How to Structure Your Workout Routine

Fall is the perfect season to get back into routines that fell by the wayside in the summer months. Whether it’s restarting your monthly book club meetings, getting back on track with daily meditation, or cooking your meals (or at least some of them) at home – now is the time to commit before the nuttiness of the holiday season threatens to derail us once again.

One particularly important routine to get back on track – or start for the first time – is your workout routine. As winter inevitably nears, it’s easier to skip workouts or fall off the fitness wagon altogether, but having a plan in place will help you stay the course. “Setting aside time to write out a balanced program will help you better accomplish short term goals, whether it’s losing weight, or being prepared for a race or upcoming vacation,” says Eric Dannenberg, a Performance Specialist at EXOS. “But more importantly, it ensures you will have the long term health to work out for many years to come by training smarter and not just harder,” he adds. So, how do you structure a balanced gym routine over a week and even months to ensure success? Here’s everything you need to know.

Set goals

How to Structure Your Workout Routine

First things first: What do want to accomplish? Your short-term goals could be anything from getting to the gym three times a week to running a half-marathon in 12 weeks to losing 10 pounds – or even simply to move for five minutes a day. (You don’t have to “shoot for the moon” here, says Dannenberg, “small workouts are tremendously better than none at all!”)

Do This: Set aside time to figure out what it is you want to get out of your workouts. Make sure they’re specific things! Rather than “lose weight,” it should be a specific number and instead of “get faster,” it could be “run a 5K in under 30 minutes.”

Factor in strength training

How to Structure Your Workout Routine

That said, no matter what your goal, a balanced training plan always includes strength training. “Strength is one of the first qualities we lose with age – and if you are not strong enough to do some basic lifts, then you’re going to fail when you attempt to do activities that require a basic level of strength such as cycling up a hill, pulling your luggage into a car, or worse – not able to pick up your kid,” warns Dannenberg.

Do This: When structuring your weekly routine, start with three days of strength training (on alternating days like Monday, Wednesday, Friday) if you’re new to it – that’ll help you establish a base of strength. After a couple of months you should be able to drop back to once or twice a week to “maintain” what you’ve built. Don’t worry: you don’t have to dedicate hours to it. “Even a short 10-20 minute strength sessions can go a long way,” Dannenberg assures.

Then, think cardio

How to Structure Your Workout Routine

On the flip side, you may think that if you’re not training for a race, you can skip cardio altogether but that’d be a shame. “Sprint work is an extremely efficient way to get ripped and fit,” says Dannenberg. “If you can handle 30 minutes of jogging or 10 minutes of sprint intervals, then a busy day of travel and meetings or an action packed vacation day will be that much less tiring,” says Dannenberg. And not to be forgotten: Elevating your heart rate on the reg wards off all kinds of disease and even death!

Do This: Simply doing three to five sprints or fast jogs two to three times a week is enough to keep you healthy – and energized for a busy day. Dannenberg recommends sprinting on grass, getting on a bike at the gym with arms that move, an elliptical, or rower. If you are just getting into training again or are new, start with 100-200 meter efforts that are controlled and sub-maximal effort (think: you could talk but not hold a conversation) with 60 to 90 seconds rest between each. As you progress, you can decrease rest time to 30 to 45 seconds, decrease the distance to 50 to 100 meters, and increase the intensity to where you could not speak at all.

Flexibility is also important

How to Structure Your Workout Routine

“Our bodies are designed for constant movement to tend to daily tasks for survival such as hunting and gathering, but not many people are reaching their arms overhead to climb a tree or sit in a deep squat to prepare their food in today’s world,” says Dannenberg. We must go out of our way to counteract our “sitting culture.” “Even if you don’t feel tight or injured, poor structural alignment adds up and once the scale tips, injury will occur,” Dannenberg says.

Do This: Stretching is a great way to reverse the effects of modern society. “Adding in stretches for the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine is a simple way to prevent a decrease in mobility most of the population deals with, per Dannenberg. You can also try these great foam rolling moves.

Don’t forget to rest!

How to Structure Your Workout Routine

Sleep and recovery days are just as important as the training itself. That’s what allows your body to get stronger, fitter, and faster! “Keep everything in moderation – having a balance is key to longevity in any sport endeavor you might have,” says Dannenberg.

Do This: It is important to build rest into your week. But that doesn’t mean just sitting around all day. A rest day can include “active recovery” like an easy bike ride, a hike, or a walk.

Write it down

“A common key in athletics and fitness is consistency so writing out an average training week for yourself will help you hold yourself accountable – and act as your ‘health insurance,'” says Dannenberg.

Do This: You can go old school and literally write it down in a planner or simply type it into your iPhone calendar. You can also post it on your fridge or mirror to look at every day – the important thing is that you schedule it as you would an important appointment.

Example Weekly Workout Routine:

A typical week may look like this for someone with a long-term goal of maintaining health and fitness and looking and feeling their best. For plans that fit more specific goals (like those around races) check out the Train and Run app.

  • Monday: 10-30 minutes strength training working in exercises like push-ups, pull ups, squats, and lunges. Check out this do-anywhere strength workout if you’re looking for more direction.
  • Tuesday: Cardio sprint workout (described under cardio)
  • Wednesday: 10-30 minutes strength training
  • Thursday: REST or active recovery
  • Friday: 10-30 minutes strength training
  • Saturday: Cardio sprint workout (described under cardio)
  • Sunday: Flexibility: Do yoga or some stretches and foam rolling