Set your goals.
The very first step in creating your core workout program is to be specific when defining your goals. Are you working out for these reasons?
- To get a six-pack
- To get a slimmer waist
- To maintain your cardiovascular health
- To increase your athletic performance
Often, your goals may be a combination of several of the items listed. However, if you do not define your goals well, it will be difficult to establish an optimal program. Write down your goals on paper so that you can read them before every workout.
Then, you need to quantify your goals. For example, I want to
- be able to see my abs in 3 months,
- lose 2 inches off my waist in 2 months, and
- double the number of sets I can do in 10 minutes to increase my endurance within 15 days.
The time frame and amount of progress for your goals must be realistic. Keep in mind that no one ever progresses as fast as desired. You might often feel that you have hit a plateau. But with a good program, a true plateau is rare. By quantifying your goals and creating monthly milestones, you will more easily be able to gauge your progress. Each step you achieve will serve as motivation to continue exercising. We provide some typical programs in part 6 of this book. These are basic plans, and you will be able to personalize them using various parameters that we describe next.
How many workouts should you do each week?
Your schedule will be the determining factor in answering this question. Unfortunately, your schedule is not always optimal. Just know that if you can work out only once a week, that is still better than not working out at all! You will still make progress. Working out twice weekly is a good minimum. The ideal scenario would probably be three core workouts per week. However, we recommend that you do no more than five workouts per week. Be aware that overtraining slows progress more than undertraining. Only very serious athletes will benefit from daily workouts.
Ideally, you should begin with two workouts per week for a few weeks. When you feel ready, you can move up to three workouts per week. At first, do not go beyond these three weekly workouts. After three months of working out regularly, you could try four workouts per week.
On which days of the week should you exercise?
You should alternate exercise days with rest days. If this doesn’t fit your schedule, do the best you can between what is ideal and what will work for you. Some options:
- One workout per week: Choose any day you like.
- Two workouts per week: Ideally, your core-specific workouts should be spaced out as much as possible. An example is Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. In any case, give yourself at least one rest day between two core workouts. The exception is, of course, if you can exercise only on the weekends. Although doing back-to-back workouts is not ideal, you will still have the rest of the week to recover.
- Three workouts per week: The ideal configuration is to alternate a day of training with a day of rest. For example, work out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This way your whole weekend is free. It is still possible to do two days of consecutive training (on the weekend, for example) and do the third workout on Wednesday. But you should avoid this as much as possible. The worst program would have you doing core workouts three days in a row. The only way to justify this is if your schedule absolutely requires it.
- Four workouts per week: Since there are fewer rest days in this schedule, you will have to work out two days in a row. But if you have a very flexible schedule, you could spread the four workouts over eight days instead of seven days. This way, one day of training will always be followed by one day of rest. The slightly longer training intervals will mean you get an optimal recovery. The only drawback is that your workout days will change from week to week.
Should you exercise once or twice per day?
Only champion athletes exercise more than once a day. And they do it only when preparing for a competition! For everyone else, it is better to exercise only once a day and not every day.
If you can work out only once a week because of your schedule, you might eventually want to divide that into two workouts: a session in the morning and one in the evening. You should consider that only after you exercise for a few weeks, though; that program is far from ideal.
The exception is if your goal is to lose inches off of your waist quickly. In this case, you could consider two workouts per day. In fact, doing a circuit of abdominal and core exercises will still burn fat even if the muscle is overworked and not in its optimal shape. Nonetheless, overall fatigue could result. If that happens, you will need to reduce the frequency of your workouts.
What time of day
should you exercise?
Some people prefer to train in the morning and others in the afternoon or evening. In fact, strength varies depending on the time of day. Some people are stronger in the mornings and weaker in the afternoons. For others, the opposite is true. These fluctuations are caused by the central nervous system and are completely normal. It is rare to find athletes who have consistent strength throughout the day.
Ideally, you should exercise when your muscles are the strongest. The majority of athletes are strongest around 6 to 7 p.m. This time works out well because it is when many people have the time to exercise.