What's the best workout program?
Whether you want to lose weight, get stronger or improve on your cardio, we've got the lowdown on how to choose the right program for you.
My goal is: lose weight
If you can train 3 sessions: Goodlife personal trainer and triathlete Sarah Menlove says: “Include both cardio and strength or body weight resistance exercise in all days of the program, and include some aspect of high-intensity training on at least one day.”
If you can train 5 sessions: “You would have to alternate between cardio and weights training sessions. I would still include some of the high-intensity intervals and circuit sessions along with two or three weights or strength based sessions a week,” she says.
What to do:
Kickboxing: For a calorie-burning workout, Scott Hunt from Fitness Enhancement says, “Start with six two-minute rounds with low kicks and light punches with a minute or two off in between rounds and build up to six five-minute rounds with higher and harder kicks and punches. If you’re not confident with anything tricky, keep it simple and simply do 30 punches followed by five right kicks then five left kicks and repeat for the whole round.” A short set of strength training can be squeezed in between each round so you don’t miss out on your muscle building:“Try squats for the first break, push-ups for the second and assisted chin-ups for the third and repeat after the fourth, fifth and sixth round,” says Hunt.
Got more time?
A kickboxing routine like this will work over a three- or five-session week. “On the two additional days, you can drop the strength training and focus on some lower-impact cardio such as bike or running that keeps your heart rate and fat burning up, but lets you recover from the strength work.”
Circuit Training: “Start with a longer aerobic cardio to warm up, such as 10-minute bike, then 10-minute cross trainer and then 10-minute treadmill at an easy to med intensity – or just 30 minutes of one of these without rest periods – followed by a high intensity interval circuit,” says Menlove.
Sarah’s Killer Cardio Circuit: Complete the following as fast as you can:
20 x push-ups
20 x burpees
20 x TRX rows (pull-ups)
20 x squat press
20 x box or squat jumps
20 x mountain climbers
20 x medicine ball sit-ups
20 x medicine ball slams
“Depending on level of fitness, this might be enough. However, if you’re at a high level of fitness, include a rest after the first set then do it again – dropping the reps to 15 then taking a shorter rest and dropping the reps to 10 for a third set,” she says.
Got more time?
Completing these kinds of circuits ever day (refresher: it takes 48 hours for your body to recover from HIIT training) isn’t possible. So for a five-session-a-week program, you’re going to have to change it up. “You would have to alternate between cardio and weights training sessions. I would still include some of the high-intensity intervals and circuit sessions along with two or three weights or strength-based sessions a week.”
My goal is: get stronger
3 sessions a week: “Work your whole body each of the three days,“ advises Hunt. “If you’re finding you’re not recovered enough in between sessions, the good news is that you’re training hard enough to fatigue yourself that much so you can adapt it to a split program of lower body and abs for one session and upper body the next,” he says.
5 sessions a week: “A five-sessions-per-week strength training program definitely needs a split program to ensure you recover and get stronger after each session,” says hunt.
What to do:
ScotT Hunt’s Full-body Weights Session: “Try this simple strength-training routine to get a great all-over workout that works every muscle in your body with an extra emphasis on your core.
Aim for about 20 reps of each and perform all six exercises in a row with minimal breaks.”
Legs: Squats ›› You are fresh for your first set, so aim for heavy weights and a full range of motion.
Lunge ›› Perform a normal lunge and on the up phase lift your rear leg to waist height, this will increase variety and intensity.
Medicine ball push-ups ›› Place one hand on a medicine ball to increase the intensity and core work. After each push-up, roll the ball to the other hand. (This is a push exercise)
Seated row ›› Ensure you get a full range of motion and pull the bar right to your stomach. Look after your back and ensure you don’t cheat by swinging the bar as you get tired. (This is a pull exercise)
Fit ball bench press ›› Perform a normal bench press but swap the bench for the ball to work your core and stability. (This is a push exercise)
Fit ball rows ›› Place your stomach on a fit ball with your toes on the ground and your upper body out over the ball in a straight line. With a dumbbell in each hand, perform a row. Ensure you keep your body in a straight line for the whole set. This is twice as fast as doing a one-arm row and then swapping to do the other side! (This is a pull exercise)
Got more time?
Enter the push and pull split sessions! Refresher: pull muscles (back and biceps) on one day, push muscles (chest and triceps) the next, and then a legs day. That means you’ll be able to work out your entire body over three days, meaning you could work each group almost twice a week!
My goal is: aerobic conditioning
3 Sessions: “Aim for at least one session a week where your heart rate is consistently elevated – like a one-hour run or bike ride at a steady pace – and aim for at least one where your heart rate is up and down, like interval or sprint training,” says Hunt.
5 Sessions: “Include another slow, long-distance run (not straight after the first one) and a paced run, which will be shorter in duration than what you are training for but at a faster speed. For example, 30 minutes holding 80 per cent,” says Menlove.
What to do:
“Start with a slow, long-distance run; this is done at 60 to 70 per cent intensity so should feel easy throughout a 60- or 90-minute session,” says Menlove. “If you can’t run for this long, start small and add five minutes more each week to build up.” Your elevated heart rate session could be either a treadmill interval session (“For example, 30 to 40 minutes of three minutes at 80 per cent, then three at 60 per cent,” says Menlove) or a kickboxing or circuit session (as outlined in weight loss). For other sessions, choose the exercise that best correlates with your goals. “Whether you’re after overall aerobic conditioning for a sport involving a lot of sprint work or are training for a marathon, you need to mix up your cardio work,” says Hunt.
Got more time:
“Add in a muscular endurance session,” says Hunt. “Essentially a strength training program, but with light weights and high reps and no breaks in between sets. While you will of course get strength conditioning out of this, the high reps make it much more aerobic. The goal of this session is to build that endurance in your muscles for when your lungs are doing great thanks to all the long runs, but your muscles are crying out for you to stop.
HOT TIP: Timing your rounds and your breaks make a great option for the time-poor (or time waster) because you simply have to time yourself, even when you’re having a rest. “For most people a break is around 30 seconds, but they should be shorter the fitter you are,” says Hunt. “If you’ve got enough breath back to chit chat, you’ve stopped for too long!”
NEXT: Read more about how the intensity affects your workouts.