“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty”
– Proverbs 21:5
Plans and Routines
It’s commonplace for fitness resolutions to fizzle out as January progresses.
Excitement on January 1st turns into reality on January 14th. Lack of planning creates room for reasons and excuses not to exercise. Overdoing it at the beginning causes quick burnout or even injuries.
The road of body-stewardship is long. It doesn’t end at the end of the month, quarter, or even at the end of the year. It is a life-long pursuit of using your body for God’s glory.
But during the ebbs and flows of daily life, having a plan and routine helps us focus and stay the course. The wisdom of planning drips all through the book of Proverbs. Pacing and planning win an abundance while hasty activity causes poverty (Proverbs 21:5). The Ant paced her work over months in order to enjoy the end-of-year harvest (Proverbs 6:6-8).
But how do we apply this wise pacing and planning to your own exercise routine?
Here are 5 practical ways to do this. Let’s get started!
1. Exercise at least 3x a week, for 30-40 minute sessions.
The recommended weekly activity level for adults is 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (walking, mowing the lawn, etc…) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (running, circuit training, weight lifting, etc…). For strength training, the recommended weekly target is at least 2x a week, covering all muscle groups.
These numbers are both starting points and general guidelines. Training frequency and times fluctuate with specific goals, such as athletic competitions, losing weight, building muscle, etc…
3 sessions a week, with a target average of 30-40 minutes per session, is an attainable place to begin. Starting a routine at too high a frequency (5-6x per week) with long times (60+ minute sessions) increases your chance for both injury and burnout. You will also need at least 1 or 2 rest days per week for muscle repair and growth, which is achievable within this routine’s framework of 3 sessions/week.
Starting at 3 sessions a week at 30-40 minutes gives you the time and space to build a habit that you can always add on to down the road, and it easily achieves the 75-minute recommendation for vigorous activity. Just don’t overdo it at the beginning.
2. Commit to the routine for 12 weeks.
There are dozens of ways to measure fitness results: weight loss, muscular gain, body fat %, VO2max, heart rate, blood pressure, max bench press, max squat, max push-ups, max pull-ups, etc… This variety makes it challenging to put a number on how long it will take you to achieve your goals, as that number depends on what your goals are.
The 12-week recommendation is a general target that is long enough to start changing your habits. But the 12-week mark also has to do with the quality of the exercise routine.
A thought-out and high-quality exercise routine will progress you through different stages as your body adapts and responds to exercise. I utilize and recommend NASM’s OPT model, which has 5 stages, that each build on top of the other.
The benefit of utilizing a model for your routine like NASM’s is its steady, stacking escalation. You progress your training intensity and loads in phases.
Stage 1 begins by training your muscles to work with your nervous system for balance and stabilization. Then you push your muscles further in muscular endurance training. Then you build muscle mass in muscular development (hypertrophy). Then you bear weight and load in maximal strength. Finally, you shift into functional power movements. NASM recommends progressing from one phase to the next after 4-6 weeks.
Not all stages of the OPT model are applicable to all goals (maximal strength and power for instance), so I generally recommend stages 1-3 for most. Simple math at 4-6 weeks per stage will place the completion of those stages within 12-16 weeks, where the 12-week mark is derived from.
3. Take a 1-week rest after 12 weeks.
After 12-weeks of 3 sessions per week at 30-40 minutes each, you will have completed 36 sessions and exercised for a total of 1,080 – 1,400 minutes. If you maintain this pace for a year, that’s 156 sessions for a total of 4,680 – 6,240 minutes. At some point along the way, your body needs a break from this routine in order to rest and recover.
Most exercise literature recommends at least a week off from training somewhere within the 8-16 week mark. Taking a week off provides your muscles with an opportunity to rest, recover, and grow.
But this is not a week for the sluggard or glutton to make an appearance. Instead, incorporate active rest strategies during the week, like going for walks, stretching, extra playtime with your kids, etc… Move, but move without intense training and go at a slower pace.
Taking a week off also helps avoid overtraining, which ironically causes deterioration in physical performance. Overtraining symptoms include burnout, fatigue, declining performance, difficulty sleeping, injuries, lack of enthusiasm for exercise, and more.
Taking a week off also is an opportunity for celebration. Completing a 12-week program is quite an accomplishment, especially if you have never followed through or completed an exercise routine before. Several years back, my wife and I completed a routine together, and we booked a weekend getaway together in Vermont as a reward. We hiked with our dog, walked through small towns, enjoyed morning coffee in the cool fall weather, watched movies, read, and rested.
Taking a week off also provides space for reflection. What went well during your routine? What were your results? What did you enjoy? What didn’t you like? What did you learn?
You can use this break to plan out your next few months of exercise, which leads me to my next point.
4. Repeat each quarter, and experiment.
The 13 weeks needed for the 12-week routine + 1 week of rest is exactly one-quarter of the full year’s 52 weeks. Once you complete the 13-week cycle, repeat the same approach for the remainder of the year’s quarters.
Use what you learned in that reflection week to inform your decision for the next quarter.
Did you enjoy the routine you did? Do it again, but this time aim for higher weights, more reps, or harder progressions.
Was it boring? Try something else. Learn bodyweight movements. Swing a kettlebell. Try an Olympic lift routine.
Do you want more variety? Try integrating a sport into your training for the next quarter, like rock-climbing, boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, or Krav Maga.
Do you now have a specific goal? Find a routine that will help you get there.
The possibilities are endless here, but the reflection combined with the action over time helps you discover what you like and don’t like. Experimentation allows you to learn.
5. Pick a routine and go!
But the most important consideration for any type of routine selection is to pick something and begin. Ensure to select a plan that matches your goals, interests, limitations, and advice from your doctor, but just pick something and start! You can always adjust as needed down the road.
There are hundreds of great programs out there. We have access to an incredulous amount of fitness resources at our fingertips. Find a program that works for you, and get after it!
If you are looking for a routine, the Layman’s Fitness 12-week bodyweight program was built with all five of these steps in mind.
This program requires 3 sessions a week, 30-40 minutes per session, and once completed the program will recommend 1 week of rest with ideas on what to do next. All you need to do is start!
The added bonus is that this workout also comes with a 12-week devotional series that guides you through body-stewardship from a biblical perspective.
Visit the “Workouts” page at Layman’s Fitness to learn more.
But whatever you decide to do, pick something and commit to it!
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- Diligence, Hastiness, and the Yo-Yo Diet
- Gnosticism and Exercise
- How to “Make Time” to Exercise
- The Secret of Samson’s Strength
- 5 Tactics for Exercise While on Vacation
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