Make Weight Lifting Interesting

by tinareale on December 14, 2011

Guess what I did yesterday? I killed it in the gym. Since I’ve been taking my mileage a little easier until I figure out my racing plans for 2012, I decided to focus on a longer strength session than normal.




I went through each group for three sets. The different variations on standard moves gave that extra little burn. I felt like jello leaving the gym. But the kind of jello that firms up and doesn’t keep wiggling. Winking smile 

While going through the workout, I kept thinking about the different ways I like to do strength workouts and various ways I keep things interesting. Below, find a number of the workout details I switch up to prevent workout boredom in the weight room.

No, not the type of splits done in gymnastics. Body part splits. The breakdown of what muscles you will hit in each workout.

  • Full Body – As you can imagine, this style of training hits all of the major muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and abdominals) in a single workout. This set-up will work each muscle group in 1-3 workouts a week.
  • Push / Pull Split – This split breaks the body down into muscles that go through a pushing motion (quadriceps, chest, triceps, front & side delts) and muscles that go through pulling motions (hamstrings, back, biceps, rear delts). Each group receives a more focused workout 1-2 times per week.
  • Upper / Lower Split – Switch between workouts that focus on solely the upper body and solely the lower body on alternate workouts. Each group receives a more focused workout 1-2 times per week.
  • Body Part Split – Each workout focuses solely on one (or maybe two) body parts. For example – Chest, Back, Arms, Legs, and Shoulders all done on a separate day. This plan works each muscle group once a week at a higher training volume.

I know whenever I pull out an upper/lower plan, I push myself out of my comfort zone! Leg days hurt!

Layout of Exercises
After deciding which workout split to use, choose a layout for the individual workouts.

  • Straight Sets – Complete each exercise one at a time, before moving on to the next exercise in the workout.
  • Super Sets – Complete two grouped exercises back to back with minimal rest. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets. Finish all sets of each group before moving on to the next set of exercises.
  • Circuit Training – Do ONE set of each move in the circuit back to back with little to no rest in between. Rest 1-2 minutes after completing all exercises, then go through the circuit completing all moves back to back again. Continue that pattern of all exercises followed by a brief rest until the workout is completed.

I love straight sets for a tough, heavier workout. I love circuit training when I’m looking to fit in cardio and weights with one challenging workout.

Types of Exercises
There are so many different styles of exercises. I love them ALL.

  • The Basics – Squats. Deadlifts. Bench Presses. Rows. These moves have been around forever because they work. Don’t shy away from them.
  • Body Weight Exercises – Just because something doesn’t use equipment doesn’t mean it is easy. These types of exercises challenge the body effectively…and can be done anywhere. Bonus!
  • Stabilization Exercises – Adding a component of stability and balance to a move gives an extra challenge and forces the muscles to work in new, more functional ways.
  • Plyometric Exercises – Add a few high intensity moves to a workout to not only increase the heart rate, but also increase power and lean muscle.
  • Compound Exercises – These moves challenge more than one body part at at time and can help make effective use of workout time. Plus, they often require more stabilization.
  • Functional Exercises – These exercises mimic everyday movements or a common range of motion in a specific sport or activity. They help to build strength, stabilization, and endurance where you need it.

I credit a good mix of these exercises to keeping my body progressing and strengthening, even still.

Rep Schemes
Determine the number of reps for the individual exercises in your plan.

  • Lower Reps (8 and under range): Challenge strength with lower reps at a heavier weight. You will NOT bulk!
  • Moderate Rep Range (8-12): Increase strength and endurance with moderate weights at moderate reps.
  • Higher Reps (15 and up): Build up endurance for particular movements while using slightly lighter weights.
  • Pyramids: Increase or decrease the number of reps completed in each set. For example, start with 15 reps on the first set, then 12 on the second set, 10 on the third set, and 6 on the fourth set, while increasing the weight with each set. Or start low and work up in the number of reps.
  • Drop Sets: Instead of stopping a set at the point of fatigue, lower the amount of weight used in the exercise by about 10% and continue to do as many reps as possible at the lower weight. Drop the weight a second or third time if desired to reach maximum muscle fatigue.
  • Timed Sets: Instead of shooting for a certain number or reps, set a timer and complete as many reps as possible with good form for the duration of the allotted time.
  • Tempo Sets: Train a lower number of reps but using a tempo much slower than normal or holding the weight for a few counts in the middle of the movement (for example, at the bottom of a squat).

