Congratulations! You are on the road to fitness and a better quality of life! I knew you could do it. You made the commitment and are all set. Now what? In my last column we explored steps one through five for beginning a fitness routine. In Summary they were:
· Make the Commitment and Set a Date
· Get Ready – Mental Preparation, Support, Plans and Equipment
· Setting Goals, Motivation and Celebration
· Consult Your Doctor – General Health
As with any goal or initiative, planning and preparation are vital to success. Now that you created your plan, set goals, and have mentally prepared, now what? It’s time to move to phase two and put your plan into action. In this column I will outline steps six through ten.
One of the hardest things for people new to fitness is to start slowly. That can be extremely hard because you are excited and motivated and want to maximize your efforts. Remember, you didn’t get out of shape in a week and you won’t get into shape in a week either.
Starting slow serves a couple advantages. First, by easing into your routine it will be easier to make it a habit. Many people try to do too much too soon and end up frustrated and quit. As I discussed in part one, setting goals is very important and make sure your first goals are very achievable. They should be designed to allow you to ease into your routine and feel a sense of accomplishment in the process.
Second, starting slowly allows your body to adjust to the new physical demands placed on it. You will still experience some soreness (which is a good thing) but you will limit the degree of soreness and most important you will limit your risk of injury. You are placing new stresses on your body and it will take time to adapt. When I started running ran to far too soon and strