How to do an exercise properly

How to Make an Exercise Plan

Some people can plunge into a new project without planning ahead. Others find that writing a plan is helpful and keeps them on track. When it comes to motivation, the first few months are crucial. If you can stick with physical activities you enjoy, it’s a good sign that you will be able to make exercise and physical activity a regular part of your everyday life. An exercise and physical activity plan might be a good way to help you:

  • Stay motivated to include physical activity as part of your daily life.
  • Be organized so you can fit exercise and physical activity into your current lifestyle.
  • Know what you need to move forward. Do you need to get new exercise shoes or clothes? Do you need equipment, like weights or a tennis racket? Will you have expenses (like health club fees) that you need to fit into your budget?

What to Include in Your Physical Activity Plan

  • Your reasons for being physically active.
  • Your short- and long-term goals.
  • The activities you plan to do. Include all 4 types of exercise—endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
  • When, where, and with whom you will be active.
  • Things you need to do to get started and keep going.

How Much Exercise Should I Plan to Do?

Aim for moderate-intensity endurance activities on most or all days of the week. Try to do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, but don’t exercise the same muscle group 2 days in a row.

For example, do upper-body strength exercises on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and lower-body strength exercises on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Or, you can do strength exercises of all of your muscle groups every other day. Don’t forget to include balance and flexibility exercises.

Make It a Plan That Works for You

When you are deciding on your activity plans, you’ll want to:

  • Make your plan realistic based on your current activity levels and the amount of time you can dedicate to exercise each week.
  • Make your plan specific. Include all of the details of who, what, where, when, and how you’ll be active each week.
  • Make physical activity a priority. Put it on your “to do” list every day.
  • Make being active easy and fun. Do things you enjoy, but pick up the pace a bit.
  • Make it social. Ask a friend or family member to be your “exercise buddy.”

Here’s another online tool to help you get the recommended amount of endurance and strength activity during a given week. This new interactive Activity Planner from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Move Your Way campaign lets you build a weekly physical activity plan and then print it out.

You can choose from a variety of fun and exciting endurance (aerobic) and strength exercises, personalize your activities by location and purpose, and indicate how much of each exercise you will do. Once you create your plan, don’t forget to add in balance and flexibility exercises.

Review and Update Your Plan Regularly

Adjust your plan as you progress or if your schedule changes. You may find that things like vacation or illness can interrupt your physical activity routine. Don’t get discouraged! You can start exercising again and be successful.

  • Go easy on yourself. You are not alone.
  • The sooner you resume some sort of activity, the easier it will be to get back into your routine.
  • Think about the reasons you started exercising.
  • Believe in yourself!

If you are finding that your current activities are getting easier to do, find ways to challenge yourself. You can push yourself a little further by:

  • Adding new physical activities to your exercise routine.
  • Spending more time being active.
  • Adding distance to your normal routine.
  • Increasing the intensity of your activity.

Remember to check your progress monthly to see if you need to step your exercise plans up a notch!

Quick Tip

Find an exercise buddy or buddies to help keep you motivated and maintain your exercise routine. Having a standing date with a friend or family member can help you stick to your plan.



How To Build Your Own Workout Routine: Plans, Schedules, and Exercises

Step #1: Determine Your “Get in Shape” Situation

As we lay out in our “How to get in Shape” guide, we need to answer a few key questions:

QUESTION 1: What are your goals?

Are you trying to lose weight? Awesome.
Are you trying to bulk up or build muscle? Great.
Are you preparing for your first 5k? Swell.
Whatever your goals are, it’s good to write them down and be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish.
These goals will shape HOW you build your workout.

QUESTION 2: How much time can you devote to exercise?

If you can do an hour a day, that’s fantastic.
If you have a wife or husband, three kids, a dog, two jobs, and no robot butler, then maybe you only have thirty minutes, twice a week.

That’s fine too!
Whatever your time commitment is, developing the most efficient workout is crucial.
Why spend two hours in a gym when you can get just as much accomplished in 30 minutes, right?
Here’s the good news: weight training is the fat-burning prize fight victor, and efficiency rules all.
So whether you are building muscle or looking to lose weight, a strength training workout will get you the results you’re after (when combined with the right eating strategy!)
While we’re talking about time, let me quickly mention something important:
Proper expectations!
As we cover “how fast can I get the body I want,” make sure you are thinking about your journey with a realistic timeline:

QUESTION 3: WHERE do you want to work out?

