Do you workout at home these days?
Are you bored with your home workouts? Or feel stuck when it comes to picking out a new program or workout?
Do you ever struggle with how to plan your workouts to get total body results?
I’m going to tell you one of the ways to make a home exercise program that’ll never leave you bored, stuck or confused about how to get results (or what to do next).
I’ve been using a method I call Program Stacking for over 10 years in my home exercise routine.
✔Program Stacking is a systematic and strategic way of combining different home exercise programs and workouts to shock your metabolism, stay excited about exercise and continue to see results*.
*Program stacking applies the principles behind cross training to create workout rotation plans that use all those home exercise videos you already have (or have access to through a streaming service like Beachbody on Demand.)
And it works.
When I say it works I mean I’ve been in better shape using nothing but program stacking with home workout programs for the last decade than I’ve ever been before.
I’m going to tell you how I used this Program Stacking method to train for physically challenging events like the Tough Mudder (twice) and a Spartan Sprint.
And how I use this method to workout every single week to stay toned, excited about my workouts and maintain my weight and physical health.
And you can do the same.
You can apply the same principals to a gym routine but I think Program Stacking works exceptionally well to supercharge a home exercise routine (and it’s how I use it) so that’s what I’m focusing on in this article.
The Concept Behind Program Stacking
I want to start by reviewing the way most people plan their workouts at home (and how I used to do it, as well.)
Stage One– You see an infomercial on TV, an ad online (probably Facebook or Instagram) or get a recommendation from someone else about the latest workout program/series.
Stage Two– You purchase the 4,6 or 8 week program (including all the accessories you need to do it) and get started.
Stage Three– You may (or may not) complete the workout series over the next 4 to 8 weeks.
Stage Four– You may (or may not) get bored with the workout series/program BEFORE you even finish it (or find out it’s just not for you after you’ve done a few of the routines).
Stage Five– You wonder what to do next…and ask yourself these questions…
Should I start another program? Which one? Why? How do I choose?
Or maybe you loved the series you just completed and now you’re wondering if it’s ok to do that same program over and over…and over?
Even if you’re ready to buy another set of videos when does the cycle end? (I wondered this a lot as I grew my home workout video library to well over 100 videos…)
Stage Six– And before you realize it a month has gone by since you finished the program and did your last workout….ugh
I was stuck in that six stage cycle for years…
Then one day I read an article about how pro athletes use cross training to achieve total body fitness and prevent overuse injuries from repeating the same types of exercises too frequently.
✔ It’s why Olympic runners lift weights and pro football players incorporate yoga into their training.
Because cross training helps prevent injury and achieve total body functional fitness. (Which is something we should all have as a long-term fitness goal.)
So, what the heck is functional fitness (and how does it tie in to Program Stacking)?
At the most basic level, functional fitness is working on exercises that will help you do every day activities.
I think we tend to hear the term ‘functional fitness’ and think about rehab exercises or the elderly.
Erase that notion from your mind and instead focus on the fact that functional fitness is the foundation of ALL exercise, no matter what intensity or level you’re at.
The most elite athlete as well as the beginner uses the building blocks of functional fitness.
So, ideally (to get the best results) you need to think about creating a workout rotation schedule that includes routines for flexibility, balance, strength as well as cardiovascular endurance.
By combining all the workouts you already know and love (as well as future workouts) you can easily do this by strategically mixing up your home workouts (aka using Program Stacking).
So, program stacking is NOT doing a random different workout every day. Program Stacking is strategically selecting and combining workouts (from the programs you have) every day in a specific order.
So, now that you understand the concepts behind the Program Stacking method let me show you how I use it and how you can do the same…
How to Use Program Stacking in Your Workout Routine
I want you to think about all the pieces that make up a workout from any of the programs you’ve done.
Not the exercises themselves but the template of each workout.
Every routine has components that are designed to raise your heart rate, build and tone muscles and/or improve flexibility (or a combination of all 3).
✔ Every routine works your body from different angles and in different ways by varying the tempo (speed), amount of resistance, total length, number of reps, and style of the workout.
A routine can have exercises that work on your balance, coordination, agility and mobility.
So, you can see there are a LOT of pieces that make up the framework (template) of a workout.
Pro Tip-When you hit play for your home workout today, think about all the ways the instructor makes the routine unique as well as the goal behind each combination and rep.
You can use the Program Stacking Method to combine all these elements from different programs to get the benefits of cross training (and maximize your functional fitness).
Take a look at this workout rotation calendar I used to train for the Tough Mudder:
I know there’s a lot going on in that image but the thing I want you to notice is the way I combined workouts from different programs (along with a regular running schedule) to train.
On some days I used different workouts from Cathe Friedrich and on some days I used workouts from Beachbody. (But the workouts were organized on the calendar strategically.)
Every workout day had a goal in mind because you need power, cardio endurance and muscular endurance to complete a Tough Mudder. There’s no way to finish the course if you don’t cross train to prepare your body for it.
Luckily, by the time I signed up for my first Tough Mudder I’d been using Program Stacking for years already so I was a pro at it and was fully prepared (both times) on the day of the event.
You might be thinking, Mickie, I’m not training for a Tough Mudder. I just want to be in shape…
As I said before, I use Program Stacking every day, week and month to plan my workouts.
When I trained for a Tough Mudder I intensified the workouts I stacked together, I don’t train at that intensity level on a daily basis, but I always use the method to plan my workouts.
If you’re curious about the Tough Mudder you can read more about it in these posts. (My advice-If you’ve been thinking about signing up, GO FOR IT!):
The Basics of Program Stacking
You can stack (aka pair, combine, mix, etc) workouts in several different ways. Here’s an example of one week of workouts using the Program Stacking method.
