When it comes to weight loss, all that really matters is how much you move, period. It can be sets and reps and long bouts of cardio at the gym, or it can be regular evening walks. The point is to move more often.
When it comes to functional movement, posture, and muscular balance, then the how of writing your own workout comes into play. Every week, I meet people at the gym who do, “…about 30 minutes on the elliptical, and then I go downstairs and do some abs, and some lifting.”
“You know, like sit-ups, and crunches, and that big chair where you lift your legs up and down… and then I do some biceps curls, and some front shoulder raises, and some of these…” and then they demonstrate a military press.
I nod, thinking that they’re a perfect candidate for personal training–and not because they’re overweight or at risk for heart disease–but because they seem bored, aimless.
Writing a workout is easy. Writing a balanced workout takes more concentration. It’s important to first expand your exercise library. Start by making a chart like this, filling it in with your own exercises, by whatever name you call them.
|Squats||Military Press||Sit-ups||Seated Row||Jump Rope|
|Step-ups||Pushups||Crunches||S.L. Dead Lift||KB Swing|
|Lateral Step-ups||Shoulder Raises||Leg lifts||SDLHP||Run|
|Lunges||Haloes||Cherry Pickers||KB Swing||Box Jumps|
|Side Lunges||High Pull||Plank||High Pull||Ice Skaters|
|V-Lunges||Triceps Extensions||Obliq. Side Raises||Sumo Dead Lift||Burpees|
|Box Jumps||Biceps Curls||Oblique V-ups||S.L Dead Lift||Ribbons|
|S.L. Dead Lifts||Dips||Scullers||Seated Row||Slam Ball|
|KB Swing||Front Squat||Lat Pull Down|
|Ice Skaters||KB Swing|
As you can see, some of the exercises overlap categories, since they are compound movements.
When writing a total body circuit workout, it’s important to hit the whole body. By no means is this is hard rule, but if your goal is a good balanced effort, stick with the rule. If you are working on something specifically (such as an imbalance between your anterior and posterior chains, you may decide to omit certain muscle groups).
By choosing an exercise from each group (we’ll take the first exercise from each column), you get a list that looks like this: Squats, Military Press, Sit-ups, Seated Row, and Jump Rope. You could make a ton of different workouts with these exercises, depending on the weights you want to use and the intensity you’re going for, but to keep it simple, we’ll just say:
Complete 7 rounds of:
10 Squats, 10 Military Presses, 10 Sit-ups, 10 Seated Rows, and 100 skips with the rope.
This is a 280-rep workout + 700 skips with the jump rope. My guess is that it would take anywhere from 25-35 minutes to complete.
But there’s something wrong with this workout in terms of balance. Yes, we have most of the body covered, but it’s extremely dominant in the sagittal plane. It’s important to understand planes of motion. Sagittal plane motions are exercises that move forward and backward, or up and down in a forward backward direction. Frontal plane motions are exercises that adduct and abduct, or move out to the side, and back in. Transverse plane motions are rotational.
|Pushups||Jumping Jacks||Cable Twists|
|Squats||Lateral Step-ups||Cherry Pickers|
|Box Jumps||Jane Fonda Leg Lifts||Wood Choppers|
|Burpees||Oblique Side Raises||Ice Skaters|
|KB Swing||Side Plank||Figure-8 Swings|
|Leg Lifts||Side Lunges||Arm Circles|
|Step-ups||Side Shoulder Raises||Leg Circles|
|Dead Lifts||Upright Rows||Haloes|
|Seated Row||Oblique V-ups|
This is just to name a few. As you can see, the sagittal column is dominant (I have no trouble filling in the exercises in the other columns to catch them up, but it’s my job to know, whereas the average gym-goer has a much more difficult time thinking of exercises for the frontal and transverse planes). When writing your workout, make sure you select at least one exercise from each plane.
So our original workout of 7 x (10 Squats (S), 10 Military Presses (F), 10 Sit-ups (S), 10 Seated Rows (S), and 100 skips with the rope (S)) needs modification. It would be wise to substitute one of the sagittal exercises with a transverse exercise. Transverse exercises typically originate in the core, so the easiest substitution to make it to swap out the sit-ups for cherry pickers. Both work the core, but the latter breaks you out of the monotony of sagittal dominance.
Now the workout looks like this:
7 x (10 Squats (Legs-S), 10 Military Presses (Shoulders-F), 10 Cherry Pickers (Core-T), 10 Seated Rows (Back-S), 100 skips with the rope (Aerobic-S)
Choosing only five exercises certainly doesn’t cover every part of the body, but it’s a good start. When writing your circuit workout, or as I like to call it, aerobic resistance training, you are more time-efficient at the gym, you get a great cardio workout by cycling through the non-competing exercises, and you end up sore the next day. Not a bad approach.