If you are looking for instant or quick results from working out, then this post is for you! Have you ever started a new regimen and pounded it out for a few days, maybe even weeks only to slack off or stop altogether? Then, a few months later you’re back at Day One and the cycle continues. Here’s a secret, you will not see the results that you want this way. And if by chance you do, you will not maintain them. I apologize if this stings a bit, but it is time for you to stop looking for quick results and remember that you didn’t learn to walk at birth. It takes time and, of course, consistency.
When you see someone's progress, you may not see the time and effort put into it. You only see the results of that time and effort. So yes, to you, it may seem like it was quick, but it was a process.
While sheltering in place I updated my workouts and began thinking about the most important things I needed to be successful in this new phase. I set out to gain muscle mass. Also, I'm not sure if it is algorithms, but I've been seeing a lot of exercising on my timeline. So, I felt it was a good idea and the perfect time to give you tips that are currently helping me and will help you maintain a fitness regimen.
1. Create Goals and a Plan
Before you begin any fitness plan you should set your goals. Determine what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want to lose weight, live a healthy lifestyle, or something as simple as being able to cross your legs? Think about these things and write them down.
You will need your goals to help with developing your plan for success. How will you go about working to achieve your fitness goals? This is where you consider what your activity will consist of and how often you will be active. Gyms are back open and there are plenty of free and inexpensive apps and online resources to use. If you need personal guidance you may decide to hire a trainer.
Whatever you decide to do to reach your goals you should have a plan before you start. It is much easier to navigate the gym or complete your workout when you know what you’re going to do before you start.
2. Which is Better Cardio, or Strength Training?
Best answer? Diversify. They both serve a purpose, so you must have goals set. This is a part of developing your fitness plan. We all know that when combining exercise with a well-balanced diet you are supposed to lose weight. But it’s important to understand how each form of training works for your body.
Cardio (short for cardiovascular exercise) is usually the go-to method for fat loss. Because you’re getting your heart rate up, you’ll burn more calories than you will with strength training. Cardio increases endurance. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. It also reduces stress, strengthens the heart, and decreases the risk of heart disease. With steady-state cardio, your heart rate is elevated and kept at an elevated rate the entire time you are exercising.
Ex. of steady-state cardio:
Long-distance walking or running
You will build muscle and burn fat simultaneously with strength training. This is what gives the body a leaner appearance. Your weight may or may not change, but you will lose inches. Aside from building muscle, strength training helps to improve your form, endurance, and metabolism. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the total amount of calories your body burns at rest. This means more calorie burning, even while resting.
If you’re into cardio and want to beat your record best, add strength training to your plan. The added muscle will allow you to go farther and have more power during performance.
Increase calorie burning with strength training by having short rest times between sets and exercises. This will get your heart rate up. Other ways to combine cardio and strength training include kettlebell training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
A kettlebell is a weight that looks like a ball with a handle shaped like horns on the top. The kettlebell combines strength, cardio, and flexibility training. Because of its shape, it facilitates ballistic (think launching or jumping) and swinging movements. Unlike dumbbells, the weight in kettlebells is not distributed evenly. This means your body will have to work to remain stabilized while completing kettlebell exercises. Which makes it great for strengthening the core and helping to improve overall strength, cardio, balance, and coordination while building muscle.
HIIT, the other form of training I mentioned that combines strength and cardio training, consists of sets of bursts of cardio work followed by a recovery interval that includes strength training exercises. This form of training burns more calories than steady-state cardio in less time while building muscle. When doing this form of training you will not only burn calories during activity, your metabolism will ramp up (and stay elevated for hours) increasing your basal metabolic rate or BMR (this is the amount of calories your body needs to perform basic body functions). HIIT workouts train your body to tolerate and quickly recover from periods of intense exercise.
An example of an at-home HIIT workout could include running up and down the stairs twice or 30 seconds of mountain climbers and then completing 30 seconds each of squats with an overhead press, deadlifts, goblet squats and planks (add weights to increase difficulty). Then after a minute and a half of rest (or until your breathing is quick but under control), you would repeat the routine at least four times. When I was working to lose weight, I would do a similar HIIT workout using kettlebells. Now, I incorporate kettlebell exercises to warm up before strength-training.
Cardio or Strength Training First?
One question I hear often is if you’re combining cardio and strength training which do you perform in a workout session first. It depends on your goals. If your fitness goal is to be able to complete a 5k, then you should prioritize cardio. You want to make sure you use the most energy on your primary focus. If your goal is to build muscle, prioritize strength training before cardio.
