Ideal Exercise Routine

Warning: the answer here, like most things, is simultaneously simple and unsatisfying. You’ve been warned.

“The” Ideal Exercise Regiment

It depends. 😖

There is no single “global” recommendation that can be made for ‘what amounts’ of ‘which types of exercise’ that should be taken by everyone, because everyone’s goals and needs are different. That said, you could do worse than abiding by the basic recommendations made by our government:

  • Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits. (For the terms “moderate” and “vigorous” it would seem logical to use the appropriate translation in Heart Rate Zones)
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do:
    • 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity
    • or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
    • or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
  • Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Heart Rate Zones

The government’s recommendations refer to “moderate-intensity” and “vigorous-intensity” physical activities, those itensity levels correlate with different Heart Rate Zones.

Depending on where you read there’s anywhere between 3 and 5 “Heart Rate Zones”. Each of them is described as a % of your “Maximum Heart Rate”, which is typically assumed to be approximately equal to “220 minus your age in years” beats per minute.

❤️ Max Heart Rate = 220 - Your Age

The Mayo Clinic describes “moderate” activity as any activity that causes your heart to operate between 50% & 70% of your Maximum Heart Rate, and “vigorous” activity as anything that causes your heart to operate between 70% & 85% of your Maximum Heart Rate.

You can measure your heart rate while exercising using common pieces of tech (e.g. Apple Watch, Fitbit, various Garmin watches), specialized pieces of tech (e.g. the Pulse chest bands), or simply by gauging how quickly you start sweating and how difficult it is to talk during the activity.

All of this, though, is fuzzy and uses averages. There’s apparently a wide range that’s considered “average”. Anywhere from 60 to 100 is considered a “normal” resting heart rate - despite 100 seeming pretty high to me.

Purely Hypothetical Example

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, you were a 33 year old. You should spend an hour with your heart rate at around 120 bpm and another hour with it around 145 bpm. That would work. Alternatively, a few hours with your heart rate in the low 100s could satisfy the requirement. I like to mix it up - speaking of which…

Variation & Consistency

When you do a particular thing a lot, your body adapts to doing that thing well, sometimes at the expense of other things. So if your goal is to be able to do a lot of different things well, you have to do a lot of different things often.

Each of the people in the image above are elite athletes in their own regard. They fall across the big 3 domains of fitness1: strength, endurance, and mobility. The athlete in the center is worse than those around the outside when it comes to their own speciality, but would trounce them when it comes to the other two domains in which they aren’t specialized. That’s not to say he’s “the best”, such a valuation is 100% subjective in accordance with each person’s opinions about what “fit” means and what their goals are. At the end of the day they’re all world-class athletes2.

Even within a given domain it’s a good idea to insert variation in your training.

Within strength training, don’t just do the same lifts in the same repetition ranges forever. Do some high rep/low weight stuff. Do some low rep/high weight stuff. Do compound, multi-joint lifts. Do isolation exercises.

Within cardiovascular conditioning, don’t just go jog the same circuit every day. Do sprints. Do long-haul slow-paced jogs. Do bicycle treks. Do plyometrics.

Within flexibility and coordination, don’t just stretch your hamstrings every morning. Do different flexibility programs. Do yoga lead by multiple different instructors of different styles. Do pilates. Do dance and gymnastics. Do sports of all varieties.

Most important than specifically what you do, though, is that you do something. Something is better than nothing. Take rest days, but don’t take rest months. The key is to keep at it. You don’t have to be going forward quickly, just never stop going forward.

Example Weeks

Only because I’d be mad if I clicked on an article online with this title and there wasn’t something concrete for me to look at. There’s an infinite number of “right” ways to do it, so this is technically a 0% complete list of them all.

Monday - Starting Strength workout A

Tuesday - 10 mile bike ride

Wednesday - Starting Strength workout B

Thursday - an hour-long yoga class

Friday - pickup basketball at the gym

Saturday - Staring Strength workout A

Sunday - Rest

Monday - Lower body strength

Tuesday - Plyometrics

Wednesday - Dynamic mobility exercises

Thursday - Upper body strength

Friday - 45 minute dumbbell HIIT routine

Saturday - Swim 20 laps

Sunday - Rest

Monday - Dumbbell circuit training

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Pull weeds and push the mower

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Plyometric circuit training

Saturday - Take a 30 minute walk, then spend 15 minute stretching

Sunday - Rest

These are just examples. I make no claim to be an expert in this arena.

The whole point here is that there is no “one” approach. There’s nearly infinite depth you can take into research and practicing any particular discipline, what you choose to do is what works best for you, leaves you feeling the most energized and happy. If you look good on the beach, that’s a fortunate side effect of living a healthy life.

  1. I’m using “mobility” as an umbrella term for flexability & coordination. The whole notion of “3 Dimensions of fitness” is something I’m essentially making up here. From what research I’ve done into the topic there isn’t really a concise, widely-agreed upon list of the different, mutually-orthogonal facets of fitness, but that list seems like a valid enough way to draw up the lines. I may write more about this one day. Until then, see that link to my Note in Notion. 

  2. The guy on the bottom is doing something impressive, but isn’t a “-est man in the world”, to which the other three men have legitimate claims. Just a note I felt like pointing out. Sorry guy on the bottom. I still find what you’re doing impressive.