What’s a Balanced Workout Routine Look Like? This!

By Elizabeth Millard |

Sometimes, deciding what to do can be the toughest part of working out. Follow this step-by-step guide to create the perfect weekly workout plan for you.

How to create a weekly workout plan

You know exercise plays a central role in staying healthy and independent as you get older. The benefits of regular workouts check all the boxes:

  • Lower chronic disease risk
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Better quality sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Boost in brainpower
  • Help reaching and maintaining a healthy weight

The trick to reaping all those benefits, however, is making sure your workout routine is balanced. A walking-only regimen, for example, means you may be short-changing your range of motion. Never miss a yoga class but can’t remember the last time you did a blood-pumping cardio workout? Your heart, lungs, and circulatory system probably feel neglected.

And let’s not forget the important element of fun to keep you motivated.

Our point? The most effective workout plan includes a little bit of everything: cardio, strength, flexibility — and rest.

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Why You Need a Weekly Workout Plan

Doing a variety of different workouts can keep you engaged, but without some structure and planning behind your fitness endeavors, you may not feel like it’s doing much. Most notably, developing a workout plan can give you consistency, says certified personal trainer Lindsay Ogden, CPT, who works with active older adults at Life Time gym and fitness company.

“Consistency is more important than intensity when building a sustainable workout plan,” Ogden says. Plotting out a weekly workout plan can be a valuable way to have fun and stay on track.

The other crucial aspect is balance, which means you’re putting a weekly program into place that contains both challenging elements and achievable goals, in a way that pushes you just enough to feel like you’re making progress, but not so much that recovery becomes difficult.

Ready to put together your own weekly workout plan? Use this step-by-step guide to land a routine that covers the fitness bases and hits your personal goals.

Step #1: Take Inventory

Everyone has a different starting point when it comes to exercise, says Ogden. For example, your friend might be the same age and love the same type of activity, whether that’s dance cardio or swimming, but she has different considerations due to medical issues or physical limitations. On the flip side, maybe she’s been working out since she was a teenager, but you only just started.

That’s why comparisons to other people your age aren’t usually helpful, Ogden notes. Instead, take a moment to assess your current fitness abilities and how certain activities could build on those.

For instance, maybe you’d like to build more endurance but want a low-impact way to achieve that. In that case, regular biking, yoga, SilverSneakers classes, or longer walks would be a good fit.

“Understanding your starting point and being realistic about what you can and cannot do right now, is a major part of creating an effective plan because that’s how you determine progress,” says Ogden.

Step #2: Set Benchmarks

The next step is to set specific goals that can keep you motivated and on track. That might be: “I want to go to two SilverSneakers classes per week,” or “I want to be able to bike three loops of the park path.”

This is also a good time to tap into your “fitness why.” This is where you go beyond, “I’m exercising because I know it’s good for me,” and ask yourself, “Why do I want to be fitter? What will make working out more meaningful to me?”

You can learn more about crafting your fitness why here.

Step #3: Determine the Details

Many times, an effective plan can get scuttled when the nitty-gritty details aren’t in place, Ogden says. She suggests looking at your schedule and deciding which days you can work out, and how long each session will be. Even knowing what you’ll be wearing and finding your shoes can be a prompt to exercise, she adds.

“Starting small in this way with details that determine what you do on a daily basis can build consistency,” she says. “Put habits in place that you could see yourself doing a year from now. Maybe that’s just setting your walking shoes by the door to remind yourself to get outside.”

Step #4: Design Your Weekly Plan

With your larger goals and smaller details in place, you can begin thinking about what type of plan might work best for you. What follows are some examples of common goals and possible weekly workout options.

As always, safety is key. Get your doctor’s OK before beginning a new exercise program. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Remember to begin and end each workout with a short warmup and cooldown to transition your muscles, joints, and mindset for the effort to come.

Workout Plan for Beginners

One the best plans for older adults who are new to exercise — or coming back after a long break — is to center your routine around walking, Ogden says. It can be done anywhere, for a duration that you choose, and you can invite a friend along as well.

“Walking is one of the most underrated exercise modalities,” she adds. “If you have been more sedentary, walking is a great place to start and should be included in all exercise routines. Bonus if you’re getting outside for fresh air and some vitamin D.”

Plan to include some strength and flexibility exercises into your weekly routine, so all of your muscles and joints get some attention. And don’t forget to add an element of fun each week — this could be anything from moving your walk to a new location, renting bikes with a friend, or trying a new SilverSneakers LIVE class.

Your week might look like:

As you progress with your walks, you can build on your plan by changing the variables. For instance, you might focus on walking for a longer duration or more distance each week, or you could change your speed for more of a “power walk” that gets your heart rate up.

Find a variety of walking workouts here.

Workout Plan for Weight Loss

Exercise is an important component of a well-rounded weight loss effort, says Ogden. It’s the element that is going to help you change your body composition. That means rather than looking only at the number you see on the scale, you’re doing activities that will build lean muscle mass — which, in turn, will help reduce body fat.

Research shows that higher muscle mass offers a breadth of benefits for everyone, but especially for older adults, and the top way to achieve that is through strength training, also called resistance training.

A position statement in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research on this type of training for older adults noted that this is a powerful way not just to improve body composition, but also to aid chronic disease management, boost physical functioning, and help with psychological wellbeing.

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Starting with just one or two strength sessions per week—for just 20 to 30 minutes each session—can often be enough to start seeing benefits.

Your week might look like:

  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strength training for 15 to 45 minutes

SilverSneakers group classes to try: SilverSneakers Classic (beginners); SilverSneakers Circuit (intermediate); Total Body Strength (intermediate to advanced); Strength Training Express (15-minute intermediate class)

  • Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: 10 to 30 minute cardio workout

You can: Go for a brisk walk; take a SilverSneakers Cardio Mix (intermediate) or Zumba Gold (beginner) class; or do this 10-minute low-impact cardio workout

  • Sunday: Do gentle stretches and/or take a leisure stroll

Workout Plan for a Challenge

By putting endurance exercises like walking together with strength sessions in the same week, you’ll have a solid and balanced workout plan in place. When you’re ready for more challenge, that’s where variety can come in, Ogden says.

For instance, that could be doing something entirely new for you, like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, pickleball, or chair yoga. Or it could be doing more movement overall throughout the day, like taking on a gardening project or playing with grandkids at the park.

Your week might look like:

  • Monday, Wednesday: Strength training
  • Tuesday, Thursday: Cardio workout
  • Friday, Saturday: New fitness activity or workout
  • Sunday: Do gentle stretches and/or take a leisure stroll

Challenge doesn’t always have to come in the form of intensity, she adds. Much like figuring out your starting point, taking the time to consider what feels challenging to you personally can be another key step in creating a balanced, effective plan.

Recommended reading: 4 Reasons to Try a New Fitness Class, According to Your SilverSneakers Instructor
5 Reasons to Try New Fitness Activities
9 Fun Fitness Activities You Can Totally Do This Summer

Additional source:
Strength training for older adults position statement: The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

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