3. Bodyweight vs Weights
When determining your workout plan, understanding resistance is important. Resistance is a force acting in the opposite direction of the body’s motion. Gravity is resistance, therefore when you move your body (including an arm, leg, or finger) you are acting against the resistance of gravity. It takes muscle strength to raise your hand. Your body weight is resistance. This means that weights are also a form of resistance. Bodyweight and added resistance serve different purposes. Choose based on your goals. This should help you figure it out.
Bodyweight exercises do not require dumbbells or any other form of resistance, but still can be challenging. In fact, a gym isn’t necessary, and you can do it anywhere. This form of exercise is the foundation of building muscle. It improves endurance and helps with developing body control and coordination. Exercising with your body weight promotes joint health and improves flexibility. Ever heard of the phrase "if you don't use it, you'll lose it"? It applies here. If you don't work those joints they will lose mobility. You get stiff, walking becomes a task, and moving from sitting to becomes a struggle.
Ex. of bodyweight exercise:
Because you are limited to using your own weight, you will know you have made progress when exercises can be completed in less time. I’ll explain this a little more below.
Conversely, weighted exercises require weights like dumbbells, weight machines, resistance bands, children lol, pretty much anything that provides added resistance. Exercising with resistance builds and maintains lean muscle mass, increases strength and power, and burns fat. Muscle burns calories at rest.
With this form of exercise, you control how much you’re lifting and will know you’ve progressed when you can complete six to 8 reps with more weight. Increase in increments of five pounds.
That brings me to my next point.
4. Reps and Sets or Timed Sets
Whether exercising with or without weight you’ll want to progress and be able to track your progress. Depending on the type of workout, and in many cases your preference, you will choose between repetitions (reps) and sets or completing timed sets. Reps are the number of times you will complete a specific exercise and sets are a series of reps performed in a sequence. Completing timed sets means you will work for a specified time.
Reps and sets are determined based on your goals and are most often used for weighted strength training.
Endurance and Muscle Toning
Should be able to complete 12-15 reps with weight
Complete 3-4 sets
Should only be able to complete 6-8 reps with weight
Complete 2-3 sets
Can only complete 8 reps with weight
Complete 3-6 sets
Able to complete 8-15 reps with or without weight
Complete 1 to 2 sets
* Progress by increasing weight, reps, or sets.
It is very important to have your workout completely planned either mentally or written. You do not want to waste time planning your workout during your workout time.
Bodyweight, cardio, and even weight training can be performed with timed sets. Timed sets are preferred over reps and sets when your goals are to:
Improve cardiovascular fitness
Increase speed and power
Lean out after building muscle
Build initial strength
Improve overall fitness
In order to progress with timed sets, you must either increase your working time or decrease your resting time; or both.
Always remember proper form. If you’re unable to complete sets of exercises using proper form, you should not progress by increasing weight, reps, sets, time, or decreasing rest time. Quality over quantity, every time. Form is so important, that is why it’s my next point.
5. Learn Proper Form Before Working on Explosiveness
Ever used the mirrors in gyms to check out your results? Great news, that’s not really what they are there for! Those mirrors are there for you to watch your form while exercising. Learn the proper form for exercises before completing them. Having proper form while working out helps you target the correct muscles and reduces your risk of injury. Better form equals better results. Don't attempt progression until you can complete the exercise with proper form.
Take your time and keep your mind on your workout. Be a beginner and allow yourself time to get better. Focus on the muscle or muscle group you are working on. You don’t have to torture yourself to be fit. Unless you’re competing athletically or preparing for your summer body at the last minute (fitness should be year-round) you can many of your workouts 70% effort.
This is especially important to do when learning something new or If you aren’t used to exercising. You do not have to subscribe to the “the harder you work out, the better the results you get” mentality. If you’re working out consistently, trust me, you will get the results you want. Consistently doing hardcore workouts will result in injury due to poor form or not giving yourself enough rest and recovery time. This leads to taking long breaks that could equate to quitting.
Work towards increasing your effort on exercises once you’ve perfected your form. Increase your speed (depending on your exercise), decrease your rest time between sets and reps, or add an extra set. This is a great way to avoid burnout.
6. Avoid Burnout and Stay Motivated
Another way to avoid burnout is by doing those things that not only keep you active but that you enjoy. I enjoy lifting weights, hiking, sprinting, and taking walks. I’m not a huge fan of long-distance running, however, I like doing 5 and 10ks to challenge myself. If I feel like doing a few miles, I’ll do a combination of sprinting and walking. For me, these activities are a bit gentler on my body, but still challenging and fun. Ok, hiking isn't gentle on my body but I enjoy the challenge. I hiked a few days ago and the soreness in my lower half hasn't completely subsided.
