On the heels of my last post, on why women should embrace resistance training, comes a basic workout regimen for getting in better shape.
I’ve sent this write-up to a few female friends in the past. It’s a simple, yet comprehensive program for anyone looking for a concrete answer to the “how do I start a workout program?” question.
It’s effective for both women and men and doesn’t require a gym membership or any equipment (although you’ll want access to weights, eventually).
Consult a health professional before starting any new program.
Beginner Workout Plan
Four days of exercise a week to start (Tuesday- Friday or Mon-Thurs works for a lot of folks, doesn’t have to be consecutive day).
(Google and Youtube are your friends for learning proper form for these exercises).
You should be doing warm-up exercises that activate the specific muscles you will be using during a workout, not the old, phys-ed “jog around in a circle for two minutes and we are good to go” routine.
We avoid doing static stretching before a workout, which is the usual ‘stretching’ that people do before and after working out. It actually hampers your muscle performance during a workout. We want to do ‘dynamic stretching’ (movement) before a workout, which mimics the actions required by your muscle during a workout. Static stretching should be done only after you are finished exercising.
(I’d take the time to help you pick out which of these warmup exercises to do and which to skip, but I want to avoid overloading you right now. Just do the stuff labeled ‘DYNAMIC MOBILITY’ before your workout. Skip the ’DOWEL STRETCH’).
(Do the ‘express warmup’).
Since you are doing bodyweight exercises for now, it’s not as important to do upper body/lowe rbody warm-ups for the exercises I prescribed below.
However, you must warm-up your lower body before you do any strenuous cardio (e.g. stair running), to reduce the chances of any muscle pulls or unwanted trauma. Most people pull muscles in their lower body while running/jumping etc. because they haven’t properly warmed up.
On to the actual workout….
1) Squats: 4 Sets of 10 repetitions. Rest a couple minutes between sets.
2) Pushups: 4 Sets of 10 reps. Rest a couple minutes between sets.
If you can’t do more than one or two regular pushups, try doing them with your knees on the floor. Stay with that modified push-up until you can do 20 of ’em. All the while you should be trying to get yourself to the point where you can do regular pushups.
You’ll get a chest like Superwoman. 🙂
3) Pull-ups: 4 Sets. How many reps? As many as you can do until you hit failure-the point where you can’t do anymore without comprising good form.
Some gyms have an assisted pullup machine, that makes it easier to do pullups.
You may have trouble doing even 1 or 2 pullups to start, so you might start with something like bicep curls with dumbbells instead.
(if you don’t have dumbbells, perhaps some textbooks, but if you’re at all serious, you should get access to dumbbells).
4) Lunges: 4 Sets of 20 reps per leg (i.e. 20 reps for left leg, 20 for right leg). Rest a few minutes between sets, or until your legs feel ready to go again.
5) Ab Planks: 4 sets of 30 sec-planks (1 Set= One 30-sec plank)
(No crunches or sit-ups–bad for your back).
* You could throw in some calf-raises to this workout plan if that’s a part of the body you wanted to work on. Something like 3 sets of 20 reps would work.
You should start these exercises using just your body weight. When you can exceed the max reps with good form, look to add some weight to it. The only way to challenge your body is to progressively increase the resistance/difficulty on these exercises, forcing your body to expend energy, which burns calories and creates good shape.
You keep adding weight, and in turn, you’ll see the physical results (there are other ways to increase difficulty, but adding weight is the easiest and most practical).
Anaerobic Cardio: Stair or hill running (twice a week minimum, three would be better): 4 Sets of 3 reps).
– If you have a semi-steep hill that’s at least 30yds long, that’s better than stairs, but you may not have that around you.
– Find a set of stairs with at least 10 steps (if fewer steps than that are available, you can put your math skills to use and adapt this workout)
– Run as fast as you can up the stairs, and then run as fast you can back down the stairs. That’s one rep.
– Do three reps (i.e. run up/down the stairs three times) without stopping and then take a two-minute rest after third rep. That’s one set. Do this routine four times—that’s the complete workout.
– Don’t hold on to the banister on the way up or down stairs. That’s cheating….
You can do this cardio workout after you finish your leg workouts, say, every other day.
Every few weeks you can add more reps (e.g. after two weeks, run up/down stairs four times in each set), reduce the rest time, and more sets to give you a better workout. This is an easier workout to get you started.
Stretching after workouts: Stretch all your muscle areas. Google for now, ask me for recommendations on what/how to stretch later.
There are many ways to organize a weekly workout schedule, but the above will work for someone just getting started. If you get too sore from a workout—perhaps your legs are really sore—it could help to separate upper body and lower body workout days.
No matter how you slice it, you should be working upper body and lower body a minimum of twice per week each.
For example, you could work out upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, upper body on Thursday, lower body on Friday, so you’d have at least 48 hours between certain workouts.
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Leg workout and Stair Running
Thursday: Upper Body
Fri:Lower Body and Stair Running
Sat: Off (some leisure activity, like walking or whatever you like to do. Crochet. Lol.)
Note I didn’t recommend any long 40 or 50-minute jogging or aerobics session. Long, steady-state workouts are wildly-overrated for burning fat and can lead to repetitive-motion injuries (e.g. sore feet, knee pain).
Other good cardio:
– Jump roping
– FAST CYCLING/Bike Machine
– FAST jogging ( where you run about 75pct of your top speed, not sprinting, or slow jogging) is also highly effective and produces great results in 20minutes of work or less.
I still recommend hill running or stairs as the best cardio workout, as it combines the ‘best’ fat-loss in the shortest time while keeping chances of injury low.
If you swim often (I’m guessing you don’t do that much), that’s also a really good cardio to incorporate. It’s a tough workout with no harmful impact on your joints.
You can throw in walking whenever you want, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for cardio. Walking, on it’s own, does next to nothing for fat-burning/curve-sharpening, unless you are walking up hills.
Before you commence any new exercise program, I’d recommend….
1) Technically, I should advise you to ‘consult a doctor’, but you should be fine doing this stuff. You aren’t doing anything like this.
2) Take pictures of yourself without clothes on.
Yeah, no clothes.
From different angles, so you can capture every angle of your body.
Hold a newspaper or something as a frame of reference, so you can chart your progress over time. You can take photos every six weeks or so. Looking at photos of yourself over a period of time is good motivation to continue and provides an in-your-face documentation of your progress.
3) Weight yourself a maximum of once per week (you should do this at a consistent time/day each week so you can have a consistent measure. Morning before you eat/drink anything is ideal).
Do this just for your own information, but don’t take too much from it. The scale is a terrible measure of the shape you are in, as some weeks you may not lose weight–or even gain it—and you’ll be better off. You might have gained some muscle and lost some fat, which is excellent. The scale doesn’t account for changes in body fat percentage.
Noting how your clothes feel (do they fit better?), how you look in the mirror, and how your body feels are more reliable measures of progress than the scale. The scale is useful, but it causes laymen a lot of stress because they overrate the importance of how much they weigh compared to how much fat they’ve lost, muscle they’ve gained, and how they feel.
If you can, measuring your body fat percentage would be helpful (once every month or six weeks). You can see how you’re progressing. They sell body-fat calipers online, but I’m not certain how reliable they are.
Hopefully, your head doesn’t explode from all this info. I simplified everything without cutting out things that are essential for your well-being in the long run (e.g. warm-up, post-workout stretching).
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