How to Build Your Own Workout Plan

It’s not as difficult as you might think. Start with your goals. Let me guess: Lose some fat, gain some muscle?

Let’s start with a very simple yet effective workout. It may seem too basic, in fact. But the fewer the variables, the easier it will be to know what’s most effective. This is more than enough to get you started on the way to being in your best shape. You can always add complexity down the line.

You don’t need to work out every day of the week in order to get your goals. Living in the gym is… living in the gym. I like training but I think we’d all agree that there’s much more to life.

Pick three nonconsecutive days to train. Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, for example.

Choose a time of day that you’re going to stick with. Some people find it easier to work out in the mornings. Others prefer the evenings. Neither is objectively better. What’s better is that you find a time when you can do it consistently.

Keep each session under an hour. 45-60 minutes is plenty. If it takes much longer than that, most likely there’s a lot of chillin’ going on or it’s not a very intense regimen.

Give it your all for an hour and use the other 23 hours in your day to accomplish your other life objectives.

Pick one compound leg exercise. (Examples: squat, deadlift, leg press.)

Pick one upper body push compound* exercise. (Examples: bench press, incline bench press, overhead press.)

Pick one upper body pull compound exercise. (Examples: pull ups, chin ups, rows, lat pull-downs.)

Here’s a sample workout:

  • Take a few minutes to warm up. Do some light calisthenics or ride an exercise bike to break a sweat. Don’t tire yourself out.

Then for each exercise, do the following:

  • Warm up set of about 10 repetitions with light weight. Rest 1-2 minutes.
  • 3 working sets of 10 repetitions. Choose a weight you can control. It should be heavy enough to challenge you, especially the last 2-3 repetitions. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. After you’re finished with all the sets of one exercise, move on to the next exercise.
  • Once you complete the 3 exercises, take a little time to stretch and cool down.

That’s it. It’s simple but not easy. As with any program you’ll need to push yourself in order for it to work.

Tracking your workouts is key. Use an app or old fashioned paper, it doesn’t matter. Keep track of what you’re doing in the gym. You won’t have to guess what you did last time or what you should do this time.

Once the 3 sets of 10 gets easy, increase the weights you use. Early on, you may find yourself getting stronger each week. Over time the gains will come slower. This happens to everyone.

Progress will happen if you’re consistent.

Outside the gym, if you want your best results, you’ll have to pay attention to your diet. Write down everything you eat. You don’t need to track every calorie and macronutrient (but you can if you want to). Just being intentional about your intake is helpful.

Three sessions per week, each session under an hour, and watch your food intake. That’s it.

Now get after it!


*Compound exercises are ones where you use more than one joint. For instance, in doing a bench press, you’ll use your shoulders and elbows to move the weight. This works the larger muscles in the body which means you’ll get stronger faster. In contrast, an isolation exercise only uses one joint. An example of this would be a biceps curl, where only the elbow joint is involved. There’s nothing wrong with isolation exercises, but compound exercises are more efficient in building strength.


Killing Procrastination

My biggest fault is probably procrastination. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? I fight against it every day. I’ve gotten much better but it’s still a constant struggle. It’s one of the reasons I make sure to train first thing in the morning. I know that if I leave it until after work I just won’t do it.

“A good plan executed violently now is better than a perfect plan next week” – Gen. George Patton (paraphrased)

This is the antidote to all of us who tend to deliberate too much and act too little. Paralysis by analysis is real.

This year is ending and that means people are coming up with their grand plans for next year. They’re going to follow that dream. Go after that new job. Start a business. Get in shape. Travel. You get the point.

Start now. This message is as much for me as it is for any of you reading it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your lifelong dream or if it’s just one little bit of self-improvement. If it’s a great idea to start January 1, then it’s a great idea to start today.

If you’ve studied economics you’re familiar with the term “opportunity cost”. If you haven’t, it’s a fancy way of expressing the idea that every choice you make (opportunity) is a decision not to do something else (cost).

In order to get something, you give up the chance to get something else. When we procrastinate, we forfeit time but for what? Anxiety? Temporary distraction? And we still end up just as far (or farther) from our goals.

This isn’t to say we should rush to action without forming a plan. Just that we shouldn’t wait until the plan is perfect before we put in action. It will never be perfect.

Make a decision on what you want. Sketch out a good plan, with time constraints and specific steps. Then execute it for a fixed amount of time without second guessing the decision. Learn as you go, make small adjustments when necessary. Enjoy the process.

Get after it. Now.

Just Starting Out?

The new year’s coming up soon, that means it’s resolution time! Personally, I hate new year’s resolutions. I think if it’s a good idea to change something about myself, there’s no need to wait until January 1 to implement it.

The gym is going to be more crowded. People will be starting up new training programs. Many will be total novices. If you’ve been lifting weights for a while it can be hard to remember what that was like.

Think back and try to recall what it was like to be completely lost in the gym. It was loud and intimidating. Tons of equipment and complicated-looking machines. Feeling totally self-conscious. Everyone there looked like they’re in far better shape than you. At least that was my experience. Maybe it’s familiar to you as well.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone there had taken notice and maybe helped you out a little?