Find things to do that challenge you but are fun. It should be a task but not always exhausting and never painful. Work on having proper form, completing the exercise, being consistent, AND finding something you enjoy. This will help with motivation. And when there is no motivation, remember why you started in the first place and literally talk yourself through your workout. I wish you could hear how that came out in my head. Major, major emphasis there. It is especially important to remember why you began.
Also, find ways to hold yourself accountable. Whether it's by having accountability partners you can discuss your activity and progress with or by sharing your progress with your social media followers online. It will help to keep you going.
7. Always Warm-up and Stretch Before You Begin
Warming up, warms up your muscles and increases their elasticity. It reduces the risk of overstretching your muscles and helps to increase your range of motion (the full movement potential of a joint, such as bending and extending the knee or reaching for something on the top shelf). Another important thing it does is it helps you to mentally prepare for your workout.
Stretch after you’ve warmed up and after you’ve finished your workout. This keeps your muscles flexible and healthy, increases range of motion, and increases blood circulation. Do not stretch beyond the range of motion. You do not want to feel pain during your stretch. This can lead to strains in the muscle fibers. When getting into your stretch, find the point of slight discomfort and ease up a little, then hold the stretch there.
8. Why Am I Sore Two Days After a Workout?
The pain and stiffness you feel in your muscles a day or two after a workout is due to delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It is usually felt 12-48 hours after a workout. Pain during your workout is not the same. That’s acute muscle soreness and usually subsides once you’ve finished the exercise. When you wake up and can barely get out of bed or walk up a flight of stairs hours well after your workout, it is more than likely due to DOMS. Exercise can cause microscopic damage to muscles and the body responds with inflammation that causes tenderness in the muscle and decreased range of motion and stiffness. This is normal. Essentially, in order to build strong muscles, they must be “broken down”.
No, this still doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself every workout. DOMS does not always determine whether your workout was hard. It can occur when you are new to working out, try a new exercise, or increase the difficulty of your workout. As you continue, your body adapts.
Treating DOMS is fairly easy. Self-massages are at the top of the list. You can use a foam roller or, more affordable options, a pool noodle, a frozen bottle of water, or a tennis ball. Along with self-massage is light, active stretching. Active stretching means you stretch yourself instead of having someone stretch you. Stretching yourself allows you to control the movement and not overstretch, which can cause injury to the muscle.
When experiencing DOMS, don’t work the muscle groups that are affected. This means that your workout plan should include days of rest if you exercise all muscle groups every workout.
If you want to workout daily, alternate days and muscle groups to workout. For example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday can be upper-body days, and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday can be lower body days. Making Sunday a rest day or a day to do light physical activity that you enjoy. Alternating days allows one muscle group to rest from a workout while the other group is working.
9. Can I Exercise Daily?
Yes, you can be active every day, but rest is important. Learn to pay attention and listen to your body. Differentiate between pain and muscle fatigue. Notice I said you can be active daily, right? You should be physically active every day and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise. However, you shouldn’t perform high-intensity exercise daily. Intense exercise every day can lead to injury, which can in turn lead to long breaks due to recovering from injury.
If high-intensity exercise is your thing, give yourself a break a few days a week by decreasing intensity. You don’t want counter-productivity. Last year I worked hard to build muscle and ended up being sidelined for a few months with a shoulder injury.
Rest days are important for muscle repair. Make sure to include them in your plan.
10. Nutrition and Hydration
When working to lose weight we tend to do the most. We immediately restrict calories and ramp up our exercising. Yes, science says in order to lose weight you will need to be in a caloric deficit. However, if you are exercising this is where the majority of that deficit will come from. As for eating, you should focus on choosing nutrient-dense foods and making sure you are eating ENOUGH to fuel your body for activity.
Until you’re used to a change in eating habits it is a good idea to keep track of your caloric intake and expenditure. You should also know your BMR. As I said earlier, this is the amount of calories your body needs to perform basic body functions. You will need to have an idea of the total calories you burn during activity, so you may want to invest in a fitness tracker. This will guide your eating and help you either lose, gain, or maintain weight.
If your goal is to lose weight you will need to be in a caloric deficit. Normally, you’d think to decrease your caloric intake by 500 calories and increase your activity to lose weight. That’s not exactly how you should do it. First, calculate your BMR here. If you aren’t exercising, then you would take your BMR and subtract 500 calories and work towards eating that amount daily.
