How to Build The Best Workout Routine

In this part of the guide, you will learn how to build the best workout routine in four simple steps.

Four Steps to Building the Best Workout Routine

Step 1: Learn the Different Types of Exercises
Step 2: Learn The Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group
Step 3: Select the Best Exercises for your Workout Routine
Step 4: Arrange the Exercises in your Workout Routine

Step 1: Learn the Different Types of Exercises

There are two ways to categorize the different types of exercises:

A. Body Weight vs Machines vs Free Weights
B. Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises

A. Body Weight vs Machines vs Free Weights

1. Body Weight Exercises

Any exercise which only uses your body as resistance. Examples are push-ups, dips and pull-ups.


  • Completely Natural Movement

The range of motion is completely natural and does not lock your body into any form of unnatural movement that may cause injury.

  • Uses Stabilizer Muscles

Bodyweight exercises work your stabilizer muscles (the muscles that help stabilize one joint so a desired movement can be performed in another joint). For example, if you were doing a push-up, you are using your chest and arms as the primary muscles. However, your abs and legs would be working to stabilize your body.

  • Functional

Bodyweight exercises relate very closely to daily movements and motions (lifting something heavy, sitting, reaching for something high, etc). Hence, they help you to perform your daily activities better with reduced risks of injury.

  • Easy to Learn

Bodyweight exercises are relatively easier to learn than other type of exercises.


  • Difficult for Some People

Some people (beginners or overweight people) find it difficult to do bodyweight exercises like dips or pull-ups.

  • Limited Resistance

There is a limit to the load since you’re only using your body weight.

2. Free Weight Exercises

Any exercise where you use barbell, dumbbells, and other free weights as resistance. Examples include barbell curls, dumbbell curls, deadlifts, squats, etc.


  • Natural Movement

The range of motion is completely natural and does not “lock” your body into any form of unnatural movement that may cause injury.

  • Uses Stabilizer Muscles

Similar to bodyweight exercises, free weight exercise work your stabilizer muscles. For example, if you were doing the barbell bench press, you are using your chest and arms as the primary muscles. Your abs, back and legs would be working to stabilize your body.

  • Functional

Like bodyweight exercises, free weight exercises relate closely to daily movements and motions and help to reduce the risk of injury in your daily activities.

  • No Limit on Load

Unlike bodyweight exercises, you can add more weight to increase resistance. For bodyweight exercises, you are stuck with your bodyweight as the maximum (or minimum) load.

  • Can Be Done at Home

You just need a pair of dumbbells (or barbell), some weights and a bench to perform dozens of different exercises in the comfort of your own home.


  • Harder to Learn.

Compared to bodyweight exercises, a beginner will find it harder to learn the proper form and technique of free weight exercises.

  • Increased Risk of Injury.

Compared to bodyweight exercises, it is harder to maintain proper form when performing free weight exercises. Bad form will lead to awkward body positions and increase your risk of injury.

3. Machine Exercises

Any exercise that uses a machine to go through a fixed movement path.


  • Easy to Use

Machine exercises are very easy to learn. Thus, it is suitable for beginner lifters who are completely new to weightlifting.

  • Reduced Risk of Injury

Beginners often use the wrong form/ technique with free weights, resulting in injuries. With machines, the lifter goes through a fixed path with the weight and therefore reduces the risk of injury. However, there are cases whereby this is detrimental instead; see below under “Unnatural Movement Path”.

  • Good for Isolating Specific Muscles

When you have a muscle injury, you can use the machine exercise to isolate your muscle groups so you can completely rest your injured muscle. For example, you can perform the machine flyes instead of the barbell bench press if you have a shoulder injury. The machine flyes will ensure that you isolate and work only your chest muscles, and your shoulders will be able to rest.


  • Unnatural Movement Path.

Since machines make you go through a fixed path of motion, some machines may force your body into unnatural positions that may cause injury. For example, when you perform squats with the Smith machine, it does not take into account your body shape and forces you to undergo a fixed and unnatural movement path that may cause injury to your lower back.

  • Least Functional

Compared to bodyweight and free weight exercises, machines do not relate very well to daily activities and movements.

  • Doesn’t Really Work Stabilizer Muscles

Machine exercises mainly work the primary muscles. This is because the exercise movement is stabilized by the machine and you will not really use your stabilizer muscles.

  • Asymmetrical workout

Since you normally use both limbs to perform the machine exercise, the stronger limb may do more of the work. For example, if you were doing the machine chest press, your right pec might become bigger than your left pec because your right hand is stronger than your left hand!

B. Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises

1. Compound Exercises

Exercises that target multiple muscle groups. A compound exercise targets the main muscle group and recruits other secondary muscles too. For example, the bench press works the chest muscle primarily but it also targets your secondary muscles: shoulders and triceps.

