african american woman working out

When people create training plans for weight loss, it’s always the same thing – some curls here, some squats here, and 12 hours of cardio a week. It’s a standard mistake that I see people make, and it’s a recipe for not only a weight loss plateau, but also a yo-yo-style weight gain. It’s all bad.

But what’s all good? What does a good training routine look like? What are the characteristics of a good plan?

As always, I’ve got your back.

The first step is incorporating a sport or some sort of activity into your daily life – be it basketball, or soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, or even chasing your kids around the house in a game of hide and go seek – that can allow you to use your muscles and joints the way they’re supposed to be used regularly.

Even if it’s only two times a week, you need to include it. Not only do these kinds of activities often double as cardio, but they’re also methods for testing the effectiveness of your training. Quality workout plans train not just your muscles or your heart – both of which are incredibly essential – but also your flexibility, your agility, your strength, and your power. How hard can you push, and how fast? How well can you balance on one leg? How much quicker are you on your feet?

Next, some kind of training that challenges your heart, gets your heart rate high and keeps your blood pumping. While it’s true that high-intensity activity is great for burning fat, what’s also true is that there are restorative properties to your arteries, organs, and your brain that comes from high-intensity training. Even as little as 15 minutes a day can make a world of difference in your body and how it operates.

Your cardio-type activity can come from anything – running, high intensity interval training, indoor cycling, aerobics classes – as long as it gets your heart rate up and pumping through your target zones, a range determined largely by your age.

You should also incorporate some kind of strength training in your plan. It can be a gnarly fitness DVD, rigorous calisthenics, or full on dumbbells-and-barbells-lifting – as long as you’re actually focused on building muscle, it counts. When it comes to long-term health, research shows that muscle not only preserves quality of life as we age, but protects us from the perils of aging. Most injuries sustained by our senior loved ones – hip, knee, and shoulder injuries – can be minimized and even avoided when the person involved has muscle.

You should also look at your plan and ask yourself if it is sustainable. Is it overwhelming? Does it leave you feeling dizzy looking at everything it asks of you? Remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all at once, and the goal is to find ways to incorporate it all piece by piece, so if you only start with one bit, then slowly add another and another, you’re totally fine.

Covering these key components will leave you not only healthier, but happier and, as I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the certified trainer and writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.