Adding exercise to the equation means you will be burning additional calories. You can use the same calculator to factor in the activity level you will be working on. Remember, you need a deficit of at least 500 calories, so this total should be a combination of decreasing your caloric intake and the number of calories you burn from exercise. Eat closer to your BMR less 500 calories on your rest days.
This is important to remember, as you lose weight or increase your level of activity you will need to recalculate and adjust the number of calories you should consume.
I’ll give you an example.
35y/o female 5ft 3in 273lbs currently sedentary
BMR: 1902 calories burned in a typical day without activity
Consume: To lose weight, she will need to eat 1402 calories a day.
She decides to start walking a few days a week for cardio and now has to adjust her caloric intake. So that she doesn’t overshoot it she chooses a range between sedentary with little exercise and exercises 1-3 times a week as her activity level.
New Caloric Needs: 2,283-2616 cals/day to maintain weight
In order for her to lose weight, she will subtract 500 calories from her caloric needs
Consume: To lose weight, she will eat between1783-2116 calories on her active days and 1405 calories on her rest days.
A month later she weighs 267 and her activity level has not changed.
BMR: 1875 calories burned in a typical day without activity
Consume: To lose weight, she will eat 1750-2078 calories on her active days and 1375 calories on her rest days.
For maintaining weight, you will need to calculate your BMR at your current activity level. Consume this amount daily. Some days you may eat more than this number due to activity. On your rest days eat 500 fewer calories or calculate your BMR at a sedentary lifestyle and eat around that number of calories.
35y/o female 5ft 3in 159lbs currently active 3-4 times a week with intense exercise
BMR: 1385 calories burned in a typical day with no activity
Caloric Needs: 2147 calories per day to maintain weight
Consume 2147 calories on her active days and between 1385 and 1647 calories on her rest days.
After making this a habit, practicing mindfulness while eating will get easier and you will not need to keep track.
Important Points to Remember
These online BMR calculators are estimates, don’t hover too low or too high above them.
Fitness trackers provide estimates, too. So, don’t overshoot your current activity level and eat more than you should.
Don’t restrict your calories and underestimate your activity level.
· Unless you are fasting for the day, don’t eat fewer than 1000 calories daily. There may be days that you’ve had enough to eat but haven’t met your daily caloric goals, balance it out the next day.
Yes, you can fast and workout. It promotes weight loss and sets you up to burn more fat. Fasting empties glycogen stores. Glycogen stores are formed when you eat and don’t burn the fuel that you’ve consumed. When it is not used, it’s stored in your body as glycogen. You should not work out in a fasted state until you are accustomed to fasting. The optimal time to exercise while fasting is an hour or two before ending your fast. After 16hrs of fasting your body should have burned all of the food you’ve consumed prior to fasting and switched over to burning fat from your glycogen stores. Burning calories during this time period will propel your fat burning.
Learn to listen to your body for refeeding after a workout. If you're working to lose weight and you're hungry after you've worked out, eat. If you're not hungry, have a light snack if you need more calories. Otherwise don't worry about eating after a workout if you're not hungry. If you're working to build muscle, have protein after your workout. The easiest and quickest way for your body to absorb protein is by drinking it. Have a protein shake or a smoothie after working out as well as a high protein meal.
Drink plenty of water. You will need to stay hydrated since you’ve increased activity and sweat more. Remember to add electrolytes to your water or include sports drinks in your diet. Drinking more water flushes out electrolytes that you need. Sweating does the same. You want to replace them or you will experience muscle cramps. In the picture below, you can see the sweat dripping off my face. I didn't drink enough to replace the electrolytes I'd lost until after I started getting cramps in my leg while sleeping. DO NOT be like me and wait until then. Assume you need more even when you think you've had enough.
Also, staying hydrated helps with muscle recovery and soreness. Drink at least half of your weight in water. If you’re active, drink more than that!
Read more about how to increase your water intake here.
Working out does not have to be hard. Set your goals and develop a plan. Put in the effort but do not go hardcore all the time. Aim for 70% effort and test yourself once weekly by giving 100% of your effort. That is after you have developed proper form. Eat more nutritious foods and decrease your processed food intake. Avoid mindless eating on rest days. Balance a caloric deficit WITH the calories burned from exercise. A good way to do this is to keep track of it using fitness trackers and apps. However, don’t heavily rely on them since they are estimates. You should already be drinking plenty of water, but with exercise make sure to increase your intake and replenish electrolytes. Find accountability partners, but above all, hold yourself accountable and be consistent. Your results are a reflection of your choices.