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An exercise formula for success

Finding time to exercise (see my earlier post) is half the battle. The other half is actually doing it. This is where we get struck by analysis paralysis. What workouts are the best for body goals – burning fat, maintaning muscle mass, and feeling great?

Just like it helps manage time, creating exercise plans helps manage the stress of what workouts you should do. I have my DAOFitlife exercise plans below. I map out my planned workouts the Sunday before the week starts; then I also block my calendar for the times I have carved out to exercise.

DAOFitlife exercise template plans:

What workout to do – and exactly what do all those acronyms mean

The options may seem endless, but if you categorize them into buckets, it’s a lot easier to digest:

  • Low/medium intensity cardio;
  • High intensity cardio;
  • Strength training; and
  • Precision training.

Across these four categories, there are also terms like LISS, MISS, and HIIT that we should briefly review.


  • Low intensity cardio or “LISS” –Stands for low-intensity steady state cardio. LISS is categorized by heart rates between 100 and 130 bpm (can be monitored using Fitbit, Apple Watch, heart rate monitor, etc). Examples of low-intensity steady state cardio: walking, elliptical, jogging, swimming, stairmaster, or cycling. Walking at a LISS pace means you can easily carry on conversation on a zoom call without huffing and puffing.
  • Medium intensity cardio or “MISS”- Any of these above activities, done at a faster pace, for example, running, power walking, arc trainer, or spinning can be “MISS” or medium intensity steady state cardio. It also includes cardio-based classes like boxing, tabata and zumba. You are exerting yourself, but not getting your heart rate above 160 BPM.
  • High intensity interval training or “HIIT” – The only anaerobic form (forms lactic acid= what makes you sore) of cardio is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Interval training means that you perform short bouts of INTENSE exercise for 5-30 seconds (90% HR max) followed by rest until your HR recovers. Benefits of HIIT include an increased metabolic rate for 24-48 hours, increase in muscle size, increased strength, increase power, and much more! Examples of high-intensity intervals include sprinting, battle ropes, bike sprints, etc. This type of cardio can benefit all sports athletes, individuals looking for fat loss, those interested in changing body composition and training at a new level of intensity.This consists of “sprint” intervals that are supposed to get your heart pounding to the point where you are struggling to breathe (about 90 percent max). The thing is that they are quick so you can recover and repeat. HIIT splits can be done in any combinations of work and rest – 30/30, 40/20, 20/10, 20/20, and so forth. Any of the above activities can be done in sprints – running, Stairmaster, rowing, etc. HIIT also includes plyometric-based training, which is a series of bodyweight movements usually but not always involving jumping to raise your heart rate. Think jump squats, mountain climbers, burpees, and jump lunges. Most “HIIT workouts” incorporate a combination of all of these plus movements that work your whole body, like pushups and core work.

Here is an article that more comprehensively explains the difference between HIIT, MISS, and LISS.

Strength and precision training

  • Strength training and conditioning – this is a broad category, broader than CrossFit or weightlifting. The term ‘strength and conditioning training’ refers to the format of exercise which highlights building the strength, size as well as endurance of skeletal muscle. It can include these types of workouts as tools, but it is also good to be aware that you don’t have to be picking up a weight or kettlebells to be strength training. Working on agility, balance, and functional movements are all a part of this. Therefore this category also includes “animal flow” type of movements like bear crawls and frog walks. Generally the format of strength training consists of pyramids, circuits, or AMRAP. Pyramid is successively doing the same movement and taking a rest period in between. Circuit training is a succession of 3-4 movements repeated in several sets, usually with minimal rest so that the heart rate stays elevated. “AMRAP” is an acronym for “as many reps as possible,” meaning doing reps of a certain exercise until muscle failure (i.e., bicep curls until your arms are on fire.).
  • Precision training – precision training refers to any focus on smaller muscles and movements. So here think workouts like yoga, barre, and Pilates.

A comprehensive formula- LISS + HIIT + STRENGTH = FIT!

I follow an exercise regime based on a mix of strength training, precision training, and cardio. All three are important, but for me to stay lean, strength training is the foundation. The formula I follow for working out is as follows:

  • 12 HIIT training sessions a week
  • 30-60 min of steady state cardio (LISS OR MISS) 2-3 times a week
  • 3-4 resistance training sessions twice a week
  • 1-2 precision training sessions a week
  • 1 complete active rest day

Note that my steady state cardio is done while on work calls; therefore during the week, my net time spent working out daily is 20-30 minutes. 

HIIT can be a separate workout, or a finisher at the end of a resistance training workout.

Yoga is also a great way to end a strength training workout, because it helps stretch and relax the muscles.

How did I come up with this? Fitness, like business, is about holistic solutions

My approach is based on years of experimenting, working with trainers, and following specific apps and programs. What I learned you can’t do too much of one thing or your body won’t change. You need to mix it up.  If you strength train all the time, or only do cardio or yoga all the time, your body will adjust and you will stop making improvements. And that’s the thing – we always can improve our bodies and our minds. Just like it’s important to learn new skills at work, it’s important to learn new skills when working out.

If you think back to when we were working out interactively, you will notice what I always noticed. 

  • People in the who walked or ran on the treadmill every day
  • People who are always only lifting weights
  • People who are permanent fixtures in yoga class, spin class, barre class, etc.

