How to create a progressive sustainable fitness plan

Hi! Are you tired of quitting on your fitness goals? Are you tired of starting a fitness program full of hope, then realizing that it takes too much time out of your regular schedule and that you’re too tired or in pain to continue, and then you abandon? Today I’m going to walk you through the 4 steps that I used to create a progressive sustainable fitness plan for myself.

  1. Determine your fitness schedule goal
  2. Determine your short term possible commitment
  3. Determine the length of your program
  4. Increase your activities

First, I need to clarify that I am in no way a health, or fitness, or nutrition specialist. I’m just sharing what works for me, from my past personal experiences and observations! For two years, I called myself a runner. Before that, I had a phase where the gym was a regular part of my life. I have also consulted professionals like a workout coach, a kinesiologist and a nutritionist! Over the years, I learnt to understand my body and I figured out what worked for me and what I enjoy doing!

Before we get into it, let’s define the big-picture objectives of creating this Progressive Sustainable fitness plan. Let’s start with the word Sustainable. To me, this is in relation to the daily time commitment and the amount effort required to accomplish a single fitness session. It’s very important that the fitness plan is of sustainable commitment and of sustainable intensity, so it will be easier for me to organically integrate the fitness sessions into my weekly schedule! For example, it’s unrealistic for me to think that I would start my first week of fitness with two hours a day, seven days a week. This would require me to drastically start devoting a big amount of time to a new activity and doing that would require too big of an adaptation phase. The difference between my actual situation and the new situation would be too big, thus diminishing my chances for project success! Same goes for the intensity of the workout! If I push myself too hard, not only will I be putting myself through unnecessary pain and risk injuries, but if I do that – now I guess this depends on our individual pain thresholds – I personally won’t be motivated to continue!

The next important word in the definition is the word Progressive. So now that we’ve determined, from the previous section, that we wanted to start softly, let’s not think that the work is done! No no no! We want to increase our program, in order to grow and evolve in our fitness! But we want to make sure that we increase the intensity and time progressively. We do this because we need to ensure that we are giving ourselves a chance to integrate all this new-ness! Nothing I’m writing here is rocket science, I’m sure most of you can appreciate that this is all very logical and makes sense.

Now that we’ve successfully identified the big-picture objective, let’s get into the first step of our planning process!

Step 1 – Determine your fitness schedule goal

In this step, we determine the amount of time per week, the frequency and the type of activities we want to be doing at the end of this fitness integration plan. My long term goal is to be active 6 days a week, for about 45-60 minutes a day. I want my plan to include 1 stretching or yoga activity, I want to get back to running a few times a week and I also want to integrate workout sessions (weights and exercises) to tone up my whole body; legs, arms and a focus on my core! These are my personal goals. I will use these for the continuation of this example, feel free to shuffle things around to fit your needs and goals.

So, why did I choose this as my ultimate goal? I set those objectives for myself, because #1 I enjoy running, and I want it to be part of my routine again, #2 I want to do strength exercises because it energizes me and I’ve been feeling weak these past months, I believe this will help give me strength and #3 I want to integrate yoga/stretching on a regular basis because it’s such a good combination exercise! As you can see, in this step, we’re not planning anything in details, we’re just getting an image, a vision of where we want to be.

Step 2 – Determine your short term possible commitment

This step has two parts. In the first part, we look at our current schedule and we identify the maximum amount of time that we can already commit regularly towards our objective. Knowing myself, I already had an idea that 30 minutes was going to be well enough. I knew that I wasn’t ready to spend any more than 30 minutes a day on a new activity. Just to make this clear this is a maximum! I’m not planning on doing a full 30 minutes every time, specially not in the beginning, but I know I don’t need to block more time than 30 minutes to accomplish those first workouts. It won’t take me more than that amount of time to: muster the courage to start, get changed, find my program, get water, etc. When I used to go to the gym, I used to do a full hour of training, and that included a cardio warmup, legs, abs and arms. Considering this, that means I can’t do e.g.: a full 30 minutes straight of just arms, that’s too much! I’m committing to not doing more than 30 minutes! And to me 6 days a week seems reasonable. This was a small enough, daily commitment so that it wasn’t going to disrupt my day to day too much, but also was going to give me an opportunity to integrate this new activity into my regular schedule organically and provide me with the feeling that I’m actively making progress towards my objective. Also, having six small activities in the week will allow me to practice all the types of activities I want to work towards; cardio, stretching, abs, arms and legs.

