How to build a workout with phases

Simple four-phase workout

In addition to the actual work phase, it’s good to include also a warm-up, a cool-down and some stretching to your workout—whatever your sport is. It maximizes the benefits of the workout and prevents injuries. So, in its simplest, a phased workout can be just those four phases. Below you can see an example of a simple workout including these phases.

Warming up

A proper warm-up that increases heart rate and blood flow to working muscles at the beginning of a training session is necessary to prepare the body for exercise. It can also prevent injuries. 

Begin slowly, giving your body a chance to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at a heart rate below your selected target heart rate zone. Start the warm-up with a cardio workout, for example, walking, jogging or cycling. Then add some movements that are specific to the activity you are planning to do. For example, dribbling and passing exercises in soccer, or light warm-up sets in weight training. If you are doing a walking, running or cycling workout, gradually increase the intensity during warm-up until your heart rate reaches your target heart rate zone.

Exercising in Target Heart Rate Zone

Once your heart rate has reached your target heart rate zone, maintain that intensity for a set amount of time (typically 20 minutes or more), and make sure you stay inside your target heart rate zone. 

Cooling down and Stretching

Cool down by gradually reducing the intensity of your exercise to lower your heart rate below the target heart rate zone. Then, stretch the main muscles you just worked to prevent injury and stiffness. For example, stretch your leg muscles after a run. And keep the following guidelines in mind while stretching:

  • Don't bounce
  • Stretch slowly and steadily
  • Hold the stretch for a slow count of ten
  • Don't push yourself into a painful stretch.

High Intensity Interval training – HIIT

Interval training is a type of training that includes high intensity work phases alternating with low intensity recovery periods. Athletes have used interval training in their training programs for years, and recently, high intensity interval training (commonly called HIIT) has become more and more popular among all levels of exercisers. 

High Intensity Interval training improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol profiles, abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass. HIIT training can easily be modified for people of all fitness levels—from a beginner to a professional athlete—as well as for people who have something special in their medical condition, for example, overweight or diabetes. HIIT can also be applied to various sports, including walking, running, cycling, swimming and group exercise classes. 

It’s important to modify your HIIT workout so that it’s suitable for your fitness level. You should find your own optimal training intensity that helps you develop. If you haven’t been very active recently, it may be good to consult a physician before starting to train.

HIIT training brings the same benefits as endurance training but quicker. This is because, compared to traditional workouts, HIIT workouts burn more calories, especially after the workout. HIIT workouts are also more strenuous than steady state endurance workouts. It may be good to start HIIT training with one workout per week, while your other workouts are steady state workouts. When you feel like you need more challenges, you can add another HIIT workout to your weekly training program. Just make sure the HIIT workouts are spread throughout the week.

Work & recovery intervals

When planning a HIIT program, you should take into account the duration, intensity and frequency of the work intervals and the length of the recovery intervals. The intensity in work intervals should be 80% or more of your maximum heart rate, and you should feel like you are training hard and carrying on a  conversation is difficult. In recovery intervals, the intensity should be 40–50% of your maximum heart rate and training should feel comfortable.

In terms of the relationship of the work and recovery intervals, you can use a 1:1 ratio. This means that the work and the recovery intervals are equal in time (usually 3-5 minutes). For example, a 4 minute work phase is followed by 4 minutes of recovery time. Another option is to have shorter work phases with maximum intensity followed by a longer recovery phase. For example, training 30 seconds in maximum or near maximum intensity followed by 4–4,5 minutes of recovery time.

Warm-up and cool-down

In HIIT workouts, your training intensity is high and you push your body to the limit. Therefore, proper warm-up and cool-down are essential parts of every HIIT workout.

Warming up improves the effectiveness of your training. It raises the heart rate, which enables oxygen in the blood to travel faster. Warming up also increases muscle temperature, giving the muscles greater extensibility and elasticity. The duration of the warm-up phase should be approximately 10 minutes. Beginners require longer warm-ups.

Recovery from a training starts at the cool-down phase. It should involve a decrease in the exercise intensity (i.e. from a hard run to an easy jog). Cooling down also allows a person to move mentally into a non-exercise state. The duration of the cool-down phase should be from 5 to 10 minutes. A fit heart recovers faster.

Plan your training with Polar

You can create phased training targets in Polar Flow web service and sync them to your Polar device with Polar FlowSync software or via Polar Flow app. Your training device guides you through all the phases reminding you to train in the right heart rate zone or speed/pace zone.


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