Programming for Strength

Programming for Strength

In parts one and two of our programming series, we emphasized the importance of considering your client’s goals as a key component to take into account when you develop their program. Here, we will assume that your client’s key goal is to build muscular strength. There are several key characteristics that distinguish training for strength versus training for other outcomes such as hypertrophy, weight loss, or endurance.

Exercise Selection

First, when writing a workout program for strength you need to select exercises that coincide well with strength building. These exercises are known as compound movements and are generally defined as exercises that require a large variety and number of muscle fibers in order to complete. These exercises, such as the back squat, bench press, barbell row, and so on will present the most effective mode of gaining strength for your online personal training client. By calling a greater number of muscle fibers into action these exercises cause a greater hormonal effect than do single joint exercises, further enhancing their impact on strength gains.


When programming for strength, you should have your client use moderately more resistance than if they were training for hypertrophy (or endurance). Here, the client should use the resistance of between 80%(8 reps) and 90% (4 reps) of their one rep max in order to elicit the greatest strength gains.

Rep Ranges

When programming for strength the rep ranges your client is going to be working in should range from between 4 and 8 reps per set, rather than between 8-12 for hypertrophy or 10-15 for endurance. This rep range is a reflection of the resistance that your client is engaged with. There will always be overlap in rep ranges between power, strength, hypertrophy, and endurance, but generally, this rep range is recommended when strength gains are the goal.

Rest Periods

Along with increased resistance and decreased rep ranges, you should incorporate longer rest periods into your personal training client’s program. Rest periods should range from 90 seconds to two minutes between sets, depending on the exercise in question, the resistance being used, and the fatigue level of your client.

Putting it all Together

When writing a workout program for strength gains, use compound exercises and relatively high resistance, along with a relatively short rep range and long rest periods.

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Matthew Johnson is a fitness writer, personal trainer, strength coach, as well as a former gym owner. Matthew holds an MBA from The University of Memphis and a Master’s in Exercise Science from Middle Tennessee State University. Matthew has also earned the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential from the NSCA. Matthew recently published his first book, 300 30 Minute Workouts for Busy People, and lives in Memphis, TN with his wife, Anna, and their dog Henderson, and cat, Sox.

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