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Build Your Perfect Workout

Anyone can get in shape with this scalable exercise plan


Updated December 02, 2013

When it comes to safe and effective exercise, that are some basic tips that apply to everyone no matter how fit or unfit you are. The beauty of exercise is that it is scalable. One workout doesn't fit all, but the same exercise principles do. So if you want to get the most out of your workouts without risking injury or burnout, and without a complicated weekly schedule, use this basic workout routine and get fit now.
  1. Build a Fitness Foundation Before You Build Intensity
    As anxious as you might be to get going when you first start a new exercise routine, force yourself to start slowly and do less than you think you can do. Many exercisers make the mistake of starting out too fast, too long and too hard, only to develop soreness or an injury and quit within a month of two. Don't be one of them. Your muscles, joints and cardiovascular system will adapt to training, but it doesn't happen in a day or even in a week. Give yourself a month or more to build your fitness base before you pile on the intensity.

    If you are new to exercise, you may even want to keep your first month of exercise to thirty minutes a day at a fairly casual pace. And of course, you should check with your doctor before you start any intense exercise. If you have heart disease or other serious conditions, intense exercise can be dangerous. So be safe, check with your doctor, and start slowly.

  2. Add Intensity With Interval Training
    After you have build a solid base of fitness with steady, regular exercise for a month or so, you'll need to begin increasing your intensity to build your muscle strength and cardiovascular system. For most people this means adding a few short intervals to your workouts.
    • A short interval is a 30 second burst of speed or effort that pushes you to your exercise threshold. The short intervals help build strength, endurance and burn a lot of calories quickly. Beginners can usually do several short intervals in a workout once or twice a week. Advanced athletes can do many intervals in a session, but still should only do these workouts once or twice a week with recovery days between.
    • A long interval can last two minutes or more, and will likely cause lactic acid to build up in the bloodstream. Even the most conditioned athletes will only do a few log intervals during a workout. A true long interval pushes even a well-conditioned athlete to the breaking point, with burning lungs and legs. These intervals are not recommended for beginners.
  3. Sustained Aerobic Efforts
    Sustained workouts are generally the basis of most endurance athlete's workouts. Cyclists, runners and triathletes need to develop the ability to go long and hard. Generally these workouts push an athlete to the point of fatigue, at which point they back down slightly and keep a sustained effort going. Then they begin pushing the pace again until the burn sets in, and again, they back off a bit but keep going. This cycle is repeated for long training sessions. Over time, their ability to work at a high intensity for long periods of time (hours) develops.

    Elite endurance athletes often use lactate threshold trainingduring these long, sustained efforts to boost their lactate threshold (LT). These workouts are not for everyone, though, and not necessary for anyone just trying to get and stay in shape.

  4. Build Strength With Max Efforts
    The most effective way to build muscle size and strength is to use maximal efforts when doing resistance exercise. But even while doing endurance exercise, you will build muscle during the hard efforts. The muscle soreness felt in the days after any intense workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This soreness is actual the result of microscopic muscle damage. As the muscle fibers repair and heal, they become stronger and larger. The key to building strength is the cycling between hard work, and plenty of rest and repair. Exercising a sore muscle is not smart; it simply keeps tearing down the muscle fibers and doesn't allow proper repair.
  5. Active Recovery After Intense Exercise Boosts Fitness
    Serious athletes require more recovery than the casual exerciser, and the amount of recovery needed generally depends upon the length and intensity of the exercise. But rather than taking a day of complete rest, athletes are encouraged to do a form of active recovery, in which you exercise at low intensity as rather than doing nothing. Research shows that active recovery makes the muscles more fibrous, which helps prevent injury during harder workouts. That means the hard workouts can be a little bit harder. This, in turn, leads to more muscle strengthening.

Putting These Tips Into Practice

Here are two simple training routines you can use to craft a basic weekly workout that meets you where you are, and then challenges you to steadily improve your fitness. This simple plan can work for anyone, and is a basic outline that all serious athletes use to build fitness.

A Basic Beginner Workout Routine
Beginning exercisers can use a basic weekly routine that involves exercising a bit harder for three nonconsecutive days a week. The four days between the hard efforts are used for easy, low intensity active recovery exercise. If you still feel fatigued or sore on a day that should be a hard day, take another active recovery day and alter your schedule going forward. Don't ignore the warning signs of injury your body may be sending, and never exercise with pain. Most injuries occur when people justify some little aches and pains and push through a nagging issue. If you feel any pain or ache, stop doing anything that aggravates it and do something else.

  • Hard Days
    The hard days are your work days. Start slowly and get a good warm up, and then begin picking up the pace. Find a high intensity effort that you can keep going. When you start to feel like you are going to give up, slow down your pace and recovery a bit, but keep going. You should always be just on the edge of the point of fatigue. Continue with this sustained effort for your intended time (20 minutes is a good goal) or until you feel fatigue that doesn't ease up. Then quit for the day. That's a hard day.

    If you want to add in an interval day, you can simple add a few 30 second bursts of all out effort two or three times during your sustained effort.

  • Easy Days
    Easy days are just that. You should move around at a comfortable pace and not have any discomfort or fatigue. This is the day that you repair and refresh so the next hard workout can be a full effort. Don't make the mistake of doing too much on an easy day, because it will limit your effort on the hard day. Exercise casually. Go for a walk, spin the bike while reading. Do some stretching and use a foam roller. Just don't push yourself.

    Pay attention to how your body feels on your easy day, and attend to any soreness or tightness before it develops into an injury.

  • Progression
    To make gradual improvements in your fitness, simply increase the intensity and time of your hard days. Don't change your easy days; they are meant to be easy.

A Basic Advanced Workout Routine
For the more advanced and serious exerciser, a good basic exercise training programs will include:

  • Two harder interval training days.
  • One harder sustained effort day.
  • Four active recovery days.
  • Note: The hard days should not be back to back, but be separated by at least one recovery day.

One sample schedule would be to do a short interval workout on Tuesdays, a long interval workout on Thursday, and sustained hard workouts on the weekend. This is a good schedule for the recreational athlete who compete on the weekends. In between the training days are your active recovery days that let your muscles rest, recovery and refuel. As with the beginner workout routine, you should be fully recovered before doing a harder workout and if you aren't, add another easy day until you are ready for the hard days.

No matter what your level of fitness or your experience with exercise, following these basic principles, and setting up your workouts to alternate between easy and hard days, will help you get the most out of the time you put into your workout. In general, you will gain more health benefits from those more intense days when you follow them up with active recovery days.

To take it all to the next level, you can begin to add in a variety of types of exercise and do a bit of cross training. This will help you avoid over training specific muscle groups or developing overuse injuries.

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