How to Create Your Own Exercise Program

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People have all sorts of excuses for not exercising regularly.

They don’t have time. Gym memberships are expensive. They didn’t lose 15 pounds in the first week and gave up. They didn’t know how to create a workout plan.

A sensible routine boosts strength, range of movement, energy levels, athletic performance, weight control, overall physical health, cognitive skills, and mood. In short, exercise can prolong your life and make you happier and more productive while you’re here.

You’re more likely to stick with a regimen that’s tailored to your own body. It should align with your goals, abilities, and lifestyle.

We always recommend to seek help from a personal trainer or join a group fitness class but if you can’t, here’s a guideline to get you started.

1. Define Your Fitness Goals

Workouts are not one-size-fits-all, so spend some time thinking about what you hope to achieve. Your goals will influence your routine.

For example, if you want to shed unwanted pounds, cardio exercise reinforced by strength training is ideal. If you want to build muscle, put greater emphasis on weight training.

Approach this in baby steps. Set realistic short-term goals that support the big picture.

Put your goals in writing, and keep your eye on the prize. It may help to take selfies or measurements so that you can track progress.

2. Make a Schedule

Before you try to schedule regular exercise, pinpoint activities in your day that waste time. For many of us, technology is the biggest culprit.

Yakking on the phone, checking email, and posting on Facebook does nothing for our waistlines or heart health. When we limit those activities, we miraculously have plenty of time.

Try scheduling four to five days of workouts and two days of rest. Mind you, not every workout will be strenuous or intense; some are designed for recovery and accessory work.

For hard, intense workouts, start with 20 or 30 minutes. A warmup and cooldown will round out the time.

For active recovery days, which involve slow, low-intensity workouts, plan on 30 to 45 minutes.

What time of day is best? The jury is still out on that one, but many scientists argue for the morning. Your hormonal composition when you first wake up is ideal for burning stored fat. Morning workouts may also decrease your appetite for the rest of the day.

That’s not to say that midday or evening workouts don’t have value. If you know in your heart of hearts that you’re not at your best in the morning, schedule exercise for when you are. It’s more important to choose the time that you’re most likely to stick to.

Consistency is everything.

3. Formulate a Balanced Workout Routine

You’ll get better results and reduce the risk of injury if you incorporate several types of workouts. Plus, diverse workouts keep boredom at bay.

Every workout should include the following:

Warmup

Before you go crazy, take some time to get your blood flowing and ease your muscles into cooperation. Warmups improve performance and keep you from hurting yourself.

Make your warmup a slow-paced, small-scale version of your workout. Jogging in place, doing limb and neck rotations, and lifting water bottles are excellent ways to warm up.

Cardio

Just about anything that makes your heart beat faster is cardio. Examples include walking, running, cycling, swimming, or using a rowing machine or treadmill.

Resistance

Resistance is any force that’s hard to move against. It might be weights, resistance bands, or even gravity. When you simply stand up at your desk, you build strength, improve endurance, and burn calories. When you’re not working out, stand and move around more often.

Cooldown

Cooling down is just as important as warming up.

Do some stretching. Perform slow, gentle movements to redistribute blood flow and gradually return your heart rate to normal.

4. Target Muscle Groups

Individual muscles don’t function on their own. Smaller muscles support larger ones. Rather than target random muscles, target muscle groups to workout together:

  • Chest, shoulders, and triceps
  • Back and biceps
  • Hamstrings, calves, and glutes

Gym equipment is labeled according to which muscles it’s designed to help, and there are instructions for safe use as well. The labels are well worth reading.

5. Vary Your Routine

Since your body adapts to repetitive exercise, frequently mix things up. Also, endless squats or pushups day after day punish the same joints and muscles.

Vary your exercises, intensity levels, rep schemes, times, and weight loads. Don’t shy away from activities that expose your weaknesses. Those are the very areas that need the most attention.

Break up your routine into short cycles of six weeks or so. When you’ve mastered one workout, gradually introduce new challenges.

6. Schedule a Recovery Day, and Use It Wisely

Recovery day should follow the most intense workout day. We’re all tempted to spend it snacking on the sofa while binging on Netflix, but that’s not the idea.

Keep moving to repair muscles, maintain a full range of motion, and reinforce your commitment. Swimming, yoga, foam-rolling, and even long walks are excellent recovery activities.

7. Get Started!

Action is crucial, and it’s about quality rather than quantity. If you can commit to just 10 minutes a day in the beginning, so be it.

Here are some motivational tips:

  1. Don’t wait until you feel like exercising. Set a firm start date on the calendar.
  2. Recruit a workout partner.
  3. Make exercise part of an overall wellness program that includes eating better, getting more sleep, and improving work-life balance.
  4. Don’t make it all about weight loss. Focus on improving your strength, energy, agility, sleep quality, focus, and mood.
  5. There’s no shame in starting over again and again.

8. Bonus Tip: Monitor Your Progress

In 10 or 12 weeks, revisit your goals. Is it time to tweak your routine or amp up the intensity of your workouts?

Success is a great motivator, so take time to celebrate when you make strides.

Finally, don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

Knowing how to create a workout plan is half the battle. Once you’ve got that down and stick to it, you can start comparing your former self to the new you. You’ll like what you see.

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