I think I speak for the majority when I say that working out can be an intimidating concept. Especially at the gym when you’re confronted with confusing gym equipment, heavy lumps of metal and people who look like they know what they’re doing (don’t believe the lies though – turns out 70% people have no idea).
We’re not looking to be the next big bodybuilder, we just want to get fit. Well fit. But the truth is, many hours are wasted because people don’t have a proper fitness plan in place. My teacher once told me that failing to plan is planning to fail. And you know what? She’s right.
If you want to get the most out of your workouts within a realistic time frame, then keep on reading to better understand how to put together a fitness plan, so you can move confidently forward into the gym (you don’t have to pretend this time).
Step 1: WHAT IS YOUR GOAL?
Before we start talking about cross fit, jumping jacks and lifting weights is… what is your goal? The first thing people think about when questioned about their fitness goal is, “I want to lose weight”, “I want to build muscle” or “I want to improve endurance”. That’s great you want all those things, but the more specific you are the easier it will be for you to know when you have met those goals.
For example, it is better to set “I want to lose 12 pounds” as your goal, rather than “I want to lose weight.” That way, you know exactly how many lifts and kicks you need to do before the scales say, “Stop what you’re doing, you reached it! Well done!”.
Remember not to set unrealistic goals either. I mean, I admire your determination but if you’re trying to look like the hulk in the space of a week then I’m afraid you may be disappointed.
Step 2: KNOW YOUR START AND END DATE
Knowing your start and end date of your fitness plan is crucial to lay down the foundation for your fitness workouts. Whether it’s to “have a bikini body by 6th June” or “be ready for a 5K race on 12th May”, having this ‘beginning, middle and end’ structure in place will make it easier for you to know when to take it up a notch in terms of volume and intensity.
Step 3: STRUCTURE YOUR PLAN IN 3 PHASES
Phase 1: Build your fitness (This will take up the first 25% of your fitness plan)
Whether your destination is the finish line or the sun lounger in Ibiza – you first need to start by building your fitness in order to prepare your body for the more extraneous exercises further down the line, especially if you’re not a regular visitor at the gym. Aerobic exercises are a great way to improve cardiovascular health and get the blood pumping faster and more efficiently around the body.
Perfect exercises for this phase include running, swimming, cycling, cross training, kettlebell workouts and jumping. As a side note, these exercises are amazing for lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, improving the immune system and combating coronary heart disease.
It doesn’t stop there, as many studies have shown these exercises also increase confidence, emotional stability, memory and brain function. Not only do you start looking fab, you start feeling fab too! Can’t complain, eh?
Phase 2: Push yourself beyond your limits! (This will take up the main 65% of the fitness plan)
Once you have allowed your body to adapt to the demands of general fitness workouts, it’s time to start pushing yourself beyond your limits! This means increasing in number of repetitions and intensity of these workouts (HIIT, HIIT and more HIIT), to burn more calories and boost your metabolism.
But it is important to introduce a lot more core strength exercises to build muscle and get those abs nicely carved into your stomach. Great exercises for building muscle and burning belly fat include sit ups, crunches, planks and mountain climbers. For legs, I would go for lunges, leg presses, deadlifts and squats! It’s a lot of hard work but definitely worth it.
Phase 3: Take it down a notch (This will take up the last 10% of the fitness plan)
You are finally approaching your end date… well done! Unfortunately, your body can't function at 100% all of the time, so it's important to take it down a notch or two. Pushing yourself too far for too long increases the risk of injury and fatigue before your big deadline - whether that's the finish line at the marathon or the dancefloor at your best mate's hen party.
The best way to do this is to decrease in volume but maintain the intensity of the workouts within this short period. If you are preparing for a race or competitive sport, this phase has shown to improve muscle power, improve performance in strength, and of course improve performance by 5-20%.
Interestingly, psychological research also states this phase improves mood and decreases perception of effort. I’m a lover for anything that is a mood booster!
'slow it down' at the end won't matter for 'fly and flop to Ibiza (even for those of us not planning on bikinis...) but it is certainly important for running and other endurance events. No point turning up already exhausted!
I agree that having an end date to aim towards is helpful. I always aim for my main summer holiday to get trim and it helps motivate me.
This all sounds great advice. However, I always struggle with the 'push yourself beyond your limits'. I hate the feeling of struggling when I'm exercising so tend to just go and do the same steady workout. But I've always figured this keeps me fitter than if I did nothing at all and has done no harm so far!