How to Customize Your Standard Fitness Training Program

Thinking about committing to one of our standard fitness training programs but not sure if it’s right for you?  This step by step guide will show you how to customize your standard fitness training program to get the most out of it.

Step 1 – Perform Each Exercise Properly

Before your first workout, look over the exercises recommended for each of the three strength sessions in the first week.  Make sure you know how to perform them properly, with good form.  If you’re unsure, look up the exercise on Youtube.  There are many videos there that demonstrate correct form.   A few of our exercises are unique and when that’s the case, we’ll give you a full description, within the program, of how to perform them.

Step 2 – Complete the First Week

As you work through the first week of strength training sessions, note how hard or easy each exercise feels.  You should feel you need to push yourself and make a strong effort to get to the end of each set but you shouldn’t feel completely exhausted at the end.  The sets should never take you to failure, ie where you are unable to complete the set because your muscles simply cannot push any further.

Step 3 – Change the Strength Workouts to be Easier or Harder

    • Increase or decrease the weight.  For example, if the exercise calls for 10 lbs in a backpack and this feels too light, increase it to 15 lbs.  If it feels too heavy, reduce it to 5 lbs.  Continue to tweak the weight in each set until your muscles feel tired by the end of the set but not fully exhausted.
    • Alternate or repeat the arm or leg you’re using.  For example, if you’re doing an exercise that works one leg at a time, such as step ups, you can make the exercise easier by alternating legs.  You can make it harder by performing all reps first on one leg and then on the other leg.
    • Increase or decrease the time.  Some exercises, such as planks, are held for a certain length of time.  If you feel your muscles are failing before the end of the prescribed time, stop.  Note how many seconds you lasted.  If you get to the end of the prescribed time and you’re still feeling strong, continue until the exercise feels hard – perhaps a little shaking or trembling sets in as you try to hold the position.  Again, note how many seconds you held the position. 
    • Challenge your balance.  You can make some exercises harder or easier by changing your base of support.  Push ups are easier when your hands are spread wider apart and harder when your hands are closer together.  They are harder when your legs are elevated and easier when your hands are elevated.  Exercises done standing up can be made more challenging by standing on an unsteady surface, like a Bosu, or standing on one foot.  Again be sure to note any changes you’ve made so you can repeat them the following week.
    • Increase or decrease the rest time between sets.   Allow yourself to take a longer rest if needed to catch your breath, slow down your heart rate and allow your muscles some recovery.  If you’re ready to go but your rest period is not over, feel free to start again and not wait the full rest time.

Do not change the number of sets or reps because they are designed to create certain muscular adaptations.

Step 4 – Write it All Down

Your modifications to weight, time and balance become the base that you will build off of in coming weeks.  For example, if the program called for a 30 second plank and you held it for 20 seconds, next week you will try for 25 seconds.  If you increased the weight of an exercise from 10 lbs to 15 lbs, next week you will try to increase to 18 lbs or 20 lbs.

Continue to note your progress as you work through the weeks of your training program.  This will provide a record of all the hard work you’ve done.  It’s very comforting to look back and realize how much work you’ve done to get fit.

Step 5 – Customize Your Recovery Days

Every good training program includes some down time to allow your muscles to recover before you workout again.  This is how strength gains are made.  You work your muscles to fatigue and then they compensate by becoming stronger.  This compensation can only happen during rest periods.  If you are not resting enough, your muscles will not have a chance to get stronger.  Working too hard is just as bad as not working hard enough.

This means you should take an extra rest day if you’re feeling exhausted.  “Rest day” doesn’t necessarily mean “sitting on the couch day”.  Often what the body needs most is to move in order to stretch and flush out tired muscles.  This would be a good time to take a leisurely walk.  Hike to a crag you’ve been wanting to check out.  Or hike the first couple km of a long approach to a route you are training for.  Remember to relax and take it easy.

Good luck with your program! As always, please drop us line at if you have any questions or comments.  For more on staying motivated for your training program, check out our article 8 Tips to Stay Motivated to Workout at Home.

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