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Making an Exercise Plan for the Ex-Athlete

I dreaded the running part of my cross-country practices. After a long day at school, the last thing I wanted to do was stick around until 5pm to run. And if it weren’t for my amazing teammates, I never would have stuck with it. Now, I miss everything about those practices.

The part of sports I took for granted for so many years was that I never had to schedule my own exercise. In the fall, I had practice or a meet every day for cross-country. In the winter, there were indoor soccer games and practices to keep me moving, which went outdoors once the snow melted. It was so easy to go and have the coach tell me what to do and to push me harder than I would myself. My soccer team even assigned workouts on days we didn’t have practice to keep us moving. It was even better because my teammates were by my side, challenging me to become faster and stronger.

In college, the extent of my access to organized sports is intramural soccer games once a week if they don’t get rained out or cancelled because of the cold. For exercise, I tell myself I’m going to run or go to yoga, but it is incredibly easy for me to decide an hour of napping or studying is better than going to the gym. This year, I moved off campus so now I have to schedule in a bus ride or half hour walk to and from campus, which I’ve found to be a great excuse not to bother with a workout.

Unfortunately, my athletic prowess didn’t transfer over to the college field so I have to make my own exercise plan to stay in shape. This is your step-by-step guide to doing the same.

1. Set Goals for Your Exercise Plan

Do you want to lose weight? Do you want a six-pack? Do you want to be able to eat more?

It’s important to have a broad goal for your exercise plan so that you can tailor your plan to get the results you want. Then you can narrow your focus using the SMART formula to create achievable, tangible goals to achieve your overarching goal.

For me, my broad goal is to be healthier by the end of the school year. I broke this down into meaningful stepping-stones that would indicate to me that I am more fit (and I wrote about my process in my last post).

2. Figure Out What Resources You Have Available

Does your college have a gym/fitness center you could use? Often memberships for a college’s gym are included in your student life fee, or can be purchased at a discount. The gym could become your one stop shop for everything from cardio machines to free weights. If you’re willing to invest, many of these have personal training or classes on how to use the weight machines so you can make the most of your time there.

Does your college offer exercise classes through the gym? Many colleges have group classes from Yoga to Pilates to Zumba that are included in your membership or that you can purchase. I recommend trying a bunch to figure out what works for you and your schedule. My college has cardio-kickboxing classes on Wednesday mornings that I’m looking forward to trying.

What does your neighborhood have to offer? Maybe the school gym is not for you. There might be a cute yoga studio, SoulCycle, or gym in your neighborhood that offers classes that your college doesn’t or is cheaper than a membership at the school gym. If your college is in a rural location, there could be trails for running or hiking that could be a great break from school. In Chicago, the lakefront is an amazing place to run because it has mile markers that allow you to monitor your progress without taking a phone with you.

Are you working out in your apartment or dorm room? There are tons of apps like Nike Training Club that have workouts of different lengths, difficulties, and types that make it easy to make the most out of a small space. You can also do bodyweight exercises on a yoga mat. Being comfortable working out in your apartment/dorm room makes it even harder to make excuses for not getting your exercise in.

3. Find a Balance

According to LeanSecrets, there are 4 kinds of days that should be incorporated into your workout schedule.

  1. Cardio
  2. Strength
  3. Flexibility
  4. Rest

Using your resources, figure out at least one option of work out for each category. For me, Cardio could be running or cycling. For strength, I usually do a light weight lifting circuit either at the gym at school or in my apartment. For flexibility, I do yoga in my apartment or take classes at my local studio. For rest days, I sleep an extra hour if homework allows.

The ratio of these depends on your goal. Someone who is trying to lose weight, for example, might want to do more cardio than someone who is trying to get definition that would rely more on strength training.

For my goal of general healthiness, I’m trying to focus on cardio and strength. I’m going to try to incorporate 10-15 minutes of easy yoga in the mornings with my scheduled rest days to ensure I improve my flexibility.

4. Make Your Own Team

I’m recruiting my friends that have overlapping workout plans to come with me. This way, if I need to miss one day, I feel guilty for ditching them and then will be motivated not to do so again. They push me to run faster and to increase the weights I’m using in the most kind and motivating way. They are the best teammates I could have.

If your friends don’t want to work out with you, find people in your life that are willing to check in with you regularly and support you along your way to completing your goal. There are hundreds of online communities and forums of people on their own exercise journeys who can be great resources as well.


If all else fails, there are tons of exercise plans available online for various goals. One of my big goals for the spring is to run a half marathon, which I’m working towards with one of my friends. She sent me a 14-week plan that I’ve adapted to my needs. Plans like this one can be an excellent jumping off point to creating your own exercise plan.

Even the best made plans can fail, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be well on your way to finding the plan that works for you and you’ll have a team supporting you every step of the way!

Good luck!

Xoxo, Rosana

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