I've been asked these questions a lot lately on social media — how should I plan my weekly workouts? How long should my workouts be? What's the best mix of cardio and strength training? The short answer is your workouts should have purpose.
If you’re going into the week without a plan you’re probably missing muscle groups which means missing out on results.
Winging it isn’t a good plan. Or as they say “hope is not a strategy.”
Say you make the effort to get to the gym, but then you waste time trying to decide WHAT the WHAT to do. You hop on whatever machine is open, and hope for the best. Maybe you make your way to the free weights, and strength machines — but maybe not if it’s crowded, and there’s a bunch of intimidating muscle heads around. So you bail early, and figure you’ll get more in another day.
When I was in college, I did this all too often.
The problem was I hadn’t learned how to create a plan that made sense for my goals. Actually, I didn’t really have goals (which is okay too). Don’t get me wrong. Any movement is a good thing. Regardless, most days you still want a plan so you’re not wasting your time. Back in the day I’d give myself credit for going to the gym, but it wasn’t until I did things with intention that I saw results.
This whole scenario leads to boredom, and repetition – which often turns into two things:
- Your body hitting a plateau
- Bailing on your workouts because they are really dull.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. So, what does that mean for you?
The answer depends on your goals and fitness level. (And while I’m an experienced certified personal trainer, I’m not necessarily your trainer — so these are general guidelines).
There are some key areas that are really helpful in figuring out what’s worth your time.
Areas to consider
You have to take into account where you’re starting from. If you haven’t worked out in months it’s not a smart idea to make a goal of working out 6 times a week. That’ll just lead to major burnout. The last thing you want is to resent your routine. Generally, I tell my fairly active clients and those looking for weight loss to aim for exercising more days than you don’t (4 days a week). Now this goes for most weeks. There are natural unavoidable life hurdles – an exceptionally busy work week, travel, sickness etc etc that will just happen. Don’t beat yourself up, and make the next week a better one.
People experience so much angst over the length of their workouts. Full disclosure – this will not make or break you. There’s no magic number! However, you do need to allot enough time during the week to fit in different muscle groups, and different modes for a well rounded routine. If two of your workouts are 45-60 minutes, and the rest are closer to 25-35 you’re okay! Generally my shorter workouts are my more intense workouts. This is when I do HIIT (high intensity interval training) or focused strength training. My longer days might be a run, walk, or if I can fit it in a studio class. Calendar in your weekly workouts so you have the time blocked off, and are held accountable. And be sure to factor in travel time.
Intensity & Type of Workout
When it comes to how hard you exercise you clearly need to consider your goals, and your current fitness level. If you’re training to run your first 1/2 marathon your plan will look a lot different then someone simply trying to shed 10 lbs, and tone up who loathes running.
When creating a plan for any client I ask them — What do you like to do? What will you actually do?
Here’s the thing – often times the best workout to do is the one you WILL do.
For example, say your neighbor loves Barre class but you dread it, dislike the studio’s vibe, and find it boring. Okay girl, move on. Maybe try a yoga class in a positive, welcoming studio?! Or, let’s say you really need to let out some aggression during your workout, and you love to sweat. Try boxing, or something more cardio intensive.
Are you looking to sculpt muscle definition but worried you might gain more muscle mass than desired? Work with a Certified Personal Trainer who understands your goals. Or, check out some reputable (reputable being the key word!) YouTube videos as a starting point.
Cardio / Resistance Training / Flexibility
All three deserve a place in your weekly workout schedule
Cardio is so important for heart health, stamina, and burning fat. But, you don’t need to do it everyday for amazing results. For some people 4x a week is the magic number, for others it’s three. If weight loss is your goal the National Institute of Health recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three to five days a week.
Strength Training sometimes gets overlooked by women. But I think (hope!) that things are progressing in that area. As women are starting to realize they won’t turn into the hulk if they pick up a dumbbell. Most women need two, and some need three strength training sessions a week to see desired changes. If you are in maintenance mode two times a week may be the best fit – as long as you’re really hitting all muscle groups and not cutting corners. (Always allow a day of rest between muscle groups for proper repair.)
Flexibility is also key for preventing injury, and aches and pains. I’ll completely admit I used to skip this when short on time. But now I can tell when I do. My back is more prone to bother me, and I just feel tight! One of the best ways to fit in flexibility is to add even a few minutes of stretching or myofascial release (foam rolling) to the end of your workouts. Yoga is one of the best workouts for working on flexibility. I always suggest adding in a weekly practice of 20-60 minutes if you’d like to get more flexible.
What are your current fitness goals? Do you create a routine, or fly by the seat of your pants each week?
Let me know in the comments below!