How to structure a great week of workouts

Happy Thursday! If you’re a regular reader of A Lady Goes West, then you know that every single Monday I post a recap of my workouts from the past week. I do that to share insight into my fitness life and to talk about how I continually strive to improve on my routine.

But you may be wondering, how can you do the same thing, while not necessarily having access to the same gyms and classes? Well, you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to share a few tips on how you can structure a balanced week of workouts, depending on the time you have to commit. If you’re ready to up your fitness game, a little tweak in your routine could be just what the doctor (or trainer) ordered.

The following is a post I originally wrote for Jen’s blog and wanted to share with you here as well. Before you begin reading, remember that this is just a general set of guidelines and what I believe to work best for the average person. It’s not the only way. And you must always listen to your own body and consider your own goals and needs. 

How to structure a great week of workouts via A Lady Goes West

How to structure a great week of workouts

So maybe you hit the gym a few times a week or get outside to run most mornings and you feel like you’re not getting any results. Or maybe you’re flat-out bored with your routine. No matter the case, I’m here to tell you that there is a way to create a plan for your workouts that isn’t the same old, same old, every single day.

While every person has different goals (and I encourage you to meet with a personal trainer one day to discuss your individuals needs, limitations, mobility and plans), there are a few standard guidelines when it comes to a good week of workouts. And this applies to you whether you work out solely at home, enjoy taking group fitness classes in the studio setting or hitting up a big corporate gym with a workout buddy.

  • FREQUENCY: First of all, you have to choose your frequency. You should always try to work out at least three times, spaced out across the week, so you can get the maximum benefits. Therefore, anywhere from three to six workouts is ideal. I like to do six workouts a week on Monday through Saturday, with a rest day on Sunday. 
  • REST: Second of all, don’t forget the rest day. Every single week, you should have one day where you give your body and muscles a chance to recover completely. On this day, you can take walks and foam roll, but back off from actual strength and cardio work.
  • DURATION: Thirdly, you have to choose the time you can devote to your workouts. You can get a great workout done in just 25 minutes, however, sometimes, your workout may be longer than that. For days that you complete high-intensity interval training (HIIT), less than 30 minutes is fine. But for days when you choose to do a different workout with less intensity, it may stretch out a bit longer, and that’s okay. Your workouts can vary in duration throughout the week. You don’t need to spend more than an hour working out each day and you certainly should never go more than two hours a day (unless of course, you are training for something specific). Because I teach a lot of group fitness classes, (like BODYPUMP and BODYATTACK), which require me to do the whole workout, many of my workouts are one-hour in length. However, if I’m working out alone, the time varies between 25 minutes to one-hour-and-15 minutes. 
  • FORMAT: Fourth, you’ve got to have variety. Ideally, your week should include equal parts strength/resistance training and cardio training. You’ll also want to include some stretching and flexibility work, as well as core work. While you don’t have to devote individual sessions to these, you can always fit in 10 minutes of core work and flexibility work at the end of each workout. If you usually run every day, start trying to add in some bodyweight work or work with a resistance tube at least three times a week, so you can build muscle and strengthen your body. You may find that it makes you a better runner. (Check out some of these short weights workouts I’ve created for ideas.)
  • ORDER: Last but not least, you want to space out the days that you do full-body resistance training sessions. If you plan to lift weights on Monday, then do cardio on Tuesday and go back to the weights on Wednesday. Some people with more specific goals like to do “split days” in which they work the legs one day, the upper-body the next day, etc. However, I find that this type of training works for the more advanced weight-lifter who is trying to get a certain aesthetic gain. For the everyday person wanting to get in shape, full-body strength workouts performed with a day of rest in between are ideal. And weight training can mean a number of things, you could use resistance bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells or even the fancy cable machines at the gym.

Of course, I’m a big believer in group fitness and get most of my workouts done that way. With that, you don’t have the choice on the duration, but you can still make yourself a schedule so that you’re getting in a variety of class formats each week. For instance, I teach BODYATTACK (cardio) on Monday, BODYPUMP (resistance) on Tuesday and BODYATTACK (cardio) on Wednesday, successfully rotating the requirements on my body at the start of the week.

A sample well-balanced workout week

Now, to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about above in action, here’s a look at a sample great week of workouts for someone who exercises five times-a-week. And of course, this could also be modified for working out only three to four times-a-week:

  • Monday – 30 minutes of HIIT cardio, 10 minutes of stretching
  • Tuesday – 45 minutes of full-body weight training, 10 minutes of stretching
  • Wednesday – Rest day 
  • Thursday – 25 minutes of HIIT cardio, 5 minutes of core, 5 minutes of stretching
  • Friday – 30 minutes of full-body weight training, 10 minutes of stretching
  • Saturday – 30 minutes of steady-state cardio, 10 minutes of core, 5 minutes of stretching
  • Sunday – Rest day

What else should you add to your week?

