Personal trainers often talk about writing exercise prescriptions for their clients-setting up precise training plans based on the client’s goals, fitness level, and current physical abilities. This provides a structured path and allows for periodic testing to assess progress. You can follow the same procedure in formulating a personal workout and diet plan for yourself. Think of this process as mapping a route for your exercise program. Without a roadmap, how will you know where you’re going and the most effective way of getting there? How will you know if you’ve taken a wrong turn or need to alter course? Goal setting , planning, and constant evaluation will provide the framework for a successful trip.

The first step is determining what your goals are. Where do you want to go-what do you want to accomplish? Where are you now-what is your current fitness level? How will you get there-how will you go about it? What will it take? Completing a journey in a set period of time requires great commitment and self-discipline to stay on schedule-you must have a strong desire to reach your destination. Goals should be challenging but attainable-an easy trip doesn’t inspire a sense of urgency. As with all plans, roadblocks will pop up along the way. Be prepared to make adjustments.

Once you have some definite goals in mind, take the following steps:

1. Write them down, being as specific and detailed as possible. This will give you direction and be a constant reminder of what you’re working toward. Place your list of goals somewhere that you will see it everyday-on your refrigerator, in your organizer, taped to the wall. Tell family or friends about your plan-this adds accountability to the trip (much like having to answer to that highway patrolman if you deviate from the speed limit.)

2. Set a deadline for each goal. List all long-term goals, and then break them down into shorter-term goals: monthly, weekly, daily. This detailed time frame will make your plans more realistic and achievable. A goal of losing 40 pounds in 6 months seems much easier when it’s broken down to 2 pounds per week. Later you will be able to see if you’re on course to reach your goals, and make adjustments if necessary.

3. Identify obstacles you may encounter along the way, possible solutions, and any sources of help you may need. Will there be periods of difficulty in scheduling, social situations, financial issues? Will you need the support of family and friends to reach your goals? Be aware of negative influences that may derail your plans. Will you require additional knowledge? I’ve found my most successful clients are the ones who are most curious-they will read every bit of information they can find on nutrition and exercise. Take an active interest in learning everything you can to further your progress.

4. Using the details of the previous steps, formulate an action plan with specific strategies (your roadmap). List all the activities involved for each goal and prioritize them. Rewrite and polish the plan until it is clear and concise. Break your goals into nutritional, training, and lifestyle strategies.

5. Set up a system for motivation and rewards. Visualize: what you want to look like, winning that 10K race, perfecting your sport. Reward yourself each week or month when you reach a particular goal-get a massage, a special night out, a favorite treat. Little motivators like these can help you stay on track.

Once your goals and action plan are in place, it’s time to construct the specific workouts and nutritional approach. For example, here’s how a plan might look for Janet, a 30 year old female who wants to lose 40 pounds. She has complained about being overweight, feeling weak, having a lack of energy, getting out of breath when climbing stairs, and losing the shape she had at age 25. Assuming she has been cleared by her physician to exercise and has no outstanding health problems, she sets the following goals:

  1. Losing 40 pounds in 6months (losing 40 pounds would put her at her ideal bodyweight)
  2. Losing 3 inches off her waist
  3. Increasing strength, endurance, and muscle tone

Although this last goal may not seem specific and quantifiable, it actually is-with a little fitness testing. Current strength can be measured and recorded in various lifts and bodyweight exercises. Cardiovascular endurance can be assessed by doing a modified treadmill test-adjusting resistance (speed or incline) and measuring heart rate response every couple minutes, for a period of 10-12 minutes. Muscular endurance can be determined by performing various exercises to muscle failure. Tape measurements of body parts and body fat testing can be used to record changes in muscle tone. Additional statistics, such as bodyweight, resting heart rate, and blood pressure , will complete the benchmarks for progress.

Now she has some measurable goals and knows her initial fitness level and abilities. Monthly, weekly, and daily goals can be adjusted based on results of the fitness tests. >From there, it’s time to formulate a workout plan.

Based on her current goals, she sets up a program of 3 hour long strength training sessions per week, with 4 days of cardiovascular work. (Luckily, she had a friend who was a trainer to give her a little advice). Each cardio session will run 30-40 minutes, maintaining a heart rate within 55-80% of her maximum. Both types of workout are necessary-strength training to increase lean muscle mass and help elevate metabolism, with cardio for calorie and fat burning. She can perform the cardio workouts following the strength training. Workouts will be done every other day, with the 4th cardio session on a day off. Flexibility will need to be maintained with daily stretching following the workouts.

Nutritionally, she will need to get an idea of how many calories she’s taking in each day and where she needs to cut back. Keeping a written record of everything she eats and drinks each day will help to identify eating habits-what’s eaten, portion sizes, number of meals per day, time of day of meals, and where she’s eating-at home, eating out, a packed lunch at work, etc. After filling this out for a week, she will immediately be able to identify trouble spots-junk foods, sweets, empty calories, total number of calories. She will also be able to get an idea of her daily intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Goals can be set to gradually include more fruits and vegetables in the diet while reducing saturated fats, sugar and salt.

Daily goals will consist of completing and logging the workouts and meals. Weekly, she can weigh in and see how things are progressing. Monthly, measurements and fitness assessments can be performed, as well as analyzing progress from the workout logs. Adjustments to the program will be made as she determines if things are proceeding on schedule to meet her goals. If she’s not losing 2 pounds per week, she has several options:

  1. Increase the frequency and/or time of the cardio sessions
  2. Reduce calories further, again looking at portion size and ratios of protein/carbohydrates/fats
  3. Analyze the strength training workouts for progression and intensity

This roadmap is a constant work in progress, continually checking and adjusting to increase efficiency and progress made. With careful thought, planning, and follow-up, any program can be successful. Once you reach your destination, start planning your next excursion. Successfully completing a difficult journey will inspire you to start another, and lead to future triumphs. Where do you want to go next?