How to Create Your Own Workout Plan
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On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by registered dietitian Susan Okonkowski and wellness coordinator Vince McKinnon to discuss a practical approach to healthy eating and exercise.
“I’m not an NFL running back. I’m not a professional body builder. I’m a normal dad that goes to the gym… I don’t need to drink three Gatorades if I ran a mile. It’s way too much sugar and carbohydrates. I’m not a marathon runner. So, I think we need to be realistic in what we are and what we’re doing.” – Vince McKinnon
In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:
• How to find balance with diet and exercise
• How to create reasonable goals
• The truth about “muscle and fiction”
• Pre and post-workout fuel
• Why stretching matters
• The benefits of free weights over weight machines
Chuck: This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 20. Coming up, we discuss how to create your own workout plan.
Chuck: Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast, and happy new year. We’re rolling into January. Are you making resolutions? Are you trying to change things up for a new year? This podcast may help you. It’s dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and well-being through small healthy habits we can start implementing right now. I’m your host Chuck Gaidica, glad to be back with you. Every other week, we’re going to sit down with a certified health expert from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, dive into topics covering nutrition, fitness, and a whole lot more, and in this episode, we’re going to talk about nutrition and exercise. And it’s just by accident we put our experts on the opposite ends of a long rectangular table because we’re going to talk a little bit about nutrition, a little bit about working out and exercise, and certainly how they all go together. Susan Okonkowski is back with us, she was with us in episode 19. Good to see you again.
Susan: Good to see you, Chuck.
Chuck: We’ve got somebody here who’s got a Master’s degree in public health from U of M, Bachelor’s in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin, over 15 years of experience working with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in health and well-being, she leads a team, she’s part of the same team with Vince, who you’ll meet here in a minute, and also is married, has two kids. Everybody keeps her going at home, so that’s wonderful. So she can give us a perspective as a mom as well as an expert with a lot of letters behind her name. Vince McKinnon is here, he’s joining us for the first time. Good to see you.
Vince: Good to be here, Chuck. Thanks.
Chuck: Yeah, so we’re going to have this thumb war I guess at least between the two of you guys. I know you’re on the same team. Vince is a manager and onsite wellness coordinator at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in the health and wellness team. He leads a staff of 10 wellness coordinators who work with a variety of Blue Cross customers and he works all across the nation. He’s got more than 18 years of health and wellness experience, so between the two of them, they’ve forgotten more about health and wellness than I even know, so we’re hoping to learn a whole lot today. And I should mention, Vince began his career in corporate health and wellness with onsite health and wellness coordination for Wellness Institute of Michigan, a Bachelor’s degree from CMU, so we’re glad you’re both with us today.
Vince: Thank you.
Chuck: So we should point out, I don’t know if you caught episode 19, our last episode-
Vince: I did.
Chuck: But Susan did admit that nutrition is more important than the exercise plan. Now, that’s why we may have separated the two of you. Are you down with that? Do you understand?
Vince: I am down with that, Chuck.
Vince: I actually agree with Susan. I think a lot of people have the willingness to work really hard in the gym, but then when they get out of the gym, they lose that battle with the fork. As Susan stated earlier, you can’t outrun your fork. So if you’re going to exercise, you’ve got to fuel your body accordingly.
Chuck: So if we’re going to fuel our bodies and work out, does that shift even anything you talked about the last time? The balance. You were big on balance, right? Of carbs, and fats, and proteins. Are we going to change that at all if we’re adding a new workout regiment to our new year?
Susan: It may change a little bit, depending upon your goals. If you are wanting to run a really long race like a half marathon, a marathon, you’re going to need some more carbs in your diet. If you really want to focus on gaining some muscle, a lot of lifting weights, you’re going to add some more protein in your diet. So that is going to shift a little bit from our original balance we talked about.
Chuck: And we get through the holidays, Vince, and a lot of people are dreaming of and maybe even got a gift of a membership.
Chuck: Even if it’s a trial. So when we’re going to go into this idea of a new year, is there some advice you can give us so that we don’t start this thing and within two weeks, we just fail?
