How to Determine Your PERFECT Workout Plan

beach workout

You hear it every day on TV: “The Perfect Workout Plan!”

You read about it in every magazine: “The one secret you need to lose weight!”

You find it on every fitness website: “Why this plan works and why that plan doesn’t.”

It can be confusing, and it can be intimidating.  Don’t you worry though, as I’ve come up with a solution to determine the PERFECT workout plan that will get you the results you want and allow you to have success.

Where did I find it?

Trekking through the Amazonian jungle, I stumbled across an ancient training plan, written in hieroglyphics on the wall of an temple from a long lost civilization.

Nope, that’s not it.  

How about…Mad scientists created the world’s most scientific 7-minute workout

Hmmm, nope. that’s not it either.

Here’s how I really discovered the PERFECT WORKOUT PLAN.

The Perfect Workout Plan

high road low road

I get a few emails a day from people asking me advice on what plan to train with.

They want to know if the Rebel Fitness Guide is the perfect workout plan, or if they should be doing P90x, Insanity, a gymnastics routine, Couch To 5K, Yoga Strength, a bodybuilding routine, 7-Minute Abs, etc… Unfortunately, all routines tend to present different information, require different diets, and make an effort to present themselves as superior to all other training routines.

So, I reply with something they probably don’t want to hear, but need to hear:

The BEST workout and diet plan is the plan that you actually follow through with.

The best coaching, training plan, and/or diet plan based on your dietary needs doesn’t mean ANYTHING if you don’t actually follow through with it!

I’m proud to say that the Rebel Fitness Guide has helped a ton of people (like Joe, Ryan, Veronica, and Bronwyn) get healthy, but it’s not because it’s the best plan in the entire world.  It worked for them because they tried it out and it WORKED FOR THEM!

The plan helped those people succeed because it lined up with the Triforce of Awesome of Nerd Fitness:

  • Happy – You enjoy what you are doing; you can wake up with a smile on your face.
  • Healthy – You can do the things you want to do without your body slowing you down, and you get a clean bill of health from your doctor.
  • Feel great and look good naked - You feel comfortable in your own skin, you have confidence, and you don’t think badly about yourself.

Now, here’s the thing: there are almost an infinite number of ways to accomplish those three goals, and every single person will have a different definition of what each of those things means.

  • If you are a marathon runner, your ideal “look good naked” will certainly be different than somebody who wants to be a bodybuilder.
  • If you hate lifting weights in a gym, your “happy” might be outdoor gymnastics or Parkour.
  • “Healthy” might be running a mile in less than 6 minutes, being able to do 10 pull ups, or having low cholesterol.

You know what? That is AWESOME. That’s what makes us different, special, and weird .

I once wrote an article called “What is Your Profession?“, creating different character classes based on your fitness goals.  This is one of Nerd Fitness’s most popular and discussed articles (450+ comments).  

It was one of my favorite articles to write, and the start of Rising Heroes, a project that is currently in beta testing as we speak (Sign up for the email list if you’d like to learn more, as we’ll be making another announcement on this really soon).

The reason that article has resonated so well with Nerd Fitness Rebels is that WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT.  Some of us are Warriors, others are Scouts or Monks, or Assassins or Druids.

This is what makes the Nerd Fitness community so freaking great.

Uh, so how do I pick which plan is right for me?

run road

“Thanks for nothing Steve, you just told me all options can work. What the heck do I do then?”

For starters, your first step is to determine what your primary goals are, and what the most important thing is to you:

  • If you want to run faster or improve your 5k time, then a running training program could work.
  • If you just want to lose weight and get stronger, something like the Rebel Fitness Guide could work.
  • If your goal is primarily to look good, a body building routine might work best for you.

Now, I already know what your next response is going to be, because I get this ten times a day too:

“Well, I want to lose some weight, build some muscle, and also build up more endurance.”

Here’s the truth: your body can only do so many things at once, and the three goals above will pull your body in three completely separate directions. Although there are some people with crazy genetics that are exceptions, more often than not:

If you want to build muscle: You need to eat more calories than you burn, which means you won’t be losing weight or fat. These are two separate physiological processes, as building muscle requires fast twitch muscles, and you build those by doing fast-twitch activities.  Building up your endurance with lots of long distance running puts more emphasis on your slow twitch muscles and makes building muscle way more difficult.

