After a long time being sedentary and amassing about 299 lbs peak, I decided to get serious about getting healthy. I first attacked my weight by diet and got down to about 210 lbs. Next I started with some light cardio work, and slowly progressed to slightly more intense cardio work and weight training. I use a heart rate monitor for my cardio and got tested at my gym for my personal zones. The test came with a workable plan to improve my cardio workout. However, because I can't afford a personal trainer right now, I'm still a bit in the dark about how good my weight training program is.

My Goal

My goal is general fitness. After being sedentary for so long I have a lot of work to do to get there. I'm not looking to be an Adonis, or even super athletic. I'm nearly 40, already married, so I don't need to impress anyone. I just want to be healthy.

What I'm Doing Right Now

I do cardio work 4 times a week, with two of those times in Active Recovery (i.e. heart rate in Zone 1 the whole time). Cardio is 40 minutes of training with 5 minutes each for warmup and cooldown.

Three days a week I follow my cardio with the following program (3 sets of 10 reps):

  • Inclined Press (currently 70 lbs, soon to increase)
  • Squat/Situps (currently 320 lbs, 1 rep is a set of squats and a set of situps)
  • Pectoral fly? (currently 100 lbs, unsure of proper name)
  • Leg curl/Crunches (currently 110 lbs, 1 rep similar to squat/situp)
  • Row (currently 100 lbs)
  • Calf raises/Prone iso-abs (currently 200 lbs, iso is 45 seconds)
  • Lat pull (currently 110 lbs)

This takes me about 50 minutes to complete, afterwards I stretch for another 10 minutes. I follow a workout with either a protein drink or bar. I try to do it within 15 minutes, but sometimes it's 20 due to shower/changing times.

I assembled the program from what I've been able to gather from web sites that cater more to information than advertising. It's a whole body workout with at least one day of rest in between. The one day of cardio that I have following my combo cardio/weight training day is light intensity (active recovery) with one day of rest before the next cardio/weight training day. When I can get through a full set of an exercise with some reserve energy, the next time I'll increase on the last set. It's pretty tough, but the next session after that I'm usually able to get close to all three sets without needing to rest for a second.

Since I still have my heart rate monitor on from the cardio work, I incorporate it into my weight training as well. Basically, my rest between sets is governed more by the heart rate than the clock. I found that if I can get my heart rate down to zone 2 I can get through a full set even when I increase my weight. Towards the beginning of a workout it takes about 30 seconds to get it down, but towards the end it can take up to 90 seconds. Besides, it gives me a record of the calories burned. A typical week for me would burn around 3,000 calories.

Specific Questions

  1. Am I hitting all the right muscle groups?
  2. Is the plan balanced? I.e. am I hitting the muscle groups in the right proportions?
  3. Considering my goal, what should I strive for to maintain? I've heard you should be able to bench press your weight (I've quite a ways to go before then), but I haven't heard anything else for the other types of exercises.
  4. Should I modify anything in my approach?

Keep in mind that due to schedule limitations I don't have a buddy I can work out with, so I don't feel comfortable doing free-weights without a spotter.

2 Answers 2


Are you doing your weight lifting at a gym (you mention a gym and personal trainer, but I'm not sure)? If you are, never hesitate to ask someone else in the room to spot you doing free weights. In my experience no one has every turned me down when asking.

I would recommend following a standard beginners routine that focus on compound lifts. Both Starting Strength and Stronglifts 5x5 are good beginner programs. These programs focus on getting stronger and building muscle. Although your goal is only to become 'generally fit', these programs will help you get on the right track. Make sure to give yourself a day of rest between workouts to recover.

Compound lifts are important because they exercise many different muscles at the same time, and excercise 'stability' type muscles that machines such as the leg press or chest-press machines do not exercise.

In regards to your first and second questions Am I hitting all the right muscle groups? and Is the plan balanced?, machine exercises target singular muscles whereas free weight compound lifts target a set of muscles. For example, doing the legpress instead of squats will target a much more limited set of muscles. The legpress focuses entirely on the legs, while squats workout not only your lower body but your core as well.

This website has a number of good goals for each standard compound lift to strive for. It might be worthwhile to first strive for the novice milestone for each exercise, and then to the intermediate targets. At that point you can reassess your goals and what you want to do from there.

I understand free weights can be very daunting, but once you start doing it I think you'll understand it a bit more. I was in your position about a year ago being unsure where to start with free weights, but Rippetoe's Starting Strength has a ton of good information on form and how to start out as a beginner. Despite the standard goal of Starting Strength and other programs like it to be "more power", I don't think you can have a good general fitness lifting routine without compound exercises, which these routines emphasize.

  • Yes, I'm working out at a gym. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 17:19
  • I appreciate what you are trying to get me to do, and I'll take it to heart. However, I have 4 questions and this only addresses the last one. I will say that without some proper instruction, free weights intimidate me. I am well aware of the need for proper form. I know the proper form for the machines I'm using, but there will be subtle things I'll need help adjusting when starting out with a free weight plan like the two you provided. On a side note, all their promotional material makes it sound like it's not what I want (i.e. more power oriented than fitness) Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 12:39
  • Your revised answer really helps. Thank you. Commented May 1, 2011 at 19:08

Berin, congrads on your progress and determination!!! Great story!

There's NO single approach to working out or weight training that works for everyone OR for anyone all the time. The thing to keep in mind is that you will need to constantly change your workout every 2-3 months in order to gain the max benefit.

For general health (and at your/our age bracket) I would recommend more strength focus and less on size or explosive strength - it doesn't sound like you want to impress and working on 'explosive strength' via plyometric or Olympic lifts could cause injuries (unless you are working with a personal trainer.

My approach in a weight workout has been: Always full body focused (no splits), big muscles first, than legs, then upper body/arms and than abs - this tires out the bigger muscles and your support prior to getting to your smaller muscles - so the exercise is more effective (your smaller muscles are used more since the larger supporting muscle are tired).

Here's a book that I would recommend: 'New Rules of Lifting': http://www.amazon.com/New-Rules-Lifting-Maximum-Muscle/dp/158333338X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1304093205&sr=8-1 It reviews the 6 Basic weight training movements, provides examples and variations and then a complete workout program, including periodization (the changing of your routine over time).

Specific to your questions:

1 - Am I hitting all the right muscle groups? - The only body area I see lacking is Core (twists, kettlebell swings, etc)

2 - Is the plan balanced? I.e. am I hitting the muscle groups in the right proportions? - Seems to be, it does sound like your using mostly/all machines - switch to free weights and based on the plan (read the book) - increase intensity over time (slowly) by adding more weights until you can barley complete the given number of sets/reps

3 - Considering my goal, what should I strive for to maintain? I've heard you should be able to bench press your weight (I've quite a ways to go before then), but I haven't heard anything else for the other types of exercises. - Never Maintain, always increase intensity or change workout to keep your body from getting use to the workout, which reduces it's effectiveness

4 - Should I modify anything in my approach? - once again, always modify, you will see the best benefits this way


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