Plans and Contingency plans: seat-belting yourself into the healthy and fit wagon.

Reinforcement is great, and can be effective to increase how often you workout or make good food choices. But arranging your environment for success is about more than consequences (rewards, punishment, results), it involves antecedent interventions. What’s that? Planning, my friends, planning. In other words take time to set yourself up for success and the rewards will follow naturally.

This post is a long one, so here are the steps to planning and sticking to a successful health and fitness plan. I will be covering some points very briefly, others with more depth. Mostly using myself as an example.

  1. List your goals
  2. Outline your current obstacles as well as motivators
  3. Figure out how much time per day and days per weeks you have to workout, grocery shop, and prepare food
  4. Create a workout schedule
  5. Create the workouts (or ask a fitness professional to help you)
  6. Take baseline measures
  7. Self-monitor as you go
  8. Adjust the plan based on how you perform/stick to it
  9. If you fade or fall off, look at what went wrong and pick it right back up
  10. Repeat your measurements periodically
  11. ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I spent some time last weekend creating a 9 week plan for myself. I have spent sufficient time grieving over bowing out of Boston, and am ready to set my eyes on being able to run happily through the summer. I made a short list of my fitness and healthy living goals and then looked at them through the figurative lens I would use when developing a plan for a client. The end result is a 9 week plan of resistance training, cardio workouts, dietary goals and guidelines, measurable variables, and contingency plans for when things don’t work or I fall off the wagon.

I have some baseline measures for comparison and will share weekly updates here for those of you who decide you might want to follow along with a similar plan. Within those updates I will report any data-based decisions I make, what I am measuring, and how I measure it.

Below, I will outline my 9 week plan, please let me know if you want to join in on the challenge, I would love to compare our data collection effort to further illustrate the importance of selecting the best variables for YOU, as an individual!

Laying out an individualized plan, that is doable, capitalizes on your strengths and preferences, and will give you the results you want is not an easy thing to do. It is important to begin your plan based on where you are currently, your current health concerns, fitness level, schedule, energy level, and motivations MUST be taken into account. This takes experience, insight, and a candid look at yourself. It is totally doable, but it really needs to be done right.

In fact, even if you have hired a personal trainer this may not be a service they provide. Not really. Because it takes time, attention, and it needs to be updated frequently. That said, it IS a service you should feel totally comfortable requesting of your trainer, and if they cannot provide it to your satisfaction: hire a new trainer. I realize this may sound harsh, but I have worked a lot as a trainer, so I can say it.

If you ask your personal trainer to make a plan for you to follow outside of session, please be prepared to compensate them for the time they spend working on  your plans and analyzing your data and progress. That does not mean handing them a wad of cash under the table. Please keep things legitimate and professional, perhaps by suggesting that you use one of your sessions, bi-weekly (or whatever suits your needs), to write, edit, and review your program and progress. If your trainer is a real cracker-jack they will be able to work these tasks right into your normal appointments.

Here is my plan for the next 9 weeks. I am including the rationale behind many of my choices and other tips to help you in your own planning.

I will doing my resistance training via a split schedule. That means that each day of the week is assigned a different muscle group. I do not recommend jumping into a split schedule regimen if you have not been resistance training consistently 2 or 3 times per week for the past 3 months. If you do not have a resistance training foundation currently and want to start, begin with 2 or 3 sessions per week of circuit training or split upper and lower body workouts.

Split Weeks 1-4

  • Monday: Shoulders/Abs, Cardio 30-60 mins
  • Tuesday: Chest/Biceps, Cardio 60 mins
  • Wednesday: Abs and Flexibility, Spin (instructor) 50mins
  • Thursday: Legs, Cardio 30-45 mins (easy)
  • Friday: Back/Triceps
  • Saturday: Rest or Pool workout (e.g. water jogging or lap swimming)
  • Sunday: Spin and Body Blast (instructor), Flexibility

Each day in the split has an assigned workout. They all have between 6 and 10 exercises, and I am not performing the workouts as circuits, but rather each exercise on it’s own (typically 15, 12, and 10 reps) so that I can work more accurately and effectivelyto exhaustion and build muscle and strength while in the weight room. The endurance will come because I have bunches of cardio scheduled as well. Each resistance workout should take between 30 and 40 minutes to complete.

