12 Week Cardio and Weight Training Routine

Get Fit or Die Tryin: 12 Week Cardio and Weight Training Program

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Have you ever walked through a store or slogging along with your cardio exercises seen a fitness or muscle magazine? Some of their headlines are so sensational it makes it seem like good old-fashioned hard work and consistency is a thing of the past. Too bad none of them ever stack up to their claims.

  • “Build 5X More Muscle!”
  • “4-Week Summer Shakeup”
  • “14 Tricks to MELT Fat”
  • “12 Weeks to a Completely New Person”

Okay, the last one is my headline. And I mean it. What if I told you in just 12 weeks, you could improve your fitness levels, improve your conditioning, and at least get a massive start towards your dream physique? Would you put in 12 weeks of work that you need to be held accountable for?

If you are ready to stop letting years go by while you are unhappy with how you look, this workout may be for you. If you’re willing to put in some work, hold yourself accountable, and take this journey with an open mind, you may have a chance.

Losing weight, getting healthy, building muscle, and improving your strength performance comes with persistence, consistency, and a bit of elbow grease.

Cardio and Weight Training Program

I’ve gained a lot of weight, lost a lot, gained more, and lost more weight. In fact, I wrote an article over on Tiger Fitness called “4 Things I’ve Learned from Losing 120 Pounds Twice.” I still struggle, but the struggle comes from me losing willpower. If you can hold yourself a little accountable, use the tips in this article, and put in the work, you’re going to succeed.

Related: Cutty’s Comprehensive Guide on How to Lose Weight in Your Face

12 Week Cardio and Weight Training Program Goals

The goal of this workout is to get you active, consistent, and knowledgeable so you can maintain a healthy lifestyle. The 12 weeks portion of this workout is how long it will take to start seeing noticeable progress.

Weight Loss

This program is going to help you lose that stubborn weight and help you trim down to a smaller size through lifting weights, doing some cardio exercises, and choosing to eat more nutritious foods. This will be sustainable weight loss — use these principles to maintain the weight of your choice.

Build Lean Muscle Mass

Lifting weights and eating healthy foods naturally will build muscle. This program works for those who just want to get in shape or is a great start for someone wanting to be a bodybuilder. This routine will give you the tools you need to build lean mass and create a balanced physique.

Improve Conditioning

Walking on a treadmill or peddling on a stationary bike burns calories, but it won’t improve your conditioning. To get the most out of your workout, you’ll perform cardio exercises that will push your body, maintain an elevated heart rate, and burn a lot of calories.

The days of slogging along on a treadmill are over.

Cardio Exercises - Treadmill

Nutrition

To be frank, your body composition is mostly due to what you eat. “Abs are made in the kitchen” is a very true statement. It doesn’t matter how heavy you lift, how long you stay at the gym, and how much cardio you do… you will not out-exercise a poor diet.

The goal here is to start eating more whole foods. If you can have enough self-control to eat more nutritious foods, this workout routine will be a huge success. If you choose to try to eat like you always have, you’re going to have lackluster results.

I have plenty of nutrition articles on the website for you to check out — I’m giving you the juicy tidbits in this article.

Grilled Chicken and Broccoli

Please remember, “eating healthy” doesn’t mean giving up all of your guilty pleasures. Highly-processed foods are very calorie-dense, so eat them sparingly.

Check out the health and nutrition of this site for articles on how to eat healthier and save money doing it. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to cut out all of your guilty pleasures, but you must be conscious of them and realize how many calories you are eating. If you’re like me and prefer having a full belly, eating a half-pound of grilled chicken will fill you up more than a McDouble — even though they are roughly the same calorie count.

Burger and Fries Cheat Meal

You’re going to need to start a food log. I recommend MyFitnessPal. They make logging your food as easy as scanning the barcode or typing into a search. It’s imperative so you can follow the nutrition plan.

Once you’ve logged your food intake for a week, try cutting some calories.

