Exercise Plans

Do you know how to design an exercise plan that really works - regardless of the objective?

Of course, if you go to a personal trainer, they will do it for you, but most people wind up working out on their own, and thus have to design an exercise plan for themselves.

Designing an exercise plan is not so hard if you understand the principles that underlie a good workout program. The first step is to distinguish the different types of exercise. There are four main categories - understanding each, and what they do, will help you to get the right balance in your training. The three main categories are:

  • Cardio:

    Cardio exercises are those that primarily work the heart and lungs - the cardiovascular system. This can include everything from rowing to biking, walking to running, swimming to dancing. Cardio is typically done at a steady pace, for 20 minutes or more.
  • Intervals:

    Interval training involves alternating periods of steady paced cardio with higher paced "intervals". Interval training will increase your speed, and is thus used by racers in sports such as running, swimming and cycling, and also by many sportsmen and women.
  • Strength:

    Strength training (also known as resistance training) can be done using weights (free weights or machines), bands, or body weight. The primary goal of this training is to increase the strength of the muscles - within that, you can also choose whether to focus on increasing muscular endurance, maximum strength, or muscle size.
  • Flexibility:

    Flexibility training aims to increase the range of motion of the joints. This can be done through stretching programs, or as a part of an activity like yoga or Pilates. It is essential in sports like gymnastics.

So which of these do you need to do? Each of them has different benefits, so a good exercise plan will include all four. For someone who's goal is to get fitter or lose weight, a program might look like this:

  • Cardio:

    Cardio exercise will increase your endurance and strengthen your heart. Three sessions of at least twenty minutes per week are recommended - aim to hold a steady pace, one at which you can hold a conversation.
  • Intervals:

    Intervals will increase your speed - not a necessity for most people - but they have another benefit. Intervals are one of the best fat burning workouts you can do. A couple of sessions of interval training a week will kick start your metabolism and help you to lose weight.
  • Strength training: Forget bodybuilding and the massive athletes you see in magazines, strength training has benefits for everyone. Firstly, it protects your muscles and joints, helping you to do simple things more easily - like climbing the stairs, unloading the groceries, or getting in and out of the car. Secondly, it boosts your metabolism, making it an effective way to lose weight. Two to three sessions a week are recommended.
  • Flexibility: Keeping flexible helps you to move more easily, and reduces your chances of injury. Ten minutes of stretching at the end of your workout will help you to stay flexible.

By combining two workouts in one day (e.g. twenty minutes cardio before a strength session) you can stay fit and healthy in around five workouts per week.

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