It’s really not as complicated as this might seem. I simply repeat the same workout every Monday, Tuesday and so on, for 4 weeks. Each workout has a “card”, I haven’t laminated (yup, I have a laminator, I love crafts!) my split cards yet so here is a picture of a “workout card” I made for a friend ages ago:

Custom made, discrete, and reusable.

Week 5: Based on past experience with working out on a split schedule I will most likely struggle to get through the workouts on week 4. I should be stronger, but will probably be bored with the routine. So week 5 is meant to be a vacation from the super-structured routine. It will also be a step-back or recovery week.  The workouts are as of yet to be determined but the main focus is to have fun!  Here’s the basic structure:

  • Monday: 45 mins Step mill & Fun core workout
  • Tuesday: Rest, Flexibility training
  • Wednesday: Spin (instructor)
  • Thursday: Swim 2,000 yds  🙂
  • Friday: Rest, Flexibility Training
  • Saturday: Total body circuit training: 60 mins
  • Sunday: Spin and Blast (instructor)

Split Weeks 6-9

  • Monday: Back/Abs, 60 mins Cardio
  • Tuesday: Chest, 60 mins Cardio
  • Wednesday: Spin (instructor), Legs
  • Thursday: Flexibility, Swim or Rest
  • Friday: Shoulders/Abs, 60 mins Cardio
  • Saturday: Biceps/Triceps
  • Sunday: Spin, Blast (instructor)

This is much like the first four weeks but with a different distribution. The workouts are made already, but depending on how I feel and how my progress is going they may be tweaked. Also, I hope to be use running as most of my cardio for weeks 6-9.

I have a chart to check off each day what I have accomplished (Printed at the start of each week and slapped up on the fridge). I am wearing my hear rate monitor during all workouts and record in an excel chart (and an iPad app that I am playing with) how many calories I burn through exercise each day.

Date Resistance Cardio Weight Calories

Baseline (comparison) Measures

This Monday morning before working out I recorded my:

  • Weight
  • Body fat %
  • Muscle %

I kept a complete food log Monday and Tuesday that will serve as baseline for my average calorie intake per day. I likely will not record my food every day over the next nine weeks. For two reasons 1)  calories BURNED is a far more accurate measure because it is from my HR monitor based on my performance and my metrics 2) in order to keep the calorie count calibrated it is tedious and time consuming.

In retrospect, I wish I had performed some 1 minute timings of several exercises, a heart rate recovery test, and a timed challenge workout to provide some comparison measures for fitness. Time permitting I will do the timings tomorrow before my schedule workout. Then, if I have the energy on Saturday I will do the challenge workout.

Ongoing measures:

Resistance training: I am not keeping track of exactly how many reps and at what weights I do the exercises each day. That said, I will typically follow the prescribed 3 sets (15,12, and 10 reps) of each exercise. The tedious nature of recording every weight I use and any extra or missed reps takes away from the overall enjoyment and flow of workouts, so I won’t be doing it. Additionally, to do so post-workout is likely inaccurate. For the most part I (and you) remember what weight I use one week to the next and will progress pretty intuitively.

Body Weight: I am weighing myself every morning (at least, that’s the plan). No, I would not recommend this to anyone else, it’s overkill and not necessarily meaningful. I am doing it to follow the fluctuations associated with having colitis (I have seen my weight go up or down 6lbs over the course of a day because of responses to food). Additionally, tracking the eb and flow of weight will make a great looking graph to share, I suspect.

Fat and Muscle Percentages: I will be measuring these (with my awesome scale), each week on Monday morning to monitor whether any weight loss or gain is due to a change in body composition rather than hydration/dehydration or inflammation.

Fitness measures: The tests I mentioned above (that I have yet to collect baseline for), will be repeated at the start of week 5, and at the conclusion of week 9.

Nutrition: I don’t have a real concrete plan here. I don’t have any faith in the fidelity of calorie counting and to be honest don’t subscribe to the law of thermodynamics when it comes to training. AND my focus here isn’t totally on weight loss, but rather, on fitness and improving athletic performance. I will be setting weekly nutrition goals based on how my digestive system, energy levels, sleeping patterns, and mood are. For now, I am keeping a food log with calories to illustrate my point about accuracy and reliability.

Caloric Expenditure: I will wear a HR monitor for all (hopefully) workouts, both resistance and cardio, and record calories burned via exercise each day. Should my weight change, I will change the settings on the monitor to reflect it (for accuracy of calorie burn).

