Writing your own workouts can seem like more work than it’s worth. It can be confusing and a little overwhelming to figure out what order to do certain exercises, how many reps/sets to do of each, and so on. And if you have access to the internet or a bookstore, most of the time you can find great workouts that have already been written for you. But chances are there will come a time where you have to write your own, whether it’s because you can’t go online to find one, or because you just can’t find one you like. I personally enjoy creating my own workouts from time to time. Since you know your body better than anyone, you can’t get a more customized workout than one you write for yourself. So here’s a rundown on how I like to order my workouts. There are different views on what order you should do exercises in, this is just my opinion and what works for me.
First of all, decide if you want to focus more on building strength, or endurance. If your main goal is to lose weight, you will want to incorporate a healthy mix of strength and endurance, not just one or the other. I talk more about how to do that in my post, 4 Weight Loss Myths (Debunked).
If you are focusing on strength, you should pick a part of your body to focus on. I usually break my workouts into upper (everything above the waist), lower (everything from the core down), or total body (every muscle group). As a general rule, it’s a good idea to hit your upper & lower body 2x per week. If you are a beginner, you can do a total body workout 3x per week, or every other day.
I’ve created a plan below that explains what category certain exercises fall into, as well as what order you should do them in. For strength-focused workouts, choose from the Power, Strength, and Isolation sections for the majority of your workout. You can add in some endurance at the end if you want as a burnout round. For endurance workouts, focus on the Power and Endurance sections. You can also perform Strength exercises with a low weight for a high number of reps to test your muscular endurance, but I would recommend focusing more on Power and Endurance exercises for improving cardiovascular endurance.
Warmup/Dynamic Stretching – Before you begin any workout, it is very important that you warm up first. This prevents injury and ensures that you are well prepared to give the rest of the workout everything you’ve got. I recommend that you spend at least 5-7 minutes warming up, or even longer if you are feeling particularly stiff. Pay attention to how your body feels. If you don’t warm up adequately and rush into your workout, you are setting yourself up to fail, or even get injured. Here are some exercises you can use to warm up:
- Light cardio (jumping jacks, jump rope, walking/jogging, etc.)
- Dynamic stretches (arm swings, hip circles, downward dog to cobra, etc.)
Here is a great warmup video by FitnessBlender:
Power – Power and strength are not the same thing. Strength is the ability to lift heavy stuff, or overcome a lot of resistance. Power is the ability to do the same thing, but fast. So power is basically explosive strength. If your workout is going to include power exercises, you want to do those before anything else while you are still fresh. When you get tired you tend to compromise your form, which puts you at higher risk of injury. Some power exercises include:
- Jump Squats
- Power Clean
- Box Jumps
Strength – This one is simple. Strength exercises build muscular strength, or the ability to lift heavy stuff or overcome great resistance. There are hundreds of ways to improve your strength, but here are some of my favorites. *Note:* When you lift weights for the purpose of getting stronger, use a heavy weight for less than 10 reps. Anything higher than 10 reps doesn’t really build much strength; it will just tax your muscular endurance. A great way to quickly grow in strength is to wear a weighted vest or hold a heavy weight while performing all of the exercises below for a lower number of reps. In short, high weight + low reps = building strength.
Endurance – Endurance is your body’s ability to perform well under stress for an extended period of time. Improving your cardiovascular (heart and lungs) endurance is a great way to prevent heart problems, lose weight, and even relieve anxiety. (The same can be said for strength training, but cardiovascular endurance is generally recommended as being more effective for preventing heart problems and relieving anxiety). Here are some exercises you can do for 20-60 minutes to improve and test your endurance:
- Power Walking
- Jump Rope
- Interval Training (see 4 Weight Loss Myths (Debunked))
- Jumping Jacks
- Star Jumps
If you do FitnessBlender’s interval training workouts for just a couple of weeks, you will learn a broad range of exercises that improve endurance and also build strength. Here is one example of one of their fantastic HIIT workouts (it also includes a great warmup):
Isolation – Isolation exercises are pretty much for the sole purpose of making your muscles more defined. These exercises isolate specific muscles to build and tone them, changing your body aesthetically. It’s best to save isolation work for the end of your workout, since it doesn’t require multiple muscle groups to work together. Some examples of isolation movements include:
- Bicep Curls
- Lateral Flys
- Hamstring Curls
- Chest Press
- Calf Raises
Many weight machines at the gym are geared towards isolation work more than functional movement. I personally prefer functional exercises since they not only define your muscles, but they also transfer over into everyday life, but if you are looking to add some extra muscular definition, isolation work is definitely the way to go. Just make sure you are also doing functional movements, and that you save isolation work for the end of your workout.
Cooldown/Stretch – This is important. Just like you should never skip a warm up, don’t ever skip the cool down. It’s important not to shock your body by working hard one minute, and completely stopping the next. A great simple way to cool down is to go for a leisurely walk for a few minutes until your heart rate slows down. You can follow this with some static stretches to relax your muscles and keep them from getting stiff. This can also help prevent or relieve soreness. Here is an example of a cool down routine: