Updated: May 3, 2021
How to Align Your Exercise Program with Your Goals
Are you overwhelmed by the multitude of all of the exercise programs that are out there?
If you’re interested in improving your health, you may have already self-educated on the different workouts and programs out there. You likely understand that cardio and strength training is important, but how do you build a workout routine? What is the most effective way to tackle your goals? This article describes several different types of exercises and workout programs, to give you a better understanding of the what exercise programs may be best for you and how they may help you reach your goals.
Types of Exercises
There are 4 main types of exercise: strength, aerobic, balance, and flexibility. Completing exercises in each of these categories leads to a well-rounded level of fitness.
Strength training is the process of increasing skeletal muscle or the muscle tissue that comprises your arms, legs, and core. This exercise program is built around challenging these muscles on a regular basis forces the fibers to tear and rebuild. Increase the intensity of your workout, and those same fibers will become stronger and stronger, resulting in increased strength and muscle mass.
Common examples of strength training include weightlifting and body weight exercises. Weightlifting involves using either free weights, such as barbells or kettlebells, or weight machines. Both forms of exercise use equipment to provide resistance for your muscles to work against. Body weight exercises rely on manipulating your body weight, often without any extra equipment. These types of workouts may include planks, push-ups, and pull-ups.
Aerobic exercise is often referred to as cardio, because of its positive impact on cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular muscle includes your heart; when you strengthen this muscle, you’ll develop better blood pressure and a better resting heart rate, among other benefits. To challenge your heart, you must maintain a raised heart rate throughout your workout. Each person will have a different target range to improve their cardiovascular health, which should be calculated and tracked regularly for optimum benefit.
Cardiovascular exercises abound, since any activity that maintains a raised heart rate qualifies as cardio. These exercise programs can range from running or bicycling to Zumba, step aerobics, jumping rope, boxing, and swimming.
Balance exercise programs are those that increase your coordination and ability to maintain balance throughout daily life. As you age, your balance usually worsens without training, which can lead to falls and injuries. It’s important to train your body in order to prevent falls and return your body to an upright position when you do lose your balance. Common balance exercises include walking heel-to-toe in a straight line, standing on a balance ball, or plank on a stability ball.
Flexibility is a vital underpinning of overall fitness. Flexibility exercises can focus on nearly any part of your body and help improve your range of motion. This, in turn, allows you to build strength by engaging new muscles or challenging them across a broader range. Additionally, flexibility is an important part of good spinal health and preventing lower back pain, stiffness, or herniated disks.
Flexibility exercise programs can include static or dynamic stretching. Static stretching refers to stretching and holding your position, such as reaching for your toes and holding that pose for 15 to 20 seconds. Dynamic stretching involves continuous movement through your full range of motion, as happens when completing a yoga sequence.
Types of Strength Training Workout Splits
There are countless possible ways to set up your training week, but don’t let this confuse you. The only thing you need to focus on is finding a workout split that aligns with your goals, training experience, and preferences.
Body Part Split
Body Part Split exercise programs work each major muscle group—or body part—on a separate day each week.
Thursday: Arms and Abs
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Upper/Lower Workout Split
Upper/Lower Workout Split exercise programs split training into 2 different types of workouts: upper-body workouts and lower-body workouts. Normally, the upper/lower split has you working out in the gym 4 days per week—2 upper-body days and 2 lower-body days.
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Push Pull Legs Workout Split
Push/Pull Legs Workout Split exercise programs are one of the most proven workout splits of all time. On push days you train all the pushing muscles in the upper body, like the pecs, delts, and triceps. On pull days you train all the pulling muscles of the upper body, like your back muscles and biceps. On leg days you train all the muscles of the legs, including glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Full-Body Workout Split
Full Body Workout Split is a simple exercise program, involves just a handful of exercises, doesn’t take too much time, and hit every major muscle group in the body in every workout. They normally include 3 workouts per week and are broken up by plenty of rest.
Monday: Full Body
Wednesday: Full Body
Friday: Full Body
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Which one you choose largely boils down to how much time you have available to train, whether you’re new to weightlifting or an old hand, or which one you prefer. However, if you are new to weightlifting, start off with a full-body or push pull legs workout split. Or if you have a few years of weightlifting under your belt, try an upper/lower workout split.
Types of Workouts to Consider
While there are only four classifications for exercise, there are dozens of ways to enact and combine them to create a training regimen. These include:
These types of exercise programs can either 1) help you focus on one form of exercise and create variance in your routine or 2) combine 2 or more types of exercise for a well-rounded regimen.