At a gym? Here’s a Beginner’s Gym Guide with 6 levels of workouts.
At home? Have you tried our beginner bodyweight workout?
In a park? Try our park workout.
Where you work out will largely determine if you are going to train with bodyweight, or if you can start doing gym strength training.
At this point, we should have:
Determined your “get in shape” goals.
Decided how much time you have to train.
Picked WHERE you want to work out.
We can now start to build your workout routine, your daily workout plan, and your monthly workout schedule!
Let’s do it.

Step #2: What Exercises Should I do to lose weight (or build muscle?)

I like to follow the motto of “Keep it simple, stupid.”
(Note: I am not calling you stupid. You’re reading Nerd Fitness, which means you’re intelligent, good looking, really funny, and most of all, modest.)
The best workout is the one that you actually stick with, and people make things FAR too complicated and try to target a bazillion different individual muscles with six types of exercises for each body part.
It’s exhausting, unnecessary, inefficient, and intimidating.
So keep it simple!
We’re going to pick 5 exercises, and get really strong with those movements.

This is the ENTIRE philosophy behind our Strength 101 series.
Unless you’ve been strength training for years and know what you’re doing, we recommend that you pick a full body routine that you can do 2-3 times a week.
You want a workout routine that has at least one exercise for your:

  • Quads (front of your legs).
  • Butt and hamstrings (back of your legs).
  • Chest, shoulders, and triceps: (“push” muscles).
  • Back, biceps, and grip ( “pull” muscles).
  • Core (abdominals and lower back).
  • By targeting compound movements that recruit multiple muscles at the same time, you can build a full body routine that uses only four or five exercises.
    Hows THAT for efficiency!
    Here is a quick breakdown on which exercises will work for each of those movements:
  • Quads – squats, lunges, one legged squats, box jumps.
  • Butt and Hamstrings – deadlifts, hip raises, straight leg deadlifts, good mornings, step ups.
  • Push (chest, shoulders, and triceps) – overhead press, bench press, incline dumbbell press, push ups, dips.
  • Pull (back, biceps, and forearms) – chin ups, pull ups, bodyweight rows, dumbbell rows.
  • Core (abs and lower back) – planks, side planks, exercise ball crunches, mountain climbers, jumping knee tucks, hanging leg raises.
  • Pick one exercise from each category above for a workout, and you’ll work almost every single muscle in your body.
    Get stronger with each movement each week, and you have yourself a recipe for a great physique.
    Here is an example of a great, effective simple gym workout:
  • Barbell squats: 5 sets of 5 reps.
  • Barbell Deadlifts: 3 sets of 3 reps.
  • Push-ups (or dips): 3 sets of 15 reps.
  • Pull-ups (or Inverted Rows): 3 sets of 8 reps.
  • Planks: 3 sets, 1 minute hold each.
    You don’t need to make things more complicated than this!
    (Not that we humans have a tendency to overcomplicate things to the point of paralysis and inaction…)

If you’re not sure how to do any of the movements above, click on their links for thorough write-ups and video demonstrations.

Pick one exercise from EACH category above, specifically ones that scare you the least, and that will be your workout every other day for the next week.

The great news: the above workout routine will work whether you’re looking to bulk up and build muscle OR if you’re trying to lose weight.
You simply adjust your calories consumed – which is 80% of the equation – and that’s how you’ll start to change your physique.


Get really good at these basic movements and focus on getting stronger each week (I’ll cover how below).
If you get really strong at squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and push-ups, you will build an incredible physique to be proud of.
Then, once you get confident in those movements, feel free to add some variety.
If you do the same exact routine, three days a week, for months and months, you might get bored, and start slacking, or you might hit a workout plateau.
So if you find yourself getting bored, feel free to stick with the above ‘formula,’ but change the ingredients:

  • If you do bench presses on Monday, go with overhead presses on Wednesday and dips on Friday.
  • Squats on Monday? Try lunges on Wednesday and box jumps on Friday.
  • Do deadlifts every Wednesday, but change up the sets and reps you pick!

If you hit a plateau or find yourself getting bored, pick a different exercise to improve so you’ll stay challenged, and you’ll actually DO the workout!

Then, focus on getting stronger! (You are writing down your workouts, right?).

Step #3: How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do?

  • SIMPLE ANSWER: Not including a warm-up set or two, I recommend:
    3 to 5 sets per exercise.
  • 8 to 10 reps per set.

