There are a handful of things you need to build a good fitness program for yourself. Components you'll want to keep in mind:
- your goal
- a deadline or time frame
- progress tracking
Having a goal and an achievement date are the easiest parts, though they do have an interrelationship. Without something bordering OMG HAX going on, nobody is likely to lose 50 pounds or run a first marathon in just six weeks. Be ambitious, but also be reasonable. Weight can safely come off at about a pound or two a week, so plan accordingly if that's your aim. For strength gains, three to 10 pounds per week for upper-body lifts and five to 15 pounds for lower-body moves are fairly achievable for several weeks, especially if you're still new to weightlifting.
As you get further along toward your goal, the easy initial progress will slow and maybe even stall from time to time. This is frustrating, but not at all uncommon. We've all gotten stuck on a boss encounter somewhere along the way. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our tactics and make a change, or shuffle up the raid composition (try new exercises, or a different way of doing the same ones). Sometimes all you need is better gear (more muscle, more stamina or more speed).
These plateaus are part of why you need to remain flexible but focused. Another reason is that, some days, you'll just have a crappy workout. Maybe you got stuck working late, or had to skip breakfast and lunch to finish a project, or slept poorly. On the other hand, there will be times when you'll be ready to kick butt and chew bubblegum. Being ready and able to take advantage of these times and work around (and through) the days when you're off your game means that you can keep making progress, regardless of what life throws your way.
All along, you should keep a workout log to track what and how you've done, so you can see at a glance what yesterday's workout was (or last week's, or whatever). While not everyone thrives on internal competition, having a reminder of "I'm going to do this better than I did it before" can be surprisingly effective. I've even gone so far as to put up a white board in my garage with my personal records (PRs) for this, that and the other, and it feels pretty darn good to be able to wipe one off and re-write over it. It may lack the shiny chime of an in-game achievement, but it may be even more satisfying.
With those basics in mind, let's take a look at a not-very hypothetical weightlifting program -- my own. Despite my setbacks due to injury, I've wanted to get stronger and leaner in time for my birthday and Dragon*Con. (Unfortunately, I won't be one of the lucky folks at BlizzCon unless a passing airliner drops a small gold brick through my roof.) When I laid them out last fall, they looked something like this:
Bench Press: 1.5x bodyweight (BW), sets of 5+
Squat: 2x BW, sets of 5+
Deadlift: 3x BW, one rep
Overhead Press: 1x BW, sets of 5+
Knowing I had about 30 weeks, give or take, allowed me to break down those goals into weekly increments (2 pounds per week for bench and overhead press, 3-5 pounds for squat, and 5 pounds for deadlift). That was assuming, of course, perfectly consistent and linear progress from week to week, forever. As any physics student knows, the reason we do all homework assignments assuming a frictionless vacuum is because the real world is a messy, inconsistent, analog place.
But even knowing that things wouldn't go perfectly, it does provide a framework within which to say, "OK, I'd like to be able to add X pounds to this exercise," and if I could add X, great. If I could add 2X, even better. If, however, I couldn't add X or even had to subtract X sometimes (this is called "de-loading" and is important for allowing your body to recover and rebuild every so often, even when you're healthy), it hasn't meant the end of the world.
About halfway through, it was time to take stock and see how things were going.
Bench Press: 225 for 1 rep (goal is 250 for 5)
Squat: 265 for 3 sets of 5 reps (goal is 325 x 5)
Deadlift: 405 for 2 reps (pre-injury) (goal is 485)
Overhead Press: 150 for 3 reps (goal is 165 x 5)
Obviously, I made more progress in some things than others, but everything has generally moved in the right direction (at least when I haven't been hurting myself playing softball or something). Like I said, the real world is an imperfect place, and I am certainly an imperfect part of it. (Just ask Mike about my penchant for DPSing when I was supposed to be healing during raids. The man is lucky he was bald before they talked me into joining the guild, or he'd probably have pulled out what hair didn't go gray. I should also note my utter lack of shame or repentance over this.)
The same kind of approach is useful with pre-packaged programs, like the popular Couch to 5k and 100 Pushups. They've both been designed to help someone with a specific goal in mind achieve it.
Having a plan of attack isn't just useful for boss fights. It's also extremely handy when fighting the battle of the bulge.
Have you ever wanted to write for WoW.com? Your chance may be right around the corner. Watch for our next call for submissions for articles via Seed, the Aol guest writer program that brings your words to WoW.com. The next byline you see here may be yours!