By Mirella P. Auchus, PhD, MBA, Licensed Psychologist
To create a fitness routine that best fits your lifestyle, goals, preferences, abilities and limitations Dr. Mirella Auchus, licensed psychologist and exercise trainer, recommends that you begin by answering some basic questions.
• What are your goals?
• What types of exercises do you like doing?
• Would you prefer being outdoors or indoors?
• Where do you want to exercise?
• Do you want to exercise alone or with others?
• Do you have any physical or time barriers?
• What time of day do you want to exercise?
Your answers to these questions will help you make informed choices that can offer a higher probability of success from your customized fitness plan.
Decide what you want to achieve. Do you want to lose weight, get toned, or build muscle? Perhaps you want to work on increasing your flexibility. Although your program will focus on your desired goal, it is still important to include the other aspects of fitness into your workout routine. The four aspects of fitness include cardiovascular training, strength training, stretching, and core training. However, before you make any firm decisions about how you plan to reach your goals, first address some of the following components to ensure that you get the most out of your workout and prevent injury.
What kind of exercise do you like to do? For example, let’s consider cardiovascular exercise. Do you like jogging, or do you prefer walking? Maybe bicycling strikes your fancy. Perhaps dancing puts a smile on your face. You might try Zumba! It’s important to pick something that you like doing.
Where would you most enjoy exercising, indoors or outdoors? If you love the outdoors and find that the scenery and foliage leave you feeling uplifted and invigorated, why not run outside or engage in a sport like tennis or basketball? If you prefer exercising indoors, consider what you like to do while you are indoors. Do you like logging time on the treadmill while you listen to music or read from your Nook? Do you enjoy indoor swimming?
Alone or With Others?
Would you prefer working out in a social atmosphere, like a gym or class, or do you prefer the private ambiance of your home? If you prefer the gym or class, check the hours to make sure that they are compatible with your schedule. If your preference is to work out at home, you will need to think about equipment. If you plan to strength train at home, you may consider whether you want to use weights or resistance bands. If you’re not ready to invest in a multi-station piece of exercise equipment, try keeping some dumbbells under your desk at work so you can exercise during breaks! Cost may also be a consideration, so compare the costs of paying a gym membership to acquiring the equipment you need to exercise at home or at the office.
Do you have any physical limitations that require attention when designing an exercise routine? There are always ways to alter exercises and design a routine that meets your needs. It’s not a completely black or white issue!
What time of day works best for you to exercise? Do you work late and prefer to exercise before going to work in the morning, or do you like exercising in the evening? Clearly, your preexisting schedule will provide you with an answer to this question. You may want to split your exercise routine into two parts by doing your aerobics in the morning before work and strength training in the evening. Days that you are more constrained by time may be best for exercising at home.
Do you foresee any obstacles that may get in your way? Make a list! If you can anticipate potential barriers, you can plan ahead and problem-solve. Planning will increase the likelihood that barriers won’t get in the way of your fitness goals. Have a plan B!
In order to receive health benefits, the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2008) recommends that adults engage in aerobic exercise 150 minutes per week at a moderate level of intensity, and anaerobic or strengthening training exercises 2 or more days per week. However, you can customize your exercise training to fit into your schedule. As long as you are working at a moderate to vigorous level of intensity, you can exercise for 10 minutes at a time. Moderate intensity means raising your heart rate and sweating, but still being able to talk. In contrast, vigorous intensity means only being able to say a couple of words before having to catch your breath (CDC, 2008).
• Check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program.
• Always warm up.
• Maintain good form.
• Refer to exercise diagrams that demonstrate beginning and ending exercise form.
• Do not hold your breath (exertion – exhale, recovery – inhale).
• Rest between sets 45-60 seconds.
• Cool down following your exercise session.
• Gently stretch following your exercise session
Ways you can fit exercise into your schedule.
AEROBIC ACTIVITY (Cardiovascular)
• ½ hr. of aerobic activity 5 days per week (150 minutes minimum) at moderate intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous level activity (CDC, 2008) or…
• 10 minutes of exercise 3 times per day (morning, afternoon, evening) 5 days per week or…
• 20 minutes of exercise 2 times per day for 3 days and 30 minutes for one day.
• Activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling or other exercises that use large muscle groups are appropriate for aerobic fitness.
ANAEROBIC ACTIVITY (Strength Training)
• As a beginner, it is recommended that you use machines as they will provide you with greater balance and stability, enabling you to focus on exercise form. As you advance in your weight training you can incorporate free weights.
• Work all muscle groups 2 times per week (legs, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abdomen).
• Split your strength training routine. Work half of the muscle groups in the morning and half in the evening or…
• Work out 4 days per week doing half of the muscle groups each day (e.g. M-legs, chest, triceps, T-back, shoulders, biceps, abdomen, Th-legs, chest, triceps, F-back, shoulders, biceps, abdomen).
• Train the same muscle groups on non-consecutive days.
ANAEROBIC ACTIVITY (Build Muscle)
• Approximately 8 repetitions per set, where it is hard for you to do any more repetitions without help.
• 3-4 sets per exercise for large muscle groups such as legs, chest and back and 2 sets per exercise for smaller muscle groups such as shoulders, triceps and biceps.
• Increase sets (depending on your goal).
• 10-12 repetitions if your goal is to maintain and not build muscle.
Eventually you will want to revisit your goals and increase weight as well as decrease repetitions in your strength-training program. You should also increase intensity, duration and/or frequency of your aerobic workout so that you are engaging in at least the minimum level of aerobic activity required for reaping health benefits (CDC, 2008). This can be done in the context of your preferences and schedule so that you create an exercise program that is “a perfect fit” for you!
Dr. Auchus is a clinical psychologist who specializes in exercise program design and motivational strategies. She is also an American Council on Exercise certified trainer. Dr. Auchus’ services include customized exercise programs, coaching on motivational strategies and cognitive techniques to enhance exercise adherence. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.