Men

  • Cut calories by 300 per day
  • Follow the cardio and conditioning tips

Women

  • Cut calories by 200 per day
  • Follow the cardio and conditioning tips

If you’ve ever tried one of those crash diets, you know they are not sustainable. Sure, you may have lost the weight but I’m sure you gained back twice as fast.

A seemingly small decrease in calories allows your body to adjust to fewer calories. As you start burning more calories than you shove in your mouth, your body will turn to stored fat for its fuel source.

Cardio and Weight Training Program

The important part is to eat roughly a consistent amount of calories every day. One thing to take note of — if you skimp out on carbohydrates one day and then a bunch the next day, your body will be bloated and you will notice a difference on the scale.

Always weigh yourself at the same time of day on the same day of the week.

Weighing yourself once a week allows you to track your progress without causing panic and overthinking. Choose a day and time that you can weigh yourself consistently. I generally prefer Friday Morning after my morning poo.

Diet Plan Guidelines

Losing weight is not complicated; simply lowering your calorie intake and increasing activity will help you lose body fat. The hard part is putting the work in to accomplish it. There are times you will hit a weight loss plateau, but it won’t stop you from achieving your goal weight.

Of course, everyone is different. Please ask your doctor or nutritionist for advice before wildly changing your diet.

Protein

  • Men – Strive for 120-200 grams of protein daily. The heavier you are, the closer to 200 you should go.
  • Women – Strive for 80-140 grams of protein daily. The heavier you are, the closer to 140 you should go.

Eating enough protein will ensure you retain muscle mass while losing weight. Eat a wide variety of proteins such as chicken, pork, beef, beans, whey, and other sources you enjoy. The beauty of eating reasonably is you can have that steak and baked potato with butter and cheese.

Check out these 15 muscle building foods for some inspiration.

When you can account for every calorie you eat, you know what your results are going to be.

Fats

Olive Oil

For most, fat intake should be around 20-30% of your daily calories. Fats aren’t what make you fat — eating the bag of potato chips, eating nachos with sour cream, cheese, and bacon will.

Eat the bacon, have the butter, be reasonable. Try avocado oil.

Lacking enough daily dietary fats can lead to hormone issues, loss of sleep, and other complications. You need fats to absorb some nutrients and minerals, you will be satiated when eating fats, and it tastes great.

Carbohydrates

Pasta

Ah yes, the macronutrient everyone loves to hate. Look, carbohydrates are a great source of energy for those burning energy. You can’t suck down breadsticks at Fazolis and going home to play video games and expect to lose weight.

If you want to cut out carbohydrates, you must eat enough dietary fats and protein.

Now that you’ve logged your food for a week and weighed yourself, you have a starting point. Start by eliminating the calories mentioned above and replace as many processed foods as possible with whole foods. Don’t be afraid to eat rice, sweet potatoes, and fruit.

Once You Have Stalled on Your Weight Loss

At some point in this workout routine, your weight is going to stall. Most people don’t want to tell you that, but it’s normal.

Now is the time to cut back additional calories.

  • Women – Cut an additional 200 calories.
  • Men – Cut an additional 300 calories.

Re-Feeding

BeardMeatsFood
Check out BeardMeatsFood on Youtube!

I’m sure you’ve seen some bodybuilders or strongmen post their wild cheat days. While those meals are extreme, a re-feed day every other week can help lose weight and give you something to look forward to.

Pick a day every other week where you have a controlled splurge. Now is the time to eat the foods you like. But there’s a catch. You still have to log your food, and you should not go over 1,000 calories of your daily caloric goal.

Going much over that and you’re going to start slowing your weight loss progress down.

The true trick to a successful cheat meal or cheat day is taking the time to enjoy it. The benefit of tracking your intake and holding yourself accountable to it is you can eat like this sometimes and you won’t ruin your progress.

If you want this program to give you the best results you can get, eat your extra calories with whole foods or protein shakes. This is going to give you the nutrition and recovery you need. You would be surprised how much chicken you have to eat to equal a value meal at a fast-food restaurant.

Supplementation Recommendations

Supplements can be great for those who consistently workout, stay active, and eat relatively decent foods. You can’t eat diet pills while eating a whole pizza and expect them to work. Look at supplements as a tool versus a miracle substance.

Honestly, I’d rather see you buy $100 in nutritious whole foods before buying a tub of protein powder, but I have a product reviews section if you are looking for any suggestions.

Whey Protein

An extremely popular supplement, whey protein is fast-digesting and they are great for building lean mass. Enjoy a shake whenever, but many prefer having a shake in the morning, post-workout, or both. I absolutely love MTS Nutrition supplements — they are my go-to. Check out their MTS Whey Protein.

MTS Nutrition Protein

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

BCAAs are a great source of amino acids and minerals that you can throw into water. You can achieve the same results by eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of meats, vegetables, and fruit.

I personally prefer the taste of a BCAA to a soda. They are a great way to have a flavored drink that isn’t horrible for you to drink. Again, I recommend MTS Machine Fuel.

Creatine Monohydrate

One of the most-studied sports supplements, creating is cheap and effective. Check out my review of BodyTech Creatine Monohydrate — it goes over a lot of information about creatine.

Multi-Vitamins

If you’re eating a decent variety of foods, you don’t need a multi-vitamin. Although, the Optimum Nutrition Opti-Men vitamins are decent.

12 Week Cardio Program

For the next 12 weeks, you have to dedicate time to perform these cardio exercises — you can’t just wish yourself into a healthier body.

  • For the first 6 weeks leave 1 day of recovery in between each cardio session.
  • For the last 6 weeks do 2 days on and 1 day off.
  • Start week 1 and do 10 minutes of cardio per session. Add 2 minutes to your cardio sessions per week. On week 12 you will be doing 32 minutes of cardio per session.

Cardio Exercises - Cycling

Should I Use Cardio to Burn Fat?

The trick is to perform the right kind of cardio exercises. Walking as if you have nowhere to go on a treadmill, or pedaling the stationary bike just fast enough to keep it from shutting off won’t burn fat.

This cardio routine is going to compliment your results from lifting weights, you’ll recover faster, and your conditioning levels will drastically improve. That means no more getting winded climbing a flight of stairs.

The type of cardio exercise we will implement is called high-intensity interval training — or HIIT for short.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

I’m glad you asked. For now, let’s skip the science — would you rather do cardio for 30 minutes or 15 minutes? My guess is your answer is 12 minutes, right?

High-intensity interval training is a training protocol where you will alternate between 20-30 seconds of high-intensity “all-out” effort with a 45-60 second period of slower activity to recover. You repeat that for 12 times… or however many you could make it through. Remember, improvement and progress is key.

Running on Treadmill

Here’s an example if you’re on a treadmill:

Let’s assume your normal walking speed is 3mph and that’s the speed you would walk if you were going somewhere with a purpose.

  • Warm-up for 3 minutes at this speed.
  • Kick it up to the fastest speed you can run safely — this could be 7, could be 10, and run this speed for 20-30 seconds.
  • Drop the speed of the treadmill back down to 3 and catch your breath for 45-60 seconds.
  • Repeat 12 times

One benefit is time. Cramming 30 minutes of boring mindless cardio into 15 minutes is nice, but the oxygen debt you create can release more growth hormone and burn calories post-workout.

Some studies suggest that excess post-oxygen consumption can help burn calories for up to 12 hours after your workout.

Is Cardio Best for Weight Loss?

Simply performing cardio exercises to create a calorie deficit for you to lose weight is not ideal. You will be skinny-fat, have no muscle tone, and be extremely displeased with your results.

When you improve your nutritional choices, count your calories, perform cardio exercises, and lifting weights, you’re going to achieve tremendous results.

12 Week Gym Workout Plan for Beginners

Strive for progression and you will make marked progress. I’ve had many clients happy with their results using this method.

Rep Goal Training

The rep goal system is pretty simple. If you have five sets of a workout and a rep goal of 25, that’s essentially 5 sets of 5. Instead of sticking to a 5×5 scheme, you perform reps until near failure on all sets. This system works best if your working sets all use the same weight.