The above are all a few of the ways I liven up  my training plans. I switch a few of the above variables out every 2-3 months at the least and sometimes even every couple of weeks. Each of these layouts provide different benefits, so I make sure to include them all in my various workouts. Variety is the spice of life progress! And I would be happy to come up with a plan specialized for YOU. Because I seriously have too much fun making workout plans. No need to wait until the New Year! Start switching things up NOW. Open-mouthed smile

Do you like strength training? How do you use any of the above to switch things up? If you don’t like strength training, what holds you back?


1 chelsey @ clean eating chelsey December 14, 2011 at 7:07 am

I have come to love strength training, but I don’t have much time for it with this half marathon training business. I’m looking forward to taking my break and incorporating more strength!

2 tinareale December 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm

*wink wink*

3 Kara December 14, 2011 at 7:38 am

I like strength training…but I don’t currently do it :) Maybe a future workout goal!

4 tinareale December 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I could give you a good butt kicking. Oh, that would be fun. Since I know you would whoop up on me when it comes to running. ;)

5 Kara December 14, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Haha that would be awesome!

6 Khushboo December 14, 2011 at 7:45 am

Excellent post Tina, definitely bookmarking it! I am now so excited about my workout tomorrow. Lately I’ve traded in my total body workouts to splitting them up into upper and lower body workouts! I am enjoying the change of pace but still rely on total body workouts if I want to maximize my time: i.e. I focus on different muscle groups during the rest period of one exercise rather than stand around. Reading blogs and coming across new exercise moves also keep me motivated, as does seeing results!

7 Heather (Heather's Dish) December 14, 2011 at 8:03 am

i love love love strength training! push/pull supersets are my favorites :)

8 Lindsay @ In Sweetness and In Health December 14, 2011 at 8:11 am

Awesome post Tina!! And so so informative :) . Um…holding the weight at the bottom of a squat sounds kind of miserable haha…but I totally understand how good that would be for you! I love weight lifting and I try to change things up rather often just so I keep my body guessing.

9 Heather (Where's the Beach) December 14, 2011 at 8:23 am

Great post! I knew it would be though. Love how excited you are about lifting and sharing this information. I am thinking of starting to add more plyo back into leg workouts. I used to do it more often. I’m hoping it’ll help with stubborn jiggle and help with running speed.

10 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table December 14, 2011 at 8:29 am

Strength training is my favorite. I’ve been doing the lower rep/higher weight thing lately and I consistently shocked and how HUNGRY I get after!

11 tinareale December 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Gotta build up those muscles! *wink wink*

12 Lauren @ What Lauren Likes December 14, 2011 at 8:53 am

I love strength training! I’ve really gotten into it these past couple of months :)

13 Lindsay @ Lindsay's List December 14, 2011 at 8:56 am

“Challenge strength with lower reps at a heavier weight. You will NOT bulk!” – YES! I’m always so surprised when women are afraid to lift heavy!!

14 Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries December 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

i love, love, LOVE strength training! i’ve always had a huge passion for fitness, but once i got certified with NASM, i recognized the importance of it even more. now it’s one of my favorite ways to workout. and i’m so glad you emphasized the fact that lifting heavy won’t make you bulk. that’s definitely a myth that needs to go away!

15 Alayna @ Thyme Bombe December 14, 2011 at 9:30 am

There is so much great information here, a couple of methods I’ve never heard of before and can’t wait to try out. I love strength training!

16 jobo December 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

WHAT a great resource Tina! This is chock-full of everything you need to know about weight training. And nice job killing it at the gym!!

17 [email protected] December 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

Doing it with a partner or in a group fitness class makes it much more fun for me. Right now, my partner is my mom. She and I work out together with a trainer twice a week. She’s a great fitness role model:)

18 Bethany @ Accidental Intentions December 14, 2011 at 9:38 am

I love love love strength training. It’s something I’ve gotten into in the last four months or so, and I’m so glad I have. I went from barely being able to handle doing anything with 5 lb. weights to rarely maxing out with 15 lb. weights now, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do. I feel like strength training has done more for my overall fitness than just about anything (also…my legs are hot now. Just sayin. Haha). I have six different plans that I rotate through, four of which are body split ones (and probably my favorites, even though they hurrrrrrtttttt sometimes!). I think everyone should incorporate strength training into their workouts. It’s SO worth it.

