How to Design Your Workout Schedule

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Whether you want to build muscle, increase aerobic capacity or just
get into those jeans again, the only way to achieve success is to set
up a workout schedule that fits your needs. The rewards of a steady
workout schedule are priceless: lower stress, stronger heart and
lungs, increased strength and flexibility, a shrinking waistline, better
sleep and improved self-confidence. Keep at it long enough and eventually
you'll crave a good workout.

  • Be realistic about your current fitness level and choose goals, classes and activities that are appropriate. If you can't remember the last time you put on those running shoes, start slowly to build both your strength and stamina without injuring yourself or burning out.

  • Invest in one or two sessions with a personal trainer. He or she can help you establish reasonable goals and present options that you may not have considered. See 16 Set Goals.

  • Start gradually. Do up to 30 minutes of cardiovascular work mixed with strength training three times per week or more. Also incorporate flexibility exercises into your workouts. Continually evaluate your progress and set new goals: As your general fitness improves, increase the length, frequency and intensity of your workouts.

  • Develop--with a qualified trainer's help--a weight-lifting program that meets your specific performance goals. Strength training is critical to athletic performance and osteoporosis prevention. Lifting is most effective done every other day so that fatigued muscles have time to rest and rebuild.

  • Be sure to work the entire body consistently and balance opposing muscle groups. For example, if you work your quadriceps, hit the less visible but equally important hamstrings, too. You'll gain overall strength and avoid injury.

  • Rotate your cardio work on the days you rest from weight lifting. Cross-train with a variety of activities instead of just one. You'll challenge different muscles, prevent injuries due to overuse and avoid burnout.

  • Aim for a heart rate within your training zone. Subtract your age from 220 and multiply it by 0.6 and 0.8 to determine the lower and upper limits of your training heart-rate zone (some formulas calculate slightly higher heart-rate limits for women). You will not achieve cardiovascular benefits unless your heart rate reaches that zone. Maintain this rate for a minimum 30 minutes at least three times a week.

  • Schedule time in your calendar to work out. If you've got it written down, you'll be more apt to keep the appointment.

Tips & Warnings

  • Rule of thumb: Working out three times a week will maintain your fitness level; more will increase it.
  • Work out with a friend or join a group or club to stay motivated.
  • For a list of exercises, including how many calories they burn per hour, check out NutriStrategy.com.
  • Unless you have access to a gym at work, choose a facility that is near your office.
  • See 361 Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions.
  • Always make warming up, cooling down and stretching part of your exercise routine.
  • Choose a diversified program you'll enjoy for the long haul. If you find yourself getting bored with your routine, change it up. Instead of running 5 miles, do 3 miles alternating sprinting with jogging or walking. Opt for the open road instead of a spinning class. Join a master's swim class.
  • When lifting weights or using any fitness machine, be aware of your form. If you're unsure that you are performing an exercise correctly, consult a trainer to avoid injury.

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