How to Build an Exercise Plan - HelpGuide.org (2023)

A Harvard Health article

A Guide to Getting Started and Developing a Balanced Plan

How to Build an Exercise Plan - HelpGuide.org (1)

What type of exercise should you do?

There is no single type of exercise that can take care of all your needs. In fact, to get the most benefits from your routine, you want a mix of activities during the course of a week. Otherwise, it's like a diet consisting only of fruit—healthful as far as it goes, but lacking a lot of the nutrients you'll find in other foods, such as fish, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.

Developing a balanced exercise plan

So what does a balanced exercise plan consist of? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urge all adults to include the following types of exercise in their weekly routines:

  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week (for example, 30 minutes on each of five days)
    or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or an equiva- lent mix of the two).
  • two or more strength training sessions per week, with at least 48 hours in between to allow muscles
    to recover.
  • balance exercises for older adults at risk for falls.

If this all sounds overwhelming, remember that workouts can be broken up into smaller segments. For example, three 10-minute walks can get you to your daily goal of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

Each workout should also include a simple warm-up at the beginning and a cool-down at the end. The warm-up should consist of gentle exercise, such as marching in place, to loosen up your muscles and get more oxygen-rich blood flowing to them. To cool down, slow your activity and the intensity for five to 10 minutes, then finish off with stretches to help prevent stiffness.

Read on to learn more about each component of a balanced exercise program in greater depth and suggest a mix of activities and exercises to get you going.

Aerobic exercise (cardio)

Often called cardio or endurance activities, aerobic activities are great for burning calories and paring down unwanted fat. They consist of activities that make the heart and lungs work harder: think of walking, biking, running, and swimming, for example.

Aerobic exercise temporarily boosts your heart rate and breathing, allowing more oxygen to reach your muscles and tuning up cardiovascular endurance. These are the activities that are associated with lower risk for many diseases and longer life span.

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How much should you do?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend accumulating a weekly total of at least two- and-a-half hours of moderate aerobic activity, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. (Note: If you prefer a mix, 10 minutes of vigorous activity equals roughly 20 minutes of moderate activity.) Raising your weekly goal to five hours of moderate activity, or two-and-a-half hours of vigorous activity, nets additional health benefits, especially weight loss. Each session should last at least 10 minutes.

Get started

Walking is usually safe for people of any age or level of fitness and can easily be adjusted to a comfortable speed. It doesn't jar joints or raise your heart rate to dangerous levels. For a greater challenge, you can add time, distance, or hills to improve endurance or use resistance bands to tone while you walk.

Follow these tips to get the best workout from your walks:

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Find a safe place to walk. Quiet streets with side- walks, park trails, athletic tracks at local schools, or shopping malls are often good choices.

Buy a good pair of shoes. Look for supportive but flexible soles that cushion your feet. Comfort is the key when buying shoes for walking. Shop at the end of the day when your feet are at their largest size. Choose shoes with “breathable” uppers, such as nylon mesh.

Dress for comfort and safety. Wear lighter clothes than you'd need if standing still. Dress in layers so you can peel off garments if you get hot. Light-colored clothes and a reflective vest help drivers notice you.

Do a five-minute warm-up and cool-down. Start off at a slower pace for your warm-up. At the end of your walk, slow down to cool down (even if you're not sweaty).

Practice good technique:

  • Walk at a brisk, steady pace. Slow down if you're too breathless to carry on a conversation.
  • Stand tall.
  • Hold your head up so your chin is level and look 10 to 20 feet in front of you.
  • Lift your chest.
  • Keep your shoulders down.
  • Point your toes straight ahead.
  • Let your arms swing loosely at your sides. If you want to boost your speed, bend your elbows at 90-degree angles and swing your hands from waist to chest height.
  • Land on your heel, then roll forward onto the ball of your foot, pushing off from your toes.
  • Take comfortable strides. To go faster, take quicker steps instead of longer ones.

Strength training

Strength or resistance training, which typically employs equipment such as weight machines, free weights, or resistance bands or tubing, protects against bone loss and builds muscle. It also improves your body's ratio of lean muscle mass to fat. It, too, deserves an important place in your exercise routine.

