My friends often ask me how to begin an exercise regimen or how to develop a training schedule. Don't be intimidated by the phrase 'training schedule' which sounds so formal. Whether people realize it or not, almost everyone who exercises even a little has a training schedule. A busy working mother of two who walks twice a week with a small group of neighbors is carried out one training schedule of sorts without writing it down.
Call it whatever works for you, but either way a training schedule simply refers to how often and how far you desire to run, lift, walk, row, bike each week in order to meet your fitness goals. Be it after work, during lunch or on the weekends, it doesn't matter. You don't have to be a world class athlete to have a training schedule. In fact, you probably need one more than they do.
As I mentioned in a March 1, 2010 posting (Running, Training and Racing; Start with a Goal), setting the proper goal for yourself is the key to designing a schedule that will both fit your lifestyle as well as get you in the shape you're hoping. Ultimately your goals and what activities you'll utilize must account for things such as available time to exercise each day, health concerns, personal interest, climate in which you live and the level of fitness to be achieved just to name a few. If you have a lot of trouble with your knees, perhaps running six days a week would be a poor choice. Hate running? Then initially don't design a workout schedule with a lot of running. After all, you do want to enjoy your fitness.
Keep in mind that within everyone's aspirations to get fit there are compromises. Only have two hours a week to exercise? Then build your schedule accordingly. Have unlimited time, but a modest goal of shedding 5 pounds and only limited interest in doing so? Then build your schedule around that. Whatever your targets, plug all the data in and see what you come up with. If you don't like the result of your first schedule then review it and design another schedule. At some point you'll look at one of your draft training schedules and think "I can do that". You are now on your way.
Now that you have a schedule written down plan to keep it and use it. If you're serious about your fitness goals sit down and plan out the entire months of exercise. This sounds a lot harder than it is. Your schedule is likely to repeat itself each week so this may be as easy as copy-paste, copy-paste since most of us have a fairly predicable and repetitive schedule. We'll have to discuss how dull our lives are at another time. For now let's stay focused on spicing it up a bit with some exercise and fitness. The entire process will also help you organize your life schedule and many people find that helpful too.
The correct use of a pre-planned schedule is not to tie you down to this written-in-stone document to a point where you can barely get yourself to look at it, but just the opposite. Having a preplanned written version of your schedule will give you piece of mind that you're progressing towards your goals. I think it's similar to looking at your work resume for the first time in five years and realizing "darn, I've done a lot".
My personal training schedule goes out nearly twelve months. Since I like to do organized events this helps me plan both personal time and training around specific dates. I also like the no brainer approach to just looking at my training schedule and knowing what I am going to do tomorrow. I make changes all the time on the fly, but I don't have to worry about sitting down each week and planning my week. It really allows me to enjoy the activity with little thought around planning.
Maintaining a journal, no matter how minor you think your progress is, will give you a chance to appreciate what you've done and what you want to do moving forward. And interestingly, I've found that a written schedule is just as valuable in keeping you from over doing things. After a few days of only light running or days off, I'll frequently feel like I've been a slug or lazy and begin to feel guilty for not exercising. However, when I look at my schedule I'll see I either had already done a lot of exercise that week or I had scheduled days off knowing I would need a break. Being of sound mind when you make your schedule and then honoring it will help you from developing injuries as much as it will help you in getting fit.
I should qualify a few things at this point. Because a schedule is preplanned doesn't make it inflexible. On the contrary, I find having a simple calendar-type format in Excel gives me a ton of flexibility when it comes to my planning. I'll give you an example. I got a call from a friend last week who was flying into town and wanted to meet for dinner that night after work. Unfortunately, I had a race planned in two weeks and my schedule was perfectly set up with an eight mile run planned that evening. Did I skip dinner because of panic over my schedule? Of course not. I looked at my written plan, moved everything over a day or two realizing I had spot in my schedule to make it work. I had a relaxing dinner with an old friend and a very nice run two nights later.
To many readers the last two paragraphs might seem a little over the top or even ridiculous. I won't argue with you, but I will promise you that months after you've set your goals and designed your first schedule and then get back to your busy life, you'll forget what those goals were and how you had ever figured out how to work them into your real life. How many people have you heard say "I was doing so well, and then...".?
The advice I've provided is applicable to anyone beginning or currently in an exercise mode. It's impossible to design a personalized training schedule for an individual I've never met, so I won't attempt to do that here. But if you've read this posting and the "Running, Training and Racing; Start with a Goal" article, you should now be able to do further research on the specific activities you want to focus as well as developing a better sense of the volume of training you're able and willing to pursue.
A last word about getting started. A personal trainer is great, but if you're comfortable with it there are also lots of training schedules on the Internet which serve as helpful resources. Be careful with just taking a schedule off the Internet and implementing it. I have seen dozens on schedules online and none fit me perfectly, but almost all of them have something to offer. Review as many schedules as you can (whatever your sport or activity) and pick through a number of them to build a comfortable regimen. Then change it as your body and life dictate. As always, visit a doctor and advise him of your fitness plans before starting. Stay healthy and good luck.
David W. Meier