When we’re looking to make a healthy change but not sure where to start, we often take cues from what other people are doing – we think that if it worked for them, maybe it will work for us. While looking at other people’s successes can be a good way to get motivated, it can also be overwhelming and confusing because there are so many different approaches to exercise – how do you know which is right for you?
In my experience, the best plan is a personalized plan.
That might sound intimidating, but creating your own plan is simpler than it may sound. There are three basic components to an effective exercise routine: activities that increase heart rate, strength training to build muscle, and down time to rest your body.
To create your personal plan, simply choose activities that satisfy each of the three areas. And, most importantly, for each activity that you try, ask yourself two questions:
- Do you enjoy it?
- Does it make your body feel good?
It’s important to avoid exercise that you feel like you should be doing but you hate it. There are so many formats and modes out there to choose from, so you might as well pick the ones that make you feel energized, strong, and excited to come back.
Here are the building blocks of an effective fitness routine and some specific activities that you may want to incorporate:
Heart-pumping activity – 150 minutes each week. If you work out 5 times each week, each session should be 30 minutes. You don’t necessarily have to go full-throttle cardio; the aim is to elevate your heart rate and make you break a sweat (but you shouldn’t feel totally winded afterwards).
Options: There are countless activities that will get your heart rate up (there’s a long list here that can give you some ideas). The right one for you is the one that you enjoy and that you’ll actually do. Do you prefer to do cardio at home? Take a run or walk around your neighborhood? Sign up for group fitness classes? Whatever activity you choose, schedule it into your planner so that you’re more likely to make time for cardio and accomplish this goal most days of the week.
Strength training – twice per week. This means two total-body circuits, or if you follow a specific muscle training split, make sure to hit each major muscle (quads, hamstrings, calves, back, biceps, chest, shoulders, triceps, core) at least twice each week.
Options: Strength training can be done at home or in a gym. Either way, I recommend following some direction. If you feel comfortable lifting weights on your own, you can find a ton of workout plans online, or follow an app. (I personally enjoy and recommend the Sweat App from Kayla Itsines or you can check out my Fit Guide workouts here!) If you don’t feel comfortable lifting weights on your own (or don’t feel motivated to lift weights in a solo setting), set up an appointment with a personal trainer at your gym, or try a group fitness strength workout, like barre, BODYPUMP, boot camp, Orangetheory, etc.
Rest (or gentle activity) – 1-2 days of the week. Taking a break will allow your body to repair and recover. Results occur during rest, not work, so it’s important to rest days into your routine.
Options: Take a long bath, book a massage, foam roll, try some gentle yoga stretches, anything that you think will energize you for the following week.
If you already have a routine, consider what type of exercise you may be lacking. For example, my hardcore runner friends can almost always benefit from some cross-training and yoga. Those who focus solely on strength training could spend some time working on flexibility and stretching. If you need some ideas on creating a balanced workout plan, I recorded a podcast episode about this here.