This is day 12 of the first edition of the book 2 Weeks to Health, a 2-week course designed to kick start a healthier life. The expanded and reworked second edition is set to be released in the summer of 2018.
“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” – William James
By now you probably have a workout routine somewhat in place whether it’s classes, a trainer, or a home DVD. Today’s lesson is all about giving you the information you need to plan your own workout. My goal is by the time you are done reading this, you can create a good workout plan for yourself without needing anyone’s help. I still recommend you use a trainer and to attend any classes or at home video programs you enjoy using, but you will inevitably have days where it’s up to you to get a good workout in.
The first question to ask yourself is ‘how many days should I exercise?’ Shoot for at least 3 days per week with 5 being the ideal amount to begin. With work, school, kids, dinner with friends, and whatever you have going on, you can choose what days those 3 to 5 days happen, but ensure you are fitting in good workouts no shorter than 30 minutes in length. If you still feel short on time and 3 days a week sounds like too many, then do what you can. If you are only working out 3 or 4 days per week, keep working on your time management to fit in 5 days per week. If you continue to struggle to find time to work out do not feel discouraged, because even one day per week is better than none.
Now that you have your 5 days set, just remember that on your rest days you have more to do than just sit around (see day 7). But what should you do during those 5 days? That will depend on a lot of factors such as your SMART goals, but there are a few things that everyone, regardless of their goals, can focus on. In any given week you want to make sure you workout each muscle group in your body, and that you get plenty of cardio. The main muscle groups fitness enthusiasts recognize are abs, legs, back, arms, chest, and shoulders. Each week you want to work out each of these muscle groups, but each muscle group has several muscles in them that need to be worked out individually.
When you are planning what to do during your 5 days, I recommend doing 20-30 minutes of cardio, 20-30 minutes focusing on your muscle group of the day, and then some time to warm up, cool down and stretch. Cardio exercises includes swimming, biking, elliptical, stair climbs, running/jogging, and essentially anything that gets your heart run up for an extended period of time. If you have 5 workouts per week and you lift every muscle group and do some form of cardio each workout day, your weekly schedule might look something like this:
Monday: Legs, stairs
Tuesday: Chest, walk/jog
Thursday: Back, walk/jog
Friday: Shoulders, arms, bike
Saturday: Abs, walk/jog
If your goal is strictly to lose weight, you should still work each muscle group but your focus should be more toward calisthenics rather than lifting weights. For example, instead of going to the bench press to work your chest, it may benefit you more to do push-ups and burpees to work your chest. Also, classes at gyms often focus on the full body. I still highly recommend you hire a trainer so you can know what is best for you, and then you can branch off and do your own workouts based on your own plans. Even if you do not care about building muscle, resistance training (weight lifting) is still very important for your overall health. It has been proven to increase your metabolism, increase bone density, and slows down muscular degeneration which naturally happens with age. Do not just do cardio and neglect the weights.
Now that you made a plan to know what you are doing each day of the week, the next goal is to go into more detail about what you’re going to do when you show up to your workout location, be it your local gym, your living room, or a local track. Let’s say you are planning your own workout for Friday and Saturday, and the rest is with your trainer, and you decided to do yoga on one of your rest days. Now your week is all scheduled, but you just need to make sure you don’t lose any momentum toward your goals on Friday and Saturday. Friday you are planning on going to the local gym, and Saturday you will stay at home and run around the block.
For Friday you decide you need to work your shoulders and arms, and you plan on doing a stationary bike. First you should ensure you are going to work all of your muscles in your shoulders and arms. Your favorite fitness website or application can break down the different exercises for you. You see what exercises are available to exercise your shoulders, and decide to do the shoulder press, and the side lateral raise. You check arm workouts and decide to do hammer curls for biceps and bench dips for triceps. For abs on Friday you decide to do planks, sit-ups, leg lifts, and Russian twists. On the bike you decide to do a 30 minutes interval workout, and the jog will be a 1 mile jog/walk around the block. Now you know all the exercises you’re going to do, and you’re making sure you do cardio, and that you are working out every muscle group this week. If you can do this much workout planning for yourself, you are on the right path and you will learn much more with time. And by the way, your weekly workout plan now looks something like this:
Monday: Legs and stairs with personal trainer
Tuesday: Chest and walk/jog with personal trainer
Wednesday: Yoga Class
Thursday: Back and walk/jog with personal trainer
Friday: Workout without trainer – shoulder press, side lateral raises, hammer curls, bench dips, 30 minutes on the stationary bike with sprint intervals
Saturday: Workout without trainer – planks, sit-ups, leg lifts, Russian twists, walk/jog around the block
Sunday: Rest, stretch, hydrate, recover, motivation, and goals
If all these exercises sound like a foreign language then don’t become discouraged. There are plenty of websites and videos that show pictures and videos of these different workouts, how to do them, and what muscles they target. It will take some time to learn them, and to learn which ones you enjoy doing the most.