If you want to lose weight, you need to eat a caloric deficit.  Remember, you can’t outrun your fork. And while strength training CERTAINLY helps you keep the muscle you have and allows you to get stronger, don’t expect to put 20 lbs of muscle while losing 20 lbs of fat.

If you want to get better at endurance, don’t expect to also build a ton of muscle! Your body is going to use all of your excess calories to fuel your endurance instead of fueling the muscle building process.

If you try to do all three at once, you’ll never make true progress in any direction and get discouraged.  Instead, pick one main focus for the next few months and build your training around that.  Make that goal your primary focus, and then identify a plan that works around that.

For example, my friend Ryan from Gold Medal Bodies wanted to perform a one-handed handstand, so he spent 14 WEEKS focusing on just that ONE movement. All other exercise was supplemental.  His endurance probably suffered, he probably didn’t build as much muscle as he could have following a bodybuilding routine, but he didn’t care. He found something that he wanted  to accomplish and built his training around it.  

These days, my goal is primarily focused on muscle and strength building, so I follow a routine that focuses on those things. I spend too much time traveling, I can’t squat and deadlift much these days, and I play basketball on Tuesday nights: all of these things are taking away from my potential, but I’m happy (which means it’s a routine I’m going to continue following through!).

Find a routine that lines up with your goals, and as long as they make you happy and keep you healthy, you have my full support.

I know what I want – what now?

act now

“Well, I have my goals, but how do I pick the right plan for that goal?”

Do enough research to make you feel comfortable about starting that plan for your goals. Watch youtube tutorials, read up on basic workouts, and try to find somebody in your situation that has succeeded with that plan before (if possible).

And then start.  

Like, now.

Today.

Don’t become an underpants gnome.  Pick a plan, and try it out for 30-60 days. Follow it to a T. Do exactly what they recommend, and then reevaluate.

Here’s the truth: ANY halfway decent plan will produce results, as long as you are consistent. 

How will you know if it’s working? Remember: “That which gets measured, gets improved.”

You need to become your own guinea pig.  Every two weeks, take more measurements or new photos and track your progressTake notes on your workouts.

Ask yourself:

Am I feeling better? Am I looking better? Am I happy?

If so, GREAT.  KEEP DOING IT!

If not, identify why you’re not seeing results: 

  • Are you actually following the plan? Or are you cheating?
  • Are there small adjustments you can make to improve your process?
  • Are you trying to do too much?  Are you trying to accomplish 30 goals at the same time instead of focusing on dominating just one or two?

If after 6-8 weeks you don’t see ANY results in any way (weight loss, strength increase, endurance improvement) – which I would highly doubt – Congrats! Cross it off your list, and move on to another one.  Take the lessons you learned from your previous effort (“this worked, that didn’t” or “I could NEVER stick with that”), and make an informed decision moving forward.

Just don’t keep trying to succeed in the same way that lead to no success last time, or you’ll continue to get the same lackluster results.

As long as you are tracking your progress with more than one metric, you should be able to tell if you are moving in the right direction!

What if I don’t fit in?

fit in

“You will be judged…or you will be ignored” - Seth Godin

I think it’s important to have convictions in this world.  I am a firm believer in these ideals, and I have built the programs and products at Nerd Fitness based around what I believe will help the greatest number of people have the greatest chance for success at the three goals above (happiness, healthiness, and looking-good-nakedness).

That being said, I know there are a million and one ways for people to get healthy, and I love that.

It’s why our message board is segmented into guilds and classes: because everybody is different! 

Embrace your differences.  Be thankful that we’re not all clones of one another.  We might be a tight-knit group, but we’re a tight-knit group of misfits and weirdos, of oddballs and outsiders.  Nothing makes me happier!

If you want to focus on bodybuilding, more power to you.

If you want to be a powerlifter, that’s awesome.

If you are a vegan (or paleo), there’s no reason we all can’t coexist!

As long as you are happy AND healthy, keep doing what you are doing, and let others do the same.

Just like in any quality MMO group, we need people of all different classes here at Nerd Fitness and in the Game of Life!

Tell me what your goals are. I’d love to hear about what you’re working on.

What program are you following?  Do you have a question on what to pick?

Leave a comment and share your story with your fellow rebels!

-Steve

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Guillermo Mountain MexicoToday’s Rebel Hero: Guillermo from south of the border, Mexico!

Guillermo is a third year internal medical student, and has retaken control of his life, both in school and his training.  He sent along this picture of him climbing a mountain down in Mexico on a recent adventure.

