Nearly every day, I get asked, “What is the best workout?” or “what workout do I have to do to lose weight?” I won’t stay on my soapbox for the whole post, but let me have just three sentences. If you force yourself to do a workout just because someone says it is the “best,” and if your only motivation is the number on the scale, you’re missing the point. Health is about feeling your best, physically, emotionally, and mentally, and finding what works for your body, not for anyone else’s. Love yourself enough to find your answer, respect your body enough to know that that answer may change frequently, and give yourself the gift of moving your body consistently in the way that feels right to you.
The best type of workout
OK, I feel better. Now, let’s get to the details I know you came here for. First, “what’s the best workout?” The best workout is the one you’ll do consistently, because you enjoy it. It challenges you, both mentally and physically. It’s fun (even if it’s the “weird” type of fun where you feel like your heart is going to burst out of your chest, but you love the endorphin rush). It lifts you up and empowers you, rather than making you feel not good enough or allowing you to beat yourself up. It is adaptable, because as you get fitter, the things that felt hard in the past will begin to feel easier.
How do you find what’s fun for you, even if you’re the type of person that says they “hate” every workout? Start by thinking about what you enjoyed as a child. If you loved to play soccer or T-ball, look for adult team sports (simply Google your city name + “adult sports league” and you’ll find some great options!). If you loved dancing, try a Zumba, kickboxing, or aerobics class. If you loved being outside, go for a walk. I used to love spending hours reading, ideally outside, which is probably why I love the nature and solitude of outdoor solo hikes (followed closely by running alone or doing yoga, both solitary and reflective activities). But I also enjoyed dancing and am constantly challenging myself, which is likely why I love the upbeat environment of Turbokick classes at Grit Fitness, or bootcamp-style classes at Jay’s Bootcamp or Barry’s Bootcamp. Whatever it was that you loved, try to find an activity that mimics some of those qualities, and test it out. You may have to go through several “so-so’s” before you find what you love, and that’s OK. Keep at it. I am convinced that it is possible for everyone to find some type of movement they enjoy.
Creating a workout plan
Finding what you love is the first step to getting active, but once you’re ready to advance and create a well-rounded picture of health, you’re going to have to broaden your activities. I believe there are 5 components of fitness to consider:
- Strength: building muscles via weight lifting or bodyweight strength exercises, like push-ups and squats
- Endurance: traditional “cardio” exercises like walking, running, swimming, cycling, or dancing
- Intensity: a mix of intense bursts of activity that vary muscle groups and often switch between anaerobic (pushing so hard that you switch out of oxygen-utilizing mode) and aerobic periods. Most bootcamp, HIIT (high intensity interval training), and circuit training classes fit into this category.
- Flexibility: stretching out tight muscles, such as in yoga
- Recovery: either plain rest, or ideally a low-intensity movement like gentle yoga or walking, which bring blood flow to muscles while not taxing them, so recovery can occur. This is just as important as the other components!
To be a well-rounded and healthy person, I believe you need to include at least one strength or intensity session, at least one endurance session, and at least one flexibility or recovery session per week. If you are just starting out, this may seem overwhelming, so start slowly, and build gradually. For many of my clients, starting with 10 push-ups against a wall just a few times a week is a great start, and many of my other clients are advanced marathoners or hardcore gym devotees who benefit from incorporating a balance between these components of fitness.
Going beyond the basics
If you’re looking to build beyond one strength or intensity, one endurance, and one flexibility or recovery, my suggestions depend on your goals.
- If you want to lose weight, intensity workouts give you the best bang for your buck, and keep your metabolism revving during the workout (thanks to the cardio parts) and after the workout (thanks to the strength parts).
- If you want to build muscle, strength workouts separated from cardio will provide the first step, but your nutrition must be targeted as well. Having muscle on your body is not only great for your health, but it provides a toned look and helps you burn more fat at rest. Without supplementation, most women simply do not have enough testosterone to get “bulky,” so don’t fear the weight room if you are afraid of becoming Arnold Schwarzenegger. As I’m sure anyone who has been in a fitness competition would corroborate, it takes hours upon hours of intense weight lifting, combined with a diet high in protein and specific amino acids, to bulk up.
- If you want to prioritize your heart health, endurance style workouts have always been favored, but new research is showing that strength or power workouts may be just as effective. I recommend getting moving in some form every day, which is why you’ll see that, even in the beginner plan below, I have incorporated a 20-minute walk every day. See this post for the benefits of walking!
- If you want to reduce stress, slow endurance or flexibility workouts like walking or yoga are generally best. But if you feel amazing in a spin class or at bootcamp, that can work, too! Almost always, I recommend disconnecting from technology (leave the phone and Garmin behind!) if your sole focus is to reduce stress.
An example beginner workout plan
- Monday: 20-minute walk
- Tuesday: Body Pump class, 30-minutes of weight lifting on your own, or 20-minutes of at-home intensity workouts (see Workout Wednesday on my Instagram for ideas!) (strength)
- Wednesday: build up to 20-minute walk
- Thursday: build up to 20-minute walk
- Friday: build up to 20-minute walk
- Saturday: 60-minute walk (endurance)
- Sunday: light stretching at home (flexibility, recovery)
An example advanced workout plan
- Monday: Bootcamp or HIIT-style class (intensity)
- Tuesday: Spin class, kickboxing class, swim, or run (endurance)
- Wednesday: Body Pump class, 30-minutes of weight lifting on your own, or 20-minutes of at-home intensity workouts
- (see Workout Wednesday on my Instagram for ideas!) (strength or intensity)
- Thursday: hot yoga class (flexibility)
- Friday: Bootcamp or HIIT-style class (intensity)
- Saturday: long run or bike ride (endurance)
- Sunday: yoga class, light walk, or simple stretching (recovery)
A few bonuses
Core strength is crucial to overall fitness! A strong core helps prevent injuries, and helps build strength in other areas of the body. If you’re looking to improve your core strength, try my free 30-Day Ab Challenge! You can start any day you’d like, but I’m starting Monday, July 2 … join me!
Having trouble fitting in any workout at all? See this post for my best tips on how to fit in a workout, even on your busiest days!
Now it’s your turn … What are your best tips for building a workout plan? What is your favorite type of workout?