Vince: Yeah, absolutely. I think going into the new year, everybody’s going to change who they are and what they do as far as the business with exercising and eating, and I think the best thing they can do is be realistic right off the bat. They need to think about what it is they want to accomplish. Do they want to lose weight? Do they want to build muscle? Do they want to gain strength? Do they want a combination of all three? You first have to understand that goal, and next you have to understand what it is you enjoy. Are you going to enjoy working out at a Planet Fitness? Do you want to go to a Power House? Do you want to go to a Lifetime? Do you want to play team sports? Do you want to join a Crossfit gym? So I think you need to understand all those elements, and keep it simple. I think people get complicated, they over-complicate things, they see what celebrities do, they read what I call Muscle and Fiction, and they think that they have to do those type of things, and they don’t. We all have jobs, a lot of us are parents, and we have a lot going on. So if we can keep things simple, realistic, and have fun while we’re doing it, I think that’s the best approach.
Chuck: So what is Muscle and Fiction? What does that mean to you?
Vince: That means I think there’s a perception out there, people will see the latest Batman movie and they’ll see the workout, and they’ll see eight weeks of a workout that a celebrity did to get a six pack, and they can bench 315. That’s not realistic. One thing I would like people to take away is whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain cardiovascular endurance, or gain muscle, it takes time. It takes months and it takes years. Nothing’s going to happen in a day, nothing’s going to happen in a week. You’ll start to see some changes in a month, but people need to realize, whatever their goal may be, it takes time.
Chuck: Isn’t that the case? I was listening to a podcast not long ago where somebody put this out. We can change just about anything in our habits in our life, even learning how to play a musical instrument, lifting weights, getting a lifestyle change for your diet, if you give anything a month, you will start to see a shift in habits and start to see results. Do you find that to be true?
Susan: Definitely. Four to six weeks is-
Susan: Usually what it takes.
Chuck: Yeah. And as we try to set these goals, how do we not fall off the wagon? Is it because we’re seeing too much? With Batman, the guy’s wearing a hot costume. Let’s just face it, he’s got muscles built into the outfit, right? But is there something we should be doing so that we can pace ourselves so we don’t quit two weeks down the road?
Vince: Yeah, I think that’s a good point, and Susan can talk about the nutrition aspect, but look at it this way. You should fail, you should fall off the wagon, you should miss workouts, and you should have a cheat meal every now and then because that’s realistic. It’s not realistic to work out seven days a week and you’re lifting weights for 45 minutes, and then you’re doing cardio for 60 minutes, seven days a week, and you’re eating like a saint all the time, you’re eating organic, you’re getting your healthy grains and protein and drinking all your water. That’s not going to happen, that’s not realistic. But I think people should not fall into the trap that they always have to be perfect. I know that Susan tells a lot of people, when it comes to nutrition, don’t feel horrible if you stop at McDonald’s and you have to grab something, but make up for it on that next meal or whatever you’re going to do the next day. So I think people should be okay with the thought that you will make mistakes.
Chuck: And if you are, Susan, providing this consistency to the diet you talk about, this idea that we cheated somewhere along the way, right? We grabbed a couple cookies on the go. That can all just kind of fold in and not become a big deal like Vince is saying, right?
Susan: It can. Everything in moderation because we’re human beings.
Susan: We cannot follow something to the tee for a hundred percent, and you shouldn’t, like Vince said. You need to allow some leeway to enjoy the things that you really like, whether it’s that piece of dark chocolate or that occasional burger and fries every now and then, otherwise, you really do set yourself up for failure because you want something, and you’re not intuitively eating, and that is all you think about, then, you’re like, “Oh, I really want that cup of ice cream. I really want that cup of ice cream.” And then you sit down and eat the whole container.
Susan: Versus, just have a little bit of the ice cream, and run an extra mile tomorrow.
