For many people, “working out” means going to the gym, lifting weights or running. And, inadvertently, this ends up being a barrier to exercise if we don’t like to go to the gym, lift weights or run.
Getting in a meaningful and beneficial workout is much simpler (and can be much more fun!) than many people may think. There are a wide range of activities that help to strengthen muscles and improve cardiovascular health—and, thus, overall health!
Creating a fitness plan you actually enjoy and will stick to is a little bit more involved than simply finding a recommended workout online or a fitness video series you enjoy. There are a few additional steps to developing a plan that works well for you and will set you up for continued success.
Here are four simple steps to crafting your own fitness plan, based around activities you actually enjoy, and a schedule that actually works for your lifestyle:
1. What are your fitness goals?
Know your goals, and build from there. Weight loss? Build muscle? Increase strength? Tone and firm? Are your goals functional, aesthetic, or both?
Start by getting in touch with why you want to work out—then, we’ll create a plan that helps you achieve those goals.
2. What exercise activities do you like?
There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to be active—whether you enjoy running, hiking, figure skating or boxing, there are plenty of fun and enjoyable ways to stay active with physical activities you enjoy and find fulfilling.
Take note of the activities you know you enjoy—or, look through the list in our Fitness Guide for more ideas.
3. Include the four essential workout elements
While there’s a wide variety of activities you could include in your fitness plan, based on your own preference, goals and fitness level, there are four main types of physical activity to include in a well-rounded workout plan. You don’t necessarily have to do each of them each day, but they should each be incorporated regularly (i.e. weekly).
The four essential elements of a good workout plan are:
“Cardio” exercise raises your heart rate and breathing to improve the function of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Cardio can be a steady-state, low- to moderate-intensity exercise (like jogging or cycling), or intervals of high intensity (like tabata or high-intensity interval training—“HIIT”). It just needs to tax the large muscle groups (legs and trunk) strenuously enough and long enough to get you breathing heavily—which means you’re challenging your heart and lungs.
Cardio exercise doesn’t have to take place in a gym. Many activities in our daily lives can provide cardio exercise, like taking the stairs, raking leaves or shoveling snow. Aim for at least 4-5 cardio workouts per week—a 20-minute high-intensity workout or an hourlong low-intensity activity.
Example cardio activities: running, jogging, hiking, cycling, swimming, circuit training, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), dancing, stair climbing, shoveling snow, raking leaves, playing sports like soccer, basketball, or hockey
Strength training helps build muscle, improve muscular strength and endurance, and is important in metabolism. It also helps to reduce injury from other activities and keep your skeletal system healthy as you age.
Strength training exercises can be accomplished with simply your bodyweight, or can involve free weights, machines or resistance bands.
In real life, muscles don’t work in isolation, so it’s best to focus on compound exercises that that include multiple muscle groups (like squats and pull-ups) rather than isolation exercises that emphasize just one muscle (like a bicep curl). It’s super important to use proper form while lifting weight, so if you’re just starting out, be sure to work with someone who can help you with proper form to avoid injury.
Example strengthening activities: bodyweight exercises, lifting weights, CrossFit, pilates, yoga, resistance bands, weight machines
Flexibility & mobility
First, a couple definitions: flexibility is the ability of a muscle to stretch and mobility is the ability of a joint to move freely through its range of motion. Both are important parts of overall fitness, and both should be incorporated into your fitness routine.
Example flexibility & mobility activities: foam rolling, stretching, yoga, mobility exercises
The final important element of your workout plan is rest. As muscles are broken down, they need time to heal and repair—which is how they grow stronger. You can still be active while recovering, though. Just aim for low-intensity activities you could easily talk while doing, such as walking, hiking, or light stretching.
4. Create a schedule that works for you
It’s often said that, in fitness, half the work is just putting your shoes on. For many people, the hardest part of creating a new fitness routine is just getting out the door. Whether that’s going to the gym, running in your neighborhood or going to a yoga class, the initiative it takes to get started is truly half the battle.
To make it easier on yourself to stick to a new fitness plan, there are a few important scheduling tips to follow:
When do you like exercising? There may be a particular time of day you prefer to exercise. Some people enjoy being active first thing in the morning when they wake up, others feel more energy around midday and others prefer working out in the evening. Tune into the time of day you most enjoy exercising (and perhaps it aligns with the time of day you feel the most energy for it too).
What makes sense for your daily schedule? Next, think about what time of day makes sense for your typical daily schedule. If you need to be to work at 7 a.m., maybe morning workouts aren’t your thing; or if you have jam-packed evenings with clubs and social events, maybe evening workouts aren’t ideal. Note the days and times in your typical schedule that you have time to do a workout.
How often do you aim to be active? Choose how many days per week you’d like to be active. While seven days a week is certainly ideal, it’s also fine if you don’t want to have a formal fitness schedule to follow each day of the week—maybe you’d like to choose four or five days per week of structured activities.
Do your desired activities require a specific schedule? There are certain activities that happen on a set schedule that can’t be changed—perhaps you’re in a soccer league that meets at specific times, or you enjoy taking a particular dance class that is only scheduled at a specific time.
Taking all of these factors into account, plan out a basic weekly fitness schedule that works for you. (Use the workout calendar in our Fitness Guide, if you’d like!)
While it’s best for consistency to keep the same schedule each week, it’s also okay if your schedule changes weekly and you need to adjust your fitness schedule accordingly. (For example, maybe you schedule three runs per week and two Orangetheory sessions per week, but each week you can add them to the calendar based on the daily schedule that works best for you that particular week.)
One of the biggest aspects of establishing a consistent workout plan is to create a sense of accountability. One way we recommend doing this is to formally schedule your fitness activities / workouts in your calendar and honor them as you’d honor any other meeting in your calendar. It’s also helpful to set calendar reminders to give yourself a heads up—this is helpful with ensuring that you have enough time to change clothes, get your shoes on, etc. by the time you need to leave for your fitness activity.
Fitness Tip: If possible, plan your meals on days that you have scheduled workouts at a specific time (particularly workout classes, which you can’t adjust the time of if running late). This helps ensure you’re eating meals on a schedule that aligns with your fitness plan—meaning, you’re not eating too soon before a workout, and you’re not feeling famished at the time your workout is scheduled to begin.
How to Create a Fitness Plan You Actually Enjoy // Four Wellness Co. is written by Melissa Norton for fourwellness.co