Building a Workout Plan

Move - Article 04

We all know why we should exercise, but knowing how we should exercise is another thing entirely. While a trainer can make sure you’re getting the absolute best out of your exercise sessions, you can still develop an effective workout programme with just a little know-how and forward planning.

When building a workout plan, there are a few main components to consider:

Frequency & Duration

However busy our lives get, it’s crucial to always find the time to exercise. An optimum exercise session should last 45 minutes to an hour. This gives you time to warm up properly and prime your muscles for use. It also allows adequate time to cool down and stretch after.

Consider what time of day would be best for you and try to stick to it. Consistency is the key to success with your plan and eventually working out will become a habit.

It helps to perform your exercise session before a meal and it’s a great way to work up an appetite too! If you really are short on time, you could spread your workout across the entire day. Finding just twenty minutes before each meal to work out may just be the answer.

Rest & Recovery

Whether you’re new to exercise or a fitness fanatic it’s important to plan days of rest and recovery. Without these days off, our body isn’t able to repair and rebuild and we’ll end up risk injury or fatigue.

Initially, it may be a good idea to have a workout plan with two rest days between each session and, as your fitness improves, begin to rest for just one day between exercise days. On these days you’ll likely feel some soreness from the previous workout and you’ll need to stay mindful of how you use your body. A light stretch or gentle walk is a great idea and something we refer to as “active rest”.

Don’t be fooled by the term “rest”! Try and keep these days active to avoid stiffening up.

Balance & Variety

The exercises we choose for our workout plan need a lot of consideration. They have to be relevant to our goals and we need to make sure there’s enough variety to stop us getting bored and losing motivation. Not only will variety prevent boredom but it will actually produce greater fitness results as it keeps the body guessing and utilises a wider range of muscles.

Balance is essential too. A balanced workout plan will prevent us creating any structural imbalance or creating problems in other areas of our body. It’s a good idea to have an equal mix of pushing and pulling moves for the upper body and knee/hip dominant moves for the lower body.

Cardio should be a part of the exercise plan too and should always complement the resistance (muscle training) work. The moves you choose don’t have to be mind-bogglingly complex or fancy either, but more on that later.

Progressive Challenge

Our workout plan needs to be developed in a way that constantly challenges us and keeps raising the bar. So we’re always making steps in the right direction, however small. This could be as simple as gradually evolving a particular exercise over time to keep it interesting and ensure it never becomes too easy.

A simple way to avoid an exercise plateau or losing momentum is to set mini-goals along the way or just add a couple of repetitions for each exercise with each week that passes.

Measuring & Recording

Progress means different things to different people. It could be how close to touching your toes you are or how long you can hold a certain position. Setting targets when we first build our workouts will help keep us motivated and give us a clear goal for which to aim.

To help keep you moving in the right direction, it’s vital  you measure your progress and track your fitness. For example, if you’re adding reps to an exercise and manage to complete them each time then you’ll have clear evidence that you’re getting stronger. Over time you can then look back and see just how much you’ve progressed.

Structure & Content

To get the most from your workout, we recommend you follow three key stages: warm-up, main set and warm-down.

  • Warm-Up
    This is a very important and often overlooked part. The goal is to prime the muscles for more intense activity, get the heart rate up, and reduce the chance of injury.

    A few stair climbs or jumping jacks later, when your heart rate is in raised (ideally 70-80% of your max), your body will begin burning fat whilst improving your overall aerobic fitness. This elevated heart rate also means your blood is pumping to all the areas that need it most for performing the exercises.

  • Main Set
    Your exercises should be planned out with ‘sets’ and ‘reps’. Reps, short for repetitions, are the number of times you’ll perform a move within a round or set. So, you might decide to start with press-ups for 3 sets of 6 reps. That means 6 press-ups to complete a set and then a short rest before starting the next set. It’s up to you what set/rep range you decide on but as a guide always aim to have enough reps so that the last one feels like hard work and the last reps of the last set feel close to your limit.

    If you can only perform 3 press-ups comfortably then you could plan for 5 sets of 2 reps and over time shift the numbers so that you’re performing more reps and less sets until you can manage 2 sets of 5 reps. Within 8 weeks you could expect to be performing 5 sets of 6 reps which is a huge progression.

    Ideally, you should structure your workout to target the main muscle groups:

    • Chest, back and arms
    • Bum and legs
    • Core muscles
    • Auxiliary muscles, or areas of particular focus or concern

  • Warm-Down
    The warm-down phase – sometimes referred to as the ‘cool down’ – is very important as it allows for a gradual transition back down to your resting heart rate and normal blood pressure level.

    In this time, we should try to slow the pace of our movement – a light jog or walk while focusing on breathing and recovering – as well as stretching any muscles that we used during the main set.

    Using the muscles for intense activity causes them to contract forcefully and we want to ensure we don’t finish the workout tight and stiff so take your time to stretch and try not to “bounce” in your stretches. Just hold the position and with each out breath try to go a little deeper in the stretch. You only need to hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds. 

If you or someone you care about is looking for more advice on setting up a workout plan, please get in touch with the team at Onko. For more information on fitness and health, please see any of our move guides here.