A complete guide on how to create your own workout plan from scratch (no expensive trainer required)

  • 12 Minutes Read
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN Registered Dietitian

Whether you call it exercise, physical activity, or moving, learn how to create your own workout plan that becomes part of everyday life. Each of us, despite our interests or physical limitations, can learn to enjoy regular physical activity. The secret is discovering activities you like, are willing to make time for, and can perform without pain or injury. Sit less, stand more, and walk more because being sedentary is frankly a health risk. Being active and fit, even with higher body weight, protects and prolongs health.

Create your own workout plan

Create your own workout plan, and get these rewards when you follow it

Tip: Curious about how exercise affects your calorie budget, how to use the Step Bonus feature, or how fitness devices sync with MyNetDiary apps? Read Planning Weight & Calories.

Types of physical activity

There are three basic types of physical activities. Ideally, include all three when you create your own workout plan:

Aerobic activity: You use large muscle groups that increase oxygen use when doing aerobic activities, which strengthens the heart and burns calories. Examples include brisk walking, bicycling, running, jogging, high-intensity interval training, and stair climbing.

Resistance Training: Strength training that enables muscles to grow, while also improving bone density, core strength, and balance is known as resistance training. Especially helpful to preserve muscle mass as you lose weight. Examples include weightlifting, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, planks, lunges, and squats.

Flexibility, Balance, and Body Conditioning: Muscle-stretching and lengthening exercises improve balance, strength, flexibility, and breathing through specific types of movements. Examples include yoga, tai chi, Pilates, ballet barre, and stretching.

How much is enough?

Most major health organizations suggest similar exercise guidelines. Although these guidelines can help you reduce health risk, they are not meant for athletic training. These recommendations will help you live longer and healthier lives with a lower risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

Guidelines for adults:

  1. Aerobic Activity
    1. At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, spread out over the week. Example: brisk walking 30-60 minutes/day x 5 days/week.
    2. Or
    3. At least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise, spread out over the week. Example: lap swimming 25 minutes/day x 3 days/week.
    Note: Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  2. Weight resistance
    1. At least 2 non-consecutive days per week. Example: Weightlifting on Mondays and Thursdays.

Aerobic activity does not have to be performed 30 minutes continuously. Aim for 10 minutes at a time if that is easier for your schedule and joints. Walking 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening benefits you the same as a solid, 30-minute walk.

Children and teens should shoot for 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week.

Sometimes people dismiss the importance of weight-resistance exercise. Lifting weights or performing strength exercises helps you:

Tip: Use MyNetDiary to help plan and track your activity.

Progress using the FITT principle

Many people make the mistake of doing too much, too soon. Think of the FITT principle to help you make activity changes and progress without setbacks. Try to change only one of these factors at a time rather than changing all three at once. This will help reduce your risk of injury as you become more active.

To learn more about how to progress your exercise plan, read MyNetDiary’s post Need a get back in shape workout plan? Think FITT!

More on intensity

The intensity of activity is related to both oxygen consumption and calories burned. All activities will burn calories, but higher-intensity activities will burn more calories per unit of time than lower-intensity exercises. For more detailed information about exercise intensity, read Appendix A at the end of this article.

Tip: If you log 1 minute of a specific exercise you can see how many calories are burned per minute. Higher-intensity activities have a higher-calorie burn per minute value.

Set a SMART goal

If you simply say you will exercise more, then you probably won’t. If you really want to increase activity, start with a SMART goal. Write out a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and includes time: I will walk 45 minutes, 6 days per week at a pace of 3 MPH.

Do I have to exercise to lose weight?

Technically, no. Reducing your calorie intake is the most efficient way to create the calorie deficit needed for weight loss. If you want to know how to make a workout plan for weight loss, think about it this way, would it be easier to exercise hard and long to burn 500 calories every single day or to simply reduce food intake by 250 calories per day and exercise to burn 250 calories to lose 1 pound per week? Why not do both? Also, regular exercise is important for weight-loss maintenance. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise most days of the week to avoid regaining weight. That averages 300 minutes per week.

Exercise safety


Sticking with an exercise plan or just getting in regular physical activity can be a huge challenge for many people. See the table below for common barriers and tips on how to overcome these barriers.

