Continuing to make progress...how do we do this? We are all on a continuous, non-stop journey...while our goals may evolve over time, we must stay in motion and continue to work in order to progress. However, we must plan and we must prioritize striking some balance within our plan in order to prevent burn out in the long run. What can we sustain? Too little is not enough and too much is not sustainable.
For example, let’s look at life after the Healthy Charleston Challenge (HCC). (Click HERE to learn more about the program or to sign up). It’s an intense and very successful, life changing 12 week program at the MUSC Wellness Center that helps participants lose fat, build muscle and improve overall health by building healthy lifestyle changes including exercise and nutrition. Within this program, participants learn the keys to lasting behavioral lifestyle changes for improved health and wellness, but of course, when the program ends, it is up to the participant to continue implementing what they’ve learned. The program involves a huge accountability factor as participants are accountable to their fellow team members, trainers and dietitians. Many people see great results during the program but may feel lost afterwards. What happens next? There are programs in place at the Wellness Center such as group training for HCC graduates, BUT what about those of you who want to try it on your own? Where do you start? How do you continue making progress? Will you be self accountable? The self accountability is up to YOU, but I’m going to help you with the “how” part. I’ll help you build a plan to continue making progress, but putting the plan into action is up to Y-O-U! Right now, make this a personal motto: “I CAN. I WILL.”
To continue succeeding, keep doing the things that helped you succeed in the first place. Don’t make it too complicated: you simply keep doing what you did to get where you are now. Don’t stop exercising. Don’t stop monitoring your nutrition. If you worked out 6-7 days per week to lose weight, do you need to continue at that pace? No. This is where life sustainable balance comes into play. Do what you can practically sustain, but certainly prioritize your health and wellness. By saying, “do what you can practically sustain”, I’m not saying just get by with an easy 1 or 2 days per week, I’m just saying, don’t burn yourself out. Strike a balance, but keep your healthier habits and working out as top priorities and don’t stop. Make this another personal motto: “Can’t stop, won’t stop.”
You might be wondering, “How do I come up with a plan without a trainer or a group to guide me?” Keep reading all the way to the end, because there’s something for everyone in this blog and if you don’t find something helpful, then let me know so I can try to help. That’s what I’m here for!
In this blog, I’ll lay out multiple plans that can all be tailored to your schedule. These are all based around resistance training because whether you’re on a fat loss plan or working to maintain your progress, weight training is critically important. Weight training allows you to maintain and even build muscle while in a caloric deficit. We’ve all heard “use it or lose it” and it’s certainly true when it comes to muscle. In addition to improving body composition and raising our resting metabolic rate, building muscle increases bone density, strengthens connective tissues, and lean mass can protect against and potentially reverse insulin resistance!
Here are some key weight training factors:
Train 3 to 5 times each week
Train each muscle group 1 to 3 times per week
Total training volume should be adjusted to a point of being able to recover (err on the side of caution when in doubt)
Your schedule availability is what will determine the type of workout plan you follow. Be realistic and create a plan that you can follow. So if you can only train 3 days per week, a full-body split, upper/lower split, or a combination of the 2 is your best bet.
On a full body split you’ll be hitting each muscle group an average of 2 to 3 times per week depending on exercise selection. A sample 3 day schedule which optimizes recovery very well might look like this: a lower body session on Monday, an upper body session on Wednesday, and a full-body session on Friday or Saturday. I’ll provide a sample a little further along.
If you can afford to train 4 or 5 days per week, then an upper/lower split or bodybuilding style body part split makes more sense because it will allow you to spread out the volume (sets and reps) over more days, which can be good for recovery, and optimal for muscle repair and muscle protein synthesis. This is why bodybuilders typically train in this fashion. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to benefit from this style of training nor will this style of training make you a bodybuilder (so, no fear ladies if big muscles aren’t your desired look).
I’ll lay out multiple plan examples working our way down from a 5 day weight training plan to a 3 day plan.
Keys: DB=Dumbbell; BB=Barbell; exercises listed as “a” & “b” denotes a superset, meaning “a” & “b” will be performed back to back without rest
Choose the weights for each exercise based on the following guideline:
If you can perform all the sets with the amount of reps listed on an exercise then it is time to increase the weight.
Ideally the weight should be high enough that you can reach the reps listed on the first set and have difficulty reaching the reps listed on the last two sets. Constantly challenging yourself with a progressively heavier load will provide the best results.
Sets and Reps example: 4 x 5 means 4 sets of 5 repetitions (rest between each set). So for squats 4x5, you would warm up gradually until you reach a weight in which 5-7 repetitions are challenging, then you would perform your squats for the specified repetition (rep) goal, rest 90 seconds, that’s 1 set, then move on to set 2, etc. If you don’t see a specified rest time designated, then rest anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute using how you feel as a gauge. You want to go into each set able to give your best effort.
