I recently have had some friends ask about how I developed my workout and exercise program, so this post is for them. Fitness is really an ongoing process, so I didn’t reach the point I’m at now very quickly or without some hard work, but I’d like to outline my journey that I took to get where I am now in the hope that it can help some of you enjoy fitness more this year.
My journey began first by deciding what my fitness philosophy was. I decided that I needed to be fit enough to do any physical activities that I found enjoyable, challenging, and meaningful. I enjoy exploring what my limits might be, so I set some big goals to work toward. While some of my first attempts weren't the best, I slowly worked my way up to longer runs and tougher workouts to meet the challenging hikes, marathons, and Spartan races that I was doing. Beyond just working out or running, I feel we need exciting events and goals to help keep fitness fun.
After you pick a few challenging and fun fitness events or goals to work toward, the hardest step is getting started and building the basic fitness habits that will help you reach those. I worked with a personal trainer for a time to build up a strong base and to have someone to hold me accountable for my daily exercise. Even without a trainer, I think most people could get similar results by working with a friend, group, or class. Start easy, but track your progress and keep moving up the difficulty of your exercises as you get better at doing them.
That's most of the generic advice I have. It's easy to see some good progress even in a month or two if you work hard, but true athleticism and the best fitness achievements are built over time. Each person should have their own idea of what their ideal fitness goals are, so everyone should also have a customized plan that they develop over time. Better nutrition and getting enough sleep will help with any plan. My specific focus has been on balancing general body strength with running. If that's what you're interested in, I'll include some specific notes on it below.
My current program has 5 separate fitness categories: back/shoulders, legs, arms, core, and cardio. For the strength workouts such as back/shoulders, legs, and arms, I focus on doing one of these workouts each day except for Sunday, which is my rest day from any focused exercise. Initially, I only had one basic set of exercises for each of these categories that I would do twice a week, but to help diversify my workout, I created a second set, so each day of the week, I end up doing a unique workout. Core exercises are spread throughout the week, but I mostly do them on certain days while leaving other days to recover. Cardio workouts are done a few times a week and mostly consist or running, although I sometimes substitute swimming or other activities.
Even with all my exercises, my strength workouts rarely take over 30 minutes a day unless I miss a day and decide to make up my missed workout by combining two workouts. My cardio takes 30 minutes on 2 days a week and 1 hour or more 1 day a week. Over time, I change up exercises if I feel I could get more out of doing a different exercise or if I want to move up to something more challenging. At the moment, I feel I can still improve my workout plan. I don’t currently have much in the way of flexibility, so I’d like to include more of that. At time I did include stretches in some of my workouts, so I may put those back in or add in some yoga.
My current plan is good, and I’m sure people could adjust the reps and weights to fit them. At the end of each workout, you want to feel like it was tough but not completely exhausting. I’ve also been trying to rotate my weight and reps more often, so I’ll usually change my plan in a pattern of switching between low reps/high weight, several reps/medium weight, many reps/low weight. Over time, I also add more weight to exercises as part of this pattern. To do that, I usually multiply the sets, reps, and weight/seconds together and try to slowly keep that number going up as I rotate through my pattern. If you want me to explain any specific exercises, feel free to ask me, but here’s what my current plan looks like:
-30 minutes cardio
-Uneven hang time: 6 sets, 30 seconds
-Plank rotations: 60 seconds/40 seconds
-Bosu push ups: 4 sets, 15 reps
-Chest Press: 4 sets, 10 reps, 55 lbs
-Pull downs: 4 sets, 10 reps, 120 lbs
-Pull ups: 6 sets, 5 reps
-Rows: 6 sets, 10 reps, 140 lbs
-Glute raises: 4 sets, 10 reps, 15 lbs
-Burpees: 5 sets, 8 reps
-Side Squats: 4 sets, 10 reps, 50 lbs
-Leg Presses: 4 sets, 10 reps, 230 lbs
-Calf Raises: 4 sets, 10 reps, 30 lbs
-Down Leg Machine: 4 sets, 10 reps, 60 lbs
-Weighted Squats: 4 sets, 10 reps, 50 lbs.
-Wall Sits: 4 sets, 30 seconds, 15 lbs
-Weighted Lunges: 4 sets, 10 reps, 50 lbs
-60 minutes cardio (or more if I’m training for something long)
-One Arm Ts: 2 sets, 10 reps, 80 lbs.