Examples of Compound Exercises

  • Flat, Incline or Decline Bench Press

Primary: Chest
Secondary: Shoulders, Triceps

  • Overhead Shoulder Press

Primary: Shoulders
Secondary: Triceps

  • Dips (slight forward lean)

Primary: Chest
Secondary: Triceps, Shoulders

  • Dips (no forward lean)

Primary: Triceps
Secondary: Shoulders, Chest

  • Rows

Primary: Back
Secondary: Biceps

  • Pull-Ups, Lat Pull-Downs

Primary: Back
Secondary: Biceps

  • Deadlifts

Primary: Posterior Chain (Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, etc.)
Secondary: Much Of Lower and Upper Body

  • Squats

Primary: Quads
Secondary: Most Of Lower Body (Glutes/Hamstrings), Lower Back

2. Isolation Exercises

These are exercises that target a specific muscle group. An isolation exercise targets a main muscle group primarily and recruits other muscles minimally.

Examples of Isolation Exercises

  • Flat, Incline or Decline Flyes (Chest)
  • Lateral Raises or Front Raises (Shoulders)
  • Biceps Curls (Biceps)
  • Triceps Extensions (Triceps)
  • Leg Extensions (Quads)
  • Leg Curls (Hamstrings)
  • Calf Raises (Calves)

Compound vs Isolation, Which One is Better for You?

A common question that lifters like to ask is: “Are Compound or Isolation Exercises Better?”. Most people have the common misconception that compound exercises are the “best” and isolation exercises are inferior. However, this is NOT true at all because both types of exercise are useful for their own respective purposes.

Why Compound Exercises Are Good
Compound exercises are efficient because they target multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, a simple pull-up exercise will target your lats as well as your biceps and other back muscles. This helps you to grow bigger faster because you are increasing the size of multiple muscle groups. In addition, since multiple muscle groups are targeted, more testosterones are released which in turn stimulates further muscle growth.

Why Isolation Exercises Are Good
Even though compound exercises are efficient and useful, there are various scenarios where it is necessary to use isolation exercises instead. Below are some examples:

– Example 1: You are having difficulty building up your chest using the bench press.
Some people, due to their body structure (longer hands, torso differences, etc), find it difficult to build their chest muscles by bench pressing. Instead, their shoulders and triceps end up doing most of the work. In such a case, doing an isolation exercise such as the dumbbell flyes would help to better target the chest muscles.

– Example 2: You have just performed the bench press and would like to train your shoulders without exerting your triceps again.
In this case, instead of performing a compound exercise like the overhead shoulder press (which will also work your triceps), you can isolate your shoulder by doing isolation exercises like the front raise or lateral raise.

– Example 3: You want to isolate and train your arms to make them bigger
You can use isolation exercises to train your biceps and triceps.

So should you do Compound or Isolation exercises? Here’s your answer:
In conclusion, most workout routines should consist mainly of compound exercises. Isolation exercises can be used for scenarios similar to the 3 examples given above.

For beginners, your workout routine should comprise almost completely of compound exercises. This is because compound exercises target multiple muscle groups and will help you gain overall muscular strength in preparation for more advanced isolation training.

Finally, you should perform low rep (1 to 10) heavy load training for compound exercises and high rep (10+) lighter load training for isolation exercises. This is because compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups to support the load and therefore you can go much heavier. However, isolation exercises only target a single muscle group and if the load is too heavy, there is a high risk of injury to the joint/ muscle.

Step 2: Learn The Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group

Below is a list of exercises that are generally considered to be the best for each respective muscle group. Click on the links to learn the movements. Once you finish going through the list, you will have learned the majority of workout exercises!


Deltoids (Shoulders)




Core (Rectus / Transverse)

Core (Obliques)

Leg (Quads)

Leg (Hamstrings)

Calf (General/Gastrocnemius)

Calf (Soleus)

There are many more exercises that are not included here. Once you have read through the entire guide and learned how to build your own workout routine, you can include other weightlifting exercises based on your personal needs and preferences.

Step 3: Select the Best Exercises for your Workout Routine

In step 1, I listed out the pros and cons of each type of exercise. In step 2, I gave a list of the best exercises for each muscle group.

It is now time to select the exercises that are most suitable for YOUR body type based on what you have learned from step one and two. To do that, you need to understand the below concept:

There is NO “Best” exercise for a muscle group
There is NO such thing as a “Best” exercise for a particular muscle group. The barbell bench press is not the “Best” exercise for your chest and the Squat is not the “Best” exercise for your legs. Below are some examples to help you understand this point.

Example 1:
Some people like to insist that compound exercises are better than isolation exercises. This is because compound exercises target multiple muscle groups, and the load is much heavier when compared to isolation exercises. Their (flawed) argument is that this leads to faster/great muscle growth and therefore compound is better than isolation.

