Something better than "throw darts at a list of exercises"?
July 31, 2019 7:46 AM   Subscribe

How can I plan a daily home exercise routine for general fitness? My current regimen works for me, but it's just cobbled together from random sources that I found online. I wonder if a routine informed by actual fitness expertise would be better.

I won't provide too many details about my current regimen – judging from the fitness discussion I've seen online, that would just invite a bunch of competing amateur opinions about the One True Way to exercise.

I will say this much:
  • I'm not trying to get ripped. I'm just trying to get reasonably fit – it improves my mood and energy level, helps combat anxiety and depression, and has a host of other health benefits. (That said, I don't mind a bit of muscle tone.)
  • I'm currently about 25 pounds overweight, but making good progress at losing the extra weight (via a combination of daily exercise and a super-healthy calorie-restricted diet).
  • I will never, ever go to a gym or a class. I definitely want something that I can do at home, with minimal equipment.
  • My current regimen consists mostly of body weight exercises (squats, sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, dumbbell rows, etc.), with some running in place (I will also never go outside to work out).
Like I said, this routine is doing me good – but I wonder whether I'm wasting effort with exercises that target redundant or unnecessary areas, or neglecting other areas. I didn't sit down and say "okay, here's an exercise that will activate X muscle group, and here's another that will target Y muscle group..." I literally just picked two random routines that looked palatable and achievable, mashed 'em together, and drew up a chart that lets me increase my number of reps by a modest amount each week.

So: how can I devise a more deliberate plan that's designed to achieve my goals? Got any articles to recommend? Books? General advice? I have no idea where to begin with this. The whole notion of regular exercise is still kind of foreign to me.

Or – given that my current exercise habit seems to be working – is there even any reason to disrupt it and try to replace it with a new routine? Am I overthinking this? (Overthinking things is, like, my #1 pastime, so I wouldn't be surprised.)

posted by escape from the potato planet to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Even if you don't sign up for an ongoing gym membership, you can try going to the Y to ask a trainer (you might have to pay for the info session if you don't have a membership). It sounds like you're asking for their expertise.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:58 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you breathing hard and getting your heart rate up regularly?

Are you mixing upper and lower body exercises? Do your upper body exercises include both pushing and pulling? (From your descriptions, the answer is yes.)

Are you making progress? (You answered yes.)

Are you avoiding injury?

Most importantly, do you have a routine that you enjoy (or at least tolerate) enough to do consistently?

If so, don't overthink it, unless you get to a point where you stop making progress and/or get bored. If so, take a look at DareBee.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:03 AM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think you are overthinking this a bit. Your goals are pretty non-specific, so your routine can be too. If you are seeing the benefits you want, you don't need to worry too much about program design or whether you are targeting the right muscles, etc., etc. But there are a couple of simple things you can do to keep your routine effective.

If you're sticking with bodyweight exercises, make sure you don't neglect upper body pulling, like pull-ups or rows; it's easy to forget these because they need just a bit more equipment than, e.g. pushups. My other suggestion is to find ways to increase the difficulty of the exercises as you progress. Adding more reps has diminishing returns, and you can get more benefits by increasing the resistance/difficulty. With weights this obviously means adding more pounds/kilos, but with bodyweight it usually looks like modifying or substituting exercises: elevate your feet to make push-ups harder, change your back angle on inverted rows, etc.

If you want further reading, the recommended routine on Reddit's r/bodyweightfitness is a fine place to start. It includes a suggested 45-60 minute session as well as progressions from easier to harder versions through most of the standard bodyweight strength movements.
posted by egregious theorem at 8:11 AM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, r/bodyweightfitness is the place to go for this stuff. Check out the recommended routine on their wiki (see the sidebar on that reddit) for a good place to start.
posted by pharm at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wanted balanced workouts that took into account my goals, changed as I got more fit without having to think about it or plan, and and that used what I had on hand at home to workout with.

The bodbot app does all that and more. I especially like that it runs you through a set of strength and flexibility tests to figure out where to start, where to focus, whether there are asymmetries to deal with, etc. I also really like the (optional) features where it asks you how you're feeling on a given day and how hard particular sets were and adjusts the workout accordingly. As someone with a chronic illness and highly variable day to day abilities, this is absolutely necessary for me to be able to keep exercising and make progress, but might not be as important for you.
posted by congen at 9:09 AM on July 31, 2019

The best workout is the one you actually do. So if you're doing what you do now regularly, keep it up.

Body weight/calisthenics is good exercise, and I know dudes who have gotten legitimately ripped from it. (Seems to be more of a guy thing, for some reason.) One thing I'd suggest is to get a pull-up bar, as the back is usually overlooked.

For resources, check out Al Kavadlo or
posted by kevinbelt at 9:25 AM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Or – given that my current exercise habit seems to be working – is there even any reason to disrupt it and try to replace it with a new routine? Am I overthinking this? (Overthinking things is, like, my #1 pastime, so I wouldn't be surprised.)

As a person who constantly devises and then abandons elaborate exercise plans - DON'T CHANGE A THING! At least, not yet. Once you start to feel like the things you're doing are too easy, that's the time to start mixing it up.

HOWEVER, for your specific question about activating muscle groups and so on, I really recommend It looks very web 1.0 but it's a great resource. It has animated gifs of basically every exercise you can imagine, you can search them by muscle group, and they have recommended exercise regimens that just say "do a thing to activate this muscle group, then this one, then this one" rather than listing specific exercises. Here's a guide to getting started with this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I found this nerd fitness guide, usefully titled "How To Build Your Own Workout Routine", very helpful. I *really* hate the layout of this site and how needlessly wordy it is, but basically it boils down to:

Quads – squats, lunges, one legged squats, box jumps.
Butt and Hamstrings – deadlifts, hip raises, straight leg deadlifts, good mornings, step ups.
Push (chest, shoulders, and triceps) – overhead press, bench press, incline dumbbell press, push ups, dips.
Pull (back, biceps, and forearms) – chin ups, pull ups, bodyweight rows, dumbbell rows.
Core (abs and lower back) – planks, side planks, exercise ball crunches, mountain climbers, jumping knee tucks, hanging leg raises.

Pick one exercise from EACH category above, specifically ones that scare you the least, and that will be your workout every other day for the next week.
posted by thebots at 1:07 PM on July 31, 2019

Oh yeah, another thing you could do is just download the Nike Training Club app and have them build a plan for you. There are options for no-equipment or basic equipment (dumbbells) so you can do the exercises entirely from home.
posted by thebots at 1:09 PM on July 31, 2019

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