Getting in shape can seem overwhelming, complicated, and hard on the wallet. In reality, it shouldn’t be. You don’t need an expensive gym membership, tons of equipment, or even tons of time each day to get a good start on your journey or to build your own training program. Those are all misconceptions brought about by a consumerism based world that says you need to have the newest shoes or the top of the line rower to get in shape. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few miles of decent road/trails, a patch of grass/flooring, and your body are all you really need to get in pretty good physical condition.
Don’t know where to begin? How about with an understanding of the different types of exercise and the building blocks of every training plan so that you can build your own training program. Once you figure out how it all fits together, you can be the master of your own (fitness) destiny.
Every plan is the same at their core
No matter whether you are a beginner just starting off, or an Olympian competing for your fourth games, every training plan has the same general concepts at their core:
- Exercise (Weight Training, Cardio, Stretching)
Skimping out on any one of these core requirements is a recipe for a failed fitness program. They all support each other, reinforcing and strengthening the program as a whole and helping you to reach a better version of yourself.
Setting a goal is a natural first step in creating any plan. Knowing what you want to accomplish and writing it down is a huge first step towards any type of progress. It follows the whole ‘admit you have a problem’ type methodology, except you are admitting you have a goal instead of a problem. Think positively, not negatively about this.
Are you at the gym for your health or to gain confidence? Do you want to change you physique and gain strength, mobility and athleticism? Or is your priority to boost your mood, get your blood flowing and sleep better? Naming your priorities helps you stick to your plan and achieve your goals. Do you want to:
- Lose weight
- Gain muscle
- Be overall healthier
- Have a higher quality of life
It doesn’t matter the goal, write it down. Seeing where you want to go can help you set milestones on your way to accomplish it. Those milestones could be something as simple as:
- Lose my first 5lbs
- Make it to the gym 3 days a week for 6 weeks
- Cut down to one desert a week, instead of nightly
- Walk for 5 minutes a day.
Your overall goal is where you want to go eventually. Those smaller milestones can help to motivate you towards reaching your overall goal, while giving you something new to strive for each day/week/month. Feel free to add as many milestones as you want as you build your own training program. It’s your plan.
Smaller, obtainable milestones keep it fun and motivating as your crush them. Motivation is hugely important to any training program. Without a strong “why”, it is easy to skip sessions at the gym, skip reps and let your health fall to the wayside. Whatever it is that motivates you is unique to you and what that ‘why’ is is up to you to figure out.
((For some hints on how to build out a bit of motivation or help you get to the gym more often, read this.))
Once you have some goals and milestones setup, begin to make a plan so you can attain that goal.
Your diet should be the foundation of your program. It is the most important aspect of a well-rounded program. Without properly supplying your body with the nutrients it needs, performance in and out of the gym will be sub-par.
Proper diet should consist of a wide variety of foods, making sure to emphasize unprocessed foods over processed foods. Nutritional value and calorie density should be taken into consideration when you are choosing what you are going to eat.
A cup of raw broccoli, for example is about 30 calories and chock full of tons of nutrients. Meanwhile, a cup of almonds is approximately 530 calories. While the almonds do have a good amount of healthy fats and nutrients, 530 calories fill up your dietary requirements much faster than that cup of broccoli will.
You should also know your BMR and TDEE in order to maximize your diet’s efficiency. All that means, is know how many calories your body uses just to exist as well as how many calories you burn when you do any type of exercise. Intake vs expenditure will determine whether you are gaining weight, losing weight, or staying the same.
- Restricted calorie intake = Weight loss
- Surplus calorie intake = Weigh gain
Diet is, however, only one aspect of your overall program even if it might arguably be the MOST important portion.
How well you are hydrated can make or break a fitness regimen. Water is enormously important to how efficiently your body breaks down food, moves nutrients through your body, and removes toxins from your internal environment.
Additionally, proper hydration can help protect you from numerous illnesses or injuries by boosting your immune system, lubricating joints and ligaments, and keeping your skin in a healthy state.
Being adequately hydrated also can help to reduce your likelihood of heat illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. None of those things are good, and water helps to regulate your internal temperature in order to reduce the potential of you contracting any of them.
Making sure you are properly hydrated has also been shown to help with mental clarity. That is fantastic news for you, especially if you are trying to get into the gym and need help focusing on what you are supposed to be doing while there: exercising.
Remember when I said make a plan? This where that plan comes into play. Write down what you want to do before you get to the gym, so that you aren’t standing around wondering what to do next while there. Match those exercises to your goal.
- If your goal is to get stronger, lift heavy
- Want to lose some weight, do some HIIT
- Trying to run a faster mile, hit up a fitness class aimed at upping your cardio
Writing down your plan helps with motivation and keeps you on schedule, both are necessities if you plan on getting your self in better shape.
