How to Structure an Effective Workout Plan
You have probably heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Sadly, that holds true for a lot of people in the gym. They start a program and never modify it. Years later they are still on the same 8 week program they found on a forum, looking the same and moving the same amount of weight they were when they started. They don’t understand how to structure an effective workout plan, and because of that never see the full benefits of their efforts.
If you are not committed to change, not consistent with your training, and not open to modifying when you need too, then it will be difficult to see results.
A structured workout program is essential to achieving your fitness goals because it gives form to your workouts and keeps them from becoming haphazard or disorganized while focusing on the areas you want to improve.
A good program will help prevent burnout by keeping things interesting / challenging enough so that you don’t get bored with doing the same thing over and over again (which often leads people into slacking off).
In short, a quality program will not only get you results, it will get you the results you want in an efficient way. However, a good plan is NOT just an eight or 12 week cycle. They are much, much longer and work to change overall lifestyle habits, not just a short term change.
First Off: Plan to be at it for awhile
You didn’t get where you are overnight. You will not get where you want to go overnight. Solid fitness plans are much longer than the average person thinks they are.
Almost anyone can find a halfway decent 8 or 12 week workout plan online these days. What most people cannot do is plan an entire year long program out based on a strategy that works towards your goals.
That is where a quality personal trainer can come into play. They can help build a structured, effective workout plan for you if you cannot do it yourself, but you are here because you want to do it yourself so I am going to help you.
Macrocycles, microcycles, and mesocycles refer to different phases of training that are designed to help athletes, or average gym goers, achieve their fitness goals.
A macrocycle is the longest phase of training, usually lasting between several months to a year. It is focused on achieving long-term goals such as building strength, endurance, or increasing muscle mass. This phase is where overall strategy comes into play for people who have specific performance goals, such as preparing for a competition or event.
A mesocycle is a medium-term phase of training that typically lasts between several weeks to a few months. This phase is designed to help athletes achieve more specific goals, such as improving speed, power, or agility. Mesocycles are often used to break up longer macrocycles into smaller, more manageable parts.
A microcycle is the shortest phase of training, usually lasting between several days to a week. It is focused on maintaining or improving general fitness, with a focus on recovery and injury prevention. Microcycles are often used to plan out individual workout sessions and to adjust training intensity and volume based on an athlete’s progress.
Overall, macrocycles are good for building a solid foundation of fitness, mesocycles are ideal for making progress towards specific goals, and microcycles are important for maintaining overall fitness and preventing injury. These different training phases are stacked onto each other over the course of time so people have a well-rounded fitness program that is both effective and sustainable.
Before you begin to structure your program, it’s important that you understand your current fitness level and goals. Sounds like common sense, right? You wouldn’t believe how many people who haven’t done much in terms of exercise for 10/20 years try to jump straight into Hero WODS, or ask how they can turn into Arnold 3 months out from their wedding. Chances are, if you haven’t worked out in quite awhile you won’t be running the Boston marathon in six months.
You should assess any physical limitations or injuries that may prevent certain types of exercises from being effective for you. If you have bad knees, a program full of box jumps is probably not the best idea. Same goes for if you are diabetic, someone with heart issues, or have old injuries that tend to flare up. You know your own limitations. Include them in your planning.
Long story short, know your own fitness levels and capabilities so you can make educated choices on what your program will look like and how much progress you can honestly hope to make in a period of time. This is why trainers will usually put you through a series of tests at the beginning to gauge how to build a program for you. Helps pull out injuries and limitations that the program can be built around.
This is a necessary first step before you begin to structure an effective workout plan.
Goal setting. We are taught from an early age the importance of setting goals. What we aren’t taught is how to structure them for best impact.
Saying, “I want to lose 10 pounds” is a goal but it’s vague on details. How will you lose that weight? Why do you want to lose it? Do you have a timeline to lose it? You need to include more than just an end state or the goal will fail.
Reframing that goal into something like, “I need to lose 10lbs within the next six months, by August 10, so I can fit into my wedding apparel” is a much better goal.
Then, hang it up somewhere visible so you can be reminded of that goal. Put it next to a doorway, above your computer, or in the bathroom for example.
Next, don’t just make a single goal. Make a series of progressive goals. This goes back to what I said above about building a year long plan. Crushing one goal is great, but what do you do after? Is that the only goal you have? After you get that washboard for the beach what happens? Do you go back to eating hot dogs and desert after every meal? Do you stop running?
