Feeling a bit lost when it comes to programming a balanced workout schedule on your own? I totally get it. It can be overwhelming, confusing, and expensive….especially if you’re looking to boutique fitness studios to do the planning work for you with a membership. As a former personal trainer and instructor that worked at some of the most expensive and popular studios in the business, I know how brutally costly it can be.
Did you know you don’t actually need to spend $40 a class to see results and get in shape? More importantly, committing to an unlimited membership at studios with little class diversity can actually be counterproductive and cause injury, especially for beginners. In most cases, you can get results without a gym. All it takes is a balanced plan, consistency, and basic tools. I’m going to break down the framework I used to build programs for my past clients in this article, one you can replicate on your own. Use this article as a guide to building a program from the ground up.
How to Program Balanced Workouts 101
Step 1: Get Clear on Your Goals
The most important question to ask yourself is “What are MY goals?” Are you aiming to lose weight, build strength, improve flexibility/mobility, or improve endurance? Understanding your objectives will steer your workout program in the right direction. Of course, everybody is different, and you’ll have different weaknesses (mine is flexibility). Start from the ground up. Remember these three words in your first 30 days: gradual, consistent, and balanced. Never go straight to the heavy weights, go all in on one type of workout, or focus on a single body part. It can be tempting to gravitate to cardio classes in an effort to lose weight, however, overdosing on something like this can actually keep you from your goals long-term and cause injury. Secret: tons of cardio won’t make you lose weight faster, in fact, it can actually make it worse.
No workout alone is going to be *the best* for weight loss. It’s a combination of a caloric deficit, your own genetics/body chemistry, and a balanced workout regimen on strength and cardio. Cardio is so much more than just a treadmill sesh. Also, never OD on cardio, it will work against you. Branch out and try circuit or HIIT classes that focus on lifting weights/bodyweight exercises in quicker intervals. Anything that gets your heart rate up is in play, including low-impact workouts. I used a 2/2/3 schedule for my personal training clients who were looking to lose weight: 2 days of strength, 2 days of cardio, and 3 days of rest:
This can also be applied to those looking to build strength/tone their body, which we’ll get into below.
You’ve GOTTA lift heavy for this. Never be afraid of it making you bulky, it’s just not a thing unless you’re eating like Arnold. The gateway? Pilates with resistance. I hit the reset button in January after realizing I lost everything I gained prior to the pandemic during ski season. Start with the foundation, deep core strength. Pilates is ideal for this. Did you know it was invented to help soldiers rehab injuries? It’s truly for any body and any ability level. Once you have core strength and balance, you can begin to build into heavier weights and more complex exercises. You should aim to strength train no more than 4 days a week (if you’re already training and breaking up by push/pull). For beginners or those in reset, aim for 2-3 days a week, broken up by a rest day in between. Save cardio for the day after rest.
This should be a focus for everyone. 90% of your body aches and pains can be solved by improving your mobility. If you want to feel like you’re 25 when you’re 45, focus on mobility and flexibility. The game plan? Consistency. This is an easy add, as 15-20 min a day will help you begin to see results. For mobility, the same goes. You want a balanced routine that focuses on all the core joints that are usually tight from sitting at a desk or living life in general. The one below is a great tool to start:
If you’re a Peloton member, they have TONS of classes that focus on stretching that will help you. Pick one every day of the week! It’s safe to do so. My favorites are from one of my favorite free Pilates YouTube channels.
Step 2: Be a Generalist. To Start.
As a beginner or someone looking to get consistent again, start broad. Once you have a general idea of where you want to go, begin with a week or two of full-body-focused strength classes. Breaking up your body parts or via the “push/pull” methods is great, however, more effective for those who have been strength training consistently already. You can get back to that in a month or so, based on your progress.
If you’re a beginner or just getting back into the swing of things after a hiatus, start with 2-3 days per week with a dedicated full-body focused workout. Aim to do something active every day though, like a light walk or stretching. Mix it up with a strength class/set, cardio session, and mobility/flexibility (yoga works for this). Aim to have at least one day of rest in between each dedicated workout day. Your gains will be made on rest days. If you are consistently putting your body in fight or flight and not giving it recovery, it will work against you, spiking your cortisol and causing your body to hold onto body fat/lead to injury. This was one of my biggest concerns with my group fitness studio: 30-day challenges that put beginners (and really everyone) at risk with back-to-back HIIT bootcamp classes for a month. It can be very damaging to your body long term without rest and diversity of training.
Month 2 and Beyond
You can start to break up your workouts into body parts at this point if you’re feeling capable enough. As you progress in strength training, drop a day of classic cardio for another strength day. The tread bootcamp classes on Peloton are great ways to get a bit of both in. If you don’t have a subscription or free access to it, this YouTube playlist is a great alternative. Only up your weights if you’re not getting all the way to muscle failure at the end of sets. Adjust as necessary moving forward.
Your Free Workout Library
Use these YouTube channels and pick workouts for your ability level and goals/interests. They’re comprehensive enough to keep you interested long term and challenging for all levels of your progress.
Find all the tools I use in the gym that help me achieve my goals for Pilates, mobility, and strength on my Amazon Storefront List.