Thanks for sharing Guillermo, and thanks for inspiring the Rebellion!

Want to be the next Rebel Hero? Take a photo of you doing something epic in your Nerd Fitness gear and send it to contact@nerdfitness.com so we can feature you on the site!

photo sources: beach, road split, egg, runner

  • I like to use my body’s biofeedback to determine what I do.

  • I’m in Fitocracy, and I see all these different guys and girls who have amazing stories. Amazing before/after(now) photos. All of them with different workout plans, but all with one similarity: they all sticked to it.

    Great post, Steve. Kudos from México as well.

  • this article had perfect timing :)

  • I am in Stage 3 of the “New Rules of Lifting for Women.” I love it! I haven’t lost too much weight on it (about 8 lbs in 3 months) but I am getting stronger and I have a baby bicep! Still working towards the ability to do a push up on the floor and not at an incline, though. I’ll get there :)

  • Just focus on one, who knew?!

    I know so many people who have tried to work on all three
    areas at the same time. The general
    thought is that if you are building muscle then you must be burning fat and
    losing weight. Also, if you are
    exercising every day then you must be building your endurance.

    This is a real eye opener.
    It is not about focusing on everything at once.

    I think there are a lot of people who will have a hard time
    picking just one goal. We are in a world
    where we want it all and want it now.

    I agree that choosing something you enjoy will be the key to
    staying with it. I just need to focus on
    that one thing, and go find my sneakers.

  • Great Kamb, you ruined the “do all three at once” fantasy! :(

    I guess if I have to pick one…its still lose fat, I have too much still even after losing about 30lbs. I just want to be more useful body and less…extra. Starting a barbell training class next week though so I’ll be deadlifting and squating my way to better overall health. Guess as long as I don’t gorge on food I’ll still be cutting flub though right?

  • I just started the Alpha workout from Engineering the Alpha.
    One of the key things they talk about in their book is to stick with whatever workout you are doing until you have completed it. Jumping from one workout plan to another and another will always give you the same results: failure.

  • See this is the way I have been looking at it, though I have stopped caring about how much I weigh, I just want more of me to be muscle. I dont care for getting big, but if i stay just over 200lbs but drop under 20% body fat, I’d be cool with that, I dont need to lose another 20-30lbs if its not fat you know? Endurance would just be great so I could enjoy things like a game of frisbee or paintball. Until I read this, i think I was genuinely working towards a goal of doing all three at once. Makes me rethink my system.

  • I am honestly a bit confused. In “Strength Training 101″ you stated that if you want to lose weight you need to lift heavy. And now this article says you can’t build muscle AND lose weight. Does that mean you can lift heavy without building muscle? This is a sincere question, as I’m having trouble balancing eating little enough to have a caloric deficit, but enough to rebuild muscle as I’m trying to lose weight as well as get stronger.

  • I want to climb a wall. I want to be able to pull my self up, and over a wall. cement, wooden, muddy, I want to be able to go over it.

  • I’d like to see the answer to this too. I am going to start the body weight program (modified advanced for now), and I am toying with the idea of alternating eating at TDEE and eating below TDEE every week, or eating at TDEE whenever I get stalled in my progress, then resuming eating less for a while. I have at least 20 lb of fat to lose, and I know I can’t build 20 lb of muscle, so I’m going to have to lose some weight, but I’m more interested in what the tape measure says, as well as my strength progress, than I am in what the scale says (it currently says I gained 2 lb but I lost 1/2″ in both waist and hips during that same time).

  • I think he means “building muscle” as in getting bigger and having larger muscles ( the “bodybuilder” look). To do that, you need to train heavy and eat more than you burn (that gives you mass, and makes you bigger) so, for a person trying to lose weight, this approach may not be best. Strength/weight training burns more calories than aerobics alone, so its an integral part of weight loss (and toning, as it will develop your muscles and burn fat) I think that when the average Joe thinks he’s building muscle, what he is really doing is developing what muscle he (or she) already has and making it visible via weight loss. Or, I could be totally off base, lol

  • Man, I’ve said it before but I will say it again: The fact you recognise everyone is different and likes different things, combined with you telling people they need to be their own motivator, is just the absolute greatest. Learning that I had to pick what’s right for me and stick with it was such a liberator, and so good for deflecting underpants gnomes who start in with their latest idea.

    Been weightlifting for four months, parkour for seven, and capoeira for five. I’m not worried about losing weight or living up to anyone else’s standards, just getting stronger and better. I thank you for that.

