How To Plan Your Workout

April marks the month I started working out NINE years ago. I honestly cannot believe that much time has passed. I’ve definitely had my ups and downs during this period especially with my workout routines. I’ve tried so many combinations of muscle groups, reps, set, exercises, time of day, number of days, etc. I’m facing it yet again in my preparation for the NPC Physique competition. I think it’s a very common problem people face, whether they are beginners or workout-veterans: what do I do when I work out? Here are my recommendations.

(1) Add weight training to your routine.
I think everyone, like I did, relates the gym to the treadmill. We automatically equate exercise/health with doing cardiovascular exercise. However, I’m a firm believer in resistance training (with weights or simply, your bodyweight). Resistance training helps to build lean muscle mass which helps with everything from blood flow, posture, oxygenation, etc. What may appeal to most people is that building lean body mass (LBM) will increase our resting metabolic rate. That means that muscle expends more energy/burn more calories! Unfortunately, although running can expend energy, it has it’s limitations in building muscle. (And ladies, light weight lifting will not make you look like a male body-builder, I promise)

How to do it: Start by dedicating one day of the week to weight training. After a couple of weeks, increase that to two and so on. I firmly believe that at least half of our workouts should be resistance training, regardless of what our goals are (weight loss, bodybuilding, etc) because of the benefits of building LBM. Consult personal trainers to get started or attend a introductory group exercise class.

(2) Exercise (almost) daily.
Consistency is hands down the best tool in your exercise belt. The recommended amount of physical activity is 30 minutes of RIGOROUS exercise daily. A well-scheduled workout routine pushes you to your limit but also allows for needed rest. I’ve done every combination in the book: double days, zero rest days, etc. Everyone is different! But whatever you do, show up because that’s 90% of the battle.

How to do it: Schedule it. Schedule it. Schedule it. Whether it’s on your phone, iCal, Outlook, daily planner, or monthly calendar board, schedule it in RED. Other ways to make sure you exercise is to buddy out with friends who can exercise with you. I have friends who sign up for a weekly bootcamp class. It makes them show up at a specific time and they have to stay there until the end. Do everything you can to hold yourself accountable. Think of it as a job. It is your job to take care of yourself.

(3) Schedule rest days.
Be realistic. If you plan to workout twice a day, 7 days a week, you will get burnt out and stop after 3 days because it’s too difficult. Rest days are important to allow your body to heal and grow. Also, you need a mental health day so you can strike a healthy balance. Rest days don’t just have to be a day of complete inactivity. You can have an “active” rest day during which you go for a light swim, jog, hike, or stretching.

How to do it: Try exercising for 2-3 consecutive days, and taking 1 day off before repeating the cycle.

(4) Push yourself.
I think this is the hardest part: motivating ourselves to push beyond what we have achieved already. How much is enough when working out? My recommendation for weight training is at least 3-4 exercises of each muscle group with 3-4 sets of each exercise. In terms of the number of repetitions, choose a weight at which you can perform at least 8-12 repetition to encourage hypertrophy/muscle growth.

How to do it: Choose an workout “split” which refers to how many times you work out a muscle group a week and which muscle groups you work out each day. You don’t have to work out everything every single time you exercise. Many people pick 2-3 muscle groups to focus on each day. It allows you to really focus on the muscle groups each day and push yourself to your limits.

(5) Work out your legs.
Your lower body makes up half of your body and yet it’s one of the most neglected by men (women are much better at working out their legs. Sorry guys, it’s the truth!). By working out your lower body, you can build more LBM and gain all the benefits mentioned in #1: burn more calories, increase your metabolic rate, and improve bodily function.

How to do it: Make at least one day of the week dedicated to working out your lower body. To start, try at least 5 sets of the following exercises using just your bodyweight: 25 squats, 40 lunges, and 20 calf raises. Challenge yourselves by adding weights to your exercises.

(6) Do what you love.
Everyone enjoys something different when it comes to exercise. There are a million things out there you can do: cross fit, kick boxing, yoga, Pilates, boot camps, one-on-one personal training, team sports, etc. I have friends who really enjoy exercising to Bob Harper’s DVDs at home. It makes me want to make an exercise video series of my own.

How to do it: TRY a different type of exercise for a couple of weeks. I say a couple of weeks because it takes time to enjoy something new that can be difficult. Also, realize that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. If you enjoy it and because of that, you are able to exercise consistently, stick to it and improve at it.

Strike a balance to build a SUSTAINABLE lifestyle of activity. And as always, be safe.

Thomas Ngo
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Dietetic Intern


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Andre says:

    Thomas, you’re the best! Thanks for the great tips!

  2. seizeyoursomeday says:

    Thomas, you’re the best! Good article and great read! Thanks! =)

    ~ Andre

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