Exercise programmes and their benefits

If you've ever wondered exactly what is involved in following an exercise programme, look no further. I cover all the basics of a programme and why it could be the best way to achieve your goals.

An exercise programme could be the key to your training success

An exercise programme is a structured, progressive and (usually) customised form of movement. I refer to this as “training”.

In comparison, what I name “exercise” is general and unstructured movement, usually done for fun or socialisation.

Things like walking, un-tracked running or swimming, playing golf and random YouTube or Instagram videos or gym classes would be considered just “exercise”.

While you can definitely achieve progressive overload just by exercising (especially if you’re new to training), it is usually short-lived and plateaus are very common. In general, those with specific goals like muscle mass building, strength increase or cardiovascular endurance improvement will see faster results by following training programme, as opposed to just exercise.

Training programmes, like the 4 week programme in my Strong Online workouts have the benefit of ensuring progressive overload, which basically means increases or positive changes over time in:

  • Load (weight)
  • Reps/ distance
  • Time/ rest periods
  • Technique/ depth
  • Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of a weight

A very basic example of some progressive overload types within a programme is below:

A sample of a 3 week progressive overload program including three weeks and three different exercises
A sample program with progressive overload

Exercise #1- Back squats

These are seen to increase in weight each week

Exercise #2- Bent Over Row

These increase in reps each week

Exercise #3- 1km run

In this sample, the client has successfully reduced the time it took to run this 1km each week.

Progression in a training programme is never perfectly linear however; there are plenty of environmental and personal factors that can affect a person’s progress.

Although progress might not happen every week (or even every month), as long as the general trend over time is improvement then you’re making gains!

A timeline of progressive overload
A depiction of the non-linear progress of increasing weight in a lift


Adherence is probably the most important factor when it comes to success in a programme. It’s important that you’re realistic and honest with your coach, about how many sessions you can get done each week.

Of course results will come faster if you can adhere to 5 sessions per week; but for the average Joe who has a full time job, commutes 2 hrs daily, has a partner and kids, plus hobbies outside the gym, this isn’t likely to be realistic.

Sleep and recovery

Even if your adherence to a programme is perfect, progress will usually be slow if good quality sleep and recovery aren’t.

Aim to get your 7-8 hours a night, switch off electronic devices an hour before bed and avoid caffeine late in the day.

Massage, foam rolling, meditation or yoga are all great ways to promote recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscles.

Diet and hormones

The amount of protein, fibre and micronutrients we eat, along with the overall amount can have a huge effect on the quality of our training and subsequent recovery.

Hormones- particularly for females around the menstrual cycle- can also play a role in our energy levels and pain tolerance.

It’s important to seek help from a qualified, accredited dietician if you think your diet may be having a negative effect on your energy and recovery during training. In Australia, only a registered and accredited dietician can prescribe foods to treat conditions (similar to how a Doctor can prescribe medication to treat an infection).

An exercise programme also bypasses all the common excuses

Three of the most common reasons I hear behind a lack of overall movement include:

  • No motivation
  • No time
  • Injuries
  • I don’t like doing the same thing every time

Goal setting for motivation

S.M.A.R.T Goals description including diagrams and descriptions
Set goals and succeed

Goal-setting is one of my favourite parts in helping my online clients with programmes. It makes people really think about their “why”, and their “what”;

  • Why did they decide to start coming to the gym
  • What will make them want (or need) to keep coming back to the gym in order to achieve it

Having a S.M.A.R.T goal means you bypass entirely the “motivation” excuse. You have a job to do, so you do it.

Like a favourite Aunt who only visits a couple of times a year; motivation can show up unexpectedly and have you training 12 days in a row, feeling amazing.

Then, just as fast as she arrives, she leaves in the dead of night and you’re left with no inclination whatsoever to visit the gym (until the next time she visits).

Having a tangible goal- and a plan that visibly leads you to that goal- trumps motivation every time. You show up and get the work done, or you don’t reach that goal. Simple, but very effective.

Time Is No Obstacle

The beauty of a custom programme is that it’s tailored to your goals, and your situation.

If you can really only spare 3 x 30 min sessions weekly, a programme can be written to that effect!

Being time-poor is extremely common amongst busy professionals. And although it might mean the timeline to reaching your goals is longer than if you had more time, it is still extremely doable! I’ve got a free downloadable PDF about exercise for business professionals here.

You Have Permission To Train Around Injuries

In most cases, there is some way to train around an injury or limitation.

As a disclaimer, I’m talking about things like a broken bone or a sore lower back; not a spinal injury or a recent concussion. It goes without saying; check with a professional specific to your injury about what you can and can’t do, and relay this to your trainer before starting a programme.

If you break your leg, you can train your arms

A programme has the benefit of knowing what your limitations are, and ensuring they’re avoided while you work on healing or correcting them with your specialist.

Undulating or periodised programmes

There are several ways I programme for my clients depending on their personalities. Undulating periodisation involves variations in exercises, reps, weight and sets on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, while still following a structure and taking into account overall training volume to ensure progressive overload. Best for clients who prefer variety in their training.

Periodised programming is a more linear progression of the same exercises for a full block of training (usually 9-16 weeks at a time). It’s the easiest way to see progress and build strength- especially for newbies- but also can become monotonous for those who don’t like following the same routine for more than a few weeks at a time.

Should you only follow an exercise programme?

Heck no! Exercise for enjoyment and overall daily activity is important for a huge range of health benefits. I may follow my programme 5 days per week for my strength goals, but I also walk, swim (in summer), play mini golf and do Pilates because I enjoy these kinds of exercise.

As with anything, balance is key.

If you’d like to know more about my online training programmes contact me here.

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Jess Neill

Jess Neill

I'm a Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor and Pre and Post Natal Training specialist. I'm also a mother of two, and I live on the beautiful Northern beaches of Sydney. If you liked this post, don't forget to leave a comment and share! Subscribe to my monthly newsletter for the latest health and fitness news.

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5 replies on “Exercise programmes and their benefits”

Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post! It is the little changes that will make the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing! Letisha Donall Bonneau

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