A woman writing an exercise plan in her journal on a yoga mat

12-week workout plan: how long should you stick with a training programme?

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Mid-term plans might be the best way to get fit and strong. 

12-week training plans are one of the most popular fitness searches on Google. From bench press guides to marathon training programmes, three months seems to be a magic time in fitness for us to achieve goals. That might be because of the common belief (and a lot of research) that suggests it takes 12 weeks to build noticeable muscle – but while the programming may be based on aesthetics, these programmes can actually have other mental and physical benefits.

Mainly, that’s because they’re ‘middle’ term goals (not short nor long). That’s refreshing in January, as it goes against the grain of the quick fix narrative we have forced down our throat that tries to convince us that we can change our lives in just four weeks. 

While there’s a time and a place for short-term check-ins (more on that later), “short-term goals can often feel aimless and will easily be moved down the priority list,” says Chloe Trigg, head of strength training at Blok. “Especially now, there are a lot of people committing to running more, going to the gym a certain number of times a week, or getting very strict with their diet. It’s a very sudden big change to their routine, which can seem quite daunting and pointless when there’s no ‘big picture’.”

Chloe Trigg with a kettlebell over head
Chloe Trigg recommends a 12 week plan for gaining strength.

On the other hand, long-term programmes that take ages to complete can feel daunting; anything that takes the best part of a year to train for is probably going to be a big feat.

What are the benefits of setting mid-term training plans?

They’re more sustainable

Set yourself a goal of running a 10k in a month and you’ll need to train so hard you’ll either end up burned out or injured. 12 weeks, on the other hand, allows you to make small tweaks to your usual training plan that encourage progression without drastic measures. “It’s a digestible and manageable time frame. It isn’t so big it leaves lots of room for ‘I’ve got loads of time, I’ll start next week’ but isn’t so small you feel you have to make large changes that aren’t realistic within your usual day-to-day life,” says Trigg. 

You can make real progress

It takes time to see improvements in your training. Unfortunately you won’t notice huge gains in strength or cardiovascular fitness after a week or two. But if you don’t mix things up fast enough you might reach a plateau. 12 weeks gives you enough time to lean into your workouts, get to love them and feel yourself progress – before moving on and trying something a little different. “At the end of 12 weeks, you can have an honest check-in with how you feel and decide if there is something more you would like to challenge yourself with. If you loved the programme, you can start another 12-week block of training with bigger goals, more confidence and better experience,” says Trigg.

How to plan a 12-week programme

“When creating a programme for most clients, I include two blocks of testing, then at least four weeks of building and a deload week,” says Trigg. The testing weeks will probably happen at the start and end of the programme, so you can get to grips with how you perform at first and then see how far you’ve come at the end. After your first week, you could do four weeks of training, have one deload week to give your body a rest, then repeat. 

“Check in with yourself at the end of every week and make sure you’re hitting the small goals you set yourself, such as hitting nutrition or how many times you’re going to the gym,” says Trigg. This is when those small goals fit in well – helping you be accountable but within the framework of a plan that will keep you going for a longer time. “At the end of each month, check in on the slightly bigger things: how are you feeling in yourself and your training? Can you do things that you couldn’t before? Then at the end of the 12-week plan, give yourself a pat on the back and take a moment to appreciate what you’ve achieved.” 

Images: Getty/Max Oppenheim

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).