Thursday, 3 January 2013

Now Is The Perfect Time To Reassess Your Fitness Program

Jumping girl

Some of you will be excited by all the motivational talk about jumping into fitness, starting new programs, looking forward to a fit new year.

For these readers, in my third ever post, I gave you 4 steps to starting a fitness program.

Quickly outlined for those who haven't read it and can't be bothered going back:

1. Test your fitness to work out where you are at and where you you might be particularly weak.
2. Look at your schedule and find spaces where you can realistically do exercise.
3. Start slow - you are starting a lifestyle of fitness, not training for a competition next week.
4. Be fit for fitness sake - that is to say, make sure you have your motivation sorted out.

However, some of you will have been plodding or powering away at a program for quite a while.
In Australia, you might have started it in spring with the warming weather, so have been going for 3-4 months on your program. You find all this talk of starting anew a little bit boring, and want something more aimed at you.

Well, this is aimed at you: start again fresh!

When was the last time you tested out how much fitter you are now? Have you reviewed your program? Have you taken into accounts changes in your schedule this coming year; new family member, changes to your working hours, a new must-see TV program?

Every few months you should be reassessing your fitness and the program to make sure it is correctly adapted. Are you increasing the distance, weight or speed to make sure you are being challenged, and your muscles have not just adapted to the same repetitive motions?

Here are some steps to help you reassess your current program:

- review your goals: are you still aiming for the same thing, or have you found something new to aim towards?

- what have your results over the past few months been like? Have you continued to improve, or have you actually seen a decrease in performance? Can you pin-point what is working and what isn't?

- Is your program balanced? For a while you might want to focus on improving a particular area, such as increasing your arm strength, but for long term health and vigor, you need to make sure you are building up all aspects of your body in equal proportion. This will reduce the risk of injury (and funny bulging muscles out of place!). Also, mix up your high intensity with slower, longer sessions to build both speed and endurance (as well as allowing your body to recover, see below).

- Time for variety! No matter why you are exercising, every now and then chuck in something completely new just to keep your body on its toes. If you are a jogger, try a crossfit workout. If you are a weight lifter, maybe a gymnastics class. Be adventurous and look out for new things!

- Finally: are you factoring in enough rest? Muscles are built when your body repairs from the work of a session. So if you don't give it time to repair, you are just damaging yourself. Hard sessions can easily be mixed in with some aerobic exercise which will increase your fitness and means you don't need to do nothing on your rest days. 'Active Recovery' is what it is all about, just make sure it is recovery and that you don't start pushing yourself again. 

Now that you have considered all this, here are some more practical thoughts on your training plan.

The plan should be both weekly (eg. Monday - Strength training, Wednesday - Endurance/long run, Friday - speed work, etc.) and on a larger cycle to ensure increased performance over the year. 

For evaluating the actual weekly activities, keep in mind FITT:
  • F - frequency - how often should/can you exercise?
  • I - intensity - how hard should you exercise?
  • T - time - how long should each session last?
  • T - training activity - what exercise or training activity will help achieve your fitness goals?
An easy way to develop the larger framework of a program is to work in four week cycles: for the first 3 weeks increasing speed/strength/distance by 10% each week, and then fourth week is a recovery week, so keep everything light. Then start again and keep building up. The week recovery will make sure you aren't over training.

So, this week's challenge is to actually take the time to sit down and write out your goals and plan a proper program for the next few months, until it starts getting cold (a good time to change your exercise patterns to include more indoor activities!)

And if you have any questions, or good suggestions, please share!

Sneak Preview: 

Tomorrow I'll look at some tips for starting a strength training program. They are really nothing to be scared of, and can leave you feeling (and looking) great! Climb steps in a single bound, carry shopping with one finger! All this, and more...

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