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How to create a workout plan for your fitness goals

If you have a fitness goal, choosing the right workout plan is essential. Clinton Maclin, ACSM EPC-EIM2, a Piedmont exercise physiologist and safety coach, breaks down the most common types of fitness goals and how to optimize your routine for the best results.

How to identify your fitness goals

“Identifying your fitness goals prior to starting a workout plan is key in developing a plan that aligns with your specific goals,” says Maclin. “Taking the time to identify your fitness goals increases the chances of achieving them consistently.”

He says the most common fitness goals include:

These objectives can include sub-goals related to your overall health, energy and appearance. And they’re not mutually exclusive. For example, if you want to lose weight, you can also increase your strength and build cardiovascular endurance at the same time.

The importance of consulting a fitness professional

If you’re new to fitness or are working toward a new goal, Maclin recommends consulting with an exercise professional such as an exercise physiologist, health and wellness coach, or personal trainer who has experience and specializes in developing individualized fitness plans.

“You may need more than a one-size-fits-all routine,” he says. “The exercise professional will assist in developing a safe, sustainable workout plan detailing the specific frequency, intensity, time and type of activities given your medical history, current fitness level and proposed fitness goals.”

Working with a professional may be more attainable than you think: Many gyms offer a free session or two with a personal trainer. Or you could work with a professional to develop an initial plan and then do the workouts on your own, checking in as needed.

Nutrition for your fitness goals

Nutrition also plays a significant role in helping you reach your fitness goals, says Maclin. You can’t rely on workouts alone to achieve your best results.

You want to be sure you’re eating enough nutrient-dense foods to fuel your workouts, gain lean muscle and/or shed pounds safely. Talking with a registered dietitian can help you reach your goals as safely and efficiently as possible.

What to include in your workout plan

Regardless of your goal, it’s essential to include cardiovascular training, strength training and flexibility/mobility training in your routine. Maclin says you can combine your strength and cardio days or spread out your workouts on separate days. Incorporate mobility exercises for a few minutes most days of the week.

Here’s what he recommends for each type of fitness goal:

Weight loss and building endurance:

  • Three to five days per week: Cardiovascular training, such as walking, jogging, running, biking, rowing, using the elliptical machine, swimming or dancing.

  • Two to three days per week: Strength or resistance training, such as weightlifting, bodyweight exercises or resistance band exercises.

  • Five days per week: Flexibility and mobility exercises, such as stretching, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, balance training or foam rolling.

  • One to two days per week: Take a rest day.

Muscle growth:

  • At least two to four days per week: Resistance training and strength training using exercises that require your body weight, resistance bands, machines, dumbbells or TRX equipment. Don’t work the same muscle group two days in a row or you’ll risk injury and overuse.

  • Three to five days per week: Cardiovascular training, such as walking, jogging, running, biking, rowing, using the elliptical machine, swimming or dancing.

  • Five days per week: Flexibility and mobility exercises, such as stretching, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, balance training or foam rolling.

  • One to two days per week: Take a rest day.

Weight maintenance, overall health and well-being:

  • Three to five days per week: Cardiovascular training, such as walking, jogging, running, biking, rowing, using the elliptical machine, swimming or dancing.

  • Two to three days per week: Strength or resistance training, such as weightlifting, bodyweight exercises or resistance band exercises.

  • Five days per week: Flexibility and mobility exercises, such as stretching, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, balance training or foam rolling.

  • One to two days per week: Take a rest day.

All of these schedules are customizable. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you’ll want to focus more on cardiovascular training, so maybe you run five days per week and do strength training two days per week. If you’d like to gain muscle, perhaps you use your time for mostly strength training four days per week and do cardio three days per week. If you’re focused on maintenance and overall well-being, you may opt for fewer workouts. It all depends on your body, health history, genetics and diet.

How to know if your workouts are effective

“Tracking your progress throughout the workout plan allows you to record and assess improvement in your fitness goal areas,” says Maclin. “I recommend a minimum of two to four weeks of following a consistent workout plan to determine if the current plan is working or if you should make adjustments to achieve your fitness goals.”

Finally, remember that your goals can change over time. Our bodies and needs constantly evolve, so expect to shift your workouts throughout your lifetime. But generally speaking, we can all benefit from cardiovascular exercise, strength training and flexibility/mobility training to stay healthy, active and independent for years to come.

If you have any questions about your fitness level and which workouts are safe for you, consult with an exercise professional and talk with your primary care provider. Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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