Designing a Workout Plan for Beginners: How To Get Started

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

A workout plan is a must-have for anyone working out, especially as a beginner. Follow these 4 steps to ensure your workouts aren’t random and are meeting the goals that you have for yourself.

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Before I became a certified personal trainer my workout routine was a choose-your-own-adventure random assortment of activities. I always dreamed of building more upper body strength and increasing my endurance but I never sat down to build a workout plan that actually worked towards meeting those goals. It was always my assumption that only “serious athletes” or “hard-core gym buffs” planned out their workout routine. I assumed that if I wanted results, I just had to work harder for them.

While this isn’t an uncommon assumption among beginners at the gym, it, unfortunately, can often lead to disappointment when there is a lack of results and missed expectations. One of the biggest benefits of building a workout plan is being upfront with yourself from the beginning. When you build a workout plan you are outlining exactly what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it.

If you find yourself in the beginning stages of working out and need direction on where to get started I’ve outlined 4 steps below that you can take today to build out your own workout plan.

Step 1: Determine what your goals are for working out

Before you start building your schedule and picking out exercises that you want to do, it’s important to determine what exactly your goal is with working out. This could be weight loss, muscle growth, training for a competition or race, or just trying to improve your overall health.

Regardless of whether your reason is specific or general, it’s important to outline exactly why you are working out and what exactly you want to achieve. This gives direction to your workout plan so that the activities you choose aren’t random, but are all working together to meet the expectations you have.

A few things to keep in mind when deciding your goal:

  • Focus on one goal at a time: A big reason why beginners starting a workout plan drop out or give up is that they are trying to do too much all at once. By focusing on one goal at a time you can narrow in on what you need to do and start to build confidence when you meet a goal and can move on to the next one.

  • Make it SMART: Your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. When you make goals like “I want to be healthier” you make it near impossible to ever cross that goal off the list because how do you know when you’ve achieved it?

  • Start easy and go slow: Your first goal if you are new to working out shouldn’t be to run a marathon. Your first goal should be to run a 5k, then a 10k, and so on. Just like you wouldn’t set your eyes on Mount Everest as a new hiker, don’t set your goals too high so that you can never reach them.

Step 2: Develop a schedule that works for you and be honest about what’s realistic

Now that you’ve determined your SMART goal and you know what you want to achieve, the next step is designing a schedule to get you there.

The key thing to keep in mind when designing a workout schedule is that you need to be able to commit to it. This is why it’s important to be realistic. Don’t create a schedule where you will be working out 6 days a week if you can’t reasonably make that happen.

Just like with your goal setting, start slow by aiming to work out 3-4 days a week and building in time for rest and active recovery. If working out consistently is new for you, starting slow is not only encouraged from a goal-setting perspective but from a health perspective as well. Taking your body from 0 days of working out to 6 days of working out is bound to lead to injury and frustration.

Let’s say your goal was to lose 10 pounds by the holidays. A sample schedule you could build for yourself might look like this:

While each week might look a little different, figure out what you are going to commit to and enter each week with the expectation that you have to build in that time for yourself.

As for what kinds of exercises you should do, use your goals to guide the way. If you have a goal of losing weight, then build in cardio as well as strength training into your routine. If you want to train for the upcoming ski season, tailor your workouts to building that necessary leg and core strength along with cardio.

Step 3: Mix it up!

So now you’ve developed a workout routine that will help you meet your goals and you have mapped out when and what you will be doing each day. Next, it’s important to remember that while consistency is key to making progress towards your goals, varying your workout is what will really challenge and strengthen your body.

It’s no secret that the more times you perform an activity, the better you will get at it. The same concept applies to fitness. If you repeat the same workout or activity over and over again you will get better at it, but your body won’t get stronger. By repeating the same muscle actions and demands this not only leads to reduced growth in the body but could lead to stress on the muscles that you are repetitively activating.

An ideal workout routine is one that accomplishes your goals while varying the activity you are performing. For example, if you are training for ski season and every day you complete a leg blaster routine with similar exercises eventually your muscles will give out and this will lead to exhaustion or overuse injury. Instead of getting your leg muscles ready for ski season, you will end up injuring yourself and be less likely to send it on the slopes.

Instead, plan a schedule like the one below that involves multiple activity types that you vary and switch up over time.

Step 4: Track your progress and adjust as needed

When you set a goal you are doing so because you hope one day to accomplish it. A successful workout plan is one that not only helps you work towards those goals, but actually monitors them so you can swerve, adjust, and recalibrate as needed. And, most importantly, so that you can celebrate those goals once you realize you’ve achieved them. You can’t do either of those things if you don’t have a system in place to track your progress.

There are a lot of ways to track your progress but below are some suggestions for ways you can monitor how your workout plan is going:

  • Keep a journal: Make a note of what exercises you completed, how many, and of how intense the workout felt. This is a great tool to look back on over time to see how you have improved as your body gets stronger.

  • Keep a record book: This could be an Excel spreadsheet that you update every week or a piece of paper hanging above your desk. Whatever it ends up looking like, use this record book to keep track of the numbers you are monitoring. This could be your weight, heart rate, rep count, 1 rep max, you name it. Whatever numbers you care about make sure to record them on a consistent basis and observe any trends.

  • Download a fitness tracker app: There are a ton of apps out there that not only provide workout content but actually help you monitor your progress. These can be a great option for tracking on the go.

Having a workout plan is crucial for success but that doesn’t mean you are married to your plan once you create it. Listen to your body and be honest about what’s working and what isn’t and use that information to make changes as needed. In fact, a successful workout plan is one that is adjusted over time to meet your needs, not one that remains static.

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