Technically, strength or resistance training takes place any time your muscles face a stronger-than-usual counterforce, such as pushing against a wall or lifting a dumbbell. Using progressively heavier weights or increasing resistance makes muscles stronger. Aside from toning you, strength training provides the functional strength you need to do everyday activities— lifting groceries, climbing stairs, rising from a chair, rushing for the bus—with ease.

How much should you do?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms) two or more times a week, with at least 48 hours between sessions. One set per session is effective, though two or three sets may be better, according to some research. Repeat each exercise eight to 12 times (reps). Your body needs at least 48 hours for recovery and repair between strength training sessions in order to build more muscle and get stronger.

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These tips for safe strength training will help you get the most from your workouts:

Focus on form, not weight. Align your body correctly and move smoothly through each exercise. Poor form can prompt injuries. Many experts suggest starting with no weight, or very light weight, when learning a strength training routine. Concentrate on slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents while isolating a muscle group. You isolate muscles by holding your body in a specific position while consciously contracting and releasing the targeted muscles.

Tempo, tempo. Tempo helps you stay in control rather than undercut strength gains through momentum. For example, count to four while lifting a dumbbell, hold for two, then count to four while lowering it to the starting position.

Breathe. Blood pressure increases during a work- out, but it rises even more if you hold your breath while performing strength exercises. To avoid steep increases, exhale as you lift, push, or pull; inhale as you release. To make sure that you're not holding your breath, count your tempo aloud. You can't hold your breath when you're talking.

Keep challenging muscles. The right weight differs depending on the exercise. Choose a weight that tires the targeted muscle or muscles by the last two repetitions (reps) while still allowing you to maintain good form. If you can't do the minimum number of reps, choose a lighter weight. When it feels too easy, as if you could continue doing reps, challenge your muscles again by adding weight (roughly 1 to 2 pounds for arms, 2 to 5 pounds for legs) or using a stronger resistance band. Alternately, you can add another set of reps to your workout (up to three sets), or work out additional days per week. If you add weight, remember that you should be able to do the minimum number of reps with good form, and the targeted muscles should feel tired by the last two reps.

Give muscles time off

Strenuous exercise like strength training causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. These tears are good, not bad: muscles grow stronger as the tears knit up. Always allow at least 48 hours between sessions for muscles to recover. So, if you do a strenuous full-body strength workout on Monday, wait until at least Wednesday to repeat it. It is fine to do aerobic exercise on the days between your strength training. If you're doing a partial-body strength session, however, you might do upper-body exercises on Monday, lower-body exercises on Tuesday, upper-body exercises on Wednesday, lower-body exercises on Thursday, etc., and also do aerobic exercise on as many days as possible.

Balance exercises

Our sense of balance typically worsens as we age. It can be further compromised by medical conditions like neuropathy (a complication of diabetes or certain chemotherapy drugs) that can cause tingling, pain, and numbness in the feet; side effects from other medications; uncorrected vision problems; or a lack of flexibility. Poor balance often leads to falls, which can cause head injuries and temporarily or permanently disabling injuries to the bones and nervous system. Hip fractures, particularly, can lead to serious health complications and can impair independence.

Older adults at risk for falls can benefit from a combination of walking, strength training, and balance exercises. Balance-enhancing activities include tai chi, yoga, and Pilates. Strength training exercises that work core muscles in your abdomen and back also help with balance.

How much should you do?

For older adults at risk for falls, the guidelines recommend 30 minutes of balance training and muscle strengthening exercises three times a week, plus at least 30 minutes of walking activities twice or more weekly.

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How to Build an Exercise Plan - HelpGuide.org (4)

Flexibility exercises

Flexibility exercises like stretching and yoga gently reverse the shortening and tightening of muscles that typically occur with disuse and age. Shorter, stiffer muscle fibers may make you vulnerable to injuries and contribute to back pain and balance problems.

Frequently performing exercises that isolate and stretch elastic fibers surrounding muscles and tendons helps counteract this. A well-stretched muscle more easily achieves its full range of motion. This improves athletic performance—imagine an easier, less restricted golf swing or tennis serve—and functional abilities, such as reaching, bending, or stooping during daily tasks. Stretching can also be a great way to get you moving in the morning or a way to relax after a long day. Activities such as yoga combine stretching and relaxation and also improve balance, a wonderful combination.

