep in mind that dedication to your well-being during your fitness journey is a lifetime endeavour, not simply a goal.

Remain committed, and let your journey motivate others to start on their paths to healthier and happier lives. Start your journey today; each workout will bring you closer to a more vibrant, fitter, and stronger version of yourself.

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