Someone asked me an intriguing question recently. “What would your perfect maintenance week look like?” After thinking about it for a while, I’ve created the following plan to answer that question. Before we dive into the details, there are a few general things to cover.
I’m a strong believer that if you’re going to work on your fitness, you need to get into the mindset that there are no days off. Would you brush your teeth Monday through Saturday but skip Sunday, because you had done so well and had earned the break? Just like toothbrushing, fitness is a practice of daily hygiene. If you can start to view exercise as nothing special and just an expected part of the day, you’ll find you’re not burning mental energy trying to psych yourself up to start. You just get it done. This doesn’t mean that you have to go hard every single day. But it means something gets done towards your health and wellness, seven days a week.
A plan like this requires that you plan ahead and carve out time each day for exercise. If you go into it with the idea that you’ll grab a workout when some free time opens up in the day, you’ll inevitably start missing sessions. I personally write my workout on my calendar and whiteboard just as I would any other appointment. Once you’ve scheduled your workout, defend the time! Don’t let other matters push your workout off the priority list. Your fitness is a high priority matter isn’t it?
This plan hits all quadrants of what a fit body needs to thrive. Everyone has strong and weak points, and when we hit them all, you’ll start to dread those days which accentuate your weak points. Don’t fall into the trap of skipping the days you don’t like and doubling up on those you do. That only makes the imbalance worse!
The abs and core are thin, shallow muscles that respond better to small, frequent training. The end of every resistance workout should include 5-10 minutes of ab and core exercises. That’s plenty to meet your maintenance needs. And remember, abs are really made in the kitchen, with a lean and clean diet, not on the workout mat.
With that understanding, let’s dive into my vision of what a perfect week of maintenance looks like. I’m defaulting to a standard Monday-Friday work week but you could obviously shift things around as your own circumstances require.
The glutes, quads, and hamstrings are large, powerful muscle groups. I find starting the week off hitting my legs hard sets a great tone for the rest of the week. A leg workout also creates a strong foundation for all the other activities of the week.
Why do shoulders and legs on the same day? The logic is simple. After you work your legs hard, your body is pretty much shot for any kind of exercise involving the lower body, even tangentially. But your shoulders still work and can be trained accordingly.
It’s very helpful to train the shoulders on their own, not on a day that uses the chest, back, biceps or triceps. The shoulders are kind of like a transit station for all your upper body muscle chains. Every exercise has to pass through the shoulders. This means that when the shoulders are fatigued, any upper body exercise is compromised.
If your shoulders are burned out and tired, your push-ups will be less deep. Your curls will be weaker. Your triceps dips will be shallow, and your pull-up max will drop. This poor performance isn’t because the target muscles are at their max, it’s because the fatigued shoulders are creating an energy-bottleneck. For this reason, it’s better to give the shoulders their own day to work in isolation. And leg day is a great time to get them out of the way for the rest of the week!
This is exercise based around full body, three dimensional movements like burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and so on. You’ll see it referred to as HIIT (high intensity interval training) because it revolves around working near your max for a short interval of time, taking a break, and then doing it again and again. This type of training is great for coordination and explosiveness, and burns a lot of calories quickly. The workouts are also quick, which works well for a busy workday.
I like to put this after leg day because I find it refreshes tired legs and the worst of the soreness from leg day is actually two days following the initial workout (Wednesday). This means you can get through all the jumping around of a high intensity workout without the legs letting you down.
And since I find this to be the most unpleasant workout, I like to get it under my belt early in the week!
A popular workout split is to do a pushing day and a pulling day (your pushing muscles are your back and biceps, and your pulling muscles are your chest and triceps). But I find better results putting chest and biceps together on one day, and back and triceps on another. This is for the same reason discussed earlier with the shoulders. If you burn out your large pulling muscle, the chest, then all your subsequent triceps exercises are weaker and less effective because the tired pectorals are interfering. But if you separate the pull and the push groups, you get a stronger workout all around.
Most people find working with the chest and biceps to be a satisfyingly “meaty” workout. You can really feel these two muscle groups working hard, and they invite simple, intuitive movements. This lines up well for a mid-week workout when you need something simple and fun to do to get over the hump.