Vince: Right. And I think the thing is, Chuck, we’re building habits. What we’re doing with our exercise program or with our eating habits, it’s going to be something that’s going to be sustained, so if you build those healthy habits, if you stray away from it for a day, or I wake up tomorrow, and I had a stressful day, and I’m still really tired and I need to sleep to perform better at my job, then I should sleep, and I shouldn’t go to the gym. There’s going to be days, there’s going to be exceptions, we are human beings. But as long as we continue the habits that we built, that’s the most important thing.
Chuck: So let’s say this podcast, the two of you help inspire all of us to start something fresh tomorrow, so I wake up and I know I’m going to go to my new workout plan, but before I get to Vince’s idea of what that should be, we’ll ask him about it, Susan, you’re saying we need to fuel our bodies starting first thing in the morning to set ourselves up for success, right?
Susan: Absolutely. You should not go to a workout not having eaten anything or not having … you need to drink at least 16 ounces of water before you start a workout.
Chuck: So is that the fuel we need? But the balance that you’ve talked about before, even in our last podcast, that fuel includes the balance of carbs, proteins, and fats, right?
Susan: That is very correct. The only thing I will say is if you are going to work out, especially right away in the morning, you typically don’t want to have a ton of fat and very little protein and more carbohydrates.
Susan: Because otherwise, your digestion is going to be working as you’re trying to work out and that’s not a good balance to have. If you’re going to have breakfast and work out three hours later, that’s a different story. You can sit down and have that nice breakfast mix of carbs, protein, and fat. It just depends upon when is the best time for you, like Vince said, that works with your schedule to work out, and then you kind of balance your nutrition around that.
Chuck: So Vince, I’m going to go work out after I start to fuel up my body. Do I need to stretch? Do I-
Chuck: I do. No matter what. Whether it’s lifting weights or running or-
Vince: Yeah. You definitely want to stretch. Foam rolling is really popular, there’s body tempering, but you want to do something to stretch out your body and prepare it for what you’re going to do. Even walking on the treadmill for 10 or 15 minutes, maybe getting on a bike is going to warm up your body. You definitely do not want to go in and start squatting or deadlifting or doing a very intense exercise without being warmed up.
Chuck: And you’re a big fan of keeping it simple, and I think for a lot of us who are trying to walk slowly into this idea in the new year, keeping it simple is helpful because I would think you’ve got less chances of breaking your good habits.
Vince: Right. And when I say keep it simple, think about things like squatting, and deadlifting, and bench press, and pull-ups. Those things have worked for over a couple hundred years and there’s a reason why, because they do work, and I am a big advocate when people are starting, I really, truly believe they should try to use as many free weight exercises as possible because they’re going get more bang for their buck. What do I mean by that? I mean they’re going to burn more calories, they’re going to build more muscle, and they’re really going to help build their core. So if you’re squatting with a free weight barbell as opposed to a smith rack, you have to stabilize everything, and use your lower back and your abdomen, and I’m a very big advocate of people building their core. So keep it simple, free weight exercises, I think for the average person, if you can hit your full body three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then do some kind of, more of an aerobic capacity probably 30 to 45 minutes, four days a week, I think you’ll be in good shape.
Chuck: So how do we keep it interesting on the food side? We know we can have all these different ways, we can use pulleys, we can do body exercises for our own body weight, keeping food interesting. It’s not just about color. I love seeing fresh green beans. I don’t know what it is, I just love seeing them, and now I’m using that spray, whatever that is, I don’t use butter on there, I just give it a little spritz of something and a little tiny bit of salt, and I’m on my way. So are we keeping it interesting by the way foods look? I know we can do it by taste, but what else can we do to keep the diet or the lifestyle of our food interesting?
Susan: Definitely one of the things you can do is color. Any time you have really rich colorful foods, it typically means there’s a lot of antioxidants, which your body needs. A lot of fruits and vegetables, they’re very colorful. They’re going to add to your diet.
Chuck: So I’m not just a goofball that I like green beans?
Susan: No, you’re not. It’s actually really good for your body.
Chuck: Is she just saying that because we’re in the same room?
Vince: She is just saying that.
Chuck: She is just saying that.
