Monday, 1 October 2012

4 Steps to Starting a Fitness Program

So, you've found my blog and it's inspired you to start a new fitness program (or, more likely, you were inspired to start a fitness program and happened to stumble upon my blog: good going you!)

Let me guess, you have decided you will be able to work out everyday, and you will take on all of Crossfit's advice and do weights, endurance work, speed, power, flexibility work, every week, as well as buying all the latest equipment, new shoes, home gym, why not a Pilates machine? 

Don't do it to yourselves, people!

Everyone has heard this before, but I'm going to say it again: yes, set goals, goals are awesome, but be realistic.

Haven't been able to fit in ANY exercise for the past few months? Tried a few times and were so crippled with pain that you couldn't move for the next few days?

We are trying to create a lifestyle of fitness, not a few days. 

Follow these four basic steps, and it could be a lot easier.

1. Do some sort of fitness testing.
So, back in high school you were on the track team and could run 10km in under 40mins. So, you think 'it's been a few years, but not that much has changed, I'm sure I could do it in under 50 at least'. So you start going to the gym, setting the treadmill to 14km per hour (does that work out? I'm a writer, not a mathematician! Work with me here).
Or you test out touching your toes, and you are super at that, so therefore all the rest of your fitness aspects must be fine too. Right? Right?
You get my point.
Well, just in case you didn't: if you try to set up an exercise program without knowing where you are currently, you will either make it way too hard and get upset with yourself that you can't do it or try to and hurt yourself, or make it so ridiculously easy you will never improve.

2. Look at your schedule and be prepared to make sacrifices.
Surprisingly, even once you take up a new fitness goal you still only have 24 hours in a day and strangely, every day up until now you have managed to fill up all that time without including exercise. 
So, you can't just say 'I'm going to exercise between 8.30-9am' because that time is already taken with something. You actively need to identify areas where you can sacrifice what you were doing and add in exercise instead. If it means sleep, make sure you are still getting enough. My recommendation is to choose a few TV programs that you usually watch, but haven't been so good this season, and say that when it comes on, you get out the door.

3. Start slow.
Okay, so jumping in there and feeling like a superstar on the first day does give you a little rush. But not being able to walk for the next three days tends to put a cramp on your style. (By the way, that wonderful feeling that springs up a day or two after you exercised, that's called DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. For a easy to understand article check out What Causes DOMS after exercise.)

I like Stew Smith's advice for starting a new lifestyle program: make it a year long project.
He divides the year into thirds and suggests spending the first 1-4 months doing nothing but aerobic exercise such as walking (jogging if you are a bit fitter), swimming, biking etc.  (For a good definition of aerobic/anaerobic if you are new to the terms check out this article at My Food Diary. Just to warn you, have only read this article, do not know anything else about the site.) He also suggests drinking a lot of water, which is good, but seems a bit random.
For this you can start with nothing but a pair of shoes, or even no shoes if you are into barefoot running, so don't put it off because you have no spare cash. Walking enough to make you breathless is all it takes.
In the next third, you can start bringing in strength and weight training. Try to stick to the 10% rule - only increase your workouts by a maximum of 10% at a time: 10% further, 10% longer, or 10% heavier weights.
By the final third, Smith suggests to start looking at other aspects of your life that could help in a healthy lifestyle, such as giving up smoking.

I like it because it's simple, sensible advice. 

4. Be fit for fitness sake.
This is something I'm going to talk about later, but are you exercising only to lose weight? Be honest, are you? It's fair enough, I've done it, lots of people have done it, the TV tells us to do it all the time.

However, more and more research is coming out which suggests that weight loss is actually 80% what you eat and 20% exercise. So, focusing on exercise alone is not the best thing for weight loss. It's also not the best thing for your exercise plan, because basically, if you find you aren't losing the weight, you stop being motivated to do the plan. And being fit is more important than being thin.

Having said that, here is my suggestion: struggling to lose weight and feel bad about yourself? Forget about it, and start an exercise plan focused on fitness for its own sake.

Trying to get out of bed early to go for a jog AND starve you is usually asking too much. Just starving yourself is unlikely to motivate you to also get out of bed at 5am (though admittedly losing some weight can make exercise a lot easier).

However, start exercising just because you want to be healthy and fit, and two things will happen:
1. You mood will improve. Exercise is a great mood enhancer (if you don't kill yourself).
2. You will want to eat better to feed your body so it can operate at its best.

You will want to eat better and suddenly have more will power to do so... it's a win-win situation.

Admittedly, sometimes after exercising, people can try to compensate and overeat, but I can't help you if you are determined to sabotage your own efforts. For aerobic exercise, you do not need to compensate by eating more unless you have already found you are losing large amount of weight, which for a lot of people is the goal.
(Guys, and some girls, I know you want to put on weight, but will have to wait until another post. Just don't think I've forgotten you, I haven't.)

That's just a brief introduction for those who want to start an exercise plan, but don't know how.
I've tried to explain all the specialised terms, without treating everyone too much life 5th graders (though those 5th graders appear to be damn smart), but if there is anything you are unclear on, let me know.

No comments:

Post a Comment