When you walk into the gym, what’s your first course of action?
Do you head to a squat rack, or hop on the treadmill?
Maybe you are overcome by a feeling similar to when you enter a room and forget why you’re there in the first place.
What if I told you that preparation for a good workout starts before you even set foot in the gym?
It might sound complicated at first, but there is actually a simple, effective formula to writing your own workouts. It might look a little different for everyone, depending on goals and experience level, but this basic formula is a great place to start!
At the end of today’s post, I’ve provided a free download that outlines The bKYND Formula for a perfect workout - so that you can use it to create your own! Read on for a look at each step in more detail.
Setting Your Intention
Without a goal and a purpose, you are unlikely to ever achieve anything. This applies to your professional career, your personal life, and even the gym.
In a fitness setting, your intention could take on several different forms depending on your preference and the type of workout that you’re doing.
If you’re into weight training, your focus may be “back and shoulders” one day, and “legs” the next.
In the context of yoga, different focuses could be balance, flexibility, or recovery.
No matter the type of workout, choosing an intention will keep you focused and ensure a quality workout.
Your intention is the first part of the workout formula, because it will determine the types of exercises you include.
Before we move on, I want to dive a layer deeper. In addition to choosing a muscle group or specific skill for your workout, it is important to also choose a mental focus.
Your thoughts while working out may seem arbitrary, but in reality they can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your workout. There needs to be a reason behind your decisions.
One strategy for narrowing down your mental focus is to choose a specific word to focus on for the day.
Are you doing yoga to relieve stress? Maybe your word should be Serenity.
Are you strength training to improve longevity and maintain independence as you age? Maybe Functionality.
Are you going on a run to achieve your dream of completing a marathon? Determination.
With a physical and mental intention set, the first part of the workout formula is complete. This step should happen before you even unroll your yoga mat, set foot in the gym, or lace up your shoes.
So what next?
Rather than diving head-first into your workout, it’s important to first dip a toe in and test the waters.
I’m referring to your warm-up.
The importance of a warm-up sequence is widely supported and should be implemented by people of all fitness levels. A few of the benefits include:
Lowering risk of injury
Facilitating blood flow
Preparing working muscles
Initiating mind-body connection
In short, a warm-up prepares both your mind and body. The specifics will depend on the details of your workout - including its duration, focus, and the types of exercises you plan on doing.
When it comes to duration, The basic rule of thumb is that the longer your workout is, the longer your warm-up should be. Simple enough, right?
If you’re preparing for an intense, hour-long weight training session, you should spend at least 15 minutes “getting in the zone” with bodyweight or light resistance exercises.
Half-hour workouts require about 10 minutes of mental and physical preparation, and if your workout is any shouter, aim for at least 5 minutes.
Even with short workouts, something is better than nothing when it comes to a warm-up, as long as you are intentional with the movements you incorporate.
If you’ve completed Step One of our formula, you already have a focus and a plan for what you’re going to accomplish within your workout. With this in mind, the movements in your warm-up should mirror the exercises that you’re planning to complete.
This is a key bit of criteria, as it will increase blood flow to the muscles you will be using and establish the mind-body connection that is key to a good workout.
If it’s leg day, start with some bodyweight squats to get the legs moving.
If you’re going for a run, incorporate dynamic movements to warm-up the lower body and slowly increase your heart rate.
The goal is to mimic the movements that you will be doing for the bulk of your workout, just at a lighter intensity.
Got it? Great. Now let’s get to the fun part.
The Main Event
After warming-up, it’s time to turn your attention to the focus of your workout.
The first exercises you complete should be based on the intention you set for the day. Basically, the hardest, most important, or most intense movements should be placed early on.
When it comes to structuring a strength training session, whether that includes barbells, resistance bands, or bodyweight movements, exercises that require large muscle groups and large amounts of effort are placed first so that you can give your full effort while you still have energy.
Think of this as the main event of your workout - what do you want to focus the most on?
This logic applies to all types of movement.
If you’re planning a sprint workout, your repeats should come before any additional mileage.
If you’re practicing balance in a yoga session, don’t wait until the end of the workout when your muscles are fatigued.
The “Main Event” is what’s going to take up the majority of your time in the gym. It should directly reflect the intention you set for yourself in Step One of our formula.
Alright, so you did the thing. Ready to take it to the next level?