Here’s what a 5 day plan might look like:
Monday – Lower Strength
1.Squats 4×6-8 -90 sec rest
2. Hyperextension 2×10-12
3.Leg extensions 3×12-15
4.Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 3×8-10
5.Seated calf raises 4×12-15
Tuesday – Upper Strength
1.Incline Bench Press 4×6-8 -90 sec rest
2.Chin-up or Assisted Pull Up Machine 4×5 -90 sec rest
3.Flat Dumbbell Bench Press 2×8-10
4.Seated Cable Rows 2×8-10
5.Seated DB Lateral Raises 3×12-15
6.Cable Face Pulls 3×12-15
Thursday – Chest/Triceps/Shoulders
1. Incline DB press 3×8-12
2.Decline Bench Press 2×8-10 OR Decline Pushups
3a. Flat DB Squeeze Press 3×10-12
3b. DB Rear Lateral Raises 3×12-15
4. DB Military Press 3×6-8
5a. Rear Cable Lateral raises 3×12-15
5b. Arnold Presses 3×10-12
6. Skull Crushers 3×8-10
Friday – Thighs/Hamstrings/Calves/Abs
1.Leg press 3×10-12
2. Weighted hyperextension 3×10-12
3a. Leg extensions 2×12-15
3b. Lying leg curl 2×8-10
4. Standing Calf Raises 3x10 reps
5a. Seated Calf Raises 3×10-12
5b. Physio Ball Crunches or Ab Wheel Rollouts 3×15
Saturday – Lats/Traps/Biceps
1. Close-grip Lat Pulldown 3×8-12
2. Single-arm DB Rows 2×8-10
3a. Seated Cable Row 2×10-12
3b. Seated DB Shrugs 2×12-15
4a. Face pulls 3×12-15
4b. Seated EZ Bar Curls or Machine Curls 3×10-12
5a. Band pull-aparts 3×8-10
5b. DB Hammer Curls 3×8-10/arm
Here is a sample 4 day plan:
Monday- Chest & Biceps
Bench Press 4x5 -90 sec rest
Incline DB Press 3x8
Cable or Machine Chest Flyes 4x12
Barbell Curls 4x5-7 -90 sec rest
Preacher Curls or Machine Curls 3x8-10
Seated Incline DB Hammer Curls 3x12
Tuesday- Back & Abs
Pull Ups (Assisted Machine if needed) 4x8-10
Barbell Bent Rows 4x8
Seated Cable Rows or Machine Rows 3x8
Lat Pull Downs 3x12
Crunch (machine or Cable Crunch) 3 x 12
Ab Wheel Roll Outs or Planks 3 x 45 sec
Wednesday - Active Rest Day (example: bridge walk) or Cardio Day (example: spin class)
Thursday - Shoulders / Triceps / Abs
Standing Shoulder Press- DB or BB- 4x5 -90 sec rest
Upright Rows 4x8
DB lateral raises 3x12
Rear Delt Flyes (DB or reverse pec deck machine) 4x12-15
Incline Skull Crushers 4x8-10
Tricep Dips 3x8-10
Tricep Cable Pressdowns (rope attachment) 3x12
Choose 2 Ab Exercises: 3 sets each
Friday - Legs
Weighted Squats 4x8 -90 sec rest
Leg Press 4x8-10
Romanian Deadlifts 4x8-10
Hamstring Curls 4x10-12
Standing Calf Machine 4x10-12
Seated Calf Raises 4x10-12
Saturday & Sunday - Cardio / Rest / Active Recovery
If 4 days is not feasible, then try this 3 day full body routine:
Monday -Workout A
Tuesday -off or cardio
Wednesday -Workout B
Thursday -off or cardio
Friday -Workout C
Saturday -off or cardio
Sunday -off or cardio
Squat (Heavy) 3x6-8 -90 sec rest
DB Lunges 3x8-10 per leg
Bench Press 3x8-10
Barbell Bent Rows 4x8-10
Superset with no rest between: 3 sets of 8-10 reps each of pushups followed by DB single arm rows
Plank 3 sets of 30 seconds
Deadlift variation 3x8-10
Leg Press 3x8-10
DB Overhead Press 3x8-10
Pull-ups (assisted machine if needed) 3x8-10
Squat or Leg Press 3x8-10
Hamstring Curls 3x10-12
Superset with 30 sec rest between sets
A. Incline DB Bench Press 3x8-10
B. BB Row or Seated Cable Row 3x8-10
Superset with NO rest: 2 sets each 10 reps:A. Pushups
B. Lat Pulldowns
Weighted Crunches 3x10
Substitutions: (if you need a substitute for any exercise and don’t see a feasible one listed here, then feel welcome to ask me).
Squats: leg press, machine hack squat (no smith machines for squats)
Barbell Bench press: incline bench, dumbbell press (incline, or flat), chest press machines
Barbell rows: seated cable row, t-bar row, machine row
Hyperextensions: leg curls (all variations), or hip thrusts/glute bridges (my preferred substitute)
Pull-ups: lat pulldown, or band-assisted or machine assisted chin/pull-ups
Deadlifts: Romanian deadlift, hex bar deadlift
Warming Up Properly:
When warming up for your work sets, do just enough work to prime your nervous system and prepare your body for the loads to come. However, there is no need to waste all of your energy on getting ready for the work sets.