Well if you’re an experienced lifter, you can be that person. I’m not saying you have to drop everything you’re doing and hand-hold someone through their entire workout. Just don’t be a jerk. If you see someone staring at a piece of equipment like it’s a piece of alien technology, help them out a little. They’re not dumb, they’re lost.

It can be as simple as, “Hey, I’m Jason. Can I show you how to use that?” Then demonstrate how. About a minute or two of your time to help someone be more at ease. (Fellas, this is not the time to flex and hit on the pretty new woman at the gym. Don’t be that dude.)

If you’re the new person at the gym, keep in mind that everyone was the new person once. No one was born knowledgeable. You don’t come into the world knowing how to drive, play the piano or do long division. Someone had to teach you and you had to learn. Learning is asking questions. Some people start when they’re teens, others in their 40s or 50s. If you don’t know how to use the equipment, ask someone. Hopefully your gym has helpful trainers working there. If not, find another gym ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing.

Listen to the person, but don’t necessarily take their word as gospel. They’re probably right but maybe not. You’ll have to do your own research and learn on your own (the same way you have to when you’re building any new skill). As you learn your confidence will grow.

Whether you’ve been training for decades or brand new, we’re there for the same reason: self-improvement. It takes time, dedication, and occasionally some help to make that happen.

How to Achieve Your Biggest Goals

How Big Are Your Goals?

The first thing to do is figure out your goal. Make it as specific as you can. By way of an example, read the two statements below:

“I want to go on vacation” vs. “I want to go to the Bahamas next May”

Which do you think is more powerful?

Visualize your goals as vividly as possible. Write them down. See it. Feel it. It sounds a little hokey, I know. Practicing visualizations will make them more real. No, thinking about big piles of cash won’t make them appear. That’s just fantasy.

Chasing several goals simultaneously is a set-up for failing. Ever hear the saying, “the man who chases two rabbits catches none”? As beneficial as it is to set goals, if you go after too many you will dilute your focus. Keep the list very short.

Your goals have to be in line with one another. If you want to pack on 30 lbs. of muscle and get six-pack abs at the same time, what do you think is the likelihood that’s achievable?

It’s not impossible, but you can see those goals are pulling in opposite directions. It’s much better to pick one path and pursue it. Decide which is more important to you right now, building more muscle or dropping fat and then chase after it. Remember, you can always change your mind down the road. Built enough mass for your liking? Cool, now you can focus on carving out those abs. Or if you went the other way and you’re happy with your Hollywood abs, you can work on adding some muscle.

Make a plan. This is imperative. The goal represents where you want to go. The plan represents how you’ll get there. Write out the monthly, weekly, and daily steps you need to take in order to achieve what you want. Spelling these out keeps you on track and allows you to anticipate potential pitfalls.

Be patient. You can obtain the body you want but it will take time. More time than you think. This isn’t a bad thing. Of course we all want our goals as quickly as possible. If all it took to get in amazing shape was a month, would it really be that much of an accomplishment? Nope. Be proud it takes consistent effort and discipline over time.

Understand that there will be obstacles and setbacks. Your goal should be big enough to truly challenge you. Say you want to drop 50 lbs. over the course of a year. That averages to around a pound per week. That does not mean you’ll lose a pound every week. Some weeks (particularly early on) you will drop more than that. There will be weeks your weight won’t drop at all. In fact, there will be some weeks it will probably go up a little bit.

This is okay. No really, it is.

It’s not the individual weeks that matter. The important thing is the trend. You need to make sure over time that you’re moving consistently in the direction of your goals.

Imagine you’re sailing the Atlantic Ocean from Miami to the Bahamas. You’d plot a straight line before you hit the water. That’s the plan, right? Once you’re on your way, you encounter the reality. The wind and the water will force you to make small, incremental adjustments to stay on course to Hawaii.

The same is going to happen to you as you chase your goals. Little things, and maybe big things, will occur to knock you off target. It’s up to you to make the minor adjustments to ensure you accomplish your mission.

Pick a few goals; visualize them in detail; make sure they’re aligned properly; be patient; persevere and overcome obstacles.

Stuff Yourself for the Holidays!!!

Well, not really. The holidays are a time when most of us find it impossible to resist the temptation of all that good food. Thanksgiving usually signals a series of feasts. Turkey, ham, macaroni & cheese, stuffing, and so much more. And don’t forget about dessert!

If you’re trying to cut weight this is probably the most challenging time of the year. For that reason, I think it makes sense to take a break.

That’s right. Why not enjoy yourself and all that good food? I’m not saying to go hog wild and eat everything in sight.

A life of deprivation misses the point, don’t you think?

If you’ve been restricting yourself for weeks or even months, now is the perfect time to relax a bit. If you’ve been meticulously tracking your calories and macros, take a week off. It’s a chance to step back from the mental and physical stress of a calorie restriction. Take advantage of the great food. You don’t have to eat all of it (have a slice of pie, not a whole pie).

