Sometimes it’s great to pop a video on, join in a class or have a one to one PT session to point you in the right direction for a good workout. On other occasions, it’s really nice to just have a bit of alone time to focus on training on your own.
The problem for many is knowing where to start when it comes to planning a workout; the way you structure a workout can determine how effective it is and also your confidence at executing it. Whether you’re strutting your stuff in the gym or just using a couple of dumbbells at home, exercising intelligently is key for staying injury free and progressing your fitness.
What you’ll need:
- A pen
Yes that’s right, you don’t need a fancy app or spreadsheet, go back to basics!
Where to start:
At the top of your page, write down your goals. Start with your long term goal so that you don’t lose track of what you are trying to do in the bigger picture. This might be ‘go from a size 14 to a size 12’ or ‘run a 5km race in 2 months time’, whatever it is, write it down!
After you’ve written a long term goal, write down your goal for this specific workout. What are your trying to get from todays session? It might be ‘deadlift 2.5kg more than my last session’ or ‘run for 20 minutes without stopping’. If you don’t have a specific training goal, it might simply be ‘to get sweaty and feel great’…that’s absolutely fine, it’s YOUR workout, do what you like!
So now you know what you need to get from your session, lets get cracking! I always plan my sessions around this basic format:
1. Cardio warm-up
2. Mobility and activation
3. Main compound exercises
5. Stretch off
So those are my 5 sections, but what does each mean?
1. Cardio warm -up. This is the pulse raiser that brings warmth to the whole body, oxygenates the muscles and generally prepares the body for activity. If this part is missed, we are much more likely to incur an injury or not perform optimally, so please do not skip!
2. Mobility and activation. This usually comprises of some dynamic warm up stretches that prepare the muscles and joints for the activity that will be in the main session. Going through various planes of movement in a gentle manor will help the muscles become engaged and prepared; this also should help lubricate the joints. For a video of my favourite mobility exercises, see at the bottom of this post. This is also the time I would include activation exercises for the core and for the glutes, simple ways of activating the core include doing superman or dead bug (see core blog) and for the glutes, some simple glute bridges are great. If you have a resistance band that will be even more effective and get everything fired up. Whether you are doing a weights session or a cardio session, the mobility and activation exercises will greatly improve how you perform.
3. Main compound exercises. These are the big movements that require a lot of energy; exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pull ups, push ups, bench press and exercises that use large muscle groups are classed as compound exercises. Doing them before other exercises will allow you to perform them well and with good form before you become fatigued, this will also help you get those progressions you are looking for.
If you are doing a cardio / running / cycling session, this section is where you do you main run / cycle or general cardio.
4. Finishers. These could also be classed as isolation exercises. In this section we are aiming to exhaust the smaller muscles groups or individual muscles that we have also used for the compound exercises. For example: tricep dips or bicep curls are isolating these muscles and fatiguing them.
I also usually include a bit more core work in this section working on areas that are often forgotten, like the obliques.
5. Stretch off. Another key component of any workout, yet sooooo many people bi-pass it and shoot straight out the gym door! Stretching the muscles off at the end of a session will help prevent muscle soreness, tightness and will also aid in the removal of lactic acid. All of these contribute to reduced injury risk and improved performance the next time you train.
So hopefully that has given you some ideas on how to structure your sessions!
It is so important to listen to your own body and work with a training plan you can trust. It’s very easy to see someone doing a crazy wonderful exercise and think, “ooh, I’ll have a go at that too” but chances are, they are just showing off and there is no actual reason behind it.
Be patient and consistent with your training, use progressive overload to gradually increase the weights or reps you are lifting or the intensity / distance of your cardio. People often wonder why they aren’t progressing when it comes to strength, endurance or body composition but it is usually because they are sitting pretty in their comfort zone!