For most of us, exercise isn’t as simple as getting up each morning and heading out for a 10-kilometre run.
There are plenty of things that get in the way; work, family, social commitments and other parts of the daily grind.
So in order to exercise at the level and regularity we want, we need to devise a carefully thought out exercise plan.
Think of an exercise plan as a blueprint to your health. If you stick at it and monitor your progress, you will soon be realising your goals and setting new ones.
The first thing to do is work out your relationship with exercise. Are you someone who can’t stand not being physically active every day, or do you find it hard to get off the couch most of the time?
Your base level of fitness, your general fitness “know-how” and your enjoyment of exercise are all very big factors to consider when writing a plan that you can stick to.
That brings us to the next point. There is no point writing out a plan that an Olympic runner would use if you haven’t been for a jog in three years.
Most exercise plans fall apart before they even get started, because the writer – in a fit of fitness passion and sudden zest for exercise – gets over ambitious and doesn’t base the plan in reality.
Start your plan by timetabling your everyday commitments. Put in everything you know you are going to have to do. Work, appointments, social activities, picking up the kids, cooking dinner, marking assignments, writing reports, cleaning the house, whatever. Put it all in there.
Now, look for timeslots that you could comfortably exercise in. This doesn’t mean squeezing in a 25 minute gap between your hair appointment and work – you need a good block of time to exercise. An hour is a good amount of time.
Beginners or those who are out of practice should start with two exercise sessions per week. After a month or so, they may want to increase to three sessions per week.
Those who are already fit or who need to take it up a notch can roster anywhere between three and six sessions per week.
This doesn’t mean six sessions of running, or six bike rides, or six 8-kilometre swims. It means a combination of complementary sessions. You might do two or three runs per week, with three sessions in the gym, for example.
Now let’s look at the types of exercise you want to do.
Do you play any sport?
If so, you might want to do exercise that complements your sport and could lead to improved performance.
For tennis, you might do shuttle runs on court, or a beep test once per week. You might also do back strengthening and agility work in the gym.
For soccer, you might do one long distance run per week, backed up with a solid swim session.
For rugby, you will probably want to spend a fair amount of time in the gym, working on your core, leg and upper body strength.
If you don’t play sport, that’s also fine. There is probably even more range in how you can exercise because you won’t have dedicated sport-specific training sessions.
Work out which of running, cycling and swimming you enjoy most. Make that your marquee training session once per week, and use one of the other options as a support session.
Space out your sessions appropriately. You can’t go on a long distance run then wake up and go sprinting the next morning. If you are only doing two sessions per week, space them at three days apart; for three sessions, space at two days apart.
Always include targets for your sessions. Write these down before you train, so you can be honest with yourself about meeting or failing to reach your goals. You will also be able to look back with pride and inspiration when you finish each successful session.
Start small, then grow big. This is perhaps the biggest thing to remember for a successful exercise plan. If you fail in your first couple of attempts, you are likely to abandon it all together. It is better to successfully complete some relatively easy sessions at the start to get motivated and feel good about yourself.
Finally, make sure you warm up for 5-10 minutes before each session and stretch to cool down shortly after finishing. You need to look after your body as best you can to give yourself the most chance of backing up for the next session.
Invest in some quality training equipment; good runners, shorts, swimmers, goggles etc make training so much more pleasurable and quicken the time in which you can achieve your targets.