Almost daily, I'm asked the question “How do I make my own workout plan? What should I include?”. There are so many factors to take into consideration for answering this question, so I simply cannot reply without spending a vast amount of time on every individual. Factors such as age, goals, diet, time, biology, schedule etc. all need to be taken into consideration.
However, I do believe that certain principles repeat themselves and I do believe that whether you’re aiming to build muscle or burn fat, resistance training is key. If you’re not sure about how lifting makes you lose weight, check out our post on why girls should be lifting.
I’ll try to go through some of the principles here for you to eventually create your own workout plan.
#1 Make sure you’re committed and you’ll stay committed - planning is crucial
Developing a workout plan isn’t worth much if you don’t stick to it. Take out your calendar and determine which days you want to prioritize your workout (I’m on purpose not saying “have the time”, as “I don’t have time” is a common excuse for not working out – if you care about your body, make it a priority!). Take into consideration where you are now – if you already do a bit of workout but want to increase it, if you’re starting from scratch etc.
Make sure you don’t plan to go from doing nothing to working out two hours a day – it’s simply not realistic. Taking care of your body is a lifestyle, and will become a lifestyle if you introduce it gradually. Believe me, you will love it once you get the ball rolling! It’s great to start with small steps and reward yourself once you’ve achieved your first monthly goal.
Setting goals is also important – that goal can be losing a particular amount of bodyfat percentage, being able to run a certain distance at a certain time, or simply just going to the gym thrice a week. Either way, write down your goal so you have it in front of you, and make sure it’s visible so you won’t forget about it in a few days.
#2 Pro Advice
Remember that when you start working out with weights, it’s extremely important to ask a trainer to assist you with your technique. If you don’t, it may have tough consequences in terms of injuries. Lifting weights is fun, but not if you get injured.
#3 Keep it simple
If you’re very experienced in lifting weights, you may want to skip this section – if that’s not the case, keep reading. I’d recommend doing a full body routine so that you make sure you’ll work on all major muscle groups: hamstrings (the back of your upper legs), quadriceps (the front of your legs), your push muscles and your pull muscles. I like to do many of those exercises with a kettlebell (check out these Primal Bells) as they work many of our major muscle groups at the same time as they make you sweaty – great for muscle building and cardio!
Make a routine including these four muscle groups that you can repeat twice or thrice weekly. Of great importance is to not do excessive use of the muscles and forget about restitution – keep at least one or two full days of rest between those full-body workouts.
Here are some examples of exercises for each muscle group:
- Quads – lunges, reverse lunges (are good because they also work on your balance), walking lunges, ball squats, burpees, squats with weights, mountain climbers, box jumps, one legged squats, single-arm thrusters with kettlebells, overhead lunges with kettlebells, goblet squats with kettlebells
- Butt and Hamstrings – hip raises, kettlebell one-legged deadlifts, power cleans, deadlifts, straight leg deadlifts, good mornings, step ups
- Push (chest, shoulders, and triceps) – overhead press, kettlebell press, bench dips, car drivers, decline push-ups, bench press, incline dumbbell press, push-ups, dips
- Pull (back, biceps, and forearms) – chin ups, pull ups, barbell curls, inverse body weight rows, dumbbell rows, reverse fly, bent-over row
- Core (abs and lower back) – kettlebell swings, snatches, planks, side planks, exercise ball crunches, Russian twists, mountain climbers, jumping knee tucks, hanging leg raises, reverse crunches, air bike, jackknife sit-ups, overhead lunges with kettlebells
These are a few examples of what you can do, but I recommend you also check out more options to see which exercises you’d find fun to do. Onnit Academy for instance would be a good place to start. What’s important, however, is that you take one or two exercises from each category and you’ll be working all the major muscle groups in your body.
Noticed that kettlebells are mentioned quite a lot here? At SweatAddicts we’re big fans of kettlebells, and if you wonder why, have a look at this article. It’s one of the only tools I keep at home along with my mat and a few dumbbells. I’ve heard great stuff about these kettlebells from Onnit which I think look awesome, and I’ll most likely be buying myself a set of them very soon.
#4 Stay on track or mix it up – depending on your goal
Unless you’re a beginner, make sure you don’t get too bored of doing all the same exercises. I like to keep a specific plan where I work out Monday and Thursday to let my muscles properly regenerate.