The goal of this day of exercise is to put some points into the endurance side of your fitness. The human body is evolved to handle long distance walking, running, and even swimming. On this day, your challenge is to use some of those deep reserves that you have. You can choose to walk, run, cycle, swim, or row, with the intention to have a long, continuous session that covers some real ground. 45-60 minutes of continuous, steady cardio work will get the job done, but you can make it as long a distance as you have time for with no ill effects.
This day isn’t about getting muscle burn, it’s a chance for your heart, lungs, and circulatory system to perform at a high level, providing you oxygen and energy over a long distance. Pace yourself on this day. You shouldn’t be gasping for breath or feeling like you might pass out. When your long distant event is finished you should feel tired but energized.
I like having the distance event on a Thursday because it’s far enough away from leg day that you’re not dealing with a heavy, sore, sluggish lower body. It’s also a great way to head into the end of the week with a clear mind.
This completes your muscle training for the week, hitting the last two muscle groups that haven’t been given their time in the sun. As we covered before, the back is a pushing muscle and the triceps are a pulling muscle. You can have a strong back session and not interfere with the triceps exercises that come up in the back half of the workout.
The back and triceps is the least intuitive area of the body to train, because so much of the musculature is on the backside of your body where it’s hard to visualize what’s happening. It’s one of the more tedious areas to train, which is why I like to do it on a Friday when spirits and patience are a bit higher than earlier in the week.
The weekend is here and you’ve already done five maintenance workouts that have hit every major muscle group in your body with both short-burst intensity and long distance endurance. It’s time to do something with all that training! On this day you should make a special effort to spend 30-60 minutes exercising in a practical, real-world context. It could be an outdoor adventure like a hike or kayak outing. It could be a sporting event like a pick-up game of basketball, ultimate frisbee, or soccer. It could even be scheduling a solid hour of play with your kids, not just watching from a park bench, but fully participating. Or if you have a project around the house that’s quite physical, such as heavy yard work, save it up for this day and cash in your Real World Application Workout on it.
The beauty of this day is that you can feel how the previous week of effort puts the wind at your back. You feel strong and capable of keeping up. Your body is supporting you instead of fighting against you. These days will provide the motivation to keep your maintenance up, because you have tangible evidence that all your efforts have meaning.
You need one day a week where your muscles get a break from flexing and straining. But a true “nothing day” is bad for the mind and body, and zaps all the momentum you’ve built. So on this seventh day you should reserve 30-60 minutes for gentle stretches that take your body through its full range of motion without resistance. The go-to exercise for many people is yoga, which works very well for this purpose. I’ve also seen good results from people doing tai-chi. Sundays are a great time to book a class or watch a video that guides you through the session.
You can also just set aside some time to stretch out and gently rotate all your joints. This flexibility workout doesn’t have to be quiet and spiritual. I’ll often put on a TV show or read a book while working through stretches. A good flexibility and range of motion day is all about healing. You’re bringing fresh fluid to your tired joints, taking deep breaths to boost your rest and repair response, and basking in the tired but accomplished feeling of a week of effort. All of this resets you for Monday, where those tough leg exercises are waiting!
I know this seems like a lot. It is, after all, the “perfect” week.
No one I know is able to nail this all the time (including me). But if you can make most of these exercise goals happen most of the time, that’s as near perfect as you’ll need to be. Your body will respond splendidly.
You might be looking over this schedule and thinking, “This guy wants me to spend half my life exercising!” If you fully committed to getting every workout done, you would be spending between 3 and 6 hours a week exercising. I agree, that’s a lot. If you sleep 8 hours a day and work another 8 hours a day, then you’d need to spend about 10% of your remaining free time on this maintenance effort. But this would completely cover you on the fitness front, and over time reward you with unbelievable focus, clarity, and confidence. Is that worth 10% of your time?
If you find this idea intriguing, my advice is to put it to the test. Try a few weeks on this plan, or whatever version of it you can fit into your life. Just reading about it is one thing, but to feel in your own muscle and bone how energizing and empowering it is, that’s truly special.
And best of all, if you’re not sure how to structure the high intensity and three weekly resistance workouts (Legs/Shoulder, Chest/Biceps, Back/Triceps), Kenzai now offers a selection of maintenance workouts for free. Just download the app, choose your intensity level, and get moving!
DOWNLOAD HERE TO TRY IT OUT NOW.
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder