How to Set Up a Complete Exercise Program

Woman squatting with kettlebell
Getty Images/Adrianna Williams

One of the hardest parts of an exercise program involves two things:  Setting it up and then, of course, doing it.

If you know anything about exercise, especially if your goal is to lose weight, you know that you need to have it all:  Cardio, weight training and flexibility.

Okay, that makes sense, but how do you put all of these together without taking up half your day?  Should you do cardio and strength training on the same day?

Which one should you do first?

Those are just some of the common questions many of us have when it comes to setting up an exercise program and the answers to those questions usually depends on your goals, schedule, and fitness level. 

So, if you're not sure where to start, it may help to see a sample workout schedule that includes all the workouts you need, whether you're a beginner, intermediate or a more advanced exerciser.Once you determine your fitness level using this quiz, you can get started!

Your Workout Program - Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced


Guidelines For Beginners

  • Ease into exercise with a simple cardio program and a total body strength training routine.
  • You'll want to have recovery days to allow your body to rest and your muscles to heal from your new routine.
  • A typical beginner program will include about 2-3 days of cardio and 2 days of strength training.

Sample Workout for Beginners

Below is a sample program that gives you an idea of what a typical schedule would look like for someone just getting started, or getting back to, exercise.

Monday: Cardio 20-30 minutes. You can choose from one of the following Sample Cardio Workouts:Tuesday: Total Body Strength and core training. You can choose from one of the following Sample Strength Workouts:
Wednesday: Rest or gentle yoga/stretchingThursday: Cardio-20-30 minutes.  You can choose from one of the following Sample Cardio Workouts:
Friday:  Total Body Strength and core training. You can choose from one of the following Sample Strength Workouts:Saturday: Rest or, optional, cardio-20-30 minutes.  You can choose from one of the following Sample Cardio Workouts:


Guidelines for Intermediate Exercisers

  • If you've been exercising for at least 3 months consistently, you typically fall into this category
  • If your goal is to ​lose weight, you want to shoot for 20-60 minutes of cardio about 5 or more times a week. 
  • Your strength training schedule will depend on what type of workouts you're doing (e.g., total body training or a split routine). 
  • You can do cardio and weight training on the same day, depending on your time constraints. It doesn't matter which one you do first, so vary your routine and try different combinations to find the one that is right for you.

Sample Intermediate Split Routine for Upper and Lower Body

Monday:  30-Minute Cardio Medley Workout, Upper Body TrainingTuesday: 45-Minute Treadmill Interval Workout, Core Training
Wednesday: 30-Minute Low Impact Cardio Blast Workout (2 circuits), Lower bodyThursday: Rest, stretch or yoga
Friday: Total Body Strength or Circuit TrainingSaturday: Cardio Endurance Workout, stretch


Guidelines For Advanced Exercisers

  • If you're more advanced, you can split your routine further, focusing more attention on each muscle group
  • You can also make your cardio more intense by, incorporating interval training, circuit training, or other advanced techniques to burn calories and build endurance. 

    Sample Split Routing for Advanced Exercisers

    Monday: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps, HIIT CardioTuesday: Lower Body and Core
    Wednesday: Back & Biceps, Boredom Buster CardioThursday: Rest, stretch or yoga
    Friday: Basic Total Body StrengthSaturday: Advanced Intense Intervals


    These are just examples, of course, but the general idea is to start where you are, not where you want to be. It often takes weeks, even months, of experimenting with different types of exercise and schedules to find something that fits your goals, schedule, and fitness level.

    And, keep in mind, you don't have to follow the same schedule every week.

    In fact, most of us have to change each week depending on how we're feeling or what's going on in our lives. The best thing you can do for yourself is to stay flexible and remember there's no perfect workout program for everyone.

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