Vince: She told me when we walked in she thought you were a goofball.
Chuck: So that’s a good way to mix it up, right? It’s texture, it’s color, it’s everything you would expect, but sometimes we don’t analyze it that way.
Susan: Right. And adding new foods. I mean, there’s all kinds of things. People typically get stagnant with what they’re eating. “Oh, I’m always going to have oatmeal. I’m always going to have yogurt. I’m always going to eat carrots.” Well, there’s eggplant, there’s parsnips out there. There’s always other different foods, they’re not that difficult to prepare. Add those other colorful foods into your mix, and keep it simple, like Vince said.
Chuck: So we’ve got people on either side of the table. You are a runner, and you are-
Vince: A meathead.
Chuck: A meathead, right?
Chuck: So you lift things, you pick things up, and you put them down.
Chuck: So Susan, what do you do when it comes to lifting or exercising that’s out of your realm of running? How do you add that to your program?
Susan: I like to do a lot of free body weight kinds of lifting exercises. I never really use machines. We built a whole gym in our basement so it’s easy because of course, we’re busy, you have to have that schedule of everything you need to do, so we have some simple barbells down there that I like to use, we’ve got a smith machine-
Chuck: What is this smith machine? I’ve heard you talk about this. What is that?
Vince: Smith machine is just a way that you would say the barbell is attached to rollers, where it goes up and down, so it’s not free-standing, you don’t have to support the weight-
Chuck: Oh, I see.
Vince: One hundred percent, it’s on the pillars.
Chuck: Yeah. Okay. So that’s what you’re doing. And then what are you doing for aerobics, adding into your program?
Vince: Yeah, so I’m a big believer of mixing it up and keeping it interesting, so I do aerobic, anaerobic. I will do things like flipping a tire, pushing a sled, I will run. I’ll run three and a half miles. I say run, it’s more like a slog, slow jog, I’m probably going at eight minute miles or something like that-
Chuck: Wait a minute, that’s not a slow slog.
Vince: I’m not at Susan’s speed. I’ll pull my truck, I’ll push my truck. I get really creative with what I do as far as when it comes to cardiovascular training because I don’t have a lot of interest in it, I’d rather be lifting weights, so I have to make it exciting to keep me engaged.
Chuck: But you’re also getting anaerobic. You’re lifting … what are you doing? You’re pulling your truck?
Vince: Yeah, so that’s more of an anaerobic thing. My heart rate is going to be between 80 and 90% of my max, and I’m only doing that for about 30 or 45 seconds, and then I stop. Whereas when I run three and a half miles, obviously I’m more at aerobic capacity about 60, 70% of my heart rate.
Chuck: Okay, so now I’m understanding both of you a little bit more, but you both I think have come together on something else, which is making a plan, right?
Chuck: So you talked about this in episode 19 last time, making a plan for food, even if you can do it the week ahead, is really good.
Susan: It’s excellent. It will help set you up for success. So now, you can schedule your workouts in, and you schedule your meals in so you’re prepared to hit that week.
Chuck: So you would sit down on Saturday, Sunday, you’d plan it out, maybe use an app, you go out and buy, and that way, you know how you’re spacing your veggies and all the other stuff that’s going to be interesting to you.
Susan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I’m especially, this is something I’ve started to do ever since I became a mom is prep stuff. So I pre-cut vegetables, I pre-cut fruits, and I just put them into glass containers into the fridge, so you don’t have to think about, “Oh, what are we going to have for a snack?” Or, I’m going to work out at 5:30 in the morning to go for a run. I can quickly just go in the fridge and grab some fruit, and it’s not complicated.
Vince: Trust me, Chuck, you don’t want to eat around Susan, you’ll feel really bad about yourself. It’s always fresh fruit and fresh protein.
Chuck: There was one time I had to sit on a panel with somebody very famous from Weight Watchers who everybody would recognize, and when you sit next to somebody like you guys or that person, there is no way when they come with dessert that you will say, “Sure, I’ll have that brownie with ice cream.” “No, no, no. Please, do you have any blueberries?” So a plan for a workout. Yesterday, I go to work out, there’s a guy wearing his iPad on some kind of Velcro deal, walking around, watching videos to see what he should be doing on a machine. Now, I thought, “Okay, it’s his thing. He’s not using a trainer. Maybe there’s a trainer on the device.”