Knowing this, I was able to get into the second part of this step; simulating my new schedule! I put everything down on paper. I started by laying down my typical weekly activities for this month, meaning that this schedule is going to repeat itself for the next four weeks. Fortunately, my schedule was going to be very regular for the next few months, so I was able to identify potential fitness-allocated time blocks for a longer term.

So here’s how I did this. I turned my paper to landscape, I put all the days of the week along the top of the page and all my active hours of the day on the right of the page, going down chronologically (for me it just makes more sense that way, you do you). My active hours are from 7 a.m. to about 10 p.m. Once I had my framework down, I plugged in all my mandatory activities (i.e.: work, school, recurrent meetings, etc.). Looking at all that occupied time, and knowing the overall amount of time that I knew I also needed to commit to other important activities in my life (i.e.: sleep, eat, chores, homework, other personal projects, etc.), I was able to determine that it was, in fact, reasonable for me to commit to a maximum of 30 minutes a day allocated to fitness.

So I went ahead and plugged that time in my schedule, and I scheduled the 30 minutes fitness blocks right after work. I did this to give myself a mental break between my day of work and my evening of class. I work full time, and I also go to school part time, so this is important for me. In this step, it’s important to know yourself and to plug in the exercise at the moment in the day that works best for you, because the best workout is the workout that you will do! At this step, you just want to, sort of, lay out your first week.

Step 3 – Determine the length of your plan

Ok, so we’ve got our ultimate goal and our short term plan. In this step we determine our Increase phase. This phase is what will take you from your first week of fitness, to your fitness schedule goal. This is the phase that will take me from doing fitness six times a week 30 minutes a day, to six times a week 60 minutes a day. In this phase, the notion of plan is very important to ensure you don’t feel discouraged.

Time for a little motivational speech: A plan is like setting the objective to climb a mountain, you have to go one step at a time. But your plan won’t, if ever, happen accordingly. And it’s important to know this and to be ok with this notion; it’s not because a step of your plan isn’t working that your only option left is to give up. If something doesn’t work, get back to the drawing board, analyse why it didn’t work according to plan and modify the plan! It’s a great opportunity for self-reflection, adaptation, and creativity. Let’s not forget, the goal of this is not to push ourselves too hard, too soon. The goal is to integrate a fitness plan progressively so it can be sustained as long as possible in your life. It’s not because one step isn’t perfect, that you need to loose sight of this goal.

That being said, looking at my schedule ahead, and having my own assumptions on my physical capacities, I set myself the objective to go from week-one to week-goals in two to three months, I believe that for me, that is reasonable and feasible. The way I see this is, month one, I’ll be integrating physical activity into my daily routine, I’ll be easing into it, I’ll be learning to see if it’s possible and sustainable. At the end of 2 weeks to a full month, I’ll do an introspection assessment, and if I feel comfortable with the way things are going, I’ll allow myself to continue to the second phase; increasing the activities’ lengths and intensities. At the end of month two, if I’m able to increase progressively enough, I’ll be able to anchor my fitness schedule goal. So I set myself to accomplish this in 3 months.

Step 4 – Increase your activities

This brings us to the increase phase. Knowing that I’m starting my first week of fitness with 30 minutes a day six times a week, and that in two to three months, I want to get to a maximum of 60 minutes a day six times a week, here’s how I plan on increasing my time blocks gradually. Here, I’ve also identified what activity I’ll be doing each week and the maximum duration of the activity:

Week 1: 6 x 30 minutes
2 x 30 mins cardio
1 x 30 mins arms
1 x 30 mins legs
1 x 30 mins abs
1 x 30 mins stretching
Week 2: 6 x 30 minutes
2 x 30 mins cardio
1 x 30 mins arms
1 x 30 mins legs
1 x 30 mins abs
1 x 30 mins stretching
Week 3: 6 x 30 minutes
2 x 30 mins cardio
2 x 30 mins abs + legs
1 x 30 mins abs + arms
1 x 30 mins stretching
Week 4: 6 x 30 minutes
2 x 30 mins cardio
2 x 30 mins abs + legs
1 x 30 mins abs + arms
1 x 30 mins stretching

In my first month, I’m keeping the level of activity low. You’ll notice I plugged in 30 minutes of cardio, I won’t be running full speed during this time. I’m planning to have a proper warmup phase to get my heart working, to start smoothly with walk-jog intervals and to get my muscles used to the movements. Where I’m changing, is on week 3 – at this point I’ll already have accomplished 12 fitness activities! Not bad! – I’m combining the types of activities together to get a better variety and to switch things up a bit. As you can see above, I’m combining abdominals to my other strength exercise days, that way, I have a stronger focus on that specific group of muscles. I’m also doubling my leg days, because that’s the second zone I want to focus on and because I don’t need a stand-alone ab day anymore. Let’s have a look at my month two:

Week 5: 6 x 30-45 minutes
2 x 30 mins cardio
2 x 45 mins cardio +abs + legs
1 x 45 mins cardio +abs + arms
1 x 45 mins stretching
Week 6: 6 x 30-45 minutes
2 x 30 mins cardio
2 x 45 mins cardio +abs + legs
1 x 45 mins cardio +abs + arms
1 x 45 mins stretching
Week 7: 6 x 45 minutes
2 x 45 mins cardio
2 x 45 mins cardio +abs + legs
1 x 45 mins cardio +abs + arms
1 x 45 mins stretching
Week 8: 6 x 45 minutes
2 x 45 mins cardio
2 x 45 mins cardio +abs + legs
1 x 45 mins cardio +abs + arms
1 x 45 mins stretching

For the beginning of month two, you’ll notice I’m integrating a cardio-warmup phase to my strength exercise days, so I’m allowing myself more time to accomplish that. At this point, this is what I consider a complete workout. To me, if you’re doing a proper warmup and a variety of exercises targeting more than one group of muscles, you’re golden. If you have time to add stretching at the end, that’s even better! Don’t get me wrong, a good stretching is an essential part of every workout session! For this month, I’m also increasing the amount of time for my stretching and yoga activity, because to me, it’s like a treat at the end of the week. Towards the end of month two, I’m also increasing the amount of time for cardio because I want to integrate jog-run interval sessions. Here’s a sneak peak of my final month:

Last Month: 6 x 45-60 minutes
1 x 45 mins cardio
1 x run for fun
1 x 60 mins cardio + abs + legs
1 x 60 mins cardio + abs + arms
1 x 45 mins cardio + abs + choice
1 x 60 mins stretching

So for this month, I’m changing the formula a little; I’m allowing myself some flexibility. As you can see, I’m maintaining a 45 minute cardio session, but my other cardio session, I’m going to do it for fun, I’m just going to start it and see where it leads me. To me, running 45 minutes a week, plus the other cardio activities, is an achievement in itself. To put things in perspective, at a comfortable pace, I run 5km in 30 minutes, and I’m really okay with that! I’m also increasing the amount of time for my strength session days because I want to increase my cardio-warmup phase. I will also be increasing the intensity of my workouts. Instead of having two abs+legs days and one abs+arms days, I’ll only be doing one of each, and the third time I’ll see how I feel. As an added treat, I’ll also be increasing the amount of time for my stretching and yoga session!

So there you have it! This is how I planned my progressive sustainable fitness plan! Thank you for your time, hope I was able to give some of you a few tips and tricks on how to successfully plan a program that work for you, and not against you! Feel free to modify this plan to fit your needs!!

In my next posts, I’ll be covering topics like how to select your exercises, tips and tricks on how to tweak your schedule and get started, and updates on my progress! Make sure to subscribe to the email notifications to be the first ones to know when it’s up! I hope you enjoyed this! Wish me luck, stay safe and have fun!

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