A calendar showing exactly what you need to do when it’s time to exercise makes fitness so much easier.
I started self-initiated exercise at 18. Now at 53 I do things quite a bit differently than I did for, well, about two and a half decades. I still find what was true then is true now: motion drives emotion. Every other aspect of my life is better when I am at my best physically. But there’s less wiggle room for the wrong plan. I can’t just “workout” or “go exercise” and get the same results. One of the best gifts you can give yourself and anyone else in your life is the right motion.
Finding time for hours of exercise every week, let alone every day, any more is impossible. Even the regular 20 or 30 minutes I do now can be a challenge. It’s never going to happen at all without a plan. This week, I decided to show you exactly what I do each week to plan my own workouts.
First though, know that I only have to plan around my own schedule at this point. That schedule is, however, crazy. As most entrepreneurs can tell you, working for yourself in a flexible 24/7 kind of schedule is not for the meek. Most successful people get a convertible at 49: I dumped safety, security, zero debt, and a low-cost-of-living to jump headfirst in my own business and a much higher cost of living.
Second, for comparison’s sake, my own personal goals are high energy and creativity for the work I do, injury avoidance, and being at my personal physical best at every age. I too want to hear, you look good! Minus the, for your age. Forever. Why not?
My Workout Planning
Every session I do includes 5 components. They are crucial for success. It doesn’t matter if I have 20 minutes, an hour, or can go for a two-hour hike on the weekend. They are all there. There are days that I have to break them up over the day but no workout is complete with each of these. Without all of them it would be like taking the car in for a tune up and having someone forget to rotate the tires or check the brakes until next time. When that happens you create an opening for something to break down or not perform as well.
In fact, as I wrote in You Still Got It, Girl! about the fact midlife hormone changes change the best strategy for fitness, the things you have skipped for years become at least as important, and potentially more important than the things you’d never skip.
An adequate warm up that includes functional movements, for instance, can reduce the stress exercise puts on your system because you’re truly ready. After exercise a longer cool down helps turn off stress hormones too and starts your recovery process before you even finish your workout.
The sooner you recover, the more able you’ll be to get another high-quality workout in without overstressing your body. The difference between those who benefit from exercise and those who don’t is their ability to do not longer but more high-quality workouts more frequently. Warm ups and cool downs enhance exercise benefits (by helping you burn more fat) so your workouts can make you better not just tired and drained.
- Warm Up. I always elevate my core temperature and increase oxygen to working muscles with some lighter version of my workout activity. If I’m biking the first 10 minutes are low resistance easy spinning. Out for a run, I find a flat and do an easy jog that gets progressively faster. Lifting weights I might do lighter sets or insert some cardio exercise right before. I like boxing because it uses upper and lower body parts that I’m going to use during my workout. If I’m doing a 7 or 10-minute hotel-room circuit the warm up is the first few minutes of moves done a little lighter.
- Functional Warm up. I take time to increase my mobility with foam rolling or some functional exercises for hips and shoulders, do a balance exercise so my core is engaged, and boost proper alignment. If I exercise except for yoga or a dog walk at the end of the day it’s usually weight training. By the time I workout I’ve usually been sitting at a desk 6-8 hours or more so making sure my upper back and neck are relaxed and hips are open is important.
- Main set. I always have a plan for how many intervals I will do or the number of sets and repetitions I’ll do for the exercises I have planned. That lets me look back and see progress and plan the next workout smarter. I also plan for the rest between intervals or between sets for the same muscle group. It makes a big difference in results if I don’t have the right recovery even if the exercise and the intensity is right.
- I include core daily. Sometimes its five 30-second exercises, one for every function the core performs if I’m short on time. Sometimes I’ll do 20-minutes of core-only putting in 20 different exercises for a minute. If I’m doing a boxing workout or yoga, those include constant core so it’s built in to my main set.
- Cool down. I do light cardio followed by some foam roller then stretching. This I’ll admit the light cardio is hard to reinforce even on myself! It boosts recovery and decreases soreness so much though! Then I either do a simple set of three stretches for the front, back, and side kinetic chain. Sometimes this is a longer yoga series that opens up hips and shoulders.
Sample of My Interval Training Sessions:
Warm up 5:00 (alternate 1 walk, 1 min jog)
Hip swings, Stretch hips and upper back
Do a minute or two jog before intervals
repeat for 10 minutes
repeat for 10 minutes
CD 5:00[HardHR 160 +/- Recov.HR 130]
I’ve tested myself and know where my HR should be. The feels-like perception of intensity also works extremely well if you don’t know your HR. Hint: the charts listing HR by age don’t fit most adults. How you feel never lies. Feel breathless on hard intervals and breath easily through your nose during the end of your recovery.
Then I’ll do some kind of core even if it’s short like the following set.
- Plank front
- Plank sides
- Bird dog
- Rotation knee drop
- Reverse curls
- Front, side, and rear body stretches
- Pigeon pose
- Hip flexor stretch
The Weekly Plan
Every week has a pattern but two things can change my pattern. Things come up and the principle of progression means I don’t just want to do the same thing week after week if I want to see results. I have to make changes so that I challenge myself or recover depending on the week.