I sure hope not!
- Establish both short-term and long-term goals.
- Break down those goals into achievable steps.
- Identify the resources needed to reach each goal, including time, money and equipment (or lack thereof).
Then, go crush them. Progressively build those goals up. The incredibly cliché, “Yesterdays mountains are today’s hills” quote is incredibly accurate.
Deciding on the Type of Workout Program:
There are several types of workout programs to choose from, and each has its own unique benefits. Determining what your goal is will help you to figure out what type of program you want to adhere to. The following are some of the most popular workout programs:
- Strength training is aimed at building muscle mass, increasing strength, and improving overall body composition. It involves using weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises to work the various muscle groups. This type of workout program is best for those who want to achieve a leaner, more muscular physique.
- Cardiovascular training focuses on improving cardiovascular health, increasing endurance, and burning calories. This type of workout program includes activities such as running, cycling, swimming, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It is best for those who want to improve their overall fitness and endurance.
- Flexibility training is aimed at improving flexibility, balance, and mobility. This type of workout program includes activities such as yoga, Pilates, or stretching exercises. It is best for those who want to improve their flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, and improve their overall physical and mental wellbeing.
- Functional training is aimed at improving overall quality of life, including strength, endurance, mobility, and balance. This type of workout program includes activities such as CrossFit, circuit training, or bodyweight exercises that mimic everyday activities in a more challenging way. It is best for those who want to improve their overall fitness and functional abilities.
If you are someone who struggles to bend and twist, you might choose to follow a flexibility program whereas if your goal is to jump into the Olympia or Arnold Strongman someday you might want to avoid ‘traditional’ functional training and focus on strength training.
Of course, you can absolutely stack them and make an even more effective workout plan with a bit more structure to it.
Creating the Workout Program
The next step is to create your workout program. This can be done by using the following steps:
- Consider how often and intensely you will be working out, as well as which days would work best for your schedule.
- Create a timeline for completing your workout plan, so that it doesn’t get too overwhelming or lose steam halfway through!
- Decide on the type of program you want to follow and select exercises that will help you achieve your goals.
It’s pretty simple. You can find some workouts online if you’d like, but the goal is to make sure whatever you choose fits your goals.
Some good rules of thumb include:
- For strength training, focus on making compound exercises (bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and squat) the centerpiece of the program
- Functional training needs to mimic everyday activities in some capacity so the program helps you move better everyday.
- Use a good tempo. Control weights in strength training routines or keep your heartrate elevated to the right BPM during functional or cardiovascular training.
- Don’t overdo it. Make the workout challenging, but not overwhelming.
Sticking to the Program
The best program in the world only works if you stick to it. Without consistency, you won’t get too far. That means that not only do you need to structure and effective workout plan, you have to approach the program in a way that will best put you on track for success.
No one on Earth knows you like you know yourself (except the nameless agent assigned to monitor you at a three letter agency). What works for some people to keep them on track won’t work on others. With that said, there are a few tried and true things you can do to help with consistency.
- Schedule the workouts. Put them in your calendar. This will help keep you on track and remind you of what needs to be done each day.
- Track your progress. It’s important to know how far along in the program you are. If something isn’t working out as planned or if there are other issues affecting performance (like illness), adjustments can be made accordingly before things get too far off track.
- Reward yourself for milestones along the way! Whether it’s hitting a certain number of reps or completing one week without missing any days, celebrate these achievements with something special (maybe even something healthy).
Ultimately, how far you go all comes down to your mental space. If you push yourself and refuse to quit, you will go far.
Incorporating variety is a key component to building a workout program that you’ll actually stick with. If you’re doing the same exercises, in the same order, and with the same intensity every time it’s going to get boring fast.
People already think healthier foods are boring or that bodybuilders diets are bland because there is a lot of rice, chicken, and broccoli involved. While nutrition can be boring, especially if you are heading into the final weeks of a competition, you don’t have to make workouts boring.
Here are some ways to change up your workouts:
- Swap up the exercises: Mixing things up will keep your body guessing so that your muscles don’t get used to doing one thing over and over again. For example, if you normally do squats as part of your leg day routine but want something different today (or even tomorrow), try lunges instead! Or front squats. Bulgarian split squats? Belt squats. Tons of ways to swap that one up and keep it fresh.
