If you’re aiming to lose weight or get fitter, you may be wondering exactly what you should do when you work out. There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this question, as everyone has different goals, food habits, time constraints and biology.
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However, once you know certain basic facts, you can easily design a workout that suits your unique situation—so let’s go through the steps you need to address in order to succeed!
1. Determine Your Situation
Firstly, figure out how much time you can devote to your exercise plan. It might be half an hour every two days if you’re holding down a serious job and trying to take care of a family at the same time, or you might be lucky enough to be able to do a full hour a day. Once you’ve got a reasonable expectation of how much time you can spend on workouts each week, figure out where you’re going to work out.
Consider the pros and cons of a gym (e.g. accountability and lots of equipment vs. continuous expenditure and the need to travel), and if you decide to exercise at home then start researching types of equipment you might want to use.
2. Determine Which Exercises You’ll Do
Experts suggest keeping your exercise plan as a simple as possible, and sticking with a full body routine that you’re able to do at least a couple time a week. This routine should target all the key areas of your body. Here’s a rough guide you can use (and if you don’t know any of these exercises, a quick search will show you the instructions you need):
- Quads: Lunges, box jumps, one-legged squats and regular squats.
- Triceps, chest muscles, and shoulder muscles: Bench press, dips, pushups and overhead press.
- Core (i.e. back and abs): Side planks, regular planks, leg raises, mountain climbers and exercise ball crunches.
- Glutes and hamstrings: Hip raises, step ups and deadlifts.
- Back, forearms, and biceps: Pull ups, dumbbell rows and chin-ups.
All you need is a single exercise from each of these five categories, and you’ll be training almost all of your muscles in just one workout session. However, do try to vary which exercises you choose from week to week, and remember that you need 2-3 days to recover between each session (so that your muscles can repair during the rest period).
3. Determine How Many Sets And Reps You’ll Do
The average person should aim for 3-5 sets per exercise so that your total number of sets is roughly 15-25. Doing more than this makes you susceptible to injury, but less means you’re not really working hard enough to see results. Meanwhile, it’s more complicated to decide on the right number of reps, but aim for about 8-15 if your goal is to get rid of excess fat and build more muscle at the same time.
4. Determine The Timing Of Your Sets
You now know what exercises you’ll be doing, and how many times. But how long should you wait in between the sets? This is the basic framework you’ll see most personal trainers recommending:
- 1-3 reps: 3-5 minutes of rest
- 4-6 reps: 2-3 minutes of rest
- 8-12 reps: 1-2 minutes of rest
- More than 13 reps: 1 minute (or less) of rest
5. Determine How Much To Lift
There’s no precise way to decide how much to lift without figuring it out through trial and error. What you’re aiming to do is lift enough that you can get through the full set, and not so much that you’re completely spent at the end. Protect yourself from injury by erring on the side of caution if you’re not sure, but be disciplined enough to not make it too easy for yourself
6. Determine How Long To Exercise
You’ll get the best results from your workout routine if you train at higher levels of intensity for less time. So, aim to get everything done in 45-60 minutes—if you’re doing 15-25 sets in total, 45 minutes should be enough, and you can use extra time for warming up and cooling down.
Some people pat themselves on the back if they can exercise for more than an hour without feeling depleted, but this could actually just mean they’re not working hard enough.
7. Start Keeping A Workout Journal
The best way to track your progress and see where any necessary adjustments need to be made is to write in a workout journal. As a bonus, you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment as you see concrete proof of your upwards trajectory!
Note down changes in the amount you can lift, or the speed you can do something, and keep comparing your statistics to the ones from your previous workouts. If you end up wanting to seek some extra professional advice, this journal will also be incredibly helpful in figuring out what you can change in order to develop the body you want.