However, this is not true at all. The Squat is a compound exercise and while it may be effective for most, some people (especially those with longer legs) find it difficult to progress with Squats. This is because their long femurs (thigh bones) make the movement awkward and prevent the exercise from effectively targeting the leg muscles. For such cases, an isolation exercise like the leg extension would be much more effective than a compound exercise in targeting the leg muscle.

Example 2:
In a similar vein, there are people who would never go near machines and only swear by free weights, thinking that free weights are the “best” exercises. While it is true that free weights are better than machines in some aspects, there are many other scenarios where machines are better. For example, a person who is recovering from an injured muscle can use a machine to target another muscle group and isolate the injured muscle. Also, beginners with zero experience in weight lifting can use machines to gradually learn the movements and reduce their risk of injury.

There is only the exercise that is most suitable for YOU
In conclusion, while there is no such thing as the “Best” exercise, there are definitely exercises that are MOST suitable for YOU.

First, you should learn about the different types of exercises (step one). After that, start by selecting exercises that are most common for each muscle group (step two). You can use the free workout routines in this guide as reference. For example, the bench press is an effective chest exercise for most people. The shoulder press is an exercise that normally targets the deltoids very well.

Eventually, with actual experience in the gym, you should be able to select the BEST exercises that are most suitable for YOU. For example, if you have been trying hard to build your chest using the bench press but have been unable to achieve significant results, perhaps you can perform an isolation exercise like the dumbbell flyes instead to target your chest muscles more effectively. Or, if you are unable to “feel” your legs using squats, perhaps you should switch to the leg press machine instead.

Step 4: Arrange the Exercises in your Workout Routine

The fourth and final step is to arrange the exercises in your routine. There are just three main rules you have to follow:

Rule 1: Alternate muscle groups
Rule 2: Compound exercises should be done before isolation exercises
Rule 3: Bigger muscle groups should be trained before smaller muscle groups

Rule 1: Alternate Muscle Groups
This is a pretty simple rule. Basically, you should not perform consecutive exercises for the same muscle group. For example, if you have just performed a flat bench press, you should not be doing an incline bench press for the next exercise. You should be doing rows or squats instead as they target a different muscle group from the chest.

Rule 2: Compound Exercises Should Be Done before Isolation Exercises
Pretty simple: Squats before leg extensions. Bench press before dumbbell flyes. Shoulder press before front/lateral raises. You get the drift!

Rule 3: Bigger Muscle Groups Should Be Trained before Smaller Muscle Groups
Pretty simple too: Chest & Back before Deltoids/Biceps/Triceps. Deltoids before Biceps/Triceps. Quads & Hamstrings before calves.

The main purpose of these 3 rules is to ensure that you do not overwork your muscles. Alternating muscle groups, performing compound and bigger-muscle-groups exercises first will prevent you from burning out early in the workout.


Step one: Identify the Types of exercises
You learned about the two types of exercises and their pros and cons:

  • Bodyweight versus Machines versus Free Weights
  • Compound Exercises versus Isolation Exercises

Step Two: Learn The Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group
You got to know about some of the most common/ useful exercises for each muscle group (Chest, Deltoids, Back, Biceps, Triceps, Core, Legs, Calf).

Step Three: Select the Best Exercises for your Workout Routine
You learned how to select the best exercises for your workout routine by using information gained from the first two steps.

Step Four: Arrange the Exercises in your Workout Routine
Finally, you learned about the three rules of arranging your workout exercises.

Congratulations! You are now ready to build the BEST workout routine for yourself after going through the above four steps.

Of course, this is easier said than done and it takes time and experience to learn how to build your own routines. However, don’t give up and with a little practice you will soon be developing your own workout programs.

Confused? Do not worry! I have included some FREE workout routines at the end of this guide that you can use as starting references. These workout routines were built around the principles in this guide. However, I still strongly encourage you to eventually build your own workout routine so that it will be specific to your own body type and needs.

In the next chapter, you will be learning about the secret to getting workout gains – Progressive Overload!

This article is part of a completely FREE and FANTASTIC workout guide to teach YOU how to gain muscles and lose fat. See below:

The Ultimate Guide to Working Out

1. Five Steps to Achieving Your Workout Goal
2. The Ultimate Diet to Build Muscle and Lose Fat
3. How to do a Proper Warm Up
4. Workout Frequency/ Split – How Many Times Per Week Should You Work Out?
5. Workout Intensity – How Many Reps Should You Do?
6. Workout Volume – How Many Sets Should You Do?
7. How to Build The Best Workout Routine
8. Progressive Overload – The Secret to Getting Workout Gains!
9. Workout Routines to Build Muscles and Lose Fat Fast

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