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Creating an exercise plan

February 26, 2018

Last week I began a new routine to try to get back some of the strength and fitness I’d lost after 4 months of laziness. This post is an update on how it’s going, and I’d like to discuss my approach in a little more detail.

My goals

Having been out of the bodyweight routine for quite a while my goal was to signal to my body that it needs to be ready to do all the old moves again. The last thing I wanted was to jump stright back into a heavy routine of workouts and risk injury or frustration, so my goal is to bring exercise back into my life in a sustainable way.

We all have different goals. Your goals may not be similar to mine, and the plan set out here might not be for you. I’ve been experimenting with bodyweight exercise routines and gone through a few different variations over the past year. It’s good to try things and see what works, and be sure to check out the resources I’ll link below if you’re doing something like this for yourself.

Being your own coach

I don’t have a gym membership or access to any coaches, so I’ve been doing my best with online research and experimenting with that I read and watch online. Being in charge of my own routine means being both a motivator as well as being my own physio. I need to watch out for signs of potential injury before they happen as well as look for opportunities to improve.

To achieve this the best tool I’ve found is pen and paper. I keep a lot of each set and exercise I do, and occasionally add notes if something was unusual about a workout or day.

Any plan is better than no plan. With that in mind I put together a routine that includes each of the main 6 exercises set out in Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning. These exercises are doable with almost no equipment. The moves also have loads of room for progression, which is a big part of how I can maintain motivation and results.

The plan

There is any number of ways to approach setting out a routine, but I wanted to set up a regular baseline of exercise I could perform daily without tiring myself out. For this it means 1 set of each exercise each day. Here’s how the last 10 days have gone:

February 2018 workout stats

I started off a little enthusiastic, doing two sets each day but I quickly started to feel it was too much, and instead moved to one set per day. This has allowed more time for recovery and I don’t dread doing the exercises so much!

As you can see, I started out quite well but regressed in a few areas in the first few days. Some of these have been improving, such as pushups, bridges and my most hated move, leg raises.

This workout targets all parts of the body. It has push exercises, pull as well as balance.

Here’s where I’m at with each and what I hope to progress to.

Push ups

My push ups approach is back to the basic shoulder-width normal pushup form. I’m focusing on quality with each rep. The better I get at these the harder they get! If you’re trying to improve this area, checkout this video (keep the elbows in!). It’s amazing how much room for improvement I keep finding within such a simple movement.

Progression: Rather than simply increase reps I’ll progress this move by bringing the hands closer together toward diamond push ups.

Leg raises

I hates these so much but they work amazing well for the abs and corset muscles around the waist. I avoid situps as they don’t tend to be very effective and give me a sore back.

Knee and leg raises are better. Currently I do leg raises lying down on my back, trying to keep the movement slow and steady and not letting my feet touch the ground between repetitions.

I think a big part of what makes these difficult for me is the range of motion needed, I’m not as flexible as I need to be, so that’s something to work on! Keeping my legs straight all the way through is tough but is improving with practice.

Progression: I’d like to move toward handing knee-raises as the next step.

Squats

I used to have a lot of knee pain when running, but squats were a big part of fixing that. Squats are a very practical (functional?) exercise that helps walking, running, picking stuff up - loads of great day-to-day benefits. I love squats.

I don’t use weights for the squats but instead make them a little harder by keeping my feet together. A “close” squat is more difficult than a wider stance, and after 30 or so reps I can really feel the burn. As with any other exercise, taking them slow is better than fast.

You can learn more about squats here.

Progression: I’m aiming to work toward one-legged (pistol) squats. Will be a while before I get to that level!

Pull ups

Pull ups are a difficult exercise at the best of times, but with weighing 90kg and being over 6”3 tall, I’ve always struggled with them. It took many months of slowly practising each week to get to the point where I could do 5 good pull ups with a full range of motion.

I started with half-pull ups and by jumping up and trying to bring myself down slowly (negatives). This is the only movement that requires any equipment, and I use a door-mounted pull up bar. I’m really keen to improve these as they have a massive impact to my back and upper half of my body so I’ve been putting the pull up bar on my home office door and doing sets through the day.

If you’re looking to improve in this area, check out this video first.

Progression: My goal for this is to get closer to 10 good reps in one set. Keeping the full range of motion and without kipping.

Bridges

Bridges are a massively underrated back exercise. I’m guilty of not giving one enough attention over the last year but since I got back into them I’m finding my back pain from sitting has massively reduced. Here’s how to do bridges.

My shoulder mobility is far from perfect so I’ve a long way to go with these but even within the last 10 days I’m seeing improvement. I’ve moved on from short bridges to an almost-full bridge.

Progression: I’d like to get to a full bridge by building up the shoulder mobility and strength. This will help with handstands!

Handstands

Speaking of which, I am doing a handstand or two each day. I was inspired by this overview to give this a go. Progress is very slow, I can hold a handstand against the wall for about 30 seconds before collapsing in a quivering heap.

Progression: I’m currently facing the wall with my belly toward it. The next step will be to be able to kick into a handstand with my back to the wall. Progress is slow on this but it’s a goal for this year to do one free-standing handstand eventually.

How often to exercise?

So this is the exercises, the next decision was how often to exercise. My goal was to create a habit rather than try to do too much at once. Something I’m keen to avoid is burning out, or even worse, injury and so I decided to try to stick to a light routine I can do each day.

One benefit of this routine is that it doesn’t leave me completely wrecked. I feel I have energy left over, which means I start the day energised rather than drained. I also look forward to it, and find I can get the routine finished up quite quickly.

The progression from this routine would be to isolate one exercise to focus on each day, and maintain the single set in all exercises at the same time. I’ll see if that works, but it’s too early to start making that kind of plan.

If you’re approaching making a workout plan like this yourself, always keep in mind that it’s ok to adjust and tweak it as you go. Only you know your own body and how it feels.

How about you?

How are your new years resolutions working out? Got any goals for the year? Mention me up on twitter, I’d love to hear from you.