For example:

You are doing five sets with a 25 rep goal of incline bench with 50-pound dumbbells.

  • Set one you are able to complete seven reps
  • Set two you complete 6
  • Set three you complete 6
  • Set four you complete 5
  • Set five you complete the remaining 1 rep needed and complete three additional.

Pick a weight you struggle to achieve 5 reps with. This isn’t supposed to be easy, but it will help you progress later. You may not achieve the rep goal, but you may have increased your reps by two from the prior week.

Gym Workout Plan

Sample Workout Schedule

  • Day 1: OFF
  • Day 2: Workout A
  • Day 3: Workout B
  • Day 4: OFF
  • Day 5: Workout C
  • Day 6: Workout D
  • Day 7: OFF

The workout schedule depends on your life. The goal with your workout schedule is to try not to have more than two training days in a row. This will allow your body adequate time to recover.

Pick times and days that you can consistently commit to.

Workout A works on your pecs, shoulders, your lats, and triceps. These are all great compound movements that will demand some muscle endurance.

Workout A
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Incline Bench 5 25
Lat Pull Downs 3 36
DB Shoulder Press 3 36
Pull Ups 3 36
Close Grip Bench Press 3 36

Workout B is a solid leg day with an emphasis on your core. Performing curls on a day you work legs allow those huge muscle groups to shuttle a lot of nutrients through your muscles.

Workout B
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Squat 5 25
Front Squat or Goblet Squat 3 36
Leg Curl 3 36
Standing Calf Raise 3 36
Curls 3 36
Planks 5

Workout C trains some antagonistic muscle groups — chest and back. You’ll get some extra shoulder work and some more curls in.

Workout C
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Barbell Rows 5 25
Incline DB Chest Flyes 3 36
Side Lateral Raises 3 36
Pull Ups 3 36
Skull Crushers 3 36
Curls 4 48

Workout D is another calorie-burning workout with some leg work and ab work. For light squats, pick around 70% of the weight you use on Workout B.

Workout D
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Light Squats 3 24
Barbell Lunges 3 36
Leg Press 3 36
Standing Calf Raises 3 36
Cable Crunches 4 48

Cardio Exercises - Walking

Workout Tips

Exercise form is important. Don’t get sloppy and don’t lift more than you should. I’m a powerlifter by heart, but you can’t get in shape in the hospital.

This program focuses on using compound lifts and exercises that will give your body a balanced and athletic physique.

This program works and will give you as good of results as you put into this.

Work your ass off and you will the results you want.

As always, leave questions and comments below! Like us on Facebook and be sure to share with your friends so we can make a healthier world.

242 thoughts on “Get Fit or Die Tryin: 12 Week Cardio and Weight Training Program”

  1. Reading this sounds like a program I’d like to try but I do have a question. Where is the ab work? I only see planks. I currently work abs at least twice a week.

    1. Squats, front squats, barbell rows, barbell lunges, cable crunches, and planks all work your core.

      Doing heavy compound lifts elicit more of a hormonal response than doing endless crunches. Doing endless sit ups and ab work do nothing but make you feel like you’re making progress – they create muscle imbalances and are not as effective as compound lifts for strength or hypertrophy.

      Add in more ab work if you’d like, although you won’t need it if you lift heavy.

  2. When doing these exercises is it that many reps per set and do you start with a weight that you can get these then work up?

    1. No, you basically have so many sets to do that many reps. For example, 5 sets with a rep goal of 25 could be a 5×5. You could also get 25 reps in 5 sets by doing 8 reps, 6 reps, 4 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps. You are striving to squeeze out as many reps per set, with 25 reps being your ending rep.

      I would recommend picking a weight you can do 10 to 12 reps with and then consider that your working weight. You can use lighter weights to warm up, but only count the reps that you use your working weight with.

