0114 266 6433 (Sheffield) info@getphysical.co.uk
A train smarter, not harder workout

Over the past thirty-odd years, we’ve written tens of thousands of training programmes.  They’ve covered everything from weight loss to competitive body building. (We even had one male client who just wanted firmer buttocks; nothing else, just tighter buns.)  Regardless of a person’s goals, we’ve learnt that you can apply a general principles to every workout.

We call this train smarter, not harder and it covers three stages:

  1. Picking the right exercises for your goals
  2. Performing each exercise correctly
  3. Then performing the workout in the most efficient order

In this article, we’re going to look at stage three.

A simple framework

Without knowing a person’s individual goals, it’s impossible to design a specific workout.  This makes it difficult to talk about stages one and two.  So, we’ve put together a simple idea of how a stage three, 45-90-minute plan should look. It’s aimed at a person who wants to tone up and improve fitness.   However, the principles would remain the same for a variety of other training protocols.

The general guide to any type of training is to:

  1. Warm up
  2. Mobilise/loosen the muscles
  3. Train at high intensity in the earlier part of the workout
  4. Train at moderate intensity in the later part
  5. Add a CV/fat burning part towards the end (optional)
  6. Finish with a cool down/ abs/stretch


Let’s look at the above in slightly more detail.

1 – Warm-Up (light cardio): 5 mins

You only need about five minutes for the initial warm-up stage.  This is to get the blood flowing and heart rate up. The first three minutes should be a steady pace, and then try to pick up the speed for the final two minutes.  Ideally, you should finish the warm-up breathing relatively hard but not breathless.

The best equipment to warm-up on is one that gets as many muscles as possible muscles working, e.g. rower, cross trainer, Versaclimber, etc.  If you don’t have any equipment, then a combination of star jumps, wall press-ups, running-on-the-spot or skipping will do just as well.

At this point, you should be mentally focusing on the workout ahead.  Think about what you’re going to do and how you will do it.

Unless you have a specific joint or muscle issue, spending twenty minutes on a warm-up is just wasting valuable training time.

2 – Mobility stretching (still warming- up): 5 mins

After the first warm-up, you’re now going to loosen off the muscles that you are about to train. If you are doing a routine that involves every muscle group, then mobilise every muscle.  If not, put greater emphasis on the muscles you are about to use.

A mobility stretch only takes the muscles and joints through their normal range of movement (ROM) until you feel a moderate amount of tension – basically, it’s a light stretch.

At the end of the workout, you will perform some developmental stretches.  This where you will stretch the joint/muscle to its limit. Don’t over stretch a cold muscle.

3 – High intensity training: 20-30 mins

The idea is to perform the most arduous and taxing part of the workout in the first 25 minutes when you are strongest and freshest.

This could be fitness drills, sprints on the treadmill, circuits or weights involving the major muscle groups of the legs, chest, back and shoulders.

If weight training, you would use free-weights – dumb bells, barbells, etc.  – at this stage.

4 – Moderate intensity training: 10-20 mins

You will take the intensity down a step.

At this point, your blood-sugar levels are starting to fall dramatically, and you may start to tire.

Your co-ordination will worsen, increasing your chance of injury.  So, this is the last stage where you will do any form of exercise that requires skill, stability or balance.  For example, Olympic lifts, walking lunges, balance boards, BOSU (both sides up) balls, etc. should be in the early stages.

The emphasis at this stage is moving towards smaller muscle groups.  The focus moves to training the arms or the use of machines or body-weight instead of free-weights.   Anything where you don’t need to worry too much about stability.

5 – CV/Fat burning 15-30 mins (optional)

Depending upon your goals and available time, this is the stage where you would do a CV/fat burning routine. Your ability to use fat for fuel is minimal in the first 15 minutes of any type of workout.  Therefore, it makes sense to put it towards the end, rather than the beginning of a programme.

Best options are power-marching, light-jogging, cross-trainer or cycling.

Also, as your blood-sugar levels are low, your body will mobilise its fat stores to make more energy available. If you are still training intensely, the conversion of proteins to carbs (sugar) will increase.  When this happens, you may start to burn muscle off, rather than fat.

In any one workout, this effect is hardly noticeable but over an extended period of time, it will add up. (It’s worth noting that converting one pound (0.5kg) of fat to fuel supplies 3,500 calories.  However, because muscle is mainly water, one pound of muscle provides about 700 calories.)

If you intend to train intensely beyond 45-minutes, then make sure there are some carbs still entering the bloodstream.  This could be from a banana or a small bowl of cereal or toast eaten about 60 minutes before the workout.   You don’t want anything heavy or it may make you feel nauseous.

Sports drinks such as Lucozade or Gatorade will also maintain sugar levels.  However, if your goal is fat burning, then stick to water if possible.

You could also use this stage for a cool-down as well.

6 – Abdominal work/ Developmental stretching: 5-10 mins

We generally fit abs into the end of a workout.  But it’s a personal preference option, as you can fit them in wherever you wish.

This is where you would perform a full stretch, pushing the muscles/joints to their maximal range of motion (ROM).

It’s very important to stretch-off at the end of a workout for both mental as well as physical reasons. The muscles and joints can be quite tight at this point and a good stretch will make them (and you) feel more relaxed.

Contrary to popular belief, stretching doesn’t lengthen a muscle.  Muscles originate at one point of the skeleton and insert at another.  As this length cannot be changed, all muscles have a specific ROM. However, the muscle fibres themselves, can be become over tight, limiting full ROM.  This also restricts the movement of the joints.  Basically, stretching helps reduce excess tension in both the fibres and ligaments and tendons.

For example, many people can’t easily touch their toes because they think they have short hamstrings.  Whereas in fact, they’ve usually got normal length hamstrings.  But it’s the mobility of the hip joint/pelvis/lumbar area (near where the hamstring originates) that stops the hamstrings achieving their full length.  Simple exercises to loosen the hips often results in clients being able to touch their toes for the first time in years.

Incidentally, stretching should only be taken to a point of mild discomfort, not agony.

It’s worth noting however, that stretching doesn’t reduce (to any great degree), the amount of soreness you may feel over the next few days.  Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is related to something else entirely and we’ll cover that here.

As we said earlier, this is purely a simple template, especially if you’re new to exercise.  It’s not written in stone, but we’ve found it to be both a safe an effective way to build a training programme.

If you would like more information or help about how we can design a programme, then please get in touch.  Alternatively, you can read more about how we design our train smarter not harder programmes or checkout our books

Keep up the fight and win the inch war.

Paul & Ann

Get Physical Personal Training


We (Paul and Ann, Get Physical Ltd) are not doctors, nor are we licensed medical professionals. This website and blog is not here to diagnose any medical condition or replace your health care provider.

Share This