Take note of these things in the 7 day workout tracker below:
- the variety of programs used
- the variety of goals
- the spacing of specific styles of workouts
- the variety of workout styles used
- at least one day devoted entirely to flexibility
- the mix of cardio and strength training
- the spacing of workout intensity and length
Pro Tip-Think of the entire month as a ‘workout sandwich’ and add all the right ingredients strategically.
*In general, my daily workouts are 30-60 minutes in length total (but sometimes as short as ten minutes, it depends on how much time I have)
Ask yourself these questions to start using the Program Stacking method:
- how long (and intense) do I want to workout every day?
- what fitness goals are most important to me? (strengthening, cardio endurance, flexibility or a balance of all 3?)
- what styles of workouts do I like?
- do I have the equipment and variety of programs I need to use program stacking?
How to start using the Program Stacking Method (2 things you’ll need)
You can start using the program stacking method with the videos you have in your house today.
To maximize program stacking you’ll need to have some exercise equipment.
Having a variety of exercise tools will make it easy to change up the intensity and styles of workouts.
If you don’t have any fitness tool and are looking for recommendations then here’s my two cents–start with dumbbells and a good mat (if you workout on a hard surface).
If you don’t own any dumbbells and don’t know where to start then read this, A Woman’s Guide to Buying Dumbbells.
I recommend an aerobic step as your 3rd purchase.
✔ Pro Tip: This guide will be helpful if you’re in the market for an aerobic step: Your Expert Guide to Buying and Using an Aerobic Step
You can check out this page for links to my favorite exercise equipment (scroll down the post a little to see the links to the equipment).
Pro Tip–Don’t skimp on exercise equipment. Most of it will last a lifetime (if you get the right product) and it’s worth investing in the best. Not all equipment is the same. Do a little research (or borrow someone else’s stuff to test out) before you buy.
The other ingredient that makes program stacking very easy is exercise on demand.
Exercise on demand is where you stream live (or recorded) workouts to your house using the internet.*
*Sadly, exercise on demand won’t be a good option if you have satellite internet. From what I’ve heard it isn’t good enough to stream video. However, if your satellite internet is strong enough for you to watch Netflix then you should be able to use any exercise on demand service without a problem.
There are a lot of different exercise on demand options. And they’re all a little bit different.
Learn more about some of my favorite Exercise on Demand resources below:
*This is an affiliate link. If you use it to purchase it helps support my business. Thanks! (No hard feelings if you don’t). You can get more information about that here.
All of these services have workouts with a variety of styles, intensities and lengths (with the exception of the 10 Minute Workout System where all the workouts are around 10 minutes long, but still have different intensities and styles).
So, maybe you don’t want to pay for a membership to all of these services.
I get that.
But, I recommend you sign up for at least one exercise on demand service and see how you can start using it with the videos you already own to create a month of workouts using the program stacking principles.
THEN, about every quarter cancel that program and sign up for another one (or keep them both if you can swing it).
Pro Tip–Every single exercise on demand service is different. If you hate one then cancel it stat and move on to another one. Also, there’s a learning curve to figuring out the ins and outs of all the tech and Dashboards for every service. Have patience, my friend. Once you figure it all out you’ll be unstoppable.
I challenge you to analyze each individual workout you do (from now on) so you can understand how it’s working your body and what you want to do next.
Remember that it’s best to space out very intense workouts (cardio or strength training) with other styles in between that focus on a different goal or style of workout so that you’re always being challenged, yet able to avoid an injury due to overworking one muscle group or joint.
Pro Tip–Make sure you throw in a core/ab workout several times a week if it’s not included in your workout already. It’s easy to forget about the ‘ol sixpack when you’re planning your workouts (only to remember it later when you get in the shower).
A Word About that Number on the Scale (Will You Lose Weight with Program Stacking?)
You can lose weight with any exercise program.
The way to lose weight is to create a deficit between calories consumed vs. calories burned. You MUST burn more calories than you take in over a period of time (*ahem*, a longish period of time).
An exercise program is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to weight loss. Your diet is the other part.
I strongly encourage you to workout and move your body every day because you can–not just to lose weight.
Exercise regularly because you love the way it makes you feel psychologically and physically.
I get it. At one point in my life I was that girl, too. Obsessed with the scale. Determined to get down to a specific weight.
Eventually I realized I was making myself miserable. (And I was so hungry!)
Today, my only goals with exercise are to create a strong body that allows me to do any activity I want to try with my kids and to maintain my weight. And I’m a LOT happier (and not nearly as hungry).
Studies have shown that if you focus on weight loss (as your only goal with exercise) then you’re less likely to stick to an exercise program.
And your goal should be a permanent exercise routine that you love because it helps you live your life as the best version of you.
At the end of the day you’ll get results if you’re consistent.
I advise you to keep your exercise routine interesting at all costs so that exercise is a habit you look forward to doing. And program stacking is an excellent way to do that.
And think about your mindset regarding exercise. Is it important to you? Or a chore?
Treat your exercise routine like it’s important, not a chore you repeat every day like unloading the dishwasher.
Invest time and money in planning, tracking and loving on your exercise routine. It’s worth it! You’re worth it!
What you’re doing today is for your future self. Don’t upset her. Make her proud when she looks back at what you’re doing now.
She doesn’t want to merely exist in the future. She wants to live and experience life.
Take care of your body so you set yourself up for that future you who’s gonna be a badass for her grandchildren and all those adventures she’s still got left inside her.