  3. Vince l
    I am 68 and want to start this workout plan. I’m in pretty good shape just need to lose some belly fat and put on some muscle. My problem is , l have a torn shoulder tendon so l can’t lift to heavy or do shoulder lifts. What can I do instead?

    1. I would ask your doctor. Shoulders are very complicated and I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong. I would invite you to do more lower body and conditioning work until your shoulder can heal.

  4. Hey, I’m a male 5’2 182lbs and I want to lose fat and weight and get toned. I really want to drop to 120lbs can this program with good diet really help me reach my goal or should I try a different program

  5. Hey Im a male 29y/o 5 ’10 currently 224 lbs and have a question about the cardio part. In your opinion when is the best time to incorporate the cardio, before or after strength training? And how much water a day should I be consuming with my body weight at this time? Thanks and for the first time since high school and early college years im excited and motivated to complete this program !!

    1. Shane,

      Cardio is best done after you lift. It’s sort of like if you have 100% energy going into the gym, cardio will kill a bit of that off. Then you’re left with whatever energy you can muster up.

      If you do it after, you can go balls out on lifting and then you can do some steady state or a little HIIT cardio after and be fine. If you really want to change your lifestyle, start incorporating more physical activity outside of the gym and start enjoying life.

      For water, you probably don’t drink enough as it is so I would start just drinking water throughout the day. Keep water around so getting drinks are easy. I sometimes go hours without a drink (even if I want one) because I have to go get it or go out to the garage to get it.. The easier and more available it is, the less of a problem it will be to drink more.

      Hope this helps, keep me updated.

  6. I saw a reply to an earlier comment asking about lunges where you said 36 reps equals 18 per leg, so does that also go for all the other exercises listed that have a left and right component? Like for curls, does 36 reps actually mean 18 per arm? I’m slightly confused now, because I’ve always thought that for that type of exercise, doing each side once was considered one “rep.” Have I been doing twice as much as I need to? Thanks.

    1. Lunges are a separate monster. Just like you do 3 sets of 36 for curls, you do 3 sets of 36 curls per arm. So each arm gets the same amount of work.

      Barbell lunges are hard, so a lower volume should be used. Counting to 36 (or 40 if you are able to keep going) means you just did 18 (or 20) reps for that set (for each leg). You’re doing it right, just overthinking it :)

  7. I appreciate the reply, but I possibly might be more confused now, lol. Let me see if have this: for doing curls, I do a total of 36 reps per arm (left curl + right curl = 1 total rep), but for doing lunges I just count each individual lunge (left lunge = 1 total rep, right lunge = another total rep) up to 36, which ends up being 18 for each leg. Is that correct? And lunges are the only exercise here that work that way

    Also, just to clarify from the first part of your reply…I understood the goal of 36 reps to be the goal for total reps across 3 sets. It’s not 36 reps for each set, right (which would be 108 total reps)? Thanks a bunch.

    1. Yes, look at it like “12 reps for 3 sets” but don’t cut yourself short if you have more in the tank after those 12. It’s to push yourself closer to failure and using a rep goal like this helps you see progress – even when it’s just one or two reps.

  8. If i’m doing hack squat instead of squat for workout B, what is an alternative for front squat? Can I do leg press?

    For workout D, what is an alternative to lunges? Can I also light deadlifts?

    1. Both would work. I would recommend trying out some goblet squats. It’s like a front squat, but you’re just holding a dumbbell up near your chest.

      I love doing these and they’ve improved my overall mobility.

  9. Hi! I’ve been looking for a good program that has cardio and weight training that won’t have me in the gym for 3hrs and I think yours will with great. I have just one question. I’ve noticed that the only chest exercises you have is incline barebell bench, and incline db flys. Why only incline and no regular bench press, or decline bench press?

    1. Decline bench is one of those exercises that look cool because you can push some heavier weights, but the return on your energy investment just isn’t there.

      While bench press is a king for developing chest, this workout is designed to build a more even physique and focuses on overall health and physical improvements. This isn’t going to be one that you look at to build mass – this is more of a “I’m new to the gym and want to start seeing results fast” type of workout.

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