Vince: Could be.
Chuck: But making a plan, no matter how you do it for yourself is good, right?
Vince: Right, absolutely. So I’ll use myself as an example. I get up every day at 4:45 AM, I do that on the weekend because for me, for my schedule, I need to get to the gym and work out before work or before my kids’ activities on the weekend, and I can control those factors. I know if I get to the gym by a certain time and leave by a certain time, it will not be interrupted, I can accomplish what I want to. Some people fall into the trap of going after work, and that can be problematic. You may have to work late, you may have to go pick up one of your kids, you may have an emergency pop up. After work, there’s a lot of variables that can kind of spoil your plan.
Vince: So I’m a firm believer, some people work midnight, so at night does work better, but you need to plan whatever’s going to be best for you to build that habit. Again, it’s building a habit. It’s like getting up and brushing your teeth. If you get up every day at the same time and go to the gym or at night, whenever you do it, it’s a habit. Most people will ask me, “How do you work out every day?” And I do take rest days as needed, but it is a habit for me. I don’t know what it’s like to not go to the gym because I’ve been doing that since I was 16 and I’m 37 now, so it’s just something that I do every day no matter what because it’s a habit.
Chuck: Are you tracking what you do in the gym, or is that something that’s for you because you’re a pro at it? Is that something old school or should we all be doing that?
Vince: It’s very dependent on the goal. If I’m trying to increase my strength, I’ll track everything. I had a time where I wanted to run a sub-six minute mile, I did, I tracked that. I’ll track my weight if I’m trying to reduce my body composition. So it’s very goal dependent on what I’ll track, and sometimes I don’t track anything for months at a time because I just want to go have fun.
Vince: So it’s very dependent on what your goals are. I think for people, the majority of people usually want to lose weight around the new year, I think you track how much you weigh, I think you track the weights you’re using, the exercise you’re doing, because it’s going to help you progress through the stages.
Chuck: And then fine tune it, right? Along the way.
Chuck: So from a nutrition standpoint, we fuel up, somewhere in our day based in our habits and patterns, we find a workout pattern that works for us through the week. How important is it that we fuel up after a workout, and what does that mean? What do we do?
Susan: That’s really dependent upon what type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re doing a lot of aerobic activity, you’re running, you’re swimming, you’re playing tennis for a long period of time, generally over 60 minutes, that is when you really need to add some carbohydrates within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout. And add a little bit of protein. Now, if you’re lifting weights, this is something that, if you’re lifting weights for 30 to 60 minutes, again, you should have some protein after, but you don’t need to have a whole big jug of 100 grams of protein an hour after your workout because your body can only use so much, like Vince said earlier, so have 20-
Chuck: And what is that number? Because we hear that. Is that Muscle Fiction like drink 100 grams of protein? What is that limit your body can really absorb at any one time?
Susan: Everybody is a little bit different, and that’s again where it comes that individualized plan really, so you have to find what works for you, but having generally 20 grams to maybe, at the most, 30 grams of protein at one time is what the human body can take in and use, so you have that within an hour within your workout, and then you wait for another hour to two hours after, and then have another 20 to 30 grams of protein of either animal sourced or non-animal sourced, and your body, if you do that throughout the rest of the day after your workout, you actually are going to see more muscle repair than if you just have that big jug of protein right after you work out.
Chuck: Getting to sit here between the two of you, I feel a little like Judge Judy. So now I’m going to come over to this side of the table. Do you agree with that idea that about 20, 30 grams of protein after an intensive muscle workout is good?
Chuck: Is that a good number?