For extra credit, I also encourage you to try to fit in a yoga class or perform yoga at home every once in a while. One of my goals for 2015 was to take one yoga class a week, and it’s helped quite a bit with my flexibility. Also, it’s great to try new things. Sometimes your cardio can be running intervals on the treadmill, sometimes it can be bike-riding and sometimes it can be taking a group fitness class. The more you challenge your body to do new things, the better off you’ll be.

As I said in the beginning, we all have different goals, so no plan is cookie-cutter perfect for you, unless designed for you by your own personal trainer. Therefore, seek variety, seek movement and remember to get a day of rest. 

So those are my two cents on the matter. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Enjoy your day, and please come on back for “Friday Favorites” tomorrow.

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And in case you missed it, you can still enter to win four pouches of the brand new MealEnders lozenges, which I reviewed yesterday. The contest closes Sunday night.

Questions of the day

What’s your favorite kind of workout? Is there any type of workout that you’ve been dying to try? How many days of the week do you work out?

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31 Comments

    1. Hi Jill! Yup, I always go for yoga once a week and that’s EXTRA credit for someone just starting out their new workout routine. Don’t want to force too many new things at once of course heheh! Nice job with four yoga sessions a week, you must feel awesome!

  1. Awesome tips! I am all for a well balanced schedule and try to maintain one as best I can. I am a huge advocate for regular yoga practices but don’t always get it in. I workout/teach anywhere from 5-6 days a week, so by the time I get to my rest day all I want to do is rest! Hope you have an awesome Thursday!

    1. Hi Jenna! Yes, I bet you crave your rest days! You should try doing little 10-minute yoga videos a couple times a week just for something. POPSUGAR has some good free ones. Have a great day too! 🙂

  2. I workout 5-6 days a week. My cardio is almost always running, but I alternate with a Nike Training Club cardio session every once in a while. I try to strength train three days a week and that’s usually done at home. I’ve been dying to try a Pure Barre class since most of the Barre workouts I’ve done were videos. My mom and I are taking a class together on Saturday morning and I can’t wait! A studio just opened near me this fall.

    Have a great Thursday!

    1. Hi Chrissy! First BODYPUMP and now Pure Barre? You’re on a roll! You’ll love the props involved at Pure Barre! Let me know what you think! 🙂

  3. I structure my workouts based on my goals, which depends on the time of year and what I’m training for. Right now (well, just before I was hospitalized) it’s three days of full-body strength, two days of yoga, and at least two runs only because I love running 🙂 When I was building basic strength, I did four days of upper/lower splits and two days of HIIT. And you’re right, working in at least some yoga is important, as well as rest days! Great post 🙂

    1. Thanks, Bri. Hope you are doing okay now post-hospitalization. And glad that your program changes as your goals do, because that’s smart. Keep up the good variety! 🙂

  4. Such good tips Ashley, it should be a PSA for all the confused people out there!! Just total info overload on routine structuring. I completely agree with full body on alternating days though, usually it gives me a cardio effect and I alternative body parts without rest too!

    1. Hi Jill, Yes, for sure. Cardio benefits can creep into the weightlifting a lot. And glad you liked this one! Hope you’re week is going well! 🙂

  5. I structure my workout week almost the same way! One day of rest, where I try to walk or bike to work; 3 to 4 days of lifting (but I usually do some high intensity strength moves to get my heart rate up); and 2 days of cardio or yoga. And as much stretching and foam rolling as possible!

  6. I think next on my list to try is TRX! I’ve been trying to take 5-6 classes a week, and I’m looking forward to diversifying my workouts soon. It may be time to get back on ClassPass for a while. Thanks for inspiring us with scheduling guidelines!

    1. You are so welcome, Catherine! You’ll enjoy TRX, it feels really good on the body, and can be a mix of cardio and resistance. Hope all is well with you!! 🙂

  7. Ashley, do you have cross-training tips for swimmers? I usually swim 3 to 5 times a week and I do pilates once a week but never any weights or indoors cardio because I hate being inside. Any tips to exercise outside, say at my local park?

    1. Hi there Frog Mom, That’s great that you’re swimming 3-5 times a week and doing some Pilates. You’ll definitely want to add in some strength-training, which you can do outdoors. If you purchase a resistance tube, you can even take it with you to a park for some resisted work. You can do bicep curls, shoulder presses, leg lifts and even rows, just by wrapping the tube around a tree or a pole of a fence. If you don’t want to use a tube, I’d suggest adding in some push-ups, planks, squats, lunges and bridges into your routine for some bodyweight work. Does that help? Thanks for stopping by!! (And of course, you’ll want to see a personal trainer for advice tailored right to you — just offering some general suggestions that you can follow at your own cautious discretion only!)

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