At this point in your weekly workout planning you have a trainer or instructor taking care of 4 of your days, and you planning the 3 others. Remember, Sunday may be a rest day in this example, but it doesn’t mean it is an off day. The next question is how many repetitions and sets should you do of the exercises you planned? Individual exercises are broken into sets and repetitions. A repetition is the completion of an exercise when you do it one time. One bicep curl is equal to one repetition. If you do multiple repetitions, let’s say 12, then those 12 repetitions (or reps) make up one set. So if you do 4 sets with 10 repetitions per set, that means you did 40 repetitions total. Another way to measure how much of an exercise to do is by time. For example, you can do planks for 30 seconds or as many sit-ups as you can in a minute.
Any exercise will commonly be 3-6 sets, with anywhere from 5-50+ reps per set depending on the exercise. For shoulder press, and most exercises that are considered weight lifting, you should choose a weight that allows you to do about 8-10 reps before your muscles do not allow you to do any more. The number of repetitions will change depending on your goals, but 10 is a good number. Then depending on the length of your workout, you can choose to do that number of repetitions 3-6 times. You may need to reduce the weight after each set, you will get tired, and that is okay. Allow your body to slightly recover after each set by resting 1-3 minutes.
I’m going to add the reps and sets to the workout plan for Friday and Saturday which now looks like this:
Friday: Shoulder Press 6 x 10 (6 sets, 10 reps), Side Lateral Raises 3 x 10, Hammer Curls 4 x 10, Bench Dips 4 x 10, 30 min bike w/ intervals at an average level of 4
Saturday: Core Workout Circuit repeat 5 times: Planks (1 minute), Sit-ups (1 minute), leg lifts (1 minute), Russian twists (1 minute), once the circuit is complete, jog/walk around the block, 3 minutes of walking with 1 minute of jogging for 30 minutes
You can also add the weight you plan on lifting when you go workout. It is always good to add the extra weight goal into your plan, but it is not required.
All this workout planning can be done in your food/workout journal, and you can make notes on how you felt, whether you should increase or decrease the number of sets or weight, or anything else that could help you during future workouts. It is also good to do a warm up set with lower weight when you start an exercise. If you are planning on doing 6 sets of shoulder press, then actually do 7, but your first set will be a much lower weight so you can warm up your shoulders before doing a heavier weight.
The Friday workout shows how you might structure a workout at the gym when you have machines available to help you. Saturday shows how you might train at home which includes bodyweight workouts and a jog around your neighborhood. So which one is better? In my opinion neither is better, a balance between the two is what will get you in great shape. If you want to build muscle faster or spice up your cardio life, then a gym is needed. But, becoming stronger, thinner, and healthier can easily be done at home through calisthenics and outdoor cardio. Some of my most difficult workouts use no weights or equipment, and I move no more than a couple feet, so there are no excuses for not getting a great workout in when you are confined to your living room.
Planning can be a lot of fun because you know that the plan you are creating will push yourself to be healthier. It might take a little bit of time to learn and get used to, but once you become more knowledgeable about workout planning, you will be able to walk into the gym without writing anything down and know exactly what to do. That might take a few years, but it’s a great feeling when you reach that point. Next time you do a workout on your own, I challenge you to put some additional thought into your workout based on what you learned today, and ensure that even though there is no trainer there to push you, that you create a plan that pushes yourself.
Your daily workouts are extremely important, but so is what you do every other part of your day that will tip the scale and help you become healthier. If you work a desk job and then come home and sit on the couch and watch TV, even if you workout every day your lifestyle is still fairly sedentary. Tomorrow we will briefly discuss the benefits of staying active around the house and at work.