Are you winging your workouts? Before stepping onto the fitness floor. you need a plan and a purpose to achieve the results you desire.

I'm going to give you the secret sauce to creating an effective, efficient weekly workout program. It's simple and easy to follow, and is entirely based on striking a balance between opposing muscle groups in the body.

Think of your muscles and joints as a cable and pulley system. For the body to function properly, the cable needs balance at the joint. For example, biceps and triceps are opposing muscle groups that share the elbow joint. Biceps are often overworked, while triceps are often neglected. A simple way to avoid this imbalance is to exercise opposing muscle groups with equal repetitions. So if you're practicing 10 bicep curls during your next workout, remember to even out your arms by performing 10 triceps extensions. Other major muscle groups that work in pairs: quads and hamstrings, chest and back, abs and lower back.

The following program focuses on opposing muscle groups and illustrates what your weekly workout should look like. 

Monday, Wednesday: Core and lower-body exercises, 10 minutes of cardio, stretch
Get in the habit of performing your core work first. Core exercises are challenging, which is why we usually put them off until the end of our workout, but this is a dangerous habit. When muscles tire from weightlifting and cardio, form is likely to be faulty. Core exercises need precise and perfect posture. Play it safe and avoid injury by executing these exercises while your body is at full strength.

Next, move on to your legs and glutes. It's safe to work these muscle groups two to three time each week. You need to build in rest periods for these muscle groups to ensure that your tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles do not become susceptible to such overuse injuries as tendonitis or bursitis.

Because the legs and glutes are the biggest muscle groups in the body, cardio time is maxed out to 10 minutes to reduce the risk of burnout. For beginners, a walk or light jog is suitable after your leg workout. For more advanced exercisers, crank up the cardio by sprinting for 60 seconds then resting for 60 seconds. Do this for five to eight minutes, then cool off by walking for the remaining time.

A common circuit on these days would look like this:

Core:

  • Plank: 30 seconds
  • Side plank: 30 seconds each side
  • Russian twists: 30 seconds

Lower body:

  • Squats: 10 reps
  • Lunges: 20 total reps
  • Deadlifts: 10 reps

Repeat five times.

Ashley demonstrates a deadlift.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Ashley demonstrates a deadlift.

Tuesday, Thursday: Core and upper body exercises, 30 minutes of cardio, stretch

You'll notice that core exercises are on the schedule most days. That's because you should try to engage this area as often as possible. The core muscles are functional in every moment we make, which is why it's difficult to overtrain them. Every time you walk, sit, stand, twist and even sneeze, your core muscles are at work, supporting your body.

Other daily movements, such as reaching, lifting, pushing and pulling, are dependent on upper-body strength. By practicing upper-body exercises twice a week, you can prevent age-related muscle atrophy, as well as improve your posture and total-body power. Although it's tempting to tone the upper body daily, rest days are essential so muscles have ample time to repair and rebuild.

A common circuit on these days would look like this:

Core:

  • Crunches: 25 reps
  • Supermans: 25 reps
  • Wipers: 20 total reps

Upper body:

  • Biceps curls and triceps extensions: 15 reps each
  • Chest press and bent-over rows: 15 reps each
  • Lateral raises and front raises: 10 reps each

Repeat five times.

Ashley demonstrates lateral raises (right) and front raises (left).
Ashley demonstrates lateral raises (right) and front raises (left).

Friday: Total-body activity
If you eat a corned-beef sandwich every day, you'll likely grow tired of corned beef. The same concept applies for exercise. To avoid boredom and a plateau in muscle growth, switch up your sweat sessions.

Activities such as swimming, basketball and tennis make fitness fun. If sports don't excite you, then try the following cardio circuit. Trick your brain into liking, or at least tolerating, cardio by breaking your aerobics down into 15-minute segments. Not only will this help to ward off the monotony monsters, it also keeps your heart rate elevated long enough to torch some serious calories.

45-minute cardio circuit:
Treadmill: 15 minutes
Bike: 15 minutes
Stairs: 15 minutes

Saturday, Sunday: Rest
Take this time to breathe, stretch and relax. You've earned it.

Ashley B. Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach. To learn more, visit ashleyblakefitness.com.