Now if you know you just can’t handle an entire week break from your diet, that’s cool. Just make sure you take a day or two to eat up and have a great time with your family and friends without any guilt or worry.

When it’s time to get back on mission, you’ll probably be refreshed, energized and raring to go!

All the Fitness Answers!

There are so many people out there giving fitness advice, it’s hard to know who’s right. It’s more a question of whose information and style fits with you and makes sense for your goals.

I try to keep an open mind to new ideas but I’m also very skeptical. If someone is touting a program that promises you’ll get the body of your dreams in only 90 days… it’s no doubt nonsense.

There is no magic bullet.

What’s true is this: there are certain fundamentals about losing fat, building muscle and getting in shape. These things are going to be the basis for any good programming. Any knowledgeable and reputable trainer or coach will understand this.

Below is a list of some of the people I’ve found to have really solid information. Reading their stuff and watching their videos has been really useful to me. I am in no way affiliated with them. They have tons of valuable content, most of it’s free.

Mike Matthews

Brandon Carter

Greg O’Gallagher

Mike Vacanti


Elliot Hulse

Cory Gregory

Raymond Querido

Radu Antoniu

Check them out and let me know who you follow for fitness tips and knowledge!

How Much Cardio Should You Do For Fat Loss?

This is one of the magic questions, right? Well, the answer is… it depends.

  Cardio for fat loss is a slightly different situation than cardio for conditioning for a sport or fun. Yes, some people out there truly enjoy doing cardio just for fun.

  You probably know already that in order to lose fat you have to be in a caloric deficit (in other words, burning more calories than you consume. Eating more calories than you burn is called a calorie surplus. Eating the same amount of calories as you burn is eating at maintenance level). Doing cardio increases this deficit which can accelerate the fat loss.

  One drawback is that doing cardio can also increase your appetite. If you end up eating back the calories you just burned (or more!) then you’ll be spinning your wheels. Then comes the frustration.

  If you’re currently doing a lot of cardio but not seeing much movement on the scale, perhaps this is why. Running a mile burns around 100 calories, or about the same amount of calories in a banana. So all that huffing and puffing and sweating can be undone by a solitary banana. Kind of sad, isn’t it?

  Another possible hindrance is more indirect: muscle loss. If you’re eating at a deficit and doing a lot of cardio you may be burning muscle as well as fat. You may lose weight in this instance, but if your muscles are shriveling also, then you’re not going to achieve the well-toned body you’re after.

I recommend weight training even if you’re trying to lose weight. Try to make strength gains even as you cut weight. At a minimum you want to minimize strength loss. This will make sure the pounds you get rid of are fat, not muscle. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ll look better by maintaining your lean mass. Keeping your muscle mass also keeps up your metabolism. Conversely, losing too much will cause your metabolism to drop.

 Keep the cardio to a minimum early on. You don’t need it at the start of a cut. Make the most of your calorie deficit. (Note: don’t go crazy with your deficit either. A huge one isn’t healthy or sustainable)

  You want the minimum effective deficit that gets the scale moving. Why? The more calories you can eat and still lose weight, the easier it will be. Would you rather deal with smaller cravings or larger cravings? The closer your calories are to maintenance, the smaller your cravings figure to be.

  When you get to a point when the fat loss stalls then you can gradually increase the deficit. If you start with a huge deficit, you can’t really restrict too much further before you’re too far below what your body requires. Obviously you want to avoid this.

A similar line of reasoning applies when it comes to cardio. If you start out spending hours and hours on the treadmill, what do you do when the scale stops moving? There are a finite numbers of hours in a week, and you can’t spend them all running in place.

Instead, start out with a minimum of cardio. Perhaps only a 20-minute walk a few times a week. Then gradually bump it up over weeks to augment your fat loss. I wouldn’t recommend ever doing more than about 3 hours per week if your primary goal is fat loss.

  Doing several hours of grinding away on the elliptical day after day while in a deficit is a recipe for an overuse injury. If that happens, you won’t be able to train which means it will take longer for you to reach your fat loss goal.

  A preferable substitute for that kind of steady state cardio is high intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio. HIIT training involves alternating between rounds of all-out effort and recovery. An example would be a 60-second sprint followed by 60 seconds of walking. You give it your all and then use the recovery to get ready for the next round. The ratio of time sprinting to time recovering will depend on your conditioning. A beginner might need to start with pedaling on a bike for 30 seconds as hard as possible followed by 60 seconds at a very slow pace, for example.

  The all-out effort is definitely taxing (that’s why it works!) but the trade-off is that you don’t need to do HIIT training as long. You can be done in 15 minutes! Doesn’t that sound better than an hour? Another benefit is HIIT training is better at sparing muscle than steady state.

  The good news is you don’t have to toil for hours on a machine in order to get the body you’ve always wanted. Cardio is best used in conjunction with a reasonable calorie deficit and a weight training regimen. Start with only a little, then gradually add a little more as needed.

 Get after it!