19 tinareale December 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm

I bet your legs are HOT hot! I agree that strength training does so much more for my body too.

20 Jess December 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

AWESOME post, Tina!! my fave style lately of strength training is mainly bodyweight resistance style, but I’m also a big fan of supersets – way to kill a few body parts, leaving nothing left on the gym floor ‘cept for lotsa sweat and hard work ;-)

21 natalie @ southern fit foodie December 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

I LOVE strength training!!! This post is awesome – it really covers it all.

I am addicted to supersets right now, but I’ll probably go back to intervals soon. I also love upper/lower splits because of the challenge.

Have a blessed day!

22 Kirsten December 14, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thanks for a great summary on strength training! I am studying to become an ACE certified personal trainer and 100% agree with everything you are discussing. I love lifting so much so I do mostly supersets with little bursts of plyo to get my heart pumping! After focusing more on functional movements and challenging my core with a bosu ball, stability ball, and cable machine, my body has really transformed and become stronger! Thanks Tina for the great posts, keep em coming. -Kirsten

23 Paula @ Lipstick and Lunges December 14, 2011 at 10:25 am

Great post Tina! That was a perfect way to layout all the variations out there. There really are so many, never a reason to be bored in the gym!
I tend to do upper/lower splits and straight sets in pyramids. When I want to really change it up I do supersets or circuits, but I pretty much always stick to upper/lower splits.

24 Rebecca @ Miss Magnolia Munches & Moves December 14, 2011 at 10:59 am

CrossFit has taught me to LOVE strength training. When I used to do the traditional gym thing, I got very bored (this post would have come in handy!). But now, I am always challenged and find myself looking forward to more strength days rather than more cardio days.

25 Jillian December 14, 2011 at 11:10 am

Tina, I love the way you broke down all the different terms for strength training! I think there is a lot of confusion for people in the differences between these things (ie. circuit training vs. super sets). It’s great to have it all in one place and I will definitely be bookmarking this! :)

26 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats December 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm

these are a lot of great ideas! i’m definitely going to pick up my strength training over chirstmas break, Ill have to try out that workout!

27 Heather @ Better With Veggies December 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I love strength training, but rarely do it at the gym. I realized that convenience is key for me to fit this in, which is why I’m a TRX fan – no excuses when I can workout at home. It’s funny when I have access to a wonderful gym that I prefer home, but you have to find what works for you, right?! :)

28 tinareale December 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm

TRX is awesome and a great challenge. Love those bands!

29 Lisa Eirene December 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Nice! I sometimes get super bored with my routine. Switching it up helps a lot. Another trick I’ve learned is to do some sort of circuit training instead of sitting at one weight machine. I’d do pushups, then go into ab stuff, then lunges, squats, bicep curls, etc. Just mixing it all up keeps it fresh.

30 [email protected] December 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I love your shoes! And thanks for sharing your tips!! I’ve been looking for more ways to work out at home, and I love drawing ideas from your posts! :)

31 Ela December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thanks for the helpful breakdown. I’ve never been in a weight room and these days I do bodyweight exercises almost daily, so I have to agree that they’re good! I wonder if I need to hit the gym to take it to the next level, though…

32 Amy December 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I love weight training. I’m not too big on cardio. I did a session with a crossfit trainer today to try it out and its just not my thing.
I’m so not competative and that whole timing thing makes me nervous.
I’ve been trying to add some interval training in on my days off from weight training to try to get more definition in my legs but I’m already lean and I’m afraid i’m going to burn off too much muscle.
Any thoughts on this Tina??

33 tinareale December 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Intervals are actually the best cardio method to maintain muscle, so I would definitely focus there over longer, steadier sessions. HOWEVER, eating enough is what is really going to keep your body holding onto hard-earned muscle that you work for in your strength training. :)

34 Lee December 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Something that I need to focus on is using heavier weights. I know that the last couple of reps should be very difficult and, usually, they’re not. It’s just harder when I up the weight!

