I remember when I first got really into working out and going to the gym. I was curious about which exercises worked what muscles and how I could get the best out of my limited time. Prior to this, I was a running bunny and incorporated minimal strength exercises. Being a firm believer of educating yourself about what you are doing with your body, I wanted to make my own workout plans and develop them to be unique for me. This led me to the path of training as a personal trainer, however, I think it is useful for everyone to be able to construct their own workouts. We all have different goals, interests and strengths. Following workouts on youtube is great; I still do this. However, sometimes that personal touch is far more effective in allowing you to be independent in your fitness journey.
Here are the steps I work through when writing my own plans or my client’s:
- What are your goals?
- Having a goal helps to develop a plan around it. Is it to lose weight? Strengthen certain muscles? Improve your cardiovascular endurance? These are individual to you and you can have more than one.
- How much time do you have realistically?
- It is so key be honest with how much time you can give to working out. It should be something you can slot into your schedule without too much hassle. The more you push yourself to expect more, the less likely you are to deliver on even the minimum.
- At the moment, I train about 3 times a week because it is what my schedule allows. I know I can give about 40-50mins, so my whole workout with warms up and stretches is incorporated into this time.
- Are there any limitations?
- Our bodies are all different and we should be conscious of this when selecting exercises.
- Limitations could also include space and equipment however these can usually be worked around.
- What do you currently enjoy doing?
- Exercise is not a chore! Do not force yourself to do workouts or exercises that you do not like. Weight lifting is not for everyone nor is running on the treadmill. Know what you like, dislike and what you are willing to try.
What type of workout?
Next comes looking into how you want to exercise.
- Would you prefer steady state cardiovascular exercises or high intensity interval training (HIIT)?
- Steady state would be running on a treadmill or using the rowing machine at a steady speed for x amount of time
- HIIT involves doing an exercise at maximum speed and intensity during a short period such as 20seconds
- Are you someone who is willing to try our weights or do you prefer bodyweight exercises?
- Using weights is a way to increase the resistance and therefore the intensity of the execise
- Bodyweight exercise means using no additional resistance other than your body. This can yield amazing results too.
- Do you like circuits or would you prefer doing specific sets of exercises?
- Circuits involves doing a number of exercises, usually one after the other, before repeating for a set number of rounds
- Specific set system involves doing each exercise one at a time for a set number of repetitions and sets.
Understanding different movements
As mentioned above, it is important to pick exercises you like and which will help you work towards your goals. Being aware of the different types of movements and which exercises fall into them helps design a workout that is not under or overusing each movement.
- Push variations – as it says on the tin, these are exercises that require a pushing motion. Typically working your arms and back muscles: Push ups, dips, bench press
- Pull variations – these are exercises that involve the motion of pulling. Again working muscles in the back and arms, primarily biceps: Dumbbell rows, pulls up, chin ups
- Hinge variations – these exercises require you to use a part of your body as a hinge: deadlifts, kettlebell swings
- Squat variations: Normal squats, front squats, split squats
Other key things to remember
Always do a warm up: this is essential to prepare your muscles for the workout. It helps prevent injuries and allows you to be more flexible during the exercise.
Stretch: It is crucial to stretch after the exercise to help move the lactic acid that has formed and prevent injury in the long run. Muscles can become really tight if you fail to stretch which puts you at risk of problems in the future.
Rest between workouts: It is important to make sure you do not exercise all the time! Everything in moderation is key here. Break your workout throughout the week so you have at least 1-2 rest days minimum
Listen to your body: Sometimes you may need to force a rest day simply because your body is tired. The quality of the workout matters much more than the quantity.
Here is an example of a HIIT circuit plan I would use with a client exercising 2 times a week. Each exercise would be completed at speed for 30 seconds with a 10 second break between exercises. To be repeated 3 times.
Single legged deadlifts