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Creating Your Own Fitness Routine (Part 5-Conclusion): Set A Schedule

Creating Your Own Fitness Routine (Part 5-Conclusion): Set A Schedule

Anders Bjornson B.S., NASM, ACSM, ACE

Have you ever asked yourself “how much time do I need to dedicate to my exercise program in order to reach my goals?”  For most people, losing weight and/or increasing muscle are the two most important goals to attain so we will focus our attention to these two areas.  What most people don’t realize is that losing weight and increasing muscle are performance enhancement goals.  Simply put this this means that it takes a big commitment to make a major change to your body.  This commitment is shown through exercise, your nutritional intake, and recovery.  To fit all this into your hectic life with work, kids, social commitments and daily chores, an exercise schedule becomes the key ingredient to getting it all done successfully.  Let’s look at three schedules.  The first is for weight loss, the second is to gain muscle and lastly, the easiest of these three, a maintenance schedule for both.

Weight Loss  

Scheduling an exercise program, when the primary goal is to lose body weight, means that you will be exercising often and in a variety of ways.  The main idea and the priority of your program should involve moving your body as much as possible!  Usually this is thought of as burning calories or kilocalories, which is a measurement of heat.  We want to utilize as many calories as possible each day to create a negative energy balance.  The easiest way of accomplishing this is by thinking that each pound of fat that you are over your ideal weight, is worth 3,500 calories.  That’s a lot of calories! To create this difference, you want to create a negative energy balance of 500 calories per day, every day of the week, to get just one pound of pure fat loss off on a weekly basis.  It is safe and recommended that an individual can lose up to three pounds of pure fat loss, per week.  This means that 10,500 calories, as a deficit, is needed or 1,500 calories per day! So if weight loss is your primary goal, then get moving!  Additionally, this will require just as big of a commitment at the kitchen table when eating your meals and snacks. Exercising is only part of the plan so eating plenty of vegetables, lean proteins and cutting out all the empty calories in your food and beverages, is a must!  Eating healthy is another topic but remember, this is a performance based objective which takes a bigger commitment than maintaining what you currently have. So, how do you schedule a good cardiovascular program?  First, we want to build a foundation.  This means keeping your heart rate at an even level and at a relatively slow pace, approximately 65% to 75% of your estimated heart rate maximum.  We want to be safe and utilize as many calories as we can.  Start with three days a week for 20 minutes each session.  Once this is easy then you can increase one variable, time or duration, the following week. So if 20 minutes is easy, then 30 minutes becomes my new goal. If that is easy, then four times per week becomes the new goal, etc.  This foundation should continue until you are doing this program consistently five times per week for 60 minutes per session. Once we have this we can began a more advanced approach which is called interval training.  Interval training is a higher intensity type of training where the heart rate can get up to 90% or more for brief periods of time and then actively rest, which means moving slowly to recover. There are many different ways to do this, which is too much to discuss here, but the main idea is to incorporate this twice a week.  Because this is higher intensity training as measured by your heart rate, but done for a briefer amount of time, this interval day is also a great day to begin or include your resistance training.  An example of this advanced schedule would look like this; Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, complete a long duration cardiovascular training session for 60 minutes with a proper warm-up and a static flexibility program at the end. On Tuesday and Thursday, complete an interval training program for approximately 20 to 30 minutes of total time with proper warm-up and cool down.  Additionally, these are the days that you will also be doing resistance training for another 30 to 45 minutes as a full body routine.  Complete rest days are incorporated on Friday and Sunday.  It would be even more beneficial to do self-myofascial release (foam rolling or trigger point therapy) and a static flexibility program on these days as well, if you’re up to the challenge?  However, this would make them recovery days and not rest days. This idea becomes even more important if you want to be better prepared for next week’s training.

Weight Gain/Muscle Building

As mentioned previously, building muscle is a primary goal for many people and it is also a performance enhancing goal.  Instead of moving our bodies to utilize the most calories as our main goal, we want to increase our muscle mass.  This too takes a huge commitment.  There are many stages to train in order to achieve this with many different schedules.  The two main questions you want to ask yourself are “how big do I want my muscles to get” (within your genetic potential) and “how do I want to use this muscle?”  The first stage to getting stronger is the muscular endurance stage.  This is done with one to three sets and 15 or more repetitions per set. Usually, this is done as a full body exercise routine for a program of two to three days per week on non-consecutive days.  Once you have good form, can breathe properly, and recover from each set, we can move on to harder training. Harder training is measured in intensity and intensity is measured in how much weight you are lifting for a certain number of repetitions in each set.  In other words, lifting my maximum weight for one repetition in a squat movement is at a much higher intensity than lifting a weight in that same squat movement for eight repetitions.  So, the next stage is the hypertrophy stage.  This stage is a high volume stage. Volume is measured as the total work that you are doing. So volume becomes the number of exercises per body part times the number of sets for each exercise times all the reps per set.  This is one reason that bodybuilders split up their body parts to train because they spend a lot of their time in this stage of training.  This volume training works well to give you bigger muscles but recovery time is also important.  There are many routines but to add muscle, a minimum of four days per week is normal but it can be up to six days, depending on your goals and level of training.  A simple example of a hypertrophy stage program might look like this; Monday and Thursday would be dedicated to training chest, shoulders, triceps and core training with all aspects of legs, back, biceps and posterior core would be done on Tuesday and Friday.  Each body part would have two to three exercises with three to five sets each exercise with six to ten repetitions per set.  Recovery in between each set is often one minute.  Rest days would be Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The next stage would be a maximum strength stage.  In this stage, the volume is decreased and recovery in between sets and in between training sessions is increased because lifting heavier weights is more demanding on our bodies.  In this stage, multiple joint movements are emphasized.  These movements are the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press just to name a few.  In this stage, three days per week with five sets per movement with reps of one to five should be used.  Lastly, the power stage is the most advanced stage in training and in sports.  In this stage we want use the muscular strength, hypertrophy and maximum strength that we have developed thus far and move our bodies and/or resistance through a full range of motion as quickly as possible.  For sports, we want to do this through movements that mimic the actual sport we are involved in as well as traditional movements in the weight room so we can achieve this power adaptation.  One way to do this is to first complete a maximum strength exercise for one to five repetitions and then immediately perform a superset with a power movement of 10 repetitions.  For example, doing a bench press followed by a chest medicine ball throw would be power training.  This type of routine is the most advanced and should be cycled through in phases as one part of the whole muscle building program.  This type of training can be done three to four times per week. It should be noted that there are many ways to train to gain muscle but try not to stay in your favorite stage for more than six to eight weeks.  Also note that the hypertrophy phase is the most effective for building the actual size of the muscles but the other stages should not be ignored.


In comparison to losing weight or building muscle, maintaining what has already been achieved is relatively easy.  For maintaining one’s body weight, we no longer have to create the negative energy balance. Our activity and nutritional intake just have to balance each other to keep your current body weight. This can usually be done through self-monitoring.  Weighing yourself on a weekly basis and possibly checking your body mass index (BMI) and or body fat percentage on a quarterly basis are very effective and easy to do.  The nutritional intake should still be healthy with plenty of water, vegetables and lean protein sources but a special treat you can be tolerated at this point.  Your cardiovascular exercise should continue to be longer duration on a couple of days with intervals mixed in for four to five workouts per week.  The resistance training should be kept up for at least two work outs per week.  If maintaining your muscle size is the primary goal, just make sure you do full body training for at least three times per week on non-consecutive days.  Still cycle through the various stages of volume and intensity as previously discussed and make any changes along the way that you feel are necessary.  

 Good luck!


If you missed Part 4...CLICK HERE

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