2012-03-05

A Stationary Waves Guide to Designing Your Own Workout

As you know, I have made a number of workout plans available on the blog from time to time. Sometimes, in lieu of a full plan, I offer sets of workouts or recommendations. Yesterday is no exception: I provided myself - and therefore, you - with a new A-Day/B-Day workout regimen that could potentially help you build up a good fitness base for a summer's worth of running.

But my goal in writing Stationary Waves is not to amass an army of readers who hang on my every word, unable to make a single move without my clarifying wisdom (although, hey, that would be great...). No, my real goal is to provide readers with helpful building blocks that aid them in becoming fully self-sufficient individualists. That goes as much for my workout ideas as it does for my philosophy.

So what if you're ready to take the plunge and start making your own workout plans? Herein this post, I offer you my approach to creating workout plans.

Step One: Assess the Commitment
Some people can commit to working out every single day. Other people are busy and can only commit to working out a few times per week. You have to know how much total time you're dealing with. Not only that, you have to be honest about the potential gains that correspond to that level of commitment. Regardless of what you may have read in Women's Health, there is no magic bullet that will make you a Hercules or a supermodel in 30 days; or in just 30 minutes per day; or whatever. Big gains require a big commitment. Modest gains, though, are really great - and only require a modest commitment.

Step Two: Apply A Generalized Weekly Template
If you're an endurance athlete like me, then in general you will need to balance speed training with "going long." Putting in a long day of mileage really wears down the joints and muscles, so it is recommended that you only do this once a week or so. Doing speed work (the famous HIIT) primarily takes a toll on your muscles, so it is recommended that you only do this two to three times per week. Finally, given that recovery time is needed between each long or speed workout, we need some recovery days.

Well, that easily creates a convenient workout plan all by itself:

Mon = Recovery
Tue = Speed
Wed = Recovery
Thu = Speed
Fri = Recovery
Sat = Long Day
Sun = (Rest)

Done and done.

On the other hand, if you're more of a "general fitness" type, you have a few more variables to toss into the mix. Sure, you can use the above template without any problem and it would work well. But if you're not someone who plans on testing your overall level of endurance, you have little reason to engage in a "long day." To that end, you might benefit from replacing it with another day of HIIT. To that end, your week might look something like this:

Mon = Core workout
Tue = HIIT cardio
Wed = Weight training
Thu = HIIT cardio
Fri = Calisthenics
Sat = HIIT cardio
Sun = (Rest)

Step Three: Fill In The Blanks With Real Workouts
Now that you have a general idea of what you're supposed to be doing every week, you can start coming up with workouts that conform to your template. Here is where most of your good judgement comes into play.

For you "general fitness" buffs out there, consider the template above. A good core workout should be around 30 minutes in duration and should cover all of your major core muscles. You should also be careful not to give any one particular muscle a disproportionate workout (so 20mins of crunches and 10mins of box jumps is probably not a good balance). So you apportion movements accordingly.

The next thing you want to keep in mind pertains to the HIIT or speed workouts. Doing exactly the same fast workout is a really bad idea. First of all, it wears your muscles down, and second of all, even when it doesn't, it doesn't give your muscles as good of a workout as if you try a few different things.

So, on HIIT days, you might do 200m repeats one day and 800m repeats another day. You might try a fartlek workout one day and interval swimming the next. So long as you're not doing the same thing each time, you should be alright.

Step Four: Anticipate Your Weekly Progress
Whether you're training for a big race, a big vacation, or major social event, your workout regimen should always have some sort of milestone or end point. This end point represents the theoretical apogee of your physical fitness within the time-horizon of your training.

That means, if you want to, say, train for 18 weeks solid to run a marathon, you have to start with simpler workouts that steadily build on your progress, increasing mileage regularly and building on the intensity of your speed training.

If you did 3 rounds of 10 push ups this week, do 3 rounds of 11 next week. And so on... The key here is to look at your workout plan across weeks and make adjustments so that you're building intensity as you go.

And a final word here: For major athletic events like races, you will want to back way off your training in the final two weeks. Take a look at my marathon training program for guidance here.

Conclusion
That's pretty much it. It's not as difficult as it might seem to a novice. Just remember that it takes some experience to get a program "right" for yourself. You may accidentally take on more than you can handle, or you might wind up with a plan that doesn't really challenge yourself. If this happens, don't worry. You can always try again. The more you do it, the better you get.

Good luck!