Do you want to lose weight, tone up, fast track your workout or run a half marathon? There’s no doubt a balanced workout regimen comprising cardio exercise, resistance training and flexibility is key to ensuring your body is worked evenly, but how much or how little of these types of exercise you do each week depends very much on what you want to get out of your gym sessions.
“Although it is essential to have a balanced training program, it’s also important to tailor your training for a specific goal,” says Personal trainer Genevieve Brock. “For example, if a marathon runner spent 80 per cent of their time doing weights, 10 per cent doing cardiovascular training and 10 per cent stretching, it wouldn’t fulfil the training requirements needed to run a marathon distance. The more specific you are with your training, the quicker it will be to achieve your goal.” Here’s how to structure your workout week to achieve your fitness goals.
Goal #1: Lose weight
If you’re like the majority of Australian women who join a gym, chances are you’re keen to shed a few kilos. And the best way to lose weight is through a combination of cardio and strength training sessions.
Personal trainer Nardia Norman says swapping steady-state cardio – moving at a sustained pace for a long period, like a long walk or jog – for high-intensity intervals will help you burn more kilojoules. And remember, muscle burns fat, so the more muscle you build with strength training, the more fat you’ll burn.
“Women need to stop only doing cardio when trying to achieve fat loss,” says Norman. “If you want to lose weight you have to use resistance training in conjunction with high-intensity training in the form of high-intensity intervals. You can still keep steady-state cardio in the week, but the crux of your training week should be built around resistance and interval training.”
Workout week: Three days cardio, three days strength training, one day steady state cardio.
Goal #2: Tone up
If you’re a regular at the gym in pursuit of a tight, toned body, there are two aspects of your training to consider, says accredited exercise physiologist Gemma Houston, a lecturer in clinical exercise studies at Victoria University.
“The first is looking to improve the tone in the muscle mass,” she says. “We usually talk about doing strength endurance training, which is using moderate intensity weights to get a burn at the end of each set but not be absolutely shaking. The second is making sure that you’re losing fat mass as well. Because of posture and things like that a lot of people already have quite tight abs, but they’re well hidden behind fat, so with toning up it’s about making sure you’re addressing both aspects.”
And don’t forget to stretch after strength training sessions. “It’s recommended that you do a 15-minute full stretch session at the end of every workout as you will most likely be a little sore and tight,” says Brock.
Workout week: Four to five days strength training, one to two days cardio and one day flexibility.
Goal #3: Improve general fitness
Options abound if your aim is to improve your general fitness. Studies have long shown that we’re much more likely to stick with exercises we like, so don’t be afraid to do the rounds of your gym’s group classes, jump into the pool or try a new circuit to discover some new favourites.
“To improve general cardiovascular fitness and maintain body weight, a varied mixture of cardiovascular activities including high intensity interval training, power walks, hill sprinting, spin classes, circuit training and swimming are good options – basically anything you find challenging and gets your heart rate up,” says Brock.
If your goal is maintenance, nutrition is just as important as during periods of weight loss or muscle gain. “When aiming to increase your fitness level but maintain body weight, nutrition really comes into play to ensure you are getting enough kilojoules in to support cardio and weight training without losing any weight,” says Brock.
Workout week: Three days cardio, two days strength training and two days flexibility.
Goal #4: Maximise your time
Time-poor gym goers seeking to make the most of short sessions need not miss out on the benefits of regular exercise. In fact, you’ll notice the benefits of just 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise. A strength-training, high-intensity circuit is one of the best ways to make the most of a short workout. “This kind of workout will not only build strength and endurance, but it will increase metabolic capacity, conditioning in your physique and also leave you feeling like you worked as hard as you could in the shortest amount of time,” says Brock.
Norman suggests adopting the principles of concurrent training, where compound exercises are combined with cardio. “You might do, say, squats then sit-ups then a 300-metre run on the treadmill and repeat,” she says. “In next section you might do lunges with jump lunges then 200 metres of rowing – so you’re taking the concept of resistance training and intervals and shoving them together. Do 30 minutes per session and you’ll be absolutely cooked at the end of it – it’s so effective for the time it takes to do.”
Workout week: 30-minute strength-training, high-intensity circuit and light cardio or flexibility on alternating days.
Goal #5: Train for an event
You’ve signed up to complete a half marathon, fun-run or the dreaded Tough Mudder but where do you start with your training regimen? “It really depends on the specific needs of the event,” says Houston. “If you’re training for a marathon you need to be building up to running for a long period of time without stopping. There needs to be a fairly dedicated training plan over a period of months focusing predominately on cardiovascular and muscular endurance, so being able to run for long periods of time.”
For an event like a Tough Mudder, you need a little of everything – endurance, strength, power, mobility, flexibility and balance. “A lot of women tend to struggle with upper body strength, so you may need to design some training exercises to specifically address this so you can pull yourself up over obstacles,” says Houston.
It’s especially important to break your goal down into individual fitness components – rather than trying to train everything at once – and plan your training schedule accordingly. “When you want a specific outcome, sometimes people try to train multiple modalities at once and our bodies can’t adapt to that,” says Norman. “For example, you have to create the aerobic base first then work on speed – don’t try to do the two things together.”
Workout week: Develop a schedule that chunks your training into specific blocks and use this to plan your weekly workouts.