Preparation leads to results. Workout plans are no exception – as they provide direction and structure. If you’re off a plan, you’re out in the wilderness and might be wasting your energy.
Today we’re discussing what makes a great workout plan for women, how to set up your workouts, and what to look for in long-term workout planning to get the best from your workouts.
When you’re looking at workout plans, it’s key to look at the most important factors. These are your big priorities for understanding and selecting workout plans and programs. They also explain why you need a workout plan.
Nobody ever got great without trying and working through the process. Equally, you’re not going to get to your goal just blindly “having a go” at workouts. A good idea of what to do is both reassuring when you get started with workouts and a key part of maximising results!
The main point of a workout plan is to have a system of workouts that you have to do. This does two things: it provides you with a structure so you know what you’re doing and it provides you a system that is outside of yourself for accountability. You don’t have to motivate yourself to do workouts if you have workouts you need to do.
You set the workout plan up as something outside of yourself and it gives you a touching-down point for your workouts. It provides your fitness pursuits with a backbone and all you have to do is turn up and put in the work, follow the plan, and let it do its magic.
The structure is important because one of the most common reasons people fail their fitness goals is uncertainty and self-doubt. The workout plan is your map towards your goal and provides you with the guidance you need and the smart forethought on what you need to get the best results.
This is why the best workout plans come from experts: they know what you are missing, what you need, and how to put together a plan that makes it work.
Workout plans are also directly responsible for tracking your progress over time. They offer you a focused step-by-step progression plan from your current performance and physique to the one you’re chasing.
When we want to make change, it’s crucial to break big goals down into smaller ones. A good workout plan empowers this change by providing you with smaller steppingstones along the w3ay and systems of progression that help you make physical and mental change.
A workout plan shouldn’t just be a few exercises you need to do today, but should move from light to heavy, from simple to complicated, and from easier to more challenging. The progression of your performance is set at the pace of the program, so a good workout plan needs to match your physical development and offer you the best results, without injury, along the timeline (e.g. 8 or 12 weeks)
You can’t have a workout plan if it doesn’t select exercises for you. This is one of the most important things that we look for when making the most of time in the gym or working out at home. It’s selecting the results we want and the specific physical changes.
Strength and fitness gains are specific. Not only are they a chance to build specific skills – like squatting, lunging, pressing, and similar – but your body’s actual changes are tailored to the exact movements you put it through.
Obviously, you’re not going to get bigger legs by doing bench press. Equally, the more specific a workout or exercise is to leg-development (e.g. which exact muscle groups you’re working on) the more clearly it will help you move towards your goals.
Workout plans make sure that your exercises are chosen for a few key purposes and bring clarity to workouts:
These are just a few key factors for exercise selection. The point is that using the right exercises amplifies the effort you put in, while getting the wrong exercises saps your results. Exercise choice is a multiplier: good exercises are worth 2 or 3 times the effort you put in, while a bad exercise might only be half as valuable as the effort it cost to perform!
The most important thing to look for, which is why we care about exercise selection and how it progresses, is whether or not a workout plan is appropriate to your experience and strength.
I wouldn’t ask a beginner to do weighted sprints or Olympic weightlifting before they could run and front squat. Because that’s inappropriate to their goals, needs, and capacity. A workout plan is there to make sure that you’re doing things appropriate to what you can do, as well as what you’d like to be able to do.
The right workout plan is humble. It accepts where you are now and says “that’s okay, because what matters is getting better as well as possible”. It’s the workout plan that doesn’t rush you through things you’re not ready for – and that’s the test of good planning.
Bad workout plans are usually just too easy or too difficult for what you can do. This often happens because they’re not tailored to what you’re looking for, your personal experience, or the kind of loading you’re able to work with.
Better programs are simply more closely-suited to what you can do and where you’re headed!
Progressions are one of the best ways of making sure that a workout plan is appropriate for you as a beginner. You don’t need to do an exercise right from the start because it’s good. Squats are great but not all beginners need to start there.
Progressions through easier exercises into more challenging and complicated ones help us get better without putting us at risk. The best way to get better at the squat might be to start with lunges and other movements that build the right muscles and movements patterns.
Progressions are especially important in good workout plans for beginners, but work for everyone. Building up from simpler movements to improve the components of more complicated movements ensures you’re getting it right, builds muscle along the way, and keeps your joints and muscles healthy.
The reason we have to write this article is because the market is full of sketchy programs written by people trying to turn a quick buck. It’s important to understand what not to do, as well as what to do, to get the best out of your workout plan.
First is simple: some plans just don’t work. Maybe they’re not right for beginners or your experience level, maybe they’re too vague in their direction, or maybe they’re just poorly put together and don’t give you what you need.
Effectiveness depends on how well a program suits you and your goals. The idea of a workout plan is, like we mentioned above, how well it moves you from point A (where you are) to point B (where you want to be).
Getting a program fitted to your needs and set around the things you care about is first and foremost. There are a lot of weak, cookie-cutter workouts out there put together without much thought – and those underperform on your most important goals!
You need to progress. It doesn’t just happen by accident: workout plans need to have progress baked into them to offer you fast sustainable, extensive results.
Many plans out there forget to actually push you more over time. A week’s routine doesn’t work if you’re not going to be working through more and more challenge over time and building a sense of meaningful progression. Without that, a workout plan doesn’t move you from A to B.
It leaves you sat at point A – right where you started – while you spin your wheels and get frustrated.
Workout plans should push you to progress even when you don’t feel like it. The regular impetus to get better is how you make sure that you’re pushing forward – one way or another – no matter the day or how you feel. When you don’t want to push yourself, the plan is there to remind you that it helps you get better.