Everything matters though, so if I travel or have a really busy few days of work, I factor that in. Your body handles all stressors the same. So, for instance, you’re taking a big test or you’re dieting and you’re caring for someone ill in your family or completing a major project at work – it’s not a good week to add a lot of physical exercise challenges. You’ve heard about the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I have learned the hard way to recognize the total stressors – even from things you choose and like – add up to more than a body can handle quickly.
My Weekly Planning Process
- Look at my life. Client and webinar schedules, project deadlines, and travel for speaking might all change what I do for exercise. Usually, Mondays are really busy. I like to get a workout in so I’m on my toes and not sluggish, but it’s best if it’s really short and early in the day!
- Plan my hard days. Hard days include heavy weights or high intensity intervals and can include long endurance activity if that’s involved in preparing for an event.
- Insert recovery days. I do moderate intensity low impact exercise on these recovery days. This kind of active recovery is so much better than passive recovery because the circulation keeps my body flushing out toxins that build up from exercise. Sometimes I put a recovery workout late in the day of a hard workout too. I might spin for 30 minutes after a tough strength training day or a harder interval training day on hills, for instance.
- Plan 48-to-72 hours between weight training days.
- Plan at least one total rest day. Rest is one of the most forgotten parts of exercise. It keeps me fresh and ready for the next workout without burnout. I put this before or after a tough day. There’s still NEAT, non-exercise activity time, like cleaning the house or spending a little more time walking the dog, but no formal “workout.”
My Monthly Planning Process
- Week-by-week. Above I described how I look at each day of the week and how it relates to the one before it and after it. Because I usually do biking on the same day of the week I can look from one week to the next and plan the progression when I’m looking at a whole month.
- Build 1-2-3. I follow a periodization plan, like any good athlete does. And yes, I think we’re all athletes. That means I build the challenge progressively each week for three weeks and then reduce the intensity in the fourth week each month.
- Recovery week. The fourth week of a four-week cycle is recovery, but I still plan what I’m going to do! This week I might try to visit someone else’s yoga class and get out of my own routine or schedule a massage. Longer hikes outdoors or new activities like Stand Up Paddle Boarding or rock climbing (my camera man has promised to teach me) fit well here. It’s a refreshing way to recharge and use my body in a new way.
- Goal Focus. When I take the time to plan it’s easier to get the change I want by staying very clear on the goal with every workout. There’s something to be measured that is so much better than weight or inches.
My Before and After Exercise Eating Plan
Your midlife body is already under a ton of stress. Dieting causes more stress. It tells your body to burn fewer calories. Exercise is also stress on your body. Exercise tells your body to burn more calories. What happens when you get conflicting messages? You’re just confused, right? So I almost always fuel my body before exercise with a simple protein shake (easy to digest protein and almond milk), or a half a banana and a small amount of sun butter.
Then after I exercise I wait about 60 minutes if I can (depending on my schedule) so growth hormone and muscle protein synthesis are optimal and I’ll have a meal or shake of about 35 grams of protein along with fiber, fat, and some carbs to replenish muscles. Here’s a favorite refueling smoothie that helps recovery by reducing inflammation caused by exercise:
Chocolate Cherry Smoothie
- Scoop Girls Gone Paleo Chocolate Protein
- ¼ avocado
- 1-2 handfuls spinach
- ¼ cup gluten-free oats
- ¾ cup frozen cherries
- 2 T cacao powder
- ice cubes, optional
- liquid chocolate stevia drops, optional
- Coconut milk to desired thickness
Blend and enjoy! It keeps me full for hours!
The other thing I stay keenly aware of is that what I ate about 16 hours ago is what’s fueling me now. I exercise in the morning so dinner is really important. I make sure I’ve got some protein, carbs, and healthy fat in that meal too. I make sure I’ve digested before I go to bed after dinner too. It makes a big difference on the energy you have when you wake up if there are at least two hours between dinner and bedtime.
My Flipping 50 28-Day Kickstart is the BEST if you want a specific exercise plan to follow each week with meal plan, daily workouts, recipes and daily menus. Plus, you get the live support of other women and me in weekly coaching session.
The step-by-step process for using exercise and wholefood kicks calorie counting and punishing exercise to the curb and identifies foods you’re eating that could be causing weight loss resistance. Finally, a blueprint to your best energy that is not a diet but a way to eat and exercise that gets you back to you without extreme diets or exercise! (You’ll never find a burpee on this site, I promise!)
All the workouts have videos (bonuses!), and the recipes help you eat gluten-free, grain-free, dairy and soy-free, and low sugar impact so you’ll feel better fast and permanently. You can follow my suggestions for making any of the meals vegetarian.
If you enjoyed this article, share it with a friend who could benefit from it!
And if you have a question, please put it in the comments below – I love hearing from you!
[Post publishing addition!] Since publishing this popular post, I created a special 5 part video series on my Facebook page (flipping50) and a workbook to go with it to workshop your own best exercise program along with me.