- Switch up the order: Doing this makes sure all parts of our bodies get worked out equally throughout our workouts. Otherwise, we could end up favoring certain areas over others. That could lead us down an unhealthy path later down life’s road when those unfavored areas start hurting more often because they haven’t been getting enough attention. Plus, there is the symmetrical reason here. The smaller, less developed muscles will appear dramatically different than their more developed counterparts, and that’s always weird looking.
- Change the tempo or weight: Some days going heavier or faster and other days going a bit slower or lighter can keep things interesting.
- Don’t let any one cycle last more than 12-16 weeks. If your program has you doing the same workouts, on the same days, with no variation, for any longer than that, throw it away. It might be great for the first few weeks. It will get old very quickly and your progress will stagnate.
One of the most important parts of a workout program is recovery. We don’t actually grow in the gym. Our bodies grow during recovery, so we need to schedule that in to the program itself. Put some rest days into the program and make sure you’re not working out every day.
Additionally, sleep is an absolute necessity. Prioritize it. 7+ hours a night at the minimum. 9 hours at the maximum, unless you have a medical issue. Anything less and you aren’t going to get all the great benefits. Anything more and you are wasting the day away.
Proper nutrition comes into play here as well because your body needs the fuel to properly recover. Aim to hit 1g of protein per bodyweight pound every day, focus on whole foods, eat the calories you need, and drink your water.
Active recovery can also be a strategy you employ, which simply means doing low impact movements on your off day, like walking. Gets the blood flowing, brings in nutrients to areas that need them, and reduces soreness.
Recovery is crucial for your body’s growth, so don’t feel guilty about taking a day if you need it! If you’re feeling too sore or too tired after a workout, listen to your body and take some time off, recovery, and come back stronger.
Overtraining can be entirely avoided by simply giving yourself adequate recovery time. Make it a priority.
A good support structure is necessary. It can be the make or break of any program. Think about it. You go to the gym every day, you nail your nutrition at every meal, you are making a ton of progress and doing everything right, but your family questions it. Your friends consistently put down your lifestyle, or your partner criticizes your lifestyle. How far are you going to make it?
Not very far, if you are like most people.
Peer pressure is a powerful thing and we all want to feel included, so make sure your program includes a support structure in some fashion.
If you’re the type of person who works out better in groups, then find someone else who shares your goals and interests. You can meet up with them at the gym or even just go for walks together on the weekends.
If finding your own workout partner isn’t an option, hiring one might be! A good personal trainer will help keep you motivated by setting specific goals and structuring an effective workout plan that works around any injuries or limitations you bring along or that may arise during training sessions.
Gyms provide access to all kinds of equipment so that no matter what kind of exercises you want to do, there will always be something available at hand (so long as they have it). Most gyms also offer classes where trainers teach different types of workouts which are great if this is something new for you because it’ll give structure without having too much freedom. Sit in a class and feel free to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense!
You’ve made it to the end of this guide, and hopefully you have a better understanding of how to structure and build an effective workout plan. It’s important to remember that no matter how much research you do, or how many resources you have access to, there will always be times when things don’t go according to plan.
You may have an injury or illness that prevents you from working out for a few days or weeks; maybe all of your friends are busy with other things at the same time and can’t meet up for group classes anymore; maybe even just one day every week feels like too much commitment!
Regardless, the important thing is to make a plan and stick to it as best you can. Consistency and dedication will get you far in life in any arena. Fitness is no different.
Let Us help You Out
At CONDITIONerd we are here to help you achieve better physical and mental health through exercise. Check out the plans we offer to our customers and see if you could benefit from working with our team. And if you have questions, you can always contact a CONDITIONerd team member.
Personal trainers, like those found here, can help guide you on your pathway towards reaching your fitness goals, whether that is getting bigger, stronger, faster, more lean, or just generally feeling better.
We can get you setup with a periodized workout plan, supplement information, and advice on nutrition to help you reach your goals.
The only thing you need is some motivation and a willingness to change some old habits.
Get into contact with us to find out what membership is right for you. In a CONDITIONerd program, you’ll be surrounded by others who can help you to get where you want to be.
Generally, our clients start to see some pretty awesome changes in 2-3 months time, some sooner.