How often should I exercise?
A commitment of 2-3 times a week is a great place to start. Exercising at least 3 times a week is the best way to see rapid improvement (especially when coupled with a good diet and proper sleep). Repeating similar exercises 3 times a week also allows you to see real results, quickly; every week you will be running a little longer, lifting a little heavier, stretching a little farther, and sleeping a little bit better.
As you start hitting those milestones you wrote down, begin increasing your workout frequency. Instead of 2-3 times a week, maybe get in something 5 days a week. Hitting your micro-goals is encouraging, motivating and rewarding. After all, who doesn’t like seeing positive results in the mirror?
Nearly every workout has the same basic structure. Use it to create your own training regimen.
Warm-up (5-10 minutes):
A proper warm up gets your blood flowing and primes the muscles you are going to be using. Spending 5-10 minutes warming-up will work wonders for you (and your muscles/joints) whether you are going for a short workout or a longer hour-plus long session. A warm-up can be a light jog, slow rowing, jump rope, or even dynamic stretching – the kind of stretching where you never stop moving. Swinging your arms, walking lunges and body-weight squats are all great ways to warm-up.
Work-out (10 minutes +):
How you exercise is dependent on what your goal is. If you are trying to work on your endurance, hit up the treadmill, row machine, or Zoomba class. Working on strength? Find your way to the weight floor and lift heavy. There are no coaches or trainers telling you what they think is best for you. When you build your own training program, the sky is the limit!
There are so many different routes you can go with cardio. There may be just as many, if not more, routes you can go from your initial “I want to be a better” runner goal than there are in the strength training realm. Some examples include:
- Hit the treadmill up and run for an hour or so. See how far you can run.
- Check out a cycling class.
- Run through a HIIT cycle
- Do a Crossfit WOD
The options for cardio are endless. The important thing is that you keep your heart rate elevated and your heart pumping.
Pick a major muscle group or two (back, chest, abs, legs, glutes, arms, etc) that you can exercise together. Sometimes it is good to do a bit of every group in a single workout. Many beginners like to do a full body workout two to three times a week until they grasp the more advanced workouts. This way, they get a fast-paced, efficient workout without exhausting all their muscles at once. It might also help to reduce excessive soreness!
If you are going for two groups, choose competing groups – a push group (pectorals) and a pull group (back), for example – to train them equally. Choose 2-3 exercises for each muscle group and alternate between the two different types of exercise. Once you find your rhythm, it is easy to build your own training program.
Cool-down (5-10 minutes):
Cooling down reduces soreness, preserves mobility and increases flexibility. Spend 5-10 minutes cooling down after a workout to gain those additional benefits. Trust me, your joints will love you for it in the years to come.
Good cool-downs gradually lower your heart-rate while you move through a full range of motion. They will bring you back down to a normal rate of breathing, a resting heartbeat, and help you to relax after working so hard. A few minutes of walking after your workout helps your blood keep moving while flushing out any lactic acid from your muscles. Lactic acid is the stuff that builds up during a workout and makes you sore. Passive stretching – holding stretches for 30 seconds or more – helps to keep you limber as you build strength and will combat any stiffness you may begin to feel.
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise
Aerobic and anaerobic exercises are the HOW your body reacts when you do cardio or strength training routines. You might see cardio, but your body is working aerobically, for example. Training aerobically or anaerobically boosts your metabolism, but they affect your body in different ways. Using a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic exercises is key for strength-building, weight loss and physical health.
“Light” exercise. As a general rule, if you can talk while exercising, you are doing aerobic training. Aerobics can also encompass jogging, rowing, swimming, and other similar intensity exercises that don’t require explosive bursts of energy. Aerobic training enhances your endurance, cardiovascular health and metabolism.
“Heavy” exercise. Anaerobic exercise takes your breath away. Training is the fastest way to build muscle and it burns fat directly, but it can be harder on your joints and difficult to maintain. This type of exercise encompasses things like sprinting, and strength training. In actuality, the biggest difference between the two is how the energy for the exercise is produced. That is a different topic for a different time, however.
Aim to mix it up! Use both, cardio and strength training during your program. While running, use intervals: several minutes of jogging, mixed with 10-30 second sprints to start with. Work up to 50/50 jog vs sprints. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been shown to give greater results over a shorter period than running for miles on end.
For weight lifting or body weight exercises: several sets of low-weight/high-repetition exercise and a final set of high-weight/low-repetition or high-speed exercise might be great for a beginner!
Don’t use a canned workout from some exercise blog, use it as a framework to build your own training program customized to your own needs and goals. Canned workouts don’t take into consideration individual requirements and abilities. Tailor your approach to your own goals.
Get out there and build your own training program today, and start on your own journey.