However, note that experts no longer recommend stretching before exercise. Prolonged stretching impedes the maximum contractile force of muscles. For example, stretching prior to jumping decreases jump height. Instead, experts now recommend starting off your exercise with a warm-up, such as an easy walk or a sport-specific routine such as serving some tennis balls and practicing ground strokes before a match. This increases the movement of blood and oxygen to the muscles. Then, when muscles are warm and pliable—for example, after five to 10 minutes of exercise—you can stretch. Or, even better, do your flexibility exercises as your post-workout cool-down.

How much should you do?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans present no specific recommendations for making flexibility exercises part of your routine. However, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that older adults do flexibility exercises on the same days as aerobic or strength activities, or at least twice a week.

Get started

When starting a stretching routine, follow these tips for safety:

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  • Check with your doctor. If you have joint disease or arthritis, or if you've had a joint replacement,
    check with your doctor before starting stretching exercises.
  • Warm up first. Warm muscles are more flexible. Warm up for five to 10 minutes first, or save stretching for your cool-down routine after exercising.
  • Stretch all muscle groups. Just as with strength training, stretching should include all muscle groups.
  • No bouncing. Never bounce as you stretch. This triggers a contracting reflex that actually tightens the muscle you're trying to loosen.
  • Feel mild tension only. Extend your muscle to the point where you feel mild tension and hold that
    position. You should never feel pain.
  • Breathe. Breathe easily through your nose while stretching.
  • Hold and repeat. The best results come from holding a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeating each stretch two to six times for a total of one minute.

Adapted with permission fromStarting to Exercise, a special health report published byHarvard Health Publishing.

Last updated: November 22, 2022

FAQs

How do you create a exercise plan? ›

As you design your fitness program, keep these points in mind:
  1. Consider your fitness goals. ...
  2. Create a balanced routine. ...
  3. Start low and progress slowly. ...
  4. Build activity into your daily routine. ...
  5. Plan to include different activities. ...
  6. Try high-interval intensity training. ...
  7. Allow time for recovery. ...
  8. Put it on paper.

How do you start exercise and stick to it Helpguide org? ›

Start small and build momentum

The more ambitious your goal, the more likely you are to fail, feel bad about it, and give up. It's better to start with easy exercise goals you know you can achieve. As you meet them, you'll build self-confidence and momentum. Then you can move on to more challenging goals.

What are the 4 steps of a fitness plan? ›

4 Steps to Your Perfect Exercise Plan
  • Step 1: Talk with your doctor. This is the most important step to creating an exercise plan. ...
  • Step 2: Choose your favorite aerobic activities. Aerobic activities work out your heart and lungs. ...
  • Step 3: Choose your favorite strengthening activities. ...
  • Step 4: Schedule it out.
11 Apr 2018

Can you get fit at 70? ›

No matter what your age, you can improve your fitness.

You can improve your fitness at any age. "The stories in this area are actually very dramatic. Even people 100 years old or older can build muscle strength," says Dr.

Can I design my own workout plan? ›

Get a piece of paper, and write the days of the week along the side, then choose what you'll do each day: workout or rest. To begin, plan to workout five days per week and rest two days. For most people, this is more than adequate for getting good results.

What are the 3 tasks in creating an exercise plan? ›

A complete fitness and exercise program should incorporate three basic components: Endurance (Aerobic), Flexibility, and Strength.

What are the 8 things you can do to plan start and stick with exercising? ›

8 tips to help you stick to your exercise plan
  1. Set reachable goals. ...
  2. Make it fun. ...
  3. Make the time. ...
  4. Find an exercise partner. ...
  5. Keep track. ...
  6. Put your reasons on paper. ...
  7. Don't let slip-ups get you down. ...
  8. Reward yourself when you succeed.
28 Jul 2022

Can you get fit at 55? ›

Some fitness experts say it's even possible to get into the best shape of your life after the age of fifty if you've spent most of your life out of shape.

