Five Must-Include Items for Weekly Workout Success

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by John M. Donnelly

Have a plan! The most important thing to save time and not feel overwhelmed by hitting the gym is to plan out for each day specifically what exercises you are going to do. Know what it is you want to accomplish before you step foot into the gym. Your time constraints will dictate what you can get done, so it’s best to reverse engineer it! If you know you only have 20 minutes, then make the workout intense, with maybe three exercises that you continuously rotate through for as many rounds as you can do. If you have 60 minutes, then a longer routine that mixes strength training and cardio can be done. Or maybe you’re sore from past training days, so with the 30 minutes you have available, you’re going to participate in low-intensity yoga or other form of mobility training. No matter what it is you do, plan ahead!

Map out the entire week! Not only should you have the daily workout planned, but it’s best if the entire week of training is thought out to make sure there is balance in your program. There are five foundational pillars of movement: squat, hinge, pull, push and carry. These five patterns should be executed on a weekly basis to ensure the body is receiving input from as many directions as possible. If programmed correctly, this will keep your body healthy by not overworking a specific pattern, which causes increased stress and ultimately an overuse injury. All of these movements can take on many different forms, and if you don’t know what I mean by these patterns, it is best to seek out a licensed healthcare professional that can prescribe appropriate exercises for you.

Incorporate your full body! Each day you decide to participate in exercise, try and incorporate as many muscles and joints as possible. During a lower-body day, put in a few upper-body exercises, or vice versa. Never forget core exercises. Another thing that can be done is to infuse lower-body involvement into an upper-body exercise. An example of this would be if you are doing shoulder presses, rather than doing them seated, which takes out the legs, try a tall kneeling position, or standing position, that will have more carry over to everyday function where we may need to lift something up over our heads. The more muscle mass we can use, the better the outcome.

Be smart with your selection! When creating an exercise program, it is important to think about the order in which you pair exercises. Keeping in mind the five pillars and use of your full body, it is advisable to put larger muscle groups and compound movements earlier in the workout. An example of this would be performing squats, followed by forearm planks and then hamstring curls. The squat has the most joints moving at the same time and requires full-body strength and stabilization. The forearm planks are intended to resist movement and require full-body tension. It is also a nice way to keep the workout moving while providing some active rest to the lower body. And then the single joint exercise of knee flexion that only hits the hamstring muscles would be last because it requires the least amount of neurological effort. Programming these the other way around can tax the body too quickly, which will hinder performance.

Keep track of rest! How many times have you gone to the gym and the machine you want is taken by someone that’s sitting on their phone for minutes at a time? Or maybe you are guilty of this and scroll through Instagram between each set. Programming rest times is an extremely easy way to cut down on time spent in the gym and also increases the cardiovascular component of the workout. Keep in mind that some exercises will require more rest, so as number four suggests, be smart with your selection!

John M. Donnelly is a doctor of physical therapy student and exercise physiologist located in Long Island. Donnelly specializes in training individuals that are rehabbing from a cardiac event, i.e., heart attack, bypass surgery, heart failure. He also has a passion for the preventive side of medicine, teaching people about the robustness of the human body and keeping them pain-free through strength training. Donnelly can be reached via email at and found on Instagram @John.Donnelly_spt.

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