LONGER ANSWER: As we cover in our “How many sets and reps?” guide, a “set” is a series of repetitions that you complete without stopping.

  • For example, if you drop down and do 10 push-ups right now, you just did 1 SET of 10 REPETITIONS (or REPS) of push-ups.
    Got it? Cool.

Some general rule on repetitions you can follow as you’re starting to build your workout plan:

  • If you’re looking to burn fat while building muscle, keep your number of repetitions per set in the 8-15 range per set.
  • If you can do more than 15 reps without much of a challenge, increase the weight or the difficulty of the movement. This is true for things like lunges, bodyweight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.

There are some other generally accepted ‘rules’ about how to determine how many reps you should target per set, based on your goals:

  • Reps in the 1-5 range build super dense muscle and strength[1]
  • Reps in the 6-12 range build a somewhat equal amounts of muscular strength and muscular size[2]
  • Reps in the 12+ range build muscular endurance.

Do not freak yourself out by worrying if you should do 4 sets or 5 sets of 8 reps or 10 reps. Pick one and do it.

Then, try to get stronger the next time you do that movement: either pick up a heavier weight, or do 1 more repetition than last time.


Keep your TOTAL (all exercises combined) workout number of sets for all exercises is in the 15-25 set range, with 8-10 reps per set:
5 exercises total, each with 4 “work sets” is a good start.
Remember, the most important part is to get started – you’ll learn how your body responds and you can adapt as you go.
What you DON’T need to do: multiple exercises for each body part with 10 sets.
A BIG CAVEAT: How you eat will determine if you get bigger or stronger. Nutrition is 80-90% of the equation. So pick a range that feels good, and then focus on nutrition.
And if you don’t want to figure any of this out and just want to be told exactly how what exercises, sets, and reps to do, our online coaches can take care of that for you.

Step #4: How Long Should I Wait Between Sets?

Keep it simple, you “smart, good looking, funny, modest person” you.
Below is a basic formula for you to determine how long you should wait between sets, but this can be adjusted based on your level of health.
The goal is to wait the least amount of time you need, but still rest enough that you can perform all reps of the next set safely and properly!
Here are some guidelines for how long to rest based on how heavy you’re lifting (not rules set in stone!):

  • 1-3 Reps (lifting heavy for strength/power): Rest for 3 to 5 minutes between sets.
  • 4-7 Reps (lifting for strength): Rest for 2 to 3 minutes between sets.
    8-12 Reps (lifting for size/strength): Rest for 1 to 2 minutes between sets.
  • 13 Reps+ (lifting for endurance): Rest long enough to recover to allow you to do the next long-ass set!
    If you need more or less rest than the above recommendations, that’s more than okay.
    Do the best you can, record how long it takes you to rest between sets, and try to rest for shorter periods in the future.

Your body will adjust as you get stronger and healthier!

Step #5: How Much Weight Should I Lift?

We have a FULL resource on how to determine your starting weight for lifting, but I’ll give you the gist here.
The simple to learn but tough to implement answer:
“Lift enough so that you can get through the set, but not too much that you have NO fuel left in the tank at the end.”
How do you determine how much that is?
Trial and error.
ALWAYS err on the side of “too light” versus “too heavy” when starting out.
It’s better to say “I bet I could have done more!” instead of “that was too much, and now I need to go to the hospital!”

If you’re doing exercises with just your body weight, you need to make each exercise more difficult as you get in shape – once you get past 20 reps for a particular exercise and you’re not gassed, it’s time to mix things up.
Can you do 20 push ups no problem? It’s time to start mixing them up to be more challenging. Pick a variation from this article and make yourself work for it!
20 bodyweight squats too easy? Hold some weights high above your head as you do the next set. Eventually, you can scale up to do exercises like the pistol squat:

And if you’re not sure how to scale bodyweight movements, or you are interested in mixing things up and want guidance…
Our Online Coaching will change your life! Learn how here:

Step #6: How Long Should I Exercise For? How Long Should My Workout Be?

Easy answer: 45 minutes to an hour.
Longer answer: If you’re doing 15-25 sets of total exercise (3-5 sets for your 5 exercises), you should be able to get everything done within that 45-minute block.
Now, factor in a five or ten-minute warm-up, and then stretching afterwards, and the workout can go a little bit longer.
If you can go for over an hour and you’re not completely worn out, try increasing the intensity.
Less time, more intensity, better results.
What if you don’t have 45 minutes?
Do the best you can!
Maybe you want to build some cardio into your weight training.
That’s where these next section comes in.

