Five Essential Elements of Efficient and Effective Program Design

Okay ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…we’re at the mid-way point of January (what?  Already?!).  How are the workouts coming along?  Last week I talked about key exercises to include in your resistance training routine, to increase your muscular strength and endurance.  I’ve also spoken about all of the various other components of fitness, of which muscular capacity is just one component.  I’ve even told you how to make exercises easier or harder, with exercise regressions and progressions.  What could possibly be left for me to talk about?

It’s time to put it all together with efficient and effective program design!  I’ll talk about the five key components of workouts, so you’ll know exactly what to do inside the gym and out, when, why and how (and maybe we can have a silly week to poke some fun at what NOT to do at the gym – incriminating photos and memes abound.  Please tag me on social media – @thegoldengrahamgirl – in any you’ve got to share!).As per usual, I’ve summarized this post in this week’s Instagram series and Facebook posts and I look forward to your questions and comments.


Warm-up: each and every time you work out, whether it’s a strength workout, a cardio workout, or both, you are going to start with a warm up to well, warm up your body.  This should be light, low impact cardio activity to increase your body temperature, increase your heart rate and breathing (respiration) rate, get the fluid moving in the joints to lubricate them and get you mentally in the zone for your upcoming awesome workout!  Cue SNL: “I’m Hans, and he’s Frans, and we’re here to PUMP – YOU UP!”

Aim to do approximately ten minutes, at an effort that feels like about a 4-5 out of 10. Then you’re ready to rock and roll with the next section of your workout!

If you’re moving on to a resistance/strength training component, you might also consider doing a few reps of the upcoming exercises with low or no weight, to strengthen the “mind-muscle” connection (called neuromuscular activation), where your brain is working with your muscles to tell them exactly how to perform the movement and to prepare the joints and connective tissue for the exact range of motion you will be doing in the exercise.  See the section on Flexibility Training, below, for more info!

Resistance/Strength Training

This is where you work those muscles to increase their strength, endurance and power by doing exercises to resist gravity, whether that’s with your own body weight, dumbbells, kettle bells, barbells, cable/pulley systems or resistance bands. The demands on the muscles will cause them to adapt and grow stronger over time, making you more able to tackle life in general.  Overloaded shopping bags?  No problem for you!  You feel me?

Beginners are looking to do 2-3 sessions in total per week, with 1-2 sets of each exercise. Over time, aim to work up to 4-6 sessions per week with 3-4 sets per exercise for intermediate to advanced exercisers. Depending on your time availability, an effective workout will include ~6-10+ exercises.

The number of reps will vary depending on your goals and fitness level as well.  Focusing on a small number of reps (3-5, 5-8) with a heavier weight will prioritize your power and muscle growth in size (called hypertrophy).  A moderate number of reps (8-12) with a slightly lighter weight (one that will allow you to safely complete all reps with good form) builds muscular strength.  And finally, high rep ranges (12-15+), which will require lighter weights to ensure correct form, really build up your muscular endurance.  This is the kind of workout you get when you’ve got a baby or toddler that likes (aka refuses any other way than) to be gently bounced or rocked to sleep and it takes for-freaking-ever.  Been there?  Done that?  I feel YOU.

Regardless of training level, start with large muscle groups first (remember those squats and deadlifts?). Think of the muscles closest to the core of the body: legs, chest, back and shoulders. As you move away from the core, muscles get smaller. Think biceps, triceps, calves, shins, forearms, etc.

Start with compound, multi-joint movements first before moving into smaller, isolated movements. For example, squats before leg extensions or chin-ups before biceps curls.

Cardiorespiratory/Cardiovascular Training

This is where you get the heart and lungs pumping to make them healthy and strong through steady, rhythmic activity like walking, jogging, skiing, skating; swimming, cycling, dancing…etc.!

Beginners are looking to start with maybe ten minutes, 3-4 times per week, working up to the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of vigorous activity (feels like a 7-8 out of ten) or 300 minutes of moderate activity per week.

What’s this HIIT (high intensity interval training) all about? It’s all about alternating periods of higher intensity activity with lower intensity activity – as hard as you can handle, for 20-60 seconds and a recovery period to get ready to go again. This might mean a faster tempo or greater incline for a period, alternating with slower, flatter periods.

What cardio is “best”? That depends on what’s best FOR YOU. Find an activity that you enjoy and are likely to be consistent with. Consistency in the long term is more important than worrying about the “best” activity, according to some random study that will likely change next month anyway.

Flexibility Training

It’s so important to ensure that our joints have full and comfortable range of motion and that the connective tissues in the body are limber to make everything you do feel easier and better (and yes, you CAN think about Seinfeld’s bit where Jerry dates a gymnast…;-)).  Stretching can help with this. Slow, deep stretches held for 30-60 seconds can be done at the end of workouts, and/or other times during the day. Dynamic (moving) stretches with short pulses for the muscle are a great choice after a general warm-up and before the resistance and/or cardio portions of your workout, focusing on the movements and muscle groups that are going to be worked (that mind-muscle connection I mentioned above).

This is one area where more is more! Beginners and advanced exercisers alike benefit from daily flexibility training. The stretch should be to the point of mild tension, not discomfort (forget you ever heard the phrase, “no pain, no gain” – it doesn’t apply here)! Breathe steadily and evenly. Release and repeat two or three times for each stretch.

Cool Down

This is an often overlooked part of a workout (more so even than the warm-up), but, just like its name, it’s important to allow time for the body temperature to come back down and the heart rate and respiration rate to decrease to normal levels. This is actually the first stage of all-important recovery from the workout.

You don’t get stronger while you’re working out. A workout actually literally breaks you down, causing small tears in the muscle tissue (micro-trauma). It’s during recovery time that these tissues rebuild and repair, and they need sufficient time (and fuel) to do so to come back stronger than before. Inadequate rest/recovery between workouts means you never give your body the opportunity to get stronger.

Take a few minutes at the end of your workout with light, lower intensity activity and the chance to mentally transition out of the workout.

Feeling ready to transition out of this “heavy” post?  Here’s a joke my seven-year-old learned this week: “What did the chick say when it’s mother laid an egg?”  “Look at the orange-mama-laid!”  Ha!  Yup, corny jokes are welcome here, too.  Send ’em on over!

Have a fit day!


One thought on “Five Essential Elements of Efficient and Effective Program Design

  1. Pingback: Five Ways to Love Yourself Lean – The Golden Graham Girl

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