How Beginners should start working out? ›

Simply start your workout with some aerobic exercises like arm swings, leg kicks, and walking lunges. Alternatively, you can warm up by doing easy movements of the exercise you're planning to do. For example, walk before you run.

What are the 7 steps to creating a workout plan? ›

Starting Your Fitness Plan
  1. Step 1: Ease into it. ...
  2. Step 2: You don't have to do it all at once. ...
  3. Step 3: Start with something low impact. ...
  4. Step 4: Manage your expectations. ...
  5. Step 5: Schedule physical activity into your daily plan. ...
  6. Step 6: Track your progress. ...
  7. Step 7: Set a reasonable goal.
11 Nov 2017

What are the 7 steps in creating a fitness plan? ›

7 Steps to Create Your Fitness Plan
  • Step 1: Know Your Fitness Level and Your Body. Fitness is all about reaching a specific goal. ...
  • Step 2: Determine Your SMART Goal.
  • Step 3 : Take Little Steps. ...
  • Step 4 : Stay Positive and Keep Going. ...
  • Step 5 : Create Your Exercise Schedule. ...
  • Step 6 : Get Started. ...
  • Step 7 : Track Your Progress.
27 Aug 2020

What are the 5 stages of exercise? ›

According to the SOC model, individuals move through a series of stages as they adopt and maintain a new habit. Specifically, the stages include Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Relapse.

How old is elderly? ›

Ageing, an inevitable process, is commonly measured by chronological age and, as a convention, a person aged 65 years or more is often referred to as 'elderly'.

Can a 70 year old rebuild muscle? ›

Seniors who work at it, however, can still make strength gains. “Research shows that, even into your late 80s, your body still has the potential to build muscle mass,” Stacy Schroder, director of wellness at Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, said.

What is too much exercise for a 70 year old? ›

Recent studies have revealed that there is such a thing as too much exercise: individuals who exercise vigorously more than 7.5 hours per week are at a higher risk for developing Coronary Artery Calcification, heart damage, and rhythm disorders.

Is there an app that lets you build your own workout? ›

Workout Maker is the first and only fully customizable workout app. Whether you do weightlifting, physical therapy, calisthenics, cardio, yoga, stretching, personal training, CrossFit, or any other fitness, Workout Maker is perfect for you!

Is there an app that gives you a workout plan? ›

Jefit Workout Planner Gym Log

Designed with serious weightlifters in mind, the Jefit app allows you to create custom weight training sessions, record each rep and set of your workout, and even time rest breaks. The app also offers more than 1,400 workouts, post-workout analytics, and community features.

How do you make a good workout plan at home? ›

Create Your Own Workout
  1. Pick 9 exercises in a row that use equipment you have in your home. If you don't have any equipment, pick bodyweight exercises.
  2. Pick an exercise for your upper body, core, and lower body. ...
  3. Do 8 to 12 reps of each and move on to the next one with just a 10-second break. ...
  4. Repeat 3 times a week.
1 Apr 2020

What is the most balanced exercise plan? ›

Just walking, running, or swimming will not meet all three components and, therefore, is not considered a balanced routine. The three components to a well-balanced exercise routine include aerobics, strength training, and flexibility training.

What should a good workout plan include? ›

Aim to have aerobic fitness, strength training, core exercises, balance training, and flexibility and stretching in your exercise plan. You don't need to fit each of these elements into every fitness workout. But adding them to your regular routine can help you to have fitness for life.

What are the 3 basic exercise program you must know explain? ›

A complete, safe and effective fitness program must include aerobic exercise, muscular strength and endurance conditioning, and flexibility exercise. Aerobic exercise does good things for your cardiovascular system and is an important part of weight management.

What order should your exercises be in? ›

The General Rules Of Exercise Order
  • Exercises for bigger muscles should come before exercises for smaller muscles. Examples: Chest or back before shoulders, biceps or triceps. ...
  • Compound exercises should come before isolation exercises. ...
  • Free weight/body weight exercises should come before machines.
20 Jan 2018

What are the five keys to a successful exercise program? ›

The 5 key factors to consider in an exercise program
  • Range of movement.
  • Strength.
  • Fitness.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Weight control.

