You’ve been meaning to get in shape for forever and a day, but don’t know the first thing about putting together a proper workout program. The task seems daunting, especially if you have little-to-no experience.
Most people have been there. The greatest athletes in the world all had to start from square one at one point.
However, not every workout program is created equal. Your goals, lifestyle, and experience level will dictate how you build an effective regimen. Fortunately, there are a few basic principles that will help you achieve whatever your goals may be.
Building a Routine to Suit Your Needs
You’ll ideally have an end goal in mind when setting out on your new program. For our purposes, we’ll be looking at a basic routine to build up greater strength, endurance, and overall fitness.
Training for something like a triathlon will require a more tailored approach, but this overall guideline will suit the needs of most novices and folks who have fallen out of a regular workout program.
One of the first things that you’ll need to consider is where you’ll be training.
Home Training Versus Gym Training
It’s true that training in a commercial gym gives you more options than most people could ever have in their own homes. Unless you have a disposable income and living space to spare, it’s probably not practical to keep the equipment needed for a full gym workout at home.
Get a membership at a local gym if you can. Several chains offer memberships for as little as $10 a month. 24-hour gyms are becoming increasingly common as well, letting you set your own schedule.
But for one reason or another, it may be impractical or undesirable for you go to the gym multiple days a week. No problem. A basic workout program can easily be built around body weight exercises or exercise that only requires very basic equipment.
Allotting Time to Work Out
If you can spare a full hour a day to work out, then excellent. But for many people, there are too few hours in the day as it is. If that sounds like you, then making your workout program practical means making it as efficient as possible.
The goal here is to limit total workout time to between 30 and 45 minutes. That’s long enough to get the heart pumping and the muscles working, but short enough to fit into most schedules.
Having more time to spare will open up more options to experiment down the road, but there’s nothing wrong with a tight workout if that’s all you can manage.
Selecting Exercises for a Full-Body Workout
There are five major muscle groups that you need to hit for a comprehensive workout program. To maximize efficiency, we’ll be building a regimen that uses one exercise to target each group. The major muscle groups are:
The muscular top portion of the leg, the quads are one of the strongest and most important sets of muscles in the body. They can be targeted with squats, lunges, and box jumps.
Hamstrings and Glutes
The rear of the legs and hindquarters. These muscle groups tend to work in conjunction with the quads, and many exercises that target one group will often target the other.
However, these groups are distinct because they work the muscles in different ways. Working both groups in equal measures is crucial for preventing injuries like pulled muscles. The hamstrings and glutes can be targeted with hip raises, deadlifts, and step-ups.
Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
This group is often referred to as the “push” group because of its function. Exercises for this group include the overhead press, bench press, dumbbell press, push-ups, and dips.
Back, Biceps and Forearms
These are the “pull” muscles that compliment the aforementioned “push” muscles. They round out the upper-body portion of the workout. Exercises for this group include chin-ups, pull-ups, body weight rows and dumbbell rows.
The muscles of the abdominal area and lower back.
Training your core can make your lower back less susceptible to injury as you age, making this perhaps the most important area to exercise. They can be targeted with planks, side planks, crunches, mountain climbers, jumping knee-tucks, and hanging leg raises. The core is also worked by many leg exercises like squats and deadlifts.
An important note before any workout: make sure to get properly warmed up. There are plenty of exercises you can do to get your blood pumping and your muscles hot. The extra ten minutes could save you from injury.
Sets and Reps
Now you need to determine how many times you’ll perform each exercise. For a standard beginner’s workout program, 3 to 5 sets of between 8 and 12 reps should do it.
A set is a series of repetitions (reps) performed without stopping. So if you decided to do five push-ups right now, that would be one set of five reps.
Sample Workout Program
To give an example of what your program might look like, here’s a potential workout regimen. Two exercises are included for each muscle group. One exercise for use in a full gym, and an alternative exercise that can be performed at home with either body weight of minimal equipment.
Barbell Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps
(Alternative) Lunges: 3 sets of 12 reps
Hamstrings and Glutes
Barbell Deadlift: 3 sets of 5 reps
(Alternative) Romanian Deadlift with Dumbbells: 3 sets of 12 reps
Chest and Triceps
Bench Press: 3 sets of 8 reps
(Alternative) Push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps, or until failure.
Back and Biceps
Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets of 8 reps
(Alternative) Pull-ups: 3 sets of 5 reps, or until failure.
This sample workout program is just a jumping-off point meant to show you what your personal program might look like. It hits all of the major muscle groups and can comfortably be completed within the 30 to 45-minute time slot.
A beginner’s program like this should be performed three days a week, with one full day of rest in between each day. For instance, a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, with Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday being rest days.
Experimenting with other exercises will help you refine your program and keep things interesting. On Wednesday, maybe do overhead presses instead of bench presses to work your shoulders, or trade out push-ups for dips one day. Just make sure to keep one exercise for every muscle group.
And as your muscles cool down after a workout, it’s important to stretch them out. Like warming up at the beginning, doing so will help spare you from an avoidable injury.
Build a Healthy Lifestyle to Compliment Your Workout Regimen
A workout doesn’t build up your body. It actually breaks down your muscles so that your body can build them back stronger. The efficacy of any workout program will hinge on how you take care of yourself on your days off.
Success will mean making fitness a lifestyle choice, rather than a fleeting fad. If you find yourself struggling to set a fitness course and stick to it, you might appreciate these 10 habits you can develop to maximize your success.