New year, new goals. Many people have some sort of exercise-related New Year’s resolution on their list of goals to achieve this year. If that describes you, you may be wondering just how to go about making a workout plan that you don’t hate, and that will give you the results you want to see.
Making a feasible workout plan can seem daunting. But by clearly defining your goals, focusing on overall health, and embracing the challenging days, you can create a plan that works for you.
Here are some tips to help you craft your perfect, personalized workout plan for the year ahead.
Set SMART goals
You’ve probably heard of “SMART” goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. This acronym can apply to fitness goals just as well as it can to goals in business, education, or many other fields. So before putting pen to paper or googling a workout plan, determine what exactly you want to accomplish.
Do you want to lose weight? If so, how much? Do you want to run faster and beat a specific time in a 5K or half marathon? Do you want to finish a full marathon, or swim 10 laps without stopping? Get specific. If your goal is measurable and attainable — not too easy but not impossible — you’ll be able to see progress and success, which will serve as great motivation to keep pressing onward.
Enlist the help of professionals
Most of us have no idea what we’re doing when it comes to creating a fitness program. But even those who do know a thing or two would greatly benefit from enlisting the help of professionals to help keep us accountable and our workout plans reasonable. For years, I ran mile after mile, thinking that more is always better — but this resulted in frequent cycles of mental burnout and overuse injuries.
But then, in college, I began asking my boyfriend — who had a background in exercise science — to write workout programs for me. And more recently I’ve begun drawing from the pros of the running world (like Hal Higdon) to help shape my regimen. I’ve discovered that the expertise baked into workout plans created or influenced by fitness professionals is worth it. You will avoid the question, “Am I doing too little, or too much?” because you always have an objective third party supervising your plan. In addition, it will give you a solid foundation from which to start — you can simply adapt a pre-written, professionally crafted workout plan to fit your schedule or time-frame.
Don’t be afraid of a challenge
When it comes to exercise, do what you love, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Don’t pick workouts that you hate so much that you’ll avoid them at all costs. Work on finding a healthy balance: You don’t have to love every workout — there are many lessons in grit and perseverance to be learned when we push through tough sessions — but don’t make fitness a thing to be dreaded every single day. If you hate swimming, avoid the pool. If you can’t stand the weight room, lift weights at home or learn how to do bodyweight exercises. But at the same time, be open to new things that may challenge you as you learn how they can benefit your health.
Don’t cut corners on the basics
No workout plan to improve your physical health is productive if you cut corners on the basics: diet, sleep, and mental health. These three areas of health all contribute to making or breaking a workout plan. You can’t make gains in the weight room or improve your 5K times if you eat too much junk food or if you skip meals for the sake of calories. Your body needs healthy food, and plenty of it, in order to fuel endurance activities and rebuild muscle tissue that is broken down during workouts. Eating clean — that means vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, with plenty of water, protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs — will keep your body fueled to build muscle, burn fat, and grow in physical fitness.
Similarly, your body needs sleep to restore itself. If you’re binging Netflix deep into the night or simply not practicing good sleep hygiene, you will notice the effects of sleep deprivation when you try to work out. A key aspect of learning to care for your body is understanding when it needs an extra hour of sleep instead of a hard workout.
Allow for unplanned breaks
One of the best things you can do to ensure the success of your workout plan is to allow for a few unplanned breaks. This is not to say that you should make excuses to skip workouts, but rather that mental burnout and physical overuse are real things. Taking a rest day can help you stay fresh and motivated to keep pushing toward your goals after a small break. Plan for periodic, unplanned breaks — a couple days per month, for example — and allow yourself to take these breaks guilt-free when you need them.
The big picture: Train hard, rest well, adjust, and repeat
Creating a personal workout plan can seem like an impossible task, but there are many resources to help you along the way. Enlisting the help of professionals, along with taking care to eat well, rest when needed, and set SMART goals will help you achieve encouraging and measurable progress toward your fitness goals this year.