Building A Workout: 8 Steps

When embarking on your health and fitness journey, the first steps are often the most daunting.  One concern I often hear in conversation is that people just don’t know what to do for exercise.  Many of us, myself included, find best results with a detailed plan.  To that end, I’ve assembled a short guide to writing your first workout.

Step 1:  Set a goal.

What’s your purpose in this workout?  If you want stronger muscles, you may choose different exercises than if you’re looking to lose weight or improve performance for a sport.  You also may structure your workout differently.  More on that in a minute!

Step 2:  Choose a location.

When designing your workout, you need to decide where it’s going to happen!  This is going to profoundly effect how you work out.  Examples of a location:  living room, outdoors, gym, garage gym.

Step 3:  Take stock of your equipment options.

Take a moment to think of what equipment you’re going to be using.  It’s totally possible to get a good workout without any equipment – however, even a few pieces of equipment can add fun and  challenge to an exercise program.  If you’re working out at home, don’t discount what you have.  A friend of mine does squats with her three-year old on her shoulders for added resistance!

Step 4:  Choose your building-block exercises.

A good workout has several distinct phases, but the meat of the workout should consist of a group of exercises that’s repeated several times.  There are many ways to choose these exercises, but the easiest and simplest I’ve heard is this.  For a total body workout, choose at least one exercise from each of the following categories:

upper body push, i.e. push-up or dumbbell press

upper body pull, i.e. pull-up or dumbbell row

core, i.e. plank or Russian twist

lower body, i.e. squat or lunge

You can also choose to split your routine between workouts.  A common split is to do upper body and core in one workout and lower body in another.  This is up to you!

For help picking exercises, check out the ACE Exercise Database, searchable by body part or by equipment used!

Step 5:  Organize your building-block exercises.

These exercises should be organized by sets and repetitions.  A repetition is one full cycle of the exercise, i.e. a squat from top to bottom to top again.  A set is one or more repetitions strung together.  Choosing the # of reps, # of sets, and rest in between can get highly technical, but you’ll never go wrong with something that’s challenging but doable.  This might take a little bit of experimentation!

Step 6:  Add a warm-up and cool-down.

It’s important to ease in and out of a workout.  The harder you intend to work, the more important this becomes!  As a general rule, a warm-up should:

  • Be easier than the body of the workout.
  • Get your heart rate up.
  • Warm your muscles.
  • Gradually progress from easier to harder.

A cool-down should:

  • Be easier than the body of the workout.
  • Gradually let your heart rate return toward normal
  • Allow you to recover from exercise.
  • Gradually regress from harder to easier.

Step 7:  Pick your frequency.

In general, for optimal results, you’ll want to work out each major movement area 2-3 times/week. You’ll see here how splitting your routine affects your commitment!  A total body routine may take longer per workout, but it’ll only take 2-3 workouts/week to hit that.  A 2-way split, on the other hand, is a shorter workout, but takes 4-6 workout/week for best results.  Decide what works best for you, and remember that anything is better than nothing.

Step 8:  Try, edit, repeat!

Try it out!  Think and take notes on what did and didn’t work, and adjust accordingly. And make it fun!

In health and life,