How To Design Your Own Workout Plan

Designing your own workout plan can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be!

A beautiful handstand prep on the ladder barrel performed by Sarah, owner of The Pilates Line NY! 

A beautiful handstand prep on the ladder barrel performed by Sarah, owner of The Pilates Line NY! 

This week in my quest to help you take control of your own health and fitness as much as possible I'm diving into how I design a workout for my clients. It's extremely important to me that I teach my clients how to move well and to understand what we're working on. It's like that old saying...

"Give a woman a workout, she sweats for an hour. 

Teach a woman to workout, she stays motivated, works out consistently, and finally feels in control of her life."

(Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration in some cases but I'VE SEEN IT HAPPEN!)

There are a few major things to consider when writing your own workout plan:

  1. What's the goal? What are you working towards?  

  2. What are you focusing on to reach that goal?

  3. How much time are you devoting to this workout plan?

What's the goal? 

Sarah gets to full handstand on the ladder barrel! GO SARAH!

Sarah gets to full handstand on the ladder barrel! GO SARAH!

For most of us the goal is just to "get in shape" or lose weight and if you know how I feel about goal setting, you know that I'm a big fan of more specific, measurable goals. If you're ditching the group fitness classes and designing your own workout routines, you need to know what you want. 

When I design a program for a client I watch closely for some of their "weak links". If we can target certain muscles that are weaker or need help activating, then not only can we be certain to improve their overall movement patterns but we will also make sure we illicit a response and produce real results! That's how I like to choose my goals for clients. 

In other words: if you're an amazing runner and your body is super adapted to running where you can rock out a killer run NBD (no big deal), then you might want to try to work on something you don't already do perfectly. If you're already doing a great job at it, your body isn't going to change. Don't expect different results from doing the same thing. 

So what's the goal, or what is your focus? I am a major proponent for PERFORMANCE GOALS. If you want to have great arms and shoulders, maybe your goal is to be able to do a certain number of pull-ups or push-ups, or even a handstand! That will give you an end goal you can plan for (lots of different variations of upper body strengthening exercises) plus you'll feel amazing when you reach that goal and happen to notice that you ALSO ended up with arms you love to show off in sleeveless dresses!

What are you focusing on to reach that goal?

I hinted at this in the last section but once you have your goal you can figure out how to get there. There are so many choices when it comes to exercises that it can be super intimidating to just pull stuff out of thin air and put together a fitness routine. You've got to have a plan or a theme. Every time I teach, I decide what movement to focus on for that session. This sets me up for success because I can try multiple variations of similar exercises, vary the load or movement plane, and narrow down the workout routine to something that will benefit my client's specific movement patterns so they can progress towards our goal.

Let's get back to the handstand goal. In order to perform a handstand you have to be able to stabilize your entire body, upside down, while holding it up with your arms. So, if you think about it you need to have a strong core and balance, strong shoulders and arms to hold you up, and also have solid range of motion to bring your arms overhead. That tells me we need to work on upper body strengthening exercises and become familiar with similar shapes/positions before you'll likely be able to perform a handstand. When I know what I want to achieve I suddenly have a direction to move towards. I've successfully narrowed down an endless array of exercises to choose from to help improve what needs improving. 

How much time are you devoting to this workout plan?

can you do more this week than you did last week

Do you have 30 minutes 3 times per week for a workout? Do you have 2 hours 6 days per week? Knowing how much time you have to devote to your fitness routine is extremely important. 

If you have longer workout sessions or more sessions per week you'll want to plan more exercises and some of them might be less important to the end goal but still be great for an overall workout. I wouldn't quite call them "filler" but some movements will help you work towards your goals faster than others. Just remember, prioritize the straight forward stuff first that will give you the most "bang for your buck" as you knock down those fitness milestones. 

You want to focus on the exercises that challenge you and help you build up to even more challenging stuff. That can be done in very little time or a lot of time. What you're looking for is PROGRESSION. Quite simply: can you do more this week than you did last week? If the answer is no, you might want to reconsider your choices.

Back to that handstand idea... 

My friend Sarah getting weightless with the wall. Almost ready for free standing handstands!

My friend Sarah getting weightless with the wall. Almost ready for free standing handstands!

You've seen my friend Sarah in the pictures above working on handstands a few different ways. These are pictures we took of her week over week to make sure she was improving and so that she could check her alignment and see what to practice on her own. Her progress has been amazing! Of course, we didn't just start by throwing her upside down. We worked on shoulder strengthening and pressing movements like push ups and planks to build up her confidence and overall strength. It's super important to always start at the beginning and listen to your body. Sarah is a super strong lady and she also owns a Pilates studio in Westchester, The Pilates Line, and teaches her own assortment of rockstar clients. She had a really strong foundation coming into this work, but we still started from the bottom to work our way up. Never skip the small stuff! Let the progress happen. 

I hope this helps give you some ideas on how to design your own Fitness routine!  

If you get overwhelmed, just take it back to simple stuff. 

  1. Choose a movement. Example: Push-ups
  2. Choose a do-able number of reps. Example: 3 sets of 2 reps
  3. Try to do more next time. Example: 3 sets of 3 reps. 
  4. When the added reps get too excessive, add an extra set instead. Example: 4 sets of 3 reps. 
  5. When that feels good, change it up to make it more challenging and go back to your original rep scheme. Example: Push-ups with your feet on a wall, 3 sets of 2 reps. 

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About Ashley:

Ashley is a Pilates instructor and entrepreneur in NYC who specializes in biomechanics and exercise nutrition for women. She uses the science behind exercise physiology to empower her clients to lead healthy, happy lives. Her passion project is writing “The LEAN Life Newsletter” which goes out every Tuesday and focuses on Lifestyle, Exercise, Active recovery, and Nutrition and serves as the backbone for her L.E.A.N. Life online health and fitness programs. She aims to get this information into the hands of as many women as possible so they can feel stronger and more confident in their bodies. For more information head to or @AshleyBrownPilates on instagram, or click here to get on the L.E.A.N. Life List!