How to Design an Effective Training Program for High School and College Athletes

One of the great things about being part of the Hardbody Athlete community is having access to a wealth of knowledge from experienced coaches and trainers. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to refine your training regimen, understanding how to design an effective program is crucial. In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps to create a program tailored to your specific goals, ensuring you make steady progress and avoid common pitfalls.

Step 1 – Define Your Primary Goal

The first step in designing any training program is to determine your primary goal. Whether you want to build muscle, increase strength, or improve overall athletic performance, having a clear focus will guide your training decisions. Remember, trying to achieve multiple conflicting goals simultaneously (like bulking up while trying to get lean) often leads to subpar results. Stick to one major objective at a time for the best outcomes.

Common Goals:

  • Building Muscle: Requires a caloric surplus and hypertrophy-focused training.
  • Increasing Strength: Focuses on lifting heavier weights with lower reps.
  • Improving Athletic Performance: Combines strength, speed, and agility training.

Step 2 – Choose the Right Training Split

Your training split should align with your primary goal, recovery capacity, and schedule. Here are some effective training splits based on different goals:

For Strength:

  • Whole Body Split:
    • Day 1: Whole Body
    • Day 2: Recovery
    • Day 3: Whole Body
    • Day 4: Recovery
    • Day 5: Whole Body
    • Day 6-7: Recovery
  • Upper/Lower Split:
    • Day 1: Lower Body
    • Day 2: Upper Body
    • Day 3: Recovery
    • Day 4: Lower Body
    • Day 5: Recovery
    • Day 6: Upper Body
    • Day 7: Recovery

For Building Muscle:

  • Antagonist Split:
    • Day 1: Chest/Back
    • Day 2: Recovery
    • Day 3: Biceps/Triceps
    • Day 4: Quads/Hamstrings
    • Day 5: Recovery
    • Day 6: Shoulders/Abs
    • Day 7: Recovery

For Fat Loss:

  • Circuit Training:
    • Incorporate full-body circuits with minimal rest between exercises to maximize calorie burn and maintain muscle.

Step 3 – Select the Proper Training Intensity Zone

The intensity zone you choose should reflect your goal:

  • Strength: 1-5 reps per set.
  • Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth): 6-12 reps per set.
  • Endurance: 12-20 reps per set.

Step 4 – Determine the Number of Sets

The total number of sets will vary depending on your work capacity and schedule. A good starting point is 9-12 sets per muscle group per week. Adjust based on how your body responds.

Step 5 – Choose the Right Exercises

Exercises fall into four categories:

  1. Primary Exercises: Multi-joint movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.
  2. Secondary Exercises: Support the primary lifts, such as lunges or rows.
  3. Auxiliary Exercises: Isolation movements like bicep curls or leg extensions.
  4. Remedial Exercises: Target specific weaknesses or imbalances, like rotator cuff exercises.

Sample Exercise Selection for Strength:

  • Quads: Squats (Primary), Lunges (Secondary)
  • Hamstrings: Deadlifts (Primary), Leg Curls (Auxiliary)
  • Chest: Bench Press (Primary), Flyes (Secondary)
  • Back: Pull-Ups (Primary), Rows (Secondary)
  • Shoulders: Military Press (Primary), Lateral Raises (Auxiliary)
  • Arms: Barbell Curls (Primary for biceps), Tricep Dips (Primary for triceps)

Step 6 – Organize Your Workout

Organize exercises in a logical order:

  1. Primary Movements: Perform these first to maximize strength and power.
  2. Secondary Movements: Follow with these to build muscle and support primary lifts.
  3. Auxiliary Movements: Use these to finish off and target smaller muscle groups.

Step 7 – Rest Intervals

Rest intervals should match your goals:

  • Strength: 2-4 minutes between sets.
  • Hypertrophy: 60-90 seconds between sets.
  • Endurance/Fat Loss: 30-60 seconds between sets.

Step 8 – Plan Recovery Days

Recovery is essential for progress. Include active recovery days (light activity like walking or stretching) and passive recovery days (complete rest). Assisted recovery techniques like massages or Epsom salt baths can also help.

Step 9 – Special Methods

Advanced training methods (like cluster sets, rest/pause sets) should be used sparingly and only by advanced lifters. Beginners and intermediates will make significant progress with basic, consistent training.


Designing an effective training program requires careful planning and a clear focus on your primary goal. By following these steps, you can create a program that helps you make steady progress, avoid injuries, and reach your athletic potential. Remember, consistency and dedication are key, so stick to your plan and adjust as needed based on your progress and feedback from your body.

Happy training, Hardbody Athletes!