In this article, I’ll talk about some basics of mapping a fitness plan.
I realize that some are allergic to the word planning or anything of the sort. Realize, however, that constructing a basic fitness plan is creating a roadmap to help you reach your goals.
Also, realize that your goal is completely within reach, you will just need to get some of the milestones/benchmarks set up and maybe think about obstacles that may come up.
Periodization vs. Forward Planning
There are two ways we can look at a fitness plan. The first is to look at periodization. “Periodization is the systematic organization of training periods to facilitate the most efficient path from goal setting to goal attainment.”
Essentially in a periodized plan, each cycle works to prepare the body for the next cycle.
A periodized program can be divided into three parts: a macrocycle, the mesocycle, and the microcycle. A macrocycle usually last around a year. A mesocycle is a smaller segment of that – typically a few months. The microcycle is the smallest segment and usually lasts one to several weeks. Typical mesocycles follow this sequence: Preparation, Strength Building, Strength & Power, Maintenance Phase, and Active Rest.
When it comes down to it, by-the-book periodization is really only useful for elite athletes. We can use some of the principles to develop plans useful for our needs, however.
Another way of approaching our fitness plan is to use a forward planning approach. In this method, we setup a few benchmarks or milestones that act as goal posts by which we can gauge our progress.
This way is a little more flexible allowing for adjustments and tweaks as we go along.
The average person has many constraints on their time which an athlete may not face. It also allows for a degree of adaptability which a set-in-stone periodized plan does not.
Principles To Consider
I borrowed these principles from a textbook called Foundations of Professional Personal Training from canfitpro. Though you may not want to be a personal trainer, it’s useful to note these terms as they will inform you in the planning process.
FITT – frequency, intensity, time and type – when plugging an exercise into your plan, you should know how often, how intense, the duration and maybe what equipment or what exercise you plan to use.
Individualization – everyone is different. Your plan should consider your needs, strengths, and weaknesses.
Specificity – If you want to improve your running ability, as an example, then you must make running the focus of your plan.
Progressive Overload – your plan should continually challenge you in order for any kind of growth to occur. Tweak your program every 2 weeks or so. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and definitely not unsafe, but it should be just outside your comfort zone.
Recovery – recovery is an essential part of the process. This can come by way of passive or active rest – depending on factors like intensity and in consideration of any other extracurricular activities. It is essential that your systems be allowed to repair themselves before the next training session to avoid injury.
Structural Tolerance – the strengthening of joints will allow for greater stress and resistance to injury. This is true for most exercises, however, specific exercises may be necessary depending on the goal.
All-around development – this principle states that those who are well-developed in all components of fitness will be less prone to injury, illness and able to perform better in life.
Reversibility – when training stops, your body will gradually revert to its pre-training state.
Maintenance – after a certain level of fitness has been achieved, it will take less effort to maintain that fitness level going forward.
Fitness Plan Phases
This is the phase where you prepare your body for the intense work down the road. Maybe you’re new to working out. This phase is sort of a slow and steady jog. Take the opportunity to practice your technique. During this phase, aim for 1 to 3 sets of 10-12 reps each. You should aim to perform at 50-60% of your one rep max. Schedule 4-6 weeks for this phase.
The strength building phase is where you start to gain some momentum. You will have been doing the same movements (with slight variations) and should be able to access more power. This phase should last 6-12 weeks. Aim for 60-75% of your one rep max using 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Strength & Power
This is where you start to really hit your stride. Aim for 80-95% of your one rep max. 2-3 sets of 1-6 reps. Plan for 6-8 weeks in this phase.
The maintenance phase is where you hone in on the gains you made during the strength & power phase. Although you keep the same intensity, the amount of load you are doing is slightly less: 1-2 sets of 1-6 reps. Aim for 4-6 weeks.
This phase is just a brief respite from all the hard work you’ve done thus far. This period should last 1-4 weeks.
A segmented workout structure will be the best to use in most cases. Essentially, each workout is comprised of several specific segments. I’ve been using this method for several months now and feel great.
Consider the warm-up as your way of telling your body “OK. We’re getting ready to exercise now.”
A proper warm-up prepares the body by bringing the heart rate up, increasing blood flow and lubricating the joints. It should consist of two parts: a general and a specific warm-up.
The general part of the warm-up should always include a foam rolling session. Depending on how much time you have, you may choose to do a few minutes on the treadmill, elliptical or whatever you want. The general warm-up is 5 to 10 minutes.
The specific warm-up should focus on the resistance training program you have for that day. So, for example, if you’re working on legs that day, your warm-up may be comprised of a bodyweight leg routine. The goal of the specific warm-up should be to get your heart rate up to the target heart rate for that session. It should last 10-15 minutes.
This is the core of your program. Weights, bodyweight drills, high-intensity interval training, cardio. It all depends on what your goals are.
Abdominal work would also fit under the category of resistance training. You should limit yourself to training abs 2-3 times a week.
I’ll borrow a quote from Ready to Run by Dr. Kelly Starrett (which he borrowed from Trainer Magazine) “The aim of a cool-down period is a progressive reduction in exercise intensity allowing a gradual redistribution of blood flow, enhanced lactic acid removal from the muscles, and a reduction of body heat through convection and evaporation.”
You can do anything really for your cool down: light cardio, static stretching, etc.
If you go to a gym that has massage beds or chairs, it would be good to take a few minutes to do that after you worked hard.
Again, depending on your goals, this may include a post-workout meal, a nap, or whatever your program calls for.
This post is far from comprehensive, but it should be good enough for anyone looking to get a handle on their fitness.
As far as the actual exercises go, I’m going to leave that up to you. I would urge you to pick up a book like the Men’s Fitness Exercise Bible by Sean Hyson. If you are a woman, though, you may want to look for something more appropriate for your needs.
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