There's no magic formula to creating a weekly workout plan for women and getting fast results. Instead, the best workout plans are going to fit your lifestyle and your goals. As long as you can turn exercise into a consistent habit that really works for you, you're going to see results.
What Are Your Goals?
So, what kind of fitness goals are you working toward? The following workout plans will give you a place to start, whether you're trying to get fit and healthy, lose weight or build a sleek, healthy-looking body — or all of these.
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But remember, the whole point of building a five-day workout routine for women — or men — is setting it up in a way that works for you. So feel free to mix and match different elements of these plans, or even bring in new ideas as you encounter them.
1. Working Out for Your Health
You've heard that staying fit will help prolong your life, and perhaps you've even received a health scare or similar wake-up call. Or maybe you're just tired of huffing and puffing when you climb a flight of stairs. Either way, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers a great set of guidelines for getting fit and healthy.
Here's what they say you should do, every week, to start enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
- Or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
- At least two days of full-body strength training
Exceeding those recommendations is totally fine, as long as you remember to give yourself at least one rest day a week, and to give each of your muscle groups at least one full day of rest between strength-training workouts. In fact, the HHS says you'll get even more health benefits if you double the amount of cardio to 300 (or more) minutes of moderate intensity exercise, or 150 minutes of vigorous exercise.
That works out to about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each weekday. If you can also slot two full-body strength workouts into the week, that'll leave you free to enjoy weekends with your family and friends.
For cardio, all the machines in the gym cardio room are fair game: treadmills, elliptical climbers, exercise bikes and so on. But don't forget about group exercises classes; the swimming pool; and fun non-gym activities like dancing, hiking, running or biking outdoors, playing organized sports and so on.
For strength training, you can keep your workouts short if you focus on multi-joint movements like pushups or chest presses, pull-ups or lat pulldowns, squats and lunges — all of which work multiple muscle groups at once.
Here's how your five-day, health-oriented workout plan could play out:
- Monday: Do at least 30 minutes of your favorite cardio.
- Tuesday: Another 30 minutes of cardio — your choice — plus a full-body strength-training workout.
- Wednesday: 30 more minutes of cardio exercise.
- Thursday: Again, 30 minutes (or more) of cardio.
- Friday: 30 minutes of cardio, plus a full-body strength-training workout.
If you're the driven sort, it might feel gratifying to really kick up the intensity and hit those first workouts hard. But dodge debilitating — and discouraging — soreness by giving yourself permission to ease into your workouts gradually, instead. As your body adapts, you can increase the intensity, duration or difficulty of your workouts to provide a continuing challenge.
2. Busy-Woman Workout Plan
What if you're a busy mom or executive? You can apply the same guidelines, but break them up into bite-size chunks that are easier to sprinkle throughout your day. Upping the intensity of your cardio workouts also lets you get more results in less time.
Here's an example of what that might look like:
- Monday: A vigorous 15-minute run, followed by upper-body weight training.
- Tuesday: A vigorous 15-minute stair climbing session, followed by lower-body weight training.
- Wednesday: Ride an exercise bike or swim vigorously for 15 minutes, giving your legs a break from high-impact workouts.
- Thursday: 15 minutes of your favorite vigorous cardio — maybe go for a bike ride outside — followed by upper-body weight training.
- Friday: 15 minutes of vigorous cardio again, followed by strength-training for your legs.
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest!
What makes this plan work so well for busy people? First off, shortening your cardio to just 15 minutes makes it much easier to slot into a busy day — whether it happens before or after work or dropping the kids off at school, or during your lunch break.
Second, breaking your strength-training workouts up among different body parts each day keeps the workouts short and sweet — you can get away with doing one or two sets of just a couple exercises in each workout, if you choose carefully. And if you miss out on any elements of your workout plan during the week, you have the weekend as a fallback option.
Read more: 5 At-Home Workouts for Women With Busy Schedules
Remember to give yourself at least one full rest day each week. And if you're really hitting the workouts hard, keep an eye out for the symptoms of overtraining — the American Council on Exercise offers a helpful list.
3. Weight-Loss Workout Plan
What if losing weight is your primary goal? Research from the National Weight Control Registry shows that the vast majority of people who lose weight and keep it off do so with a combination of healthy diet and exercise. If your diet is already pretty good but you'd been sedentary until now, adding in the baseline levels of physical activity recommended by the HHS might be enough to help you start losing weight.
But for most people, you'll need more physical activity. The HHS's "next level" recommendations for extra health benefits — doing around 300 minutes of moderate cardio per week, or 150 minutes of vigorous cardio — are a good place to start.
That means upping your daily activity to about an hour of moderate cardio or 30 minutes of vigorous cardio during each weekday. If you can't take the time to do that much cardio at a stretch, break the workouts down into brief chunks of at least 10 minutes, and remember to include those strength-training workouts to build strength and stamina, along with stronger bones, and boost your metabolism at the same time.
Here's what a five-day workout plan for women's weight loss might look like:
- Monday: Squeeze in 20 minutes of brisk walking in the morning, another 20 at lunch, and 20 more after work. Done!
- Tuesday: Hit the gym for an hour-long Zumba class, followed by a strength-training workout.
- Wednesday: Rest.
- Thursday: Squeeze in 20 minutes of brisk walking in the morning, another 20 at lunch, and 20 more after work. Done!
- Friday: Time for an intense hour-long boot camp or circuit training class, meeting your goals for cardio and strength training at one time.
- Saturday: Go for a two- or three-hour run, hike or bike ride.
- Sunday: Rest.