Step #7: How to Create Supersets and Circuit Training Workouts

Strength training in a circuit training workout is the most efficient way to burn fat when exercising:

  • You’re getting a cardio vascular workout by consistently moving from exercise to exercise.
  • You’re exercising different muscles back to back, giving each muscle group a chance to recover, but in a condensed amount of time. Efficiency for the win!

If you’re familiar with CrossFit, many of the workouts are built on circuit principles.

This is also the most effective way to make you involuntarily swear at inanimate objects because you’re so tired and beat up.
We’re going to cover TWO things here:

  • Super sets (or alternating sets).
  • Workout circuits.

SUPERSETS: Let’s say you’re doing four sets of squats followed by four sets of dumbbell bench presses after that.

If you wait two minutes between each set, this will take you around twenty minutes or so (factoring in the time to get set and actually do the set).
Try this instead: Do a set of squats, wait one minute, then do a set of dumbbell presses, wait one minute, then do your next set of squats, and so on.
Because you’re exercising two completely different muscle groups, you can exercise one while the other is “resting.”
You’re now getting the same workout done in half the time.
Also, because you’re resting less, your body has to work harder so your heart is getting a workout too. Jackpot.
Let’s see how this would play out in a sample workout:

  • Lunges alternating with incline dumbbell presses, four sets each, one minute between sets.
  • Wait a few minutes to catch your breath and get set for your next two exercises.
  • Straight leg deadlifts alternating with wide-grip pull-ups, four sets each, one minute between sets.
  • 3 Sets of planks, stretch, and get the hell out of there!
    A circuit requires you to do one set for EVERY exercise, one after the other, without stopping.
    After you’ve done one set of each exercise in succession, you then repeat the process two, or three, or four more times.

Step #8: How Many Days per Week Should I Train?

We get this question quite a bit, usually from overeager beavers who decide they are going to go from “sitting on couch watching The Office on repeat” to “exercising 7 days per week.”
I would advise something different.
I mean you can still watch The Office, but you don’t need to be training 7 days a week!

Not only that, but you’re going to burn out quickly and fall back to square one.
Instead, focus on building proper habits and set a goal of 2-3 full body workouts per week.
For starters, your muscles don’t get built in the gym.
They actually get broken down in the gym, and then get rebuilt stronger while you’re resting…watching The Office.
By giving your muscles 48 hours to recover between workouts, especially when training heavy, you’ll stay injury free and get stronger.
A Monday-Wednesday-Friday workout routine works well to ensure enough time to recover, especially when you are just getting started.
If you want to do Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, or Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday, great.
Personally, I stuck with a Monday-Wednesday-Friday full day routine for nearly 10 years and just focused on getting stronger with each movement.
These days, I train on Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday (my workouts on Wednesday and Thursday don’t work the same muscles!)
“But Steve, what if I WANT to exercise on my off days?” That’s fine!
Pick “exercise” that’s fun for you, that won’t exhaust your muscles.
Lifehack: Program your workouts INTO your Google calendar (or Outlook).
You’re much more likely to do a workout that has been planned for in your work-week!
Alternatively, you can hire a coach to program your workouts for you, so every day you know exactly what you need to do!

Step #9: Keep Track Of Everything!

Last but not least, keep a workout journal!
As they say, that which gets measured gets improved.
You should be getting stronger, faster, or more fit with each day of exercise.
Around these parts, we say “Level up your life, every single day.”
So track and measure your progress!
Maybe you can lift more weight, lift the same amount of weight more times than before, or you can finish the same routine faster than before.

If you want to build from scratch, great! Let’s break it down into easy chunks with this recap:

  • ALWAYS warm up – 5-10 minutes on a bike, rowing machine, jumping jacks, run up and down your stairs, etc. Get the blood flowing and your muscles warm.
  • Pick one exercise for each big muscle group – quads, butt and hamstrings, push, pull, and core.
  • Do 3-5 sets for each exercise.
  • Do 5-10 reps per set for each exercise.
  • Determine how many reps and how long you’ll wait between sets for each exercise. Keep it simple. 60 seconds.
  • Increase your efficiency and work your heart by doing supersets or circuits.
  • Keep your workout to under an hour.
  • Stretch AFTER your workout.
  • Write everything down!
  • Give yourself permission to mess up, keep learning and improving it as you train more regularly!