It’s one thing to write a program that pushes you to keep improving. It’s another to directly improve the way you move and build the key athletic traits that you need to keep getting better, sustainably, for years.
This is because getting better at some movements means incorporating specific practice. For example, to get better at a ‘big’ exercise like the squat, you might want to practice ‘smaller’ exercises like good mornings, lunges, and core workouts to improve the feeling of proper positions.
This kind of development doesn’t show up on your weights immediately and it isn’t always the most glamorous. These kinds of fundamental movements are a great way to get better and you probably won’t give them the time they need – or improve as rapidly – if the workout plan doesn’t push you to practice them.
Working effectively to improve how you exercise, as well as what you exercise, is an essential part of a good plan. The way it builds movement patterns up over time helps you load them better in future, helps prevent injury, and lets you squeeze the most results out of the most important exercises.
Related to how you move is how your choice of exercises helps improve your injury-resilience in future. The way you train can help you stay safe an prevent unnecessary injuries, if you have a smart workout plan.
Many of the best preparatory exercises out there are aimed at improving things like control, stability, balance, posture, and tendon health. These all contribute to better joint health and reduce injury risk, while strengthening your muscles and supporting better fitness and health.
Look for single-legged exercises, movements that take you sideways or involve twisting, and strengthen weak mechanics. These kinds of changes are a significant way to get stronger in the places you tend to get hurt, giving you more capacity for those movements and reducing the odds of injury.
Remember: injury risk is likely where you’re weakest, and that’s because strength is specific to the joint angle and muscle length that you build it. Practicing these lighter movements (like Cossack squats and rotating core exercise) support better health, fitness, performance, and longevity.
Get injured is the short road to losing progress and feeling terrible – but it’s not inevitable!
One of the real kickers for a good program is asking more than you can give – even if that simply means not suiting your schedule.
Workout plans are about fitting exercise to your schedule, as well as vice versa. Things like your work schedule and the time you can spend in the gym come into play when writing the perfect workout plan.
If you’re working 8am until 8pm every day, you don’t have time for 3 big gym sessions a week, for example. But a good workout plan might say to practice 30 minutes of personalised bodyweight training at home everyday could be perfect.
This adaptability is key, marking the difference between a workout plan that respects you and one that disregards the human at the middle of the plan!
Some workout plans just don’t make sense in terms of the energy system you’re trying to develop. Sprinters don’t need to run a marathon in training, and endurance runners don’t need a huge bench press.
A lot of workout programs out there do things “just because”. They don’t prepare you for what you need and – when that happens – they waste your time, money, and recovery that could be better spent on something more productive.
Okay, so you know what to look for in a good workout program – and you know what to avoid.
But what about when we’re getting specific to women’s workout plans? What do we look for to make it specific and respect the sex differences to the body?
First, don’t let anyone tell you that you should avoid weight or trying hard. Lower weights don’t “tone” – and heavy weights don’t make you bulky. The same applies to bodyweight training: getting stronger is never a bad thing.
You don’t have to do high-reps just because you’re a woman. The things that strength offers are beneficial to everyone and women’s long-term health problems like osteoporosis and metabolic change are only made worse by being weak.
Getting strong doesn’t make anyone look like a man (except men, obviously). You can build muscle mass and get fitter and look however you want. Keeping intensity high is perfect for burning fat, building muscle, improving joint health, and boosting your performance in just about everything!
While you don’t have to do high reps just because you’re a woman, you should be working slightly higher rep than a male counterpart. For example, where a man might perform 5 sets of 5, you might want to perform 6 sets of 6.
Women’s muscular function and metabolic preferences lean slightly towards longer-duration exercise. This is why women’s endurance performance is closer to men’s than their high-intensity weightlifting or sprinting numbers.
Workouts for men and women should be similar but not 100% identical, with a small 10-15% increase in volume and only a 5-10% decrease in weight relative to your 1-rep-max. For example, a man might use 5 set of 5 at 77.5%, while a woman might better-suit 6 sets of 6 at 70%.
Women’s dietary needs feed directly into how you perform in exercise and how you recover. A workout plan isn’t going to produce results if you’re not eating properly: diet is 80% of the change you’re going to see in your body, mind, and performance.
Recovering specifically means focusing on the nutrients that are most important to women’s health and which may be more of a concern than they are for men. Protein should still be a top priority for all people, but the carb-fat balance does shift for women.
Dietary fats are especially important due to the increased reliance of women’s metabolisms on triglycerides as fuel. Eating high-quality fats – again at about 10-15% more than a male, with maybe 10% fewer carbs – is key to supporting healthy metabolism and consistent energy between and before workouts.
Equally, there are some essential vitamins and minerals that will support a better workout program and help you progress from session to session:
These support the exercises and post-workout recovery processes that make us all better. Fuelling up afterwards is key – workout plans rely on other great habits like eating properly and sleeping enough to let your body build new muscle, rebalance the hormones, and keep your joints healthy.
The workout plan you choose is important. It structures everything you’re going to be doing and the results that you’re going to get from your hard work.
Properly selecting workout plans and knowing what to avoid is how you protect your body and your time. The way we build programs reflects on priorities, your current experience levels, and the goals you’re reaching for.
Formulaic exists because Women’s health and fitness has to fit around life and be specialised to your needs. We use regular bodyweight workouts to burn fat, build muscle, reduce injury risk, and improve performance – all from home on your schedule.
These kinds of performance- and logistics-structures help you get the most out of exercise. If you’re going to work hard, you may as well work smart and get the best results for every drop of sweat!
Feel free to write us here and one of our coaches can help.