Design Your Own Exercise Routine

Are you trying to resurrect an exercise regimen that worked for you in the past? Do you have a routine that's feeling too "routine"? In fact, are you starting to wonder how much longer you can keep it up before surrendering to that nagging desire to quit? Looking for effective ways to release stress? Perhaps you've exercised sporadically all your life and feel ready to make a greater commitment to protecting your physical health. Maybe some change in your health is the reason for your new interest in taking better care of your body. Or, maybe you've never been one to exercise and you're finally willing to give it a try. If you're ready to address any of these questions, it may also be time to consider the following advice and types of activities as part of designing your own exercise routine:

By Valerie Perry

Starting sensibly    to top

As you contemplate a reasonable plan for yourself, think about training versus cross-training. Are you the type of person who gets easily confused or frustrated by too many choices? You may feel that you have to make too many decisions in other areas of your life and just want to "keep it simple" when it comes to exercising. If this is the case, you may opt for one type of training, exclusively. Pick something you'll enjoy. On the other hand, if variety is the spice of your life, have fun with cross-training—mixing up a few types of exercise, alternating from one day to the next. When you're up and running, exercising anywhere from four to six days a week is considered optimal.

More important, if you're aware of any medical conditions that require special care, consult your physician and obtain his or her approval and/or guidance before you begin. You always want to work with yourself to obtain the results you seek.

No matter what, always remember: Exercise isn't your punishment—it's your reward.

  • Wise Workout
    If you're tired, feel sore, have a cold, the flu, or are otherwise under the weather, never overdo it. If you're doing fairly strenuous exercise, it's also a good idea to work out every other day rather than daily to make sure you don't invite injury and also give your body enough rest between workouts.

Finding Your Best Time: You want to set yourself up for success, so be sure to pick a time of day that feels natural. Not an early riser? Try working out before dinner or at least an hour after eating your evening meal. Too tired after working all day? Get up an hour earlier and exercise before dealing with the day's business. Tired of extended power lunches? Skip them; exercise instead, but be sure to make time for nourishing your body afterward. Got extra time over the weekend? Set aside an hour or two for your workout on Saturday, Sunday, or both days if you're so inclined. Perhaps you're even flexible enough to combine all of these options in the course of a week.

  • Wise Workout
    Warm up! Stretch before you begin your workout, no matter what type of exercise you choose! Your body will thank you for it.

Walking, Jogging, and Bike Riding     to top

Walking, jogging, and bike riding are all aerobic exercises—they entail coordinated movement of the large muscles in your upper and lower body, which is sustained for an extended period of time (fifteen to twenty minutes or longer). Aerobic exercise is geared toward maximizing the rate at which your metabolism allows you to burn calories, at the same time strengthening your cardio-vascular (heart and lung) tissues by making more oxygen available to them. See "Aerobics and Dance," below, for more on this topic.

  • Walking: Walking is often considered the most accessible and beneficial exercise for many reasons. First, the only equipment you need is your body and a place to walk. You can make an extra effort to find a place you like, or you can simply leave your home, briskly put one foot in front of the other for a couple of miles, and return after at least forty minutes. Second, it's an excellent way to get fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. Lastly, it's easy on your joints and muscles. Average calorie burn: 260 per hour at 3 to 3.5 mph.
  • Jogging: Jogging is harder on your joints and muscles than walking, but you do cover more ground within the same period of time. While both types of exercise offer the same benefits, you may think of jogging as a "step up" from walking, or simply as an alternative. It can be fun to train for 6?0k runs that are regular events where you live, or even outside of your area. It's possible that setting these kinds of goals and attaining them will give you the impetus for sticking with a jogging routine. Average calorie burn: 590 per hour at 5.5 mph.
  • Wise Workout
    In keeping with your increasing consciousness of your body, pay attention to what you eat. Those little booklets at the checkout stands contain useful information about all the fresh fruits and vegetables that can compliment your efforts.

  • Bike Riding: Unlike walking and jogging, bike riding involves two pieces of hardware—don't forget a decent helmet. These requirements alone may serve as motivation for you to get your money's worth out of your purchases. Bike riding is potentially less aerobic than walking and jogging if stopping at intersections is a factor or if you tend to stop and start. So, if possible, you may want to choose a place where you can ride for at least thirty minutes nonstop to get the most out of this type of exercise. Average calorie burn: 378 per hour at ten mph on level ground.

Aerobics, Dance, and Yoga    to top

In addition to being a vehicle for burning an average of 350 calories in a one-hour class (depending on your weight, gender, and body composition), aerobics and dance are an outlet for your physical creativity and expression. Plus, you get to listen to music while you work out, which may help take some of the "pain out of the gain (benefits)." While there is no scarcity of aerobics tapes on the market, you'll also find several classes at health clubs and studios. For some, working out with a group makes all the difference. Classes typically consist of a warm up (ten minutes), either high- or low-impact aerobics (thirty minutes), abdominals and/or lower-body exercises (ten minutes), and a cool down (ten minutes).

  • Wise Workout
    Step aerobics can be fun for those of you who like exercise gadgets. The step or bench itself is fairly inexpensive if you want to buy one for home, and many health clubs and studios use them in classes as well.

Varieties of dance may also be appealing if you have an interest in certain cultures or specific styles and types of dance.

  • Yoga: If you're drawn to a more spiritual mind-over-body experience, consider yoga. You can do yoga easily at home by following a book or videotape, or you can attend classes at your local YMCA or exercise facility. Yoga consists of various postures accompanied by coordinated breathing interspersed with meditation. Dedicated practice may prove an effective way for you to remove unwanted stress from your life while getting some exercise, and you just may discover a new exercise to add to your routine!

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