In order to have a well-rounded workout, choose a few “accessory” movements to supplement the main event.
More often than not, the focus of a workout is centered around large muscle groups or a single movement pattern - as it should be. However, it is also important to address smaller muscle groups and other movement patterns in order to improve overall strength and avoid injury.
One of the most important things to focus on during this part of the workout is your core strength. Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned fitness enthusiast, core work is important for everyone. And not just your abs.
Deep core muscles in your trunk are responsible for supporting the entirety of your body. They help with posture and form during exercise, but if neglected can lead to dysfunctions such as back pain.
Neglecting other muscle groups can lead to similar problems.
The overall goal is to avoid any imbalances in the body. In order to do so, we need to add in a variety of movements that target more specific areas that still align with our overall workout focus. Let’s look at a few examples:
If you’re planning a leg day in the gym, the “main event” of your workout might be doing squats. This exercise requires a large muscle group, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, core, and more.
This is great, don’t get me wrong, but in order to promote total-body strength it is important to incorporate more specific exercises that target a single muscle group.
Calf raises, for example. Deep core movements that, in turn, will help with your squat form. Glute bridges to strengthen your posterior chain.
These are all accessory exercises that could be included after the “main event” of your workout.
Let’s look at one more example: running is a movement that also requires the use of muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. What I want to focus on here, however, is the movement pattern itself.
Running occurs in a single plane of motion: forward. This means that muscles that don’t assist with that type of movement aren’t getting any attention.
For runners, good accessory exercises should include side-to-side movements in order to strengthen the body in another plane of motion. This could take the form of side lunges, skaters, clamshells, and more.
With these exercises, we are strengthening the abductor muscles - those that are responsible for those side-to-side movements. Although they aren’t directly used in running, full body strength and balance will help prevent injury.
Now that we’ve gone both big picture and small, it’s time to start winding down. Your warm-up and cool-down sequences are the bookends of your workout, and are equally important.
Although logistically opposites, both serve the purpose of optimizing your workout. While the warm-up prepares your body for work, the cool-down prepares it for rest. Before a workout, you slowly raise your heart rate, whereas afterwards you slowly lower it.
The cool-down and warm-up should be relatively equal in length, which, as we discussed before, is dependent on the length of your workout.
There are many effective ways to cool-down, and as long as you are focusing on the muscles that you used during the workout, it’s hard to go wrong. A typical routine could involve:
-A yoga flow
Pay attention to your body and give it what it needs; the goal here is to reduce next-day soreness and ensure that you leave the workout feeling accomplished and rejuvenated.
This is also a great time to reflect back on the work that you have done. What exercises felt good? What was more difficult? Were you fully aligned with the intention you set for yourself that day?
These questions can help you create more effective workouts moving forward - if you’re up to it, consider keeping a workout journal where you log what exercises you completed along with an overall assessment of the workout.
The cool-down sequence brings you to the end of your time in the gym, but striving for optimal fitness doesn’t stop there. What comes next is equally as important as the workout itself.
When it comes to building a program, emphasis is typically on the workout itself. However, what you do during the period of rest afterwards is just as important. What you eat, how you move, and the amount of true rest you get all have an impact on how effective recovery is for both your physical health and overall wellness.
After any type of workout, it is important to properly replenish nutrient stores in order to aid in muscle recovery and ensure you have enough energy for the rest of your day. Food is fuel, so make sure you are eating enough to support your level of activity.
The same goes for water and rehydration. During exercise, your body loses water through sweat, but the process of preventing dehydration starts way beforehand. Even on rest days, make sure you are consuming enough water to keep hydration and electrolyte levels high.
Speaking of rest, sleep is essential for active individuals. After a hard workout, sleep is when the body releases growth hormones that aid in muscle repair. One might even say that sleep is the most important part of an exercise program!
In terms of amount, the number of hours you should aim for depends on your age. For 12-18 year olds, 8-10 hours of sleep is needed each night. For those above the age of 18, 7-9 hours is recommended.
The bottom line is that recovery is just as important to your health and fitness as exercise itself - it is the final component in our formula for a perfect workout.
Formula for a Perfect Workout
The steps that I’ve provided are intended to serve as a framework for any type of physical activity. No matter your experiences or preferences, every workout should include the following components:
How will you use this framework? Use our free download to map out your own workout, and let us know how it goes!