-Kickbacks: 3 sets, 10 reps, 70 lbs.
-Dead Lifts: 2 sets, 10 reps, 60 lbs.
-Medicine Ball Circles: 2 sets, 20 reps
-Hammer Curls on Back: 6 sets, 10 reps, 30 lbs.
-Rope Tri Extensions: 6 sets, 10 reps, 25 lbs.
-DB Curls: 6 sets, 10 reps, 35 lbs.
-Bar Curls: 2 sets, 10 reps, 60 lbs.
-Flys: 4 sets, 10 reps, 60 lbs.
-Bicycle Crunches: 6 sets, 35 reps
-Bouldering Pull Ups: 6 sets, 5 reps
-Horizontal Cable Twist: 2 sets, 10 reps, 65 lbs.
-Standing Cable Crunch: 6 sets, 10 reps, 30 lbs.
-Hanging Leg Raises: 4 sets, 12 reps
-Hanging Time: 6 sets, 30 seconds
-Reverse Rows: 4 sets, 10 reps, 50 lbs.
-30 minutes cardio
-Side Squats: 3 sets, 20 reps
-Leg Machine Up: 4 sets, 10 reps, 60 lbs.
-Leg Presses: 6 sets, 10 reps, 230 lbs.
-Block Jumps: 2 sets, 10 reps, 2 ft.
-Squats: 3 sets, 20 reps
-Supermans: 6 sets, 15 seconds, 20 lbs.
-Toe Presses: 6 sets, 10 reps, 30 lbs.
-Lunges: 3 sets, 20 reps
-Extra cardio if training for something (but if I’m hiking or doing other outdoor activities, I usually just count that)
-Hanging Leg Twists: 6 sets, 6 reps
-Dumbbell Bench Press: 2 sets, 10 reps, 80 lbs.
-Chest Raisers: 2 sets, 10 reps, 15 lbs.
-Plate Pinch Hulas: 2 sets, 10 reps, 45 lbs.
-Grip Strength Squeezes: 2 sets, 30 reps, 90 lbs.
-Outward Curls: 4 sets, 10 reps, 25 lbs.
-Shrugs: 6 sets, 10 reps, 30 lbs.
-Hammer Curls: 2 sets, 10 reps, 40 lbs.
-Kung Fu Curls: 4 sets, 10 reps, 30 lbs.
Anyone still reading might be wondering what to do with this information. I think the simplest thing would be to take the same path I did. About two years ago, I started following this sort of exercise routine. I’ve been good about following it most the time, but I’m not perfect and have good weeks and bad weeks. Originally, I’d have probably 5 or 6 exercises to do each day. I slowly added more, including more that used more complicated equipment.
Even without equipment, you can come up with a good routine to work out most the main muscle groups, but certain ones are hard to focus on as much without weights of some kind. Still, even going outside and picking up heavy rocks can give a pretty good full-body workout, so if you’re creative, equipment shouldn’t be a limitation. I personally think the small monthly fee for the local rec center is well worth the access and ease of using the equipment and facilities there, and I also save many and space by not needing to buy and bring different exercise equipment home.
Whether you’re starting from zero or are an average person striving to be more healthy, I feel like my plan could help anyone improve their general fitness. It’s a balanced plan designed to make it easy to do a wide variety of fitness activities.
Update: Even in the time since I wrote this article, my fitness plan has changed quite a bit. I compressed my workouts and do them three days a week, but I still use most of the same or similar exercises. On Tuesday, I do arm and leg workouts with the leg workout focused on exercises I need weights or gym equipment to do. On Thursday, I do an arm and back/shoulder workout at the gym with weights or equipment. On Saturday, I do a leg and back/shoulder workout with exercises I can do at home.
I freed up my other days so I could do more interesting fitness activities. On Monday, I’m currently doing running, parkour, or going to the trampoline/ninja warrior gym. On Wednesday, I try to do some exercises and running that mirrors what I would do in the Spartan Races. On Friday, I try to do my marathon training. I just recently changed my plans, but my Friday plan is to run to work when I can fit that in. My Spartan Race training and time at the trampoline gym are great cardio, so I had those activities replace my basic short runs.