Free Gym Workout Plans

What's the best at-home workout program? That depends on your fitness goals: Are you trying to lose weight, build muscle or stay healthy? These three common goals offer a great place to start. If you're training toward a more specific athletic goal, you can adapt the following plans as needed.

What's the best at-home workout program? That depends on your fitness goals. (Image: Hero Images/Hero Images/GettyImages)

Free Workout Plans

The following free workout programs all have two things in common: First, they assume that you have access to basic gym equipment; second, they satisfy the Department of Health and Human Services physical activity guidelines for Americans. This represents the minimum amount of physical activity you need every week to stay healthy, although you can get even more health benefits if you do more than the minimum, which is:

Make sure you give your muscles at least 48 hours of rest between strength-training workouts, as advised by Harvard Health Publishing.

The Healthy Workout Plan

If your biggest goal is staying healthy, make those recommendations from the HHS your guiding light. Here's one example of how you can parcel that activity out through the week:

  • Sunday: Rest or play
  • Monday: 30 minutes moderate cardio
  • Tuesday: 30 minutes moderate cardio plus full-body strength training
  • Wednesday: 30 minutes moderate cardio
  • Thursday: 30 minutes moderate cardio
  • Friday: 30 minutes moderate cardio plus full-body strength training
  • Saturday: Rest or play

Pressed for time? You can do less cardio if you increase the intensity. Consider this workout plan:

  • Sunday: Rest or play
  • Monday: It's Monday; take care of work
  • Tuesday: 40 minutes of vigorous cardio plus full-body strength training
  • Wednesday: It's hump day; take care of work
  • Thursday: 40 minutes of vigorous cardio plus full-body strength training
  • Friday: It's Friday; go have fun
  • Saturday: Rest or play

Which strength-training exercises should you do? There's a whole world to choose from, but get started by doing one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions for each of the following:

  • Leg press (quads, hamstrings, glutes)
  • Lunges (quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves)
  • Dumbbell press or chest press machine (chest, arms and shoulders)
  • Lat pulldown machine or pull-ups (back, arms and shoulders)
  • Planks, crunches, glute bridges or oblique crunches (core)

The Weight Loss Workout Plan

If your primary goal is losing weight, then your ultimate goal is to create a calorie deficit. In other words, you need to burn more calories than you take in. In most cases, establishing a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day sets you up to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies this as a healthy rate of weight loss; you're more likely to keep the weight off long-term if you lose it gradually, instead of going on a crash diet that encourages unsustainable habits.

Keep those strength-training exercises in your workout plan — they're great for boosting your metabolism. But for most people, increasing cardiovascular exercise to 60 to 90 minutes per day, most days of the week, is the key to (relatively) easy weight loss. So, your free workout programs for weight loss might look like this:

  • Sunday: Rest or play
  • Monday: 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio
  • Tuesday: 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio, plus full-body strength training
  • Wednesday: 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio
  • Thursday: 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio
  • Friday: 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio, plus full-body strength training
  • Saturday: Go for a long walk, hike or run (All of these count as cardio!)

Lack of time is one of the biggest barriers to establishing a regular workout routine — but every bit of physical activity you add to your day makes a difference. You can break up those workout sessions however you need to, and they don't all have to take place in the gym. Consider this busy person's plan for more physical activity:

  • Sunday: 30 minutes of cardio, plus full-body strength training
  • Monday-Friday: 45 minutes of vigorous cardio via bike commuting to/from work (15 minutes each way) and 15 minutes of walking during lunch break
  • Friday: Add a full-body strength training workout on top of your commuting time
  • Saturday: Rest or play

Every body responds a little differently to exercise stimuli, so if you find that you're not losing as much weight as you like on either of these plans, don't panic. Just evaluate where your calorie intake is coming from and where your calorie expenditures are going. You might need to increase your activity level or exercise intensity, fine-tune how you're eating or better yet, do both.

When it comes to strength-training for weight loss, choose options that work multiple muscle groups for the biggest calorie burn and greatest time efficiency. Tackle the full-body exercises given in the health workout plan section, or do body-weight exercises.

Body-weight exercises are particularly helpful if you're busy, because even if you can't make it to the gym, you can do body-weight workouts almost anywhere with little to no equipment. Try doing push-ups, pull-ups (you can use playground equipment) or inverted rows off a table, planks, squats and lunges to work all your major muscle groups.

The Muscle-Building Workout Plan

If building muscle is your highest priority, start out with the healthy workout plan. Then, once you're ready for a greater resistance-training challenge, increase the amount of weight you lift and the number of sets you're doing, per recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Novice exercisers working to build strength or bigger muscles should do one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise — the same as you'd do for general health. The amount of weight you're lifting should be 60 to 70 percent of your one-rep max, or 1RM, for strength, or 70 to 85 percent for muscle growth. You can calculate your 1RM by using standardized charts to cross-reference how much weight you're lifting, and how many times, for exercises such as the bench press or squats.

As you become more experienced in the weight room, the ACSM recommends that advanced lifters can increase the amount of weight to 80 to 100 percent of 1RM (for strength) or 70 to 100 percent for hypertrophy — another way of saying building bigger muscles. They also recommend decreasing your repetitions to between one and eight for building strength, or three to six for hypertrophy, and increasing your number of sets per exercise to as many as six.

Tip

If you decide to tackle maximal lifts (think sets of just one or two repetitions), make sure you have the proper experience, conditioning, equipment and coaching.

Is that a more intense weight room experience than you want? Don't worry: You can still make lots of progress and build healthy muscle by sticking to the twice-weekly full-body workouts in the healthy workout plan. Just continue steadily (and gradually) increasing the amount of weight as your muscles get stronger; add in different exercises for your muscle groups every six to eight weeks, so they have to adapt to new stimuli; and add in extra sets of your favorite exercises when you can, because more time under tension equals bigger gains.

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