    Another great article, man. Nice work.

  • I’ve recently been studying up on this bombardment of fitness information for ideas on exercise programming. From P90X, Scrawny 2 Brawny, Insanity, all the stuff in 4-hour body and many, many more. It really is a “Your product sucks, my way is better” world in the fitness industry.

    What you said is very true. It’s not which program you choose, but which one you stick and follow through with. In the end, you wind up customizing and fitting in the movements, sets, reps, intensity and building your own workout schedule and routine.

    The products on TV and the internet are good places to start, but find that that’s all they are. A beginners template to get your started on your first 30/60/90 days. They were good because it marketed a timeline for a set goal. Going back to your recent post about “What to do after you reached your goal”, there is a gap after the programs are completed. Do I repeat the cycle? Do I find something new? What if the something new doesn’t work?

    I started out with P90X, then into Insanity, then I formed a hybrid of the two. When I went to school, my schedule changed and my workouts feigned and got really boring. I cycled weight gain and weight loss. Then I found CrossFit, Strength Conditioning, Rowing and the excitement of fitness went back up.

    Eventually, you need to mix it up, add and subtract, take breaks and find new mediums to get reinspired. Or else relapse is bound to happen.

  • as long as you’re eating in deficit you’ll lose flub ;)
    but you may find that your actual weight on the scale doesn’t drop so much
    I’m finding that my weight is kinda stuck on the scales, lost maybe 10kg in 15 months… but i’m so much stronger.. lost 60+ cm (definate flub) in the same time! woot muscle!

  • You can’t stack on a heap of muscle.. grow those big biceps while eating in deficit, you can however maintain and strengthen the muscle you have. If you’re eating in deficit you NEED to lift heavy to maintain your current muscle and ensure that your body drops fat specifically, otherwise your body just uses whatever’s lying around muscle, fat, whatever. And like JeanG says, you can re-build or ‘renovate’ the muscle you already have.

    Steve isn’t contradicting himself as such, just confusing us a little with terminology

  • I have a karate tournament coming up so I’m focusing on building as much strength as possible and cardio. I cycle every month, one month a 5×5 strength cycle (heavy weight) next month doing tabata workout with weight to improve performance and muscle endurance.

    Does that make sense?

  • I’ve been wandering aimlessly for the past several months. So, I decided to launch into a half marathon training program this month to get my endurance back. Guess that means the strength building will wait for now. Though, I am sure a few pushups and kettlebell swings won’t hurt…..

  • Hi Steve,

    First of all, thank you for writing this article. It targets exactly what I’ve been going through lately. I’m trying to get back into exercise which has unfortunately been put on the back burner since I’ve started college. I’ve followed your site for some time and I think what you do is AWESOME! :)

    I have a predicament right now. In the past, I’ve really enjoyed biking more than anything else and I’m also enjoying learning to play tennis and walking/running with a friend. My whole life I’ve been the skinny guy who can’t gain any weight or muscle and I would really like to bulk up a little bit if I could, but I hate lifting weights or going to a gym. It seems the things I do enjoy aren’t really conducive to gaining weight.

    What do you think I should do? If I keep doing the things I enjoy, what should I supplement that with for overall general fitness?

  • That sounds fancy. I just look at the results, if the weights or reps are not increasing after several training sessions, it’s time to do adjustments(not necessarily change the whole program though) or deload.

  • OBJECTION!

    I think when you do different areas of sports it can benefit from each other.

    So this is what I am doing in a week.

    3 times climbing (bouldering) which is my target sport. This kind of climbing is increasing my strength with intramuscular coordination and strength endurance and flexibility and also some motoric senses.

    1 time lifting “heavy” weights. This lets my muscle grow. Maybe not as fast as doing this only, but fast enough to see differences. But the main point here for me is to strenghten my joints especially shoulders and elbows, which are numer one injuries in climbing.

    Further I drive bycicle to the gyms. This is my stamina programm. Until now I did not have the feeling that this is decreasing my other training results. It is more the opposite. I have the feeling that I am now regenerating better from the intense training. Otherwise I would not be able to do 4 times hard training.

    Every 4-6 weeks I do a deload. (Lifter vocabulary)

    I think it is for beginners better to focus on one thing to avoid mental and organisational overload.

    Also I have to say that my genetics are surely not crazy ^^

    *This is my own opinion.*

    Edit: I do several training types but main focus is on climbing. Maybe this is why it works.