35 [email protected] EnjoyYourHealthyLife December 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Awesome tips! Variety is def KEY!!

36 Ro @ Eat Live Move December 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I particularly enjoy the Firm workouts that incorporate cardio and weight training. I’m currently rotating between Total Body Toner, Total Body Lite, and Total Body Time Crunch all ranging between 30 – 50 minutes each.

37 Bonnie December 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Great post, Tina! Full of good info and sound advice. I like how you broke it down – helps people create their own workouts! As a trainer myself, I find that’s what people have the hardest time with – trying to put all the moves together. This really helps!

LOVE strength training. But after going HITT, I’ll never go back! I know every type of training has it’s place, but for me, high intensity strength training (as opposed to cardio) is where it’s at! Love getting the burn in and going for broke and then being d.o.n.e. – and I love the lean improvements I’ve seen.

Thanks again for such a thoughtful post!

38 deb roby December 14, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I LOVE strength training, and subscribe to an undulating template plan for workouts.

For 1 month I do strength endurance training (8-15 reps/ usually 3 sets) emphasizing the 3 planes of motion in each workout.

For 1 month, I do unilateral training (12-20 reps on the unilateral moves; 5-8 on the bilateral moves) where I make sure that about 1/3-1/2 of the moves are one arm/leg at a time. The workout the stabilization muscles get prepares me for:

Month 3, is all about strength. I’ve been injured for the better part of the last 2 years, but I swear by the end of March I will be back to dead lifting and squatting 165# and bench pressing at least 115#. So want to hit that magic 135# mark on the bench.

After month 3, my soft tissue (tendons, ligaments, etc.) really need the recovery that going back to step one brings. And the whole thing start over again -usually at higher weight levels.

Each level of training demands its own set/rep plan- some pyramids, some circuit work, some drop sets. So there is enough change in the plans to keep things fresh.

39 tinareale December 15, 2011 at 8:12 am

I love that layout and actually do something similar. I love switching things around like that. It really does give great results and progress.

40 Elmina December 15, 2011 at 4:32 am

Hi Tina,
I am not sure if anyone has asked you this before….
Where do you get all your cool tee shirts? The ones with the sayings on them. They are very inspiring and encouraging and I would like to maybe get some.

41 tinareale December 15, 2011 at 8:11 am

I actually made them for Faith Fitness Fun through Spreadshirt for myself. The shirts get saved in a shop so they are available to buy for others…I just don’t like advertising that much because I truly made them more for myself. But if you’re really interested in them, they’re at

42 Michelle @ Lipstick and Lunges December 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

I love this post! I am a huge fan of mixing up my weight training routines and try to incorporate a balanced mix of everything. My favorites are doing moderate reps with super sets or circuits. It definitely keeps my muscles challenged. I love strength training and have for many years. The results are addicting!
— Michelle

43 LG December 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Here’s how I keep my strength training interesting lately: Step 1, remove Jackie Warner DVD from machine. Step 2, insert Jari Love DVD into machine. Step 3, press PLAY.


44 Sarah March 16, 2012 at 11:31 am

How much weight do you use for your arm/chest/back/shoulder exercises?


45 tinareale March 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm

It really depends on the exercise. For arms and shoulders, I gbenerally use 5-15 pound dumbbells depending on the exercise and number of reps. For back and chest, I use 20-35 pound dumbbells once again depending on the exercise and number of reps. It’s definitely something personal though, so you always have to try out and see what works for you – starting on the lighter end to make sure you can do the move with good form before moving up in weight.

46 Sarah March 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Yes I agree. How often do you train your upper body? Every other day? Or for how long?

Trying to get an idea of what you do since you seem to be in fantastic shape :)


47 tinareale March 16, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I try to mix things up. Usually I aim to hit each muscle group 2 times per week, sometimes 3 times per week. I do a mix of the following splits:

1 day upper / 1 day lower / 1 day full body
2-3 full body days
1 day push muscles (chest, quads, triceps) / 1 day pull muscles (hamstrings, back, biceps) / 1 day full body
2 push days / 2 pull days

I basically work to challenge my body in new ways regularly. :)

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