What are the 5 basic to exercises that are recommended for weekly use? ›

There are five exercises that are essential for functional fitness.
...
They are compound exercises that work all of the major muscles groups in the body and you can do them anywhere.
  • Squats. ...
  • Lunges. ...
  • Pushups. ...
  • Pull-ups. ...
  • Rotation.
9 Sept 2013

How do I get rid of belly fat over 50? ›

To battle belly fat:
  1. Eat a healthy diet. Focus on plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and choose lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products. ...
  2. Replace sugary beverages. ...
  3. Keep portion sizes in check. ...
  4. Include physical activity in your daily routine.

What is the best exercise for a 60 year old woman? ›

Cardio for 60-year-old Woman

If you're looking to build more low impact cardio exercises into your fitness regime, the following activities may be suitable: Brisk walking, Swimming, Cycling.

What is the best exercise to do first thing in the morning? ›

Which is the best exercise to do in the morning?
  1. Walking/Running.
  2. Plank.
  3. Jumping Jacks.
  4. Squats.
  5. Push-Ups.
  6. Yoga Sequence.
15 Jun 2022

How many minutes a day should a beginner workout? ›

Try starting with short workouts that are 30 minutes or less. As you feel your strength building, add a couple more minutes every week. The American Heart Association recommends 75-150 minutes of aerobic activity, as well as two strength-training sessions, per week.

How do I start exercising after years of inactivity? ›

If you have been inactive for a long time, start with short sessions (10 to 15 minutes). Add five minutes to each session, increasing every two to four weeks. Gradually build up to being active at least 30 minutes a day for most days of the week. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise.

What is the 3 7 workout? ›

Start with 3 reps, then rest for 15 seconds. Then complete 4 reps and rest for another 15 seconds. Then 5 reps, then 6 reps and a final set of 7 reps. Resting for 15 seconds each time.

What are the 3 stages of every exercise session? ›

Three key phases to exercise are the warmup, training, and the cool down. During the warmup you ready the body for what's to come. In the middle phase, you perform the strenuous work. And in the cool down period, you bring your body back to a resting state.

What are the 6 phases of exercise? ›

The Optimum Performance Training® Model
  • Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance.
  • Phase 2: Strength Endurance.
  • Phase 3: Muscular Development/Hypertrophy.
  • Phase 4: Maximal Strength.
  • Phase 5: Power.

What are the 4 most important types of exercise? ›

Research has shown that it's important to get all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Each one has different benefits. Doing one kind also can improve your ability to do the others, and variety helps reduce boredom and risk of injury.

What does 5 5 5 mean in a workout? ›

As the name implies, a 5×5 workout usually involves 5 sets of 5 repetitions. The goal is to build strength in compound movements by adding weight every time you do the workout. You'll only do these workouts 3 times a week, as the rest days in between workouts are crucial to encouraging muscle growth.

What is the most important phase of exercise? ›

A Warmup Prepares the Body for Optimal Workout Results

and ready to produce. The improved blood circulation increases your flexibility as well. Once your body has warmed up, it will be ready to perform exercises in the proper form, which maximizes your results as well as minimizes your risk of a sports injury.

What is a good exercise plan? ›

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week.

What does an exercise plan include? ›

Components of an effective exercise programme

An effective exercise programme should include the following elements: Aerobic exercise. Resistance training (weight training) Flexibility (stretching)

What is the most perfect exercise? ›

We posed this question to four fitness experts and compiled a list of their favorites.
  1. Walking. Any exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise, which strengthens the heart and burns calories. ...
  2. Interval training. ...
  3. Squats. ...
  4. Lunges. ...
  5. Push-ups. ...
  6. Abdominal Crunches. ...
  7. Bent-over Row.
15 Apr 2022

Which exercise should I do everyday? ›

Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, biking, swimming and mowing the lawn. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, heavy yard work and aerobic dancing.

Why do we make an exercise plan? ›

An exercise plan acts as a 'roadmap' that clearly identifies the steps you need to take to reach your desired destination. Without a plan you will be relying on a lot of luck to get you where you want to be. When you are setting goals, make sure that they are realistic and achievable.

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