If it’s important for you to track results or if you just started weight lifting, choose the same exercises every workout for at least five to six weeks.
If, however, the measuring & tracking is less important than just seeing a difference and you want to keep up your motivation, a good idea is then to switch the exercises working on the same muscles from workout to workout. On leg day I’ll be doing squats and box jumps, the next one lunges and burpees. It makes it a lot more fun to go to the gym when you know you don’t have to do burpees every week!
#5 Lift as much as you can at your desired amount of reps
Not sure how much weight to put on the barbell, or how heavy a kettlebell to take? Say you’re doing deadlift. How much you want to take depends on what your goal is – if you want to build up endurance, take a lighter barbell and do many reps. If you want to build muscle strength, take a heavier one and do fewer. If you want to really target your fast-twitch muscle fibers and get all the benefits of weightlifting, go for heavier weights.
How do you know how much to take to begin with? You don’t. That’s the fun part – you experiment until you got it right. For new exercises, be careful though. Always start on the lower side so that you don’t end up injuring yourself.
If you want to burn fat while building up muscle tissue, a good idea is to keep your number of reps per set in between 7 and 15. Being able to do more than 15 exercises should be seen as an “alarm” to add more weight.
Varying the amount of reps and weight in each set can also be an idea in order to “surprise” your muscles.
If you’re doing calisthenics – exercises with just your body weight – you need to find a way to make your exercises more difficult as your shape improves. Once passing the 20 reps, start making it more difficult. An example here could be switching from normal pushups to decline pushups.
This idea of a small amount of reps and a big oad of weight comes mainly from the one-set-to-failure paradigm.
#6 Balance your sets
Do sets in the range of 1-5 depending on the difficulty of the exercises. One of my favorite workouts where I see the most results is actually, contrary to many opinions, where I only do 1 set of 3-4 different exercises, each exercise being done until the point where I just cannot continue. – the point of temporary muscle fatigue. More than 20-25 sets in a total workout – for instance four exercises of five sets or opposite – will either mean that you’re not putting enough pressure on yourself, or on the contrary you might be putting too much pressure, ending up injuring yourself.
One thing that might be worth remembering – if you’re just starting out and you don’t want your hands to hurt from lifting barbells, doing pull-ups and swinging kettlebells – get yourself a pair of gloves. You can get them for a relatively small amount of money (like these ones from Fit Four), and they’ll make your workout much nicer – unless, of course, you like to show off your blood-ripped palms to your friends after a tough workout.
#7 Aim for approximately 30 min of exercise
Including everything – really this is not too much time to be spending on a workout, right?
A warm-up shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes, a short stretch of 5 minutes and the actual workout will be around 15 min.
At least that’s my take on it: less time x more intensity = better results
#8 Include a short warm-up
Warming up increase the body’s blood flow, lubricate joints and elevates body temperature. It’s important that with the few minutes you warm up, you break a sweat. Warm muscles perform better and faster compared to cold muscles, which means you’ll get better results as well as decrease your change of injury.
Some of my favorite exercises for warming up are:
- Jump rope
- Mountain climbers
- Jumping Air Squats
#9 Keep track of your workout
Keeping a workout journal will help you understand more about your own body and how you work. If you keep a record that includes:
- Date & day of the week
- Time of the day
- Your mood
- Your bodyweight
- Which exercise you do
- The amount of weight
- The amount of reps and sets
If you keep track of this information, you’re more likely to discover when and where you do your more efficient workouts, how you perform under certain circumstances as well as which times a day you usually perform best. And of course it’s also a great confidence booster to check your journal for how you improved during the last month!
Extra tip: do circuit exercises.
Circuits are a great way of both making your exercise more efficient and getting to sweat a bunch. This type of training is quite similar to crossfit when done in a specific way. The idea is to do one set of every exercise one after another, without stopping in between. After the set you then repeat however many times you’re supposed to be repeating according to the set. We’ll be writing more about crossfit later, so stay tuned!
- Plan in order to stay committed
- Get pro advice
- Keep it simple and make sure you cover all major muscle groups
- Stay on track or mix it up to stay motivated
- Balance weights with amount of reps
- Do 1-5 sets of your workout
- Keep your workout session around 30 minutes
- Include a small warm-up
- Keep track of your workouts
If you're into resistance training, you should join our Facebook group Girls, Go Lift! where we share workouts & clean eating tips. See you there!