Boredom Make exercise social—include friends, family, or neighbors.

Exercise to music or listen to a podcast or audiobook while exercising.

Mix up your routine. Walk a couple of times, go dancing once a week, or ride your bicycle at other times during the week.
Pain Seek help from a physical therapist for appropriate exercises if you are injured or have altered mobility.

Seek help from a certified personal trainer to develop an exercise plan that includes aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching to reduce risk of pain or injury.

Be sure to warm up and cool down. Learn how to stretch tight muscles.

Use the FITT principle to gradually progress your exercise routine to avoid injury.
Need for a reward Notice how you feel during or after activity. If you were feeling stressed before, do you feel more calm or relaxed after activity?

How has your mood shifted after exercise?

How’s that headache? Better now?

Longer-term: Notice your body weight. Is it easier to lose weight or maintain weight loss when you include regular activity? Do you notice that your body shape is more attractive or fit?

Noticing these beneficial effects will motivate you to exercise when you're not in the mood for it.
Lack of time This is the most common reason people don’t exercise regularly. It really boils down to how we prioritize our time. Believing that your health is just as important as money, caretaking, the kids’ after-school activities, and household chores will help you find the time to exercise. Schedule activity in your calendar!
Cost If you have a limited income , then ask your local recreation center if they have discounts for seniors, families, or individuals with limited funds. The center might not advertise these discounts. If you are 65 years or older, check if you are eligible for Silver Sneakers, which makes gym membership very affordable and sometimes free. If you do not feel comfortable exercising in public spaces, walking in a quiet neighborhood is free and without an "audience."
Hate Exercise Just do something that requires you to move your body, more often. A lot of people don’t realize that many activities count as physical activity: cleaning, gardening, swing dancing, home improvement, exergaming, etc.

Our bodies are meant to move. When we avoid physical activity, the most perfect diet in the world will not be enough to maintain health. Remember that doing something is better than doing nothing. Just move more. It is that simple.

Many ordinary household chores can be counted as moderate-intensity exercise: manual car washing and waxing, washing windows or floors, or raking leaves. More vigorous chores include shoveling snow, and work that requires carrying heavy loads while walking or climbing stairs. Chopping wood is an especially good calorie-burner!

Appendix A: Exercise Intensity

Intensity of exercise or activity is related to both oxygen consumption and calories burned. All activities will burn calories, but higher intensity activities will burn more calories per unit of time than lower intensity exercises.

Moderate-intensity exercise will allow you to carry on a conversation, but will be too exerting to allow you to sing. Your heart rate will rise to about 50%-70% of its maximum rate, giving the perception that you are exerting yourself “somewhat hard.” Maximum heart rate can be estimated by subtracting your age in years from 220. For example, if you are 47 years old, then your estimated maximal heart rate is 173 beats per minute (BPM). Moderate-intensity exercise will raise your heart rate to 87 BPM — 121 BPM.

With vigorous exercise, you might have difficulty talking. Your heart rate will rise to 70%-85% of its maximum rate, giving the perception that you are working “very hard” and have to push yourself to continue. Unless you are very fit and have been exercising regularly, do not jump into a program that requires vigorous-intensity activity. You are more likely to get injured and sidelined than if you simply start with a program of moderate-intensity exercise. See the chart below for examples of exercise at both levels of intensity.

To learn how to take your heart rate, read Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate and to learn more about perceived exertion, read Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale) at the CDC.

Moderate Intensity Activities
Ballroom dancing
Bicycling (less than 10 mph)
General gardening/yard work
Golf (with walking and carrying clubs)
Tennis (doubles)
Walking briskly (3.5 mph)
Weight lifting (lighter weights)
Vigorous Intensity Activities
Bicycling (faster than 10 mph)
Heavy yard work (e.g. chopping wood)
Jumping rope
Swimming, water aerobics, aerobic dance
Race walking
Weight lifting (heavy weights)

Additional resources

Can’t get to the gym? Try some of these low-impact exercises at home

Are there benefits of adding high-intensity exercise training to your exercise and weight-loss plan?

Unable to hit the gym? Try Pilates on-demand

Reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE on January 11, 2024.

Still new to MyNetDiary? Learn more today by downloading the app for FREE.

Jan 14, 2024
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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