And the more I observed, the more I noticed that for the most part, these people’s bodies were not changing. Maybe that’s not why they were doing what they were doing. But if you do want change, and want noticeable results, I think that doing the same thing over and over is a form of insanity – you can’t possibly expect to get results. This approach to diversity when it comes to exercise is backed by science.

I have also experienced the effects of not having a well-rounded workout regime. When I only focused on cardio, I lost muscle and gained fat. When I cut out cardio, I gained muscle and gained fat. When I only did yoga and barre, my body stopped responding after a while and I got winded climbing just one flight of stairs.

How you tweak this program to make it work for you will depend on your starting point, your body type and your diet. If you eat more, you need to burn more calories. If you have a different body type, you may not need to do as much cardio. Keep in mind that this is only a baseline guide and not prescriptive. If you are just getting back to working out, or recovering from an injury, I would start by focusing on cardio as a foundation and then build in the other elements after a month or so.

HIIT training options (PLUS APPS)

For HIIT training, you can do intervals with a treadmill, bike, or elliptical. If you like Peloton, you can take one of their HIIT spin classes. You can also do a bodyweight HIIT workout, or a boxing workout. Read my separate post on HIIT here to get more detailed guidance to the when, where, and how.

For my HIIT workouts, I usually concentrate on one bodyweight-based HIIT workout, and one HIIT running workout per weee. If I am cutting or trying to lose weight, I will do HIIT up to 3 times a week. Other forms of HIIT I do include: HIIT yoga (yes that’s a thing), elliptical intervals, and traditional bodyweight HIIT.

Here is an example of what a traditional bodyweight HIIT would look like:

Repeat 3 times.

You can also do what I do and incorporate these movements into strength training workouts, so you basically are knocking out two workouts in one. For example, you could do a strength based movement, a HIIT circuit, and then an ab move while your heart rate is coming down.

For my running workouts, , I will go for 30 seconds on, and then rest for 30. You can use the Interval Timer app to keep track of your time for this type of HIIT workout.  Both the Peloton and Equinox app also have running treadmill HIIT workouts, and Peloton has HIIT-specific spin workouts. I have reviewed both apps here.

For a review of HIIT training apps that also include bodyweight training., click here

Steady state cardio options (and how you can whittle while you work)

I do cardio everyday, for at least 45 minutes, per the Rachael Attard program, usually while I am on conference calls. See my post on the best fitness apps for weight loss. for more about this program.

This is basically to compensate for the lack of walking that working from home has caused. I used to walk for at least an hour round trip; now I don’t because I work at home. So I make that time my “power walking” time.  While I don’t wear a step tracker, I know that 4 miles is about that so that is what I do – and on the tread that takes me about 45 minutes. Doing the walk during calls makes sure no time is compromised. You can usually do this for calls where you aren’t hosting or presenting on a screen. If you use Zoom, Teams, or Google meets, you can keep your camera off if you are not talking. If you work in a company like mine, there are at least a few calls a day of 5 people or more, or general company or client webcasts where your camera is not even supposed to be on. This is a perfect time to experiment with the walking. 

If you don’t have a treadmill, you can also walk outside, or not spend a lot of money on a folding treadmill like this one. If you want to get fancy, you can order a Treadly. These are the “quiet” brands that you can use on calls and not have everyone distracted on calls by your treadmill noise.

If you don’t want to pay that much, you can also get a mini stair stepper for under 100 bucks, which can give you just a great  full body and a core workout. I have one of these, and it’s more compatible with working into calls because you can easily hop off and go to your computer if you need to talk (it’s not as onerous to shut off as a treadmill). 

Strength training options

I design my own workouts, and I give that roadmap to you in my guide to strength training.

Jillian Michaels has a strength training program on her app that is good fir beginners, guides you through it, and gives you a set program of weight lifting and HIIT every day.  

Fitplan is another guided strength training program with available at home and gym workouts. You have a choice of different trainers and different programs focused on fat loss are toning. There are definitive categories for both gym and home workouts. In particular, there is a “fitplan her” workout with different trainers, that is specifically aimed at women.

Two other programs that are more “self-customize” are the Fitbod and Strong apps.  You can read my review of these apps in this post. Those two apps are good if you already have a strong foundation in strength training but want to mix up your routine.

As previously reviewed you can also explore the SWEAT or the Toneitup apps.  So your options for strength training are really far and wide.

If you need help deciding which app is right for you then go back to my fitness app decision tree

Precision training options

Yoga, Pilates and barre are the main types of precision training. Precision training means movements that concentrate on smaller muscle groups and the “mind body”connection. The most common types of precision training are yoga, Pilates and barre.

Once I incorporated precision training 1-2 times a week in my routine, I didn’t start noticing the really subtle changes, like when those little biddy muscles in your abs, hips, shoulders and back start to pop. These also get your core strong, so you can hold.plank.forever. I once won a Big 4 plankholding contest and made a guy from Deloitte cry. But I digress.

Once we emerge further out of COVID, I will do my workout studio review. For now let me refer you to my yoga, barre and Pilates app recommendations.

Key takeaway

Diversity is important in designing a workout plan. You want to make sure that you are maximizing fat burn and preserving lean muscle. I have share the formula that has worked for me over the years. Everyone is different, and of course the best approach may be different for you, but you have to start somewhere. I recommend you follow a basic plan or template and modify it to what you best respond to as you go along.

More: What type of cardio is right for you? (DATEFIT)

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