Key Elements to an Exercise Program


As a personal trainer, my main job is to design and implement exercise programs for my clients that are both effective and appropriate for their fitness goals. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to have the luxury of personal fitness training and if you’re new to exercise it can be very confusing knowing what to do, how much of it to do, and when to do it. So for those looking to start a weekly exercise routine on their own, you must not only understand all the key elements to a well-balanced exercise program, but also consider these 3 things:

  1. Your health history– You have to consider any chronic ailments/conditions that are going to affect your ability to exercise; primarily orthopedic issues, but also any hormonal or CNS issues. In your workout routine, you not only need to cautiously work around these chronic issues to not exacerbate them, but you should also focus on exercises that will help to prevent and reduce future episodes/issues (at least at first). The key is to strengthen without irritating, which takes caution, time and consistency. Understand your limitations first and then carefully improve by increasing slowly.
  2. Your exercise history/current condition– Your starting point is going to be largely determined by your exercise history and type/amount of exercise (if any) you’ve been doing consistently over the past 3-6 months. As a simple example, someone who has not been doing any regular exercise over the past 6 months should probably start off by doing 1-2 days/week of basic hypertrophy strength training utilizing machines and 1-2 days/week of moderate cardiovascular training. This would be as opposed to jumping right into a cross-training/boot-camp type workout where you’re combining those two elements…it’s always best to start slow and gradually increase the intensity level. Doing to much to quickly can lead to injury and discouragement. Now if you have a history of working out or played sports competitively in your past, then you may have a better foundation of muscle memory that will allow you to jump into a routine more quickly.
  3. Your fitness/physique goals– Everyone’s fitness/physique goals are different and you should design your weekly workout routines to be as conducive as possible to your fitness/physique goals. Another simple example, if you’re interested in doing iron-man or triathlon competitions then you wouldn’t want to make hypertrophy strength training the focus of your weekly exercise regimen. Rather, you would focus on cardiovascular training and calisthenics to increase your aerobic capacity and relative strength. On the opposite side, if you’re a smaller framed person looking to build size and strength then you would want to make hypertrophy strength training and power movements the focus of your workout regimen, not cardiovascular training or calisthenics. These are simple examples to the extreme, but regardless of what your fitness goals are it’s important to incorporate all the key elements and types of training into a workout routine that’s conducive to your fitness goals…they all have unique benefits and are all needed for optimal performance.

Once you’ve considered these 3 things it’s time to start experimenting with different combinations of each of the key exercise elements in order to eventually reach your fitness goals…after lots of time, consistency and hard work! Having said that, here are the key elements to a well-balanced exercise program:

  1. Aerobic/Cardiovascular Training- Cardiovascular exercise increases your aerobic capacity by training your heart to become more efficient at pumping oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the rest of your body and muscles. The greater your aerobic capacity is, the easier it will be to exercise and perform demanding tasks without becoming fatigued. Even the bodybuilder should maintain a certain level of cardiovascular health in order to excel at weight training. There are lots of options for cardiovascular training…however you choose to do it, the ultimate goal is to sustain an elevated heart rate for an extended period of time.
  2. Resistance/Strength Training- Strength/resistance training is not just for bodybuilders and people who want to look muscular. Strength training has numerous benefits for overall health including increasing bone density, lean muscle, basal metabolism, and reducing body fat…just to name some. Try to strength train at least twice a week and make sure you cover every muscle group of the body at least once per week. Free weights, machines, cables, resistance bands, and body weight exercises are all effective at increasing muscular strength. If you are unsure about how to start strength training, be sure to consult a certified personal trainer at your local fitness center.
  3. Flexibility/Range of Motion Exercises- Flexibility is a crucial part of an exercise program and is a necessity for optimal physical fitness and performance. Stretching exercises help improve flexibility and range of motion in the joints throughout the body. People who stretch regularly or practice yoga and Pilates have also been shown to have much lower levels of stress. Just remember, stretching is a type of exercise and you should always warm up by doing at least 5-10 minutes of moderate aerobic activity before engaging in any type of exercise, even stretching. There are studies that show benefits to stretching before and after your workout.
  4. Balance & Core Training- Balancing and core exercises are important to do regularly because they help protect you from injury during strenuous activities. Your core is composed of several sets/layers of muscles ranging from your inner and outer abdominals to the postural muscles of the low back and hips. Your core is the foundation for the rest of your body and is the main cluster of muscles that are used the most for balance, which makes them increasingly more important to train as you age.

Your history and fitness goals are what largely determine how and where you can start in an exercise program. Once you “test the waters” and feel comfortable getting into a planned weekly routine, make sure to incorporate all the key exercise elements into a well rounded exercise program and then adjust the frequency/intensity of each element until you find the right combination that’s right for your abilities, body type, and is conducive to your ultimate fitness/physique goals.

Need help designing an exercise program? Feel free to contact me with any questions or to talk about an exercise regimen that’s right for you.