The Contingency Plan

Please forgive my confusing terminology here. I don’t mean a plan of contingencies (if I do this, then I get this, or this happens), I mean a backup plan for when/if I “fall off the wagon”.

I like to think of a fitness plan a little bit in the way you would plan a persons recovery from addiction (no, I am not saying we are all food or laziness addicts). What I mean is a plan for relapse. In this case relapse equates to anything that leads to missing workouts and/or not recording data (as outlined above). These things could be stress, boredom, eating poorly, not sleeping enough or anything else that knocks me (or you) off the plan.

So what to do if workouts are missed. This is why I am keeping the tracking sheet (checklist) on the fridge. If I miss one or even three days of scheduled workouts, the plan just shifts down and I continue to do the “cards” in order. Clearly, this will get confusing and hard to manage if I miss a lot of workouts. If more than 3 workouts are missed for 2 or more weeks in a row, then that is cause to review the plan and revise, because it was likely not realistic.

The beauty of keeping all this data is that you can then make, say it with me: data based decisions! That means that if the plan isn’t working it will be visibly reflected in the data, and you can adjust your plans to get things going back in the right direction.

Still with me? If you have read this far then I have confidence that you have what it takes to plan, self-monitor, adjust, and succeed!

To recap, here are the steps to creating and sticking with a fitness regimen:

  1. List your goals
  2. Outline your current obstacles as well as motivators
  3. Figure out how much time per day and days per weeks you have to workout, grocery shop, and prepare food
  4. Create a workout schedule
  5. Create the workouts (or ask a fitness professional to help you)
  6. Take baseline measures
  7. Self-monitor as you go
  8. Adjust the plan based on how you perform/stick to it
  9. If you fade or fall off, look at what went wrong and pick it right back up
  10. Repeat your measurements periodically
  11. ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I look forward to hearing some of your goals, plans, and outcomes!!!


8 responses to “Plans and Contingency plans: seat-belting yourself into the healthy and fit wagon.

  1. That was an inspiring post… truly! I am inspired! How is it that even though I am in week 13 of a marathon training schedule and running 5 times a week, I now feel unorganized and a little bit undisciplined? This post has come at the perfect time for me. After I run Nashville, I will have 4 weeks in between the race and training for the Chicago marathon. I had planned on using that 4 weeks to develop a new marathon training regiment that would work better for me. This post is certainly going to be a large part of my planning! Thanks Annabelle!

    • You are going to do so well at Nashville, I am looking forward to your race report! Make the most of that 4 weeks of recovery time. Schedule light cross training and lots of flexibility stuff. I felt the same way you do when training for Portland, it’s easy to follow a marathon training schedule and just assume that means everything will fall into place. But the high mileage and repetition can leave you pretty run-down. I found that planning out short little routines to do randomly really helped! And take care of those injuries!

  2. Pamela Tibbetts


    I have been reading your blogs. I admire your motivation. I am trying to find mine. I started back at the gym on Monday. Then i found myself wanted to just eat like crazy. My schedule has me at the barber shop 46hrs a week. I could get to the gym at 5am but OMG i want to sleep that extra minute. I am going to keep talking to myself and get there. I watched the movie Burlesque. That is how it started, not to mention i feel like poop.

    Keep the blog going.

    Pam Tibbetts

    • Thanks Pam!
      Hey Pam!

      I totally understand not wanting to get up at 5am! I am NOT a morning person, but seem to always selected jobs and activities that have me rising early. Sheesh.

      Also, rest is incredibly important, your not going to feel very much better if you are just working out (and working) while totally exhausted. You only need 20 or 30 mins at the gym (or even less!) to get in a high quality little workout that will rev you up. Suggestion? Plan out just ONE really good workout (totally by your own definition here) to do per week and do it on your least busy day. Then, sneak in those mini-workouts when you can, or even at home.

      With better weather setting in I betcha you’ll be incline to more activity 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Thank you Ann! It’s time for me to get back to the drawing board and put together a plan…..and stick to it :-).

    • You’re welcome! Remember to look why (and how) you didn’t stick with it the last time around.

      Let me know how you do,

  4. Pingback: Costs « Reflections Of A Lackluster Life

  5. Pingback: Week One: Totals and inferences. Lesson One: Interpreting your data. | Annabelle Winters


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