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Designing Your Weekly Workout Schedule
by Michael J. Merlino, BBA, ACE, BSMI (CPFT, RES,SCS), CIAR
Owner, Merlino Fitness, MerlinoFitness.com

I have found that the key to maximizing your results in the gym is having a weekly plan. It amazes me how diligent most people are about planning their work in their daytimers and now on their palm pilots but do not take the same approach to their fitness program. The power of planning and logging what you are doing during your workouts cannot be over stated. So before we get into the nuts and bolts of weight training letís explore what it takes to map out a realistic workout schedule that will work for you.

Workout Schedule Ground Rules
Letís set some ground rules that will help you avoid let downs. These have worked well with my clients and my own workout schedule by keeping things on track and sustaining fitness momentum:

  1. Cross out the days that you cannot commit to
    These are days that never seem to work or conflict with other important things in your life. My suggestion would be to take a look and taking Mondays, Fridays or Sundays as potential days off. Mondays because well theyíre Monday and always more hectic. Fridays because well...who the heck wants to work out on Friday anyway? In Houston Fridays are synonymous with socializing and eating out. Sundays because it is a good day for church, family, running errands or just taking it easy. In the end you make your day off choice and donít be afraid to change if other things come up.
  2. Take a day off and shut everything down!
    Use this day to recuperate and focus on doing a good job on your nutrition to fuel up for the next round of workouts. Your body will enjoy the day off and you deserve it if you are sticking to your plan.
  3. Plan your week out every Sunday for the upcoming week
    Work around obstacles and assure yourself that you are getting enough activity in to meet your goals. Ask yourself what got in the way last week and how you can avoid those situations in the future but donít dwell in the past two long. Youíve still got the rest of the week ahead of you...
  4. Avoid playing catch up on missed workouts
    This will drive you nuts over time and is sometimes self-defeating. Realize that some days will spin out of your control and time may not allow you to get to the gym. We are all entitled to a bad day once in awhile when nothing seems to be clicking right. Yesterdayís gone and you canít get it back. Donít sweat it and set your sights on tomorrowís plan. If lack of time is the issue then find ways to avoid potential conflicts the next time, scale back workouts to get at least something in or modify your activity. For example, if you scheduled a 30 minute walk do 15 if that is all you have time for. If you planned a weight training workout but you donít have enough time to commute to the gym then do a quick 20-30 minute home session using light dumbbells, exercise tubing and good old fashioned pushups and crunches.
  5. Write it down! Ė Buy an exercise log and write down what you are doing.
    Log your cardio minutes and what you did. Write down specifics on your weight training workouts like what body part you worked along with what exercises you performed and how much weight, sets, reps etc. How do you know what to change later if you donít know what is working and more importantly what is not working?

Planning Cardio Workouts
Most of us should be doing some type of cardiovascular fitness a minimum of 3 days a week. Optimal is at least 5 and in some cases almost every day. The more body fat you have to lose the more cardio work you will be required to do to burn excess fat stores. Here are a few tips for mapping our your fat burning sessions:

  1. If weight loss is your goal make cardio days your top priority - You should be spending 80% of your workout time doing cardio and about 20% weight training or resistance training at first.
  2. Plan cardio sessions following weight workouts - You will burn more fat since you are already depleting the sugar stores in your muscles while lifting weights. This allows you to start burning fat quicker during cardio activities.
  3. Plan cardio sessions first thing in the morning - If you are a morning person, this will rev up your metabolism all day and allow you to burn more fat even at rest. Word to the wise...donít force a workout time upon yourself which you know will not or has not worked in the past. For example if you are not a morning person then you canít expect to be to consistent working out at 5:00 am.
  4. Avoid intense cardio on days when you workout legs with weights - Iím not saying donít work out legs when you do cardio just do less intense cardio. I like to get in non-weight bearing cardio in on leg weight lifting days like the elliptical trainer (EFX), stationary or recumbent bike. That way you get a nice slow fat burn without the weight bearing pounding of a treadmill or sidewalk.
  5. Mix It Up - Everyone has their favorite piece of cardio equipment where you spend most of your fat burning days. However, your body will love you for adding some variety once in awhile. This hits a wider range of muscles and varies the weight bearing load on the body not to mention reduces your gym boredom. Get out of your comfort zone once in awhile and try something new. If you are not sure how to operate the machine make the gym guy earn his wage by showing you how.

