Creating an effective exercise routine requires goals. Deciding on what you want to accomplish, and using that as a guiding light to craft your regimen, is an easy way to make sure you’re covering all of your bases and not skipping any steps on your way to conquering those objectives. But no matter what it is that you are truly after — Tatum-esque six-pack abs, Dwayne Johnson’s shoulders and arms, or maybe just a better level of all-around fitness, sans injury — there are certain elements to every single workout you want to make sure you’re covering.
According to Mayo Clinic, exercise should balance five essential elements to lead you to good health. That includes strength training, balance training, aerobic fitness, flexibility, and balance training — all of which, when used in conjunction with one another, produce a “well-rounded” fitness routine.
These elements, though rather vague, have become more or less universally accepted by the fitness community. Getting in shape is about balancing a proper diet with exercise, and depending on your goals, tweaking the individual components until you reach a desired outcome. Those components consist of what the Mayo Clinic has laid out, along with a few peripherals.
With that in mind, we’ve made a list of eight essential things you should adopt into your routine. Some of these aren’t very specific or may seem like no-brainers — yet people often forget, or simply neglect to take them into account.
1. A time limit
While you may hear about some people spending hours in the gym to get a chiseled body, a lot of conventional wisdom says you should really limit your time among the dumbbells and barbells. The reasoning is simply because of the law of diminishing returns — that is, after a while, your muscles fatigue, and you stop making progress. While you still may be burning calories, for those looking to build muscle, being in the gym for hours may be more detrimental than helpful. Instead, fine-tune your routine and see what lifts you can incorporate that will save you time.
2. Muscle-group focus
If you’re experienced in the gym, you know most people tend to break their lifting regimens up into specific days, like “leg day” or “abs day,” for example. And this is solid advice. Focusing on a specific muscle group on different days is a good way to ensure you’re balancing your exercises and working all of your muscles within a given week. Also, it gives other muscle groups time to rest and recover from the previous workout. So, put a plan into motion, and give your routine a daily focus.
Go hard, or don’t go at all — it may sound like advice a high school football coach is bestowing upon his team before a big game, but it’s also a useful mantra for your time in the gym. If you’re not going to bring some serious effort to the table when doing your lifts or engaging in your daily run, it’s going to show when you miss your goals. A good way to crank things up to 11 is to use intensity workouts or exercises, which use explosive movements that can lead to serious muscle and strength gains.
This is simple enough: Stay hydrated. Have a water bottle nearby, and be sure to be drinking often. In the gym, and especially if you’re on the treadmill, you’re going to be sweating. A lot. Making sure you’re replenishing your fluids is incredibly important, as dehydration can lead to muscle fatigue and cramps. You’re not playing for Vince Lombardi, after all — so keep slamming the H2O.
What we really mean is, doing a specific exercise or lift to failure. That can be push-ups, pull-ups, curls, or whatever — there are a lot of people who say you should go for the ultimate burnout for at least some of your sets. What lifting to failure really means is that you go until you can’t hold proper form any longer, or simply can’t perform the exercise. Of course, this isn’t a good approach for every exercise, but for many of them, fitness experts give it the nod. Just be careful.
By cardio, we mean you’re getting your heart rate up and burning some serious calories. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go out and sprint hills, or even get on the treadmill. Doing some jumping jacks, using a jump rope, or even engaging in a fast circuit with dumbbells or machines around the gym will get your heart racing and the sweat pouring. Of course, many lifters are wary of cardio, but getting a tad into every workout can help you warm up, cool down, or just burn off some extra calories.
7. Pushing and/or pulling
These are the core movements that define your workout and build muscle. Think about it; whether you’re deadlifting or bench pressing, you’re pushing or pulling weight either toward your core or away from it, and that is where the actual exercise is happening. And this is what you want to make sure you’re doing every time you work out. For lifters, this isn’t much of a problem. For some, it’s simply getting your form nailed down. Push/pull workouts have become a rather common thing nowadays, so if you need some guidance, there is plenty to be found.
8. A cool-down period
This is one of the most-skipped elements, and it’s easy to sympathize with those that do. A cool-down period after your workout can help minimize soreness later on, and get you prepared for your next workout in a shorter time frame. Using a foam roller, stretching, or simply hitting the treadmill for a 10-minute walk or jog should suffice, as long as you’re going from a 10 to a zero on the intensity scale. Think of it like waking up in the morning — you don’t jump out of bed and go right into hyper-productivity. It’s the same with your workouts, just in the opposite direction. Give your body a chance to slow down and relax. Also, make sure to have some water and a protein shake.