High intensity interval training, or HIIT, means that you perform an exercise with maximum effort, and then follow it with a short rest period. By forcing your body to alternate between bursts of high effort activity and low effort activity, you utilize multiple forms of stored energy within your body. Because you complete a lot of work at once, these workouts are typically short in comparison to other types of training.
Due to the overall flexible nature of HIIT, it can also be adapted to different exercise goals and skill levels. For example, someone who wants to improve their endurance while running can alternate sprinting and walking. Those who are looking to strength-train can alternate sets of lifting heavy weights with longer rest periods. HIIT programs are excellent for those who want to fit a tough workout into a short time period or want to maximize their energy expenditure.
However, HIIT is not for everyone, especially beginners, and you should always check in with your doctor before starting HIIT, as with any exercise program.
A typical circuit training exercise program includes about 8 to 10 exercise stations. After completing a station, instead of resting, you move quickly to the next station. A muscular strength and endurance circuit alternates muscle groups, such as upper body, lower body and core, so little or no rest is needed in between stations. Another form of circuit training is aerobic + strength. This type of circuit alternates 1 to 2 sets of resistance exercise (body weight, free weights, dumbbells, kettle bells, bands, etc.), with brief bouts of cardiovascular exercise (jogging in place, stationary cycling, rowing, etc.) lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Depending on your goals and the number of circuit stations, you can complete 1 or more circuits in a 30 to 60-minute session.
Circuit training offers a practical solution for both. It’s a creative and flexible way to keep exercise interesting and saves time while boosting cardiovascular and muscular fitness. You’ll burn a decent amount of calories too.
Cross training refers to the incorporation of different types of exercises into your exercise program. It’s not so much of a workout program as it is a basis for planning your training regimen. Those who cross train purposefully engage in 2 or more types of exercise on a regular basis, to help round out their overall fitness. These exercise types do not need to mix into one workout to be considered cross training.
One of the easiest ways to start cross-training is to alternate between activities—walking one day and swimming or bicycling the next. Or, you can alternate these activities within a single workout, spending 5-minutes on a treadmill, 5-minutes on a stationary cycle, and so on for a total of 30 minutes. The benefit of this type of workout can be two-fold. On one hand, cross training is a great way to round out any fitness plan and make sure you’re developing all aspects of your physical health. Additionally, mixing types of exercises can help you obtain longer-term goals. If you’re hoping to run a marathon, you’ll find that yoga may help improve your flexibility and balance. In turn, that can lead to a better running posture and reduce your chance of injury.
Performing supersets in your exercise program involves combining two strengthening exercises to maximize your workout in a shorter time frame. Sometimes supersets are used to target the same muscle group, with the goal of more fully activating all of the muscle fibers. For example, you might superset cable curls with dumbbell hammer curls, which both target the biceps (but in slightly different ways). Supersets are also often used to target different (usually opposing) muscle groups, usually to save time. For example, you might superset a bench press with barbell rows, which target your “push” and “pull” muscles. After completing a superset, you’ll generally rest for a 1 or 2-minutes before moving on to the next set, exercise, or superset in your workout.
An isometric workout is any exercise where you tense your muscles and stay still. Although it might sound easy, these workouts can be particularly challenging for certain muscle groups. Workouts in this group include wall sits, planks, and low squats. In each of these exercises, you assume a position that stresses a set of muscles, such as your abdominals. The goal is to remain there for as long as possible and support the position by exerting maximum tension. Although isometrics don’t include any equipment, they are an excellent tool for using your bodyweight to improve your strength. Another bonus: because these don’t rely on a range of motion, isometrics are a great option for people who are alter-abled or new to working out.
Building A Better Workout
After learning about various types of exercises and styles, you might be left scratching your head. How do you decide which exercises to include when building your training regimen? How do you know which workouts will be best for you?
The truth of the matter is that building a workout program takes training of its own. A comprehensive program is tailored to your individual goals, and there isn’t any singular training regimen or schedule that works for everyone. However, there is a training regimen that will work best for you.
Ideally, any high-quality exercise program is going to include multiple types of exercises, various workout methods, and will continually adapt as your strength, cardiovascular fitness, balance, and flexibility improve. A certified Personal Trainer will help build a workout plan for you that encompasses each of these aspects and will guide you to success.
Whatever your goals and preferences are, a Personal Trainer can help assess your current level of fitness and design a program suitable for you. As you progress and become stronger, your Personal Trainer will help you develop a tailored plan that keeps pushing you forward.
If you don’t want to stress about where you should start, what you should do and what you should not do, then make your life easier by letting a certified Personal Trainer figure out all of those answers for you.