Some people prefer to walk on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes, and some like to go straight into lifting. Whatever you like to do, make sure you never jump into your work sets immediately without warming up in some fashion. At least perform a light weight warm up set or two for each major muscle group before jumping into work sets.
How to Make Progress:
If you never add weight to the bar or try to increase the weights you’re lifting, then you’re never going to get stronger or elicit more muscle growth. The body only adapts when you force it to. Progressive overload is required to build muscle tissue. If you’re a female who worries about becoming huge or bulky from lifting weights heavier than your purse, then please rest assured that this is nothing to fear. That’s another topic in and of itself that I’m happy to cover if that’s your concern so contact me directly if that applies. It’s NOT going to happen unless you’re purposely working towards that and I can tell you from experience that it’s hard for women to “get big” even when that’s their goal as a bodybuilder. We simply do not have the hormonal profile to get that “big” and there are so many other factors which play into pushing muscle growth to that point. We are not doing that here so don’t fear the weights. The point is though, for all of us, men and women alike: If you’re not pushing yourself to get stronger on a consistent basis, then your body just won’t change. Progress is the entire point.
Let’s say you are going for 3 sets of an exercise and you’re able to get all three sets done with proper form and stay within the rep range (or pass it), then you know it’s time to add weight on your next workout for that movement. I recommend keeping a training notebook. Write out your workout and beside each exercise, note the weight you used and reps you got with that weight. The following week, based upon your notes, determine if you can push yourself up in weight a bit or strive for more reps. If it’s an exercise that is bodyweight based, like pushups, then you can still progress yourself.
Push-up progression: When you can do sets of 15 push-ups easily, elevate your feet on a bench behind you.
Now, cardio. It’s essential for good heart health and healthy weight management. For weight loss, the National Institutes of Health recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three to five days a week. You might choose to do your cardio on your non-weight training days or you might sprinkle it in after weight lifting. Choose what works best for you. I recommend either doing it on off days or AFTER strength training, but not before. Here’s what works well for me: I strength train 4-5 days per week. On upper body days (3-4 days), I perform 15-20 minutes of cardio right after I strength train. I do not do cardio on leg day for recovery purposes. I do 1 hour of spin each week on a non-lifting day and usually walk the bridge once per week on the weekend for active recovery on an off day. The amount of cardio is individual and needs to be tailored to you and your goals. You want to find the sweet spot of not too much and not too little. Endless hours of cardio is neither necessary nor recommended. Recovery is important.
If you do not feel comfortable with the idea of strength training or if reading the plans I laid out was like trying to interpret a foreign language, don’t worry...you still have options. Contact a personal trainer to go through these exercises with you (of course, that’s what I’m here for and I’m happy to help). OR, if you want to strength train in a group setting, sign up for a group training program OR take a group exercise class that specializes in resistance training. My journey in the gym began with regular attendance of group exercise classes. I took BodyBar classes 3 days per week for 2 years before I stepped into the weight room. I made great progress with those classes. The key is in consistency! Start where you’re ready!
Of course, before we close, we must discuss nutrition...as we well know, we cannot out exercise a poor diet. Weight gain results from energy imbalance over a prolonged time. If we fail to take our energy intake and expenditure into consideration then we are setting ourselves up for problems. Energy intake refers to the calories we are taking in via food and drink while energy expenditure (calories out) is where we can make a big effect on balancing calories in and calories out.
For optimal results, optimize both your training and your nutrition. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Have a plan in place to manage both your training and your nutrition. I already went through suggestions for planning your training and if you went through HCC, then you already have a great base of understanding for managing and planning nutrition. If you don’t have a good grasp on that yet, do not give up. Think progress, not perfection. Try to make better choices each opportunity you get. Contact me for specific questions. I’m here to help!
Your nutrition is fuel for your body. Eat well, perform well, and feel well.
Here are some simple and practical key points:
1. Know your calorie intake needs. Energy balance as mentioned before is important! I’m happy to help you figure this out. Contact me if you have questions.
2. Structure your eating: 3-4 meals per day spaced out by 2-3 hours. This is individual. Do what works for you, but try not to go too long between meals or you’re more apt to let extreme hunger lead to poor nutritional choices. I eat 5 mini meals spaced by 2-3 hours. It keeps me from having energy crashes.
3. Each meal should have a lean protein, a healthy carbohydrate and healthy fat source
4.Control your portions
5. Track your food: examples-MyFitnessPal or Cronometer
6. When you mess up, because you will, get right back on track with the next meal.
7. Consistency helps. If you eat nutritionally dense foods, then you can implore this method. I tend to eat very uniform for simplicity purposes. It makes tracking easier too.
My day tends to go something like this:
Same pre/post workout meal
Varied dinner (lean protein and carb sources vary)
Weekends more adventurous BUT in control
That’s enough to chew on for now.
In closing, you’ve got this. You can do it. Plan it out, carry it out! I’m a big believer that life changes as much as you want it to. It’s not about creating the perfect moment, the perfect opportunity or the perfect plan...it’s about this moment, right NOW. When you achieve one goal, set another...goal setting is a lifetime occupation. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Take some of these ideas and run with it. Don’t forget that I’m always here to help so send any questions my way.