Planning Weight Training Workouts
Iíll admit, this gets a little tricky and complicated. If you read Bill Phillips Body For Life book you would think that we should all be on a bodybuilder workout schedule. Not realistic. I donít use cookie cutter weight training programs and schedules with my clients nor to I expect you to do it. The biggest reason why is that everyone has different goals and time issues that donít allow you to stick with your plan 100% every week. So I would recommend building wild cards into the schedule in case your plan A crumbles before your very eyes before Tuesday afternoon. Your goal with weights should be working every major muscle group at least two times per week for maximum benefit. Research shows that this is optimal for most people. This assumes that you are not a runway model or body builder which covers about 99.99% of us. It also applies to those trying to lose weight or bulk up. There are many ways to get there. Here are a few tips that should help:

  1. Arrange your schedule so every muscle group including abs gets 48 hours of recuperation time before it is worked again - The rest phase is just as important as the work phase when it comes to building lean muscle mass.
  2. Muscle variety is key! - Guys are notorious for hitting the glamour muscles (pecs, biceps, shoulders) and avoiding legs, hips etc. Women have a tendency to workout the glutes, thighs and hips and avoid the upper body. The anatomy is all the same and God put muscle there for a reason so work it all! Remember that no amount of weight training can spot reduce fat. Only cardio training will burn unwanted fat by the pound.
  3. Decide how many days per week you can commit to weight or resistance training - Structure your workouts as follows. Beginners should stick to overall body workouts for a few weeks before attempting split body routines.
    2 days per week Ė perform two overall body workouts
    3 days per week Ė perform one overall and two split routines (upper or lower) or splitting your muscle groups in half. We will discuss split routines in a future article
    4 days per week Ė two split body routines
  4. Give yourself a workout time limit - Too much more than an hour is sometimes overkill unless you are an athlete or training for a major event. Avoid idle chit-chat and get to work! Socialize between sets and keep it short or you will be closing the place down.
  5. A two set routine is still optimal but if you are pressed for time 1 set still gives you muscle maintaining and building benefits - New research points out that 3 set routines may not be what they are cracked up to be for the average American. I will be writing a future article that covers sets and reps in much more detail.

I remember a phrase that still sticks in my head from my corporate days. "Work your plan...plan your work." This also applies to your own exercise plan so take it as serious as your job or your profession. Keep consistent but never be afraid to change or improve your plan. Realize that you are human and life will not always allow you to make every workout. You know your body better than anyone else on this planet. You are well qualified for the job at hand, know what has worked well in the past and know what you should avoid. Stay consistent, sustain momentum, try these tips and you should be well on your way to a new, improved you.

"Exercise often...train smart...eat well...fuel your body...stay focused...train for life" TM




Weight Training
Lat Pulldowns
Pulldowns are a great exercise for the back muscles but avoid pulling the bar behind the head. Pull the bar down in front of the body toward the collar bone and with the bar just below your chin. Pulling the bar behind the head puts undue stress on the shoulders and rotator cuff.
Running
Avoiding Shin Splints
Do you have lower leg pain or shin splints from running? Running on hard surfaces, worn out running shoes and weak calf muscles could be the culprit. Try running on soft trails, buying a new pair of running shoes or adding calf exercises to your weight training routine.
Walking
The Talk Test
A great way to make sure you are staying in your aerobic fat-burning range is the talk test. If you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation with your walking partner you probably need to bring down the intensity to assure yourself that you are burning fat.
Fat Burning
Your Anaerobic Threshold
A great way to make sure you are burning fat during cardio sessions is knowing your anaerobic threshold or where your heart rate zone needs to be to burn fat stores. Find a gym or fitness center that offers anaerobic/VO2 testing. Merlino Fitness offers anaerobic threshold testing every month. Check out the link below for more details.
Merlino Fitness Metabolic Testing
Nutrition
Keys to Weight Loss
If you are trying to drop weight make sure you incorporate the following to get you on your way. Drink lots of water, don't skip meals (especially breakfast), do not eat late night meals or snacks after 7 or 8 pm and build as much activity into your everyday life as you can. Michael also recommends joining weight watchers to anyone trying to lose weight and keep it off long term.
Nutritional Supplements
Stay Away From Ephedra!
The weight loss/energy supplement is in the news again. Supplement companies that market this controversial supplement claim it is safe although many have died from this dangerous supplement. Make sure you check the labels of your nutritional supplements as many are laced with ephedra, also known as ephedrine or ma huang (the actual herbal).
Quick Tip Archives
Our archived collection of fitness and nutrition tips to help you stay focused and fit.
Tip Archives

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