Vince: Yeah, absolutely, Chuck. I think a lot of people, again, when I say Muscle and Fiction or social media, they see things and they think that’s what they need to do. I’m not an NFL running back, I’m not a professional body builder, I’m a normal dad that goes to the gym. I only need 20 grams of protein. I don’t need to drink three Gatorades if I ran a mile, it’s way too much sugar and carbohydrates, I’m not a marathon runner. So I think we need to be realistic in what we are and what we’re doing, so Susan is on point with that one hundred percent, especially for the younger kids that are playing football or sports, and they get the misconception that they need 50 grams of protein, or they have to do this, or they have to do that, and it’s not realistic, so Susan is definitely on point.
Chuck: So in this idea of fueling up, working out, fueling up again when we’re done, is there any other thing, not a magic bullet, but you read this stuff, Creatine, adding supplements, doing something else. Is there anything else that the two of you have discovered with your team that mere mortals like me can add to our daily habits? Is there anything else that we should be thinking about? A supplement or something?
Vince: I’ll go first if Susan doesn’t mind. There’s a couple things I would say. Again, I want to reiterate time. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, build muscle strength, cardiovascular endurance, it takes time. And the magic bullet I would say is eating as much natural food as you can, whether it’s natural animal protein, natural fruit, natural vegetables, natural grain. I think the more whole natural food you can eat, the better results you’ll get and you’ll feel.
Chuck: And you said that as well. You guys agree way more than you disagree, which is cool.
Susan: Yeah. The only think I would add to Vince’s is water. People forget how important water is for your body. Especially when you come into a new workout regime and/or you’re trying to lose weight and you add it into your eating plan. Adding more water is never going to harm you, and it’s always going to help you.
Chuck: Can I admit something to both of you right here, and I guess to the audience too? My wife has encouraged me after years of prodding that we need to take dance lessons. I go to a dance lesson, I come out sweating, and I’m realizing it’s a work out. I’m going to this think and I’m thinking, “This is a hidden form of exercise I never in a million years would have thought about, but it’s fun.” To your point about making stuff fun, I’m having fun doing it, and I’m admitting that now. My wife will hear this and say, “See?” But I’m doing it for the first time in our adult married life. Is that a good way to mix it up, to add things that are fun?
Susan: Absolutely it is. I see this with my daughter too. She loves to dance. She’s like, “Mom, I want to dance.” And I’m like, “Okay.” And five minutes later, my heart rate is up, so whatever it is that you can add into your day that makes it more fun and you get a little bit more activity rather than sitting, do it.
Chuck: To hear you talking about moving tires around and pulling trucks, to you that’s fun, though.
Chuck: I mean, mixing it up.
Vince: Yeah, I don’t do anything that I don’t think is fun. Flipping the tire down my subdivision road. The neighbors don’t like it, but I think it’s fun. And getting creative with what you do. And one thing I want people to take away is, don’t get stuck on you have to go to a gym. You can go to a park, you can go for a walk, you can kayak, you can do yard work. I had to rake a ton of leaves yesterday. So do things that do make you move and keep you active. Don’t get stuck into always doing the same thing.
Chuck: I can tell you, I’ve learned a lot today. Fuel up, add this work out regiment, some kind of idea no matter what you’re doing, it could be swimming, it could be lifting weights, it could be dancing, whatever it is, and also keep it simple, keep it interesting, create a plan, and have fun. Am I on the right track? Are those good points to take away today?
Vince: You’re definitely on the right track.
Chuck: All right, good deal. It’s good to have you both here.
Vince: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure.
Chuck: I’m feeling healthier. Look now, how do I look? Do I look thinner?
Susan: The muscle.
Vince: Yeah, you look healthier.
Chuck: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Thanks for being with us this time. A Healthier Michigan Podcast is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like the show, you want to know more, check us out at AHealthierMichigan.org/podcast. You can also, without the /podcast, you can register for a newsletter so you can get info directly to your mailbox, and if you go online, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, you can find this podcast there. Make sure you rate us and also give us a little feedback. We’re glad you’re with us again. Happy New Year. It is time for a shift, a little change in 2019, and we hope this podcast and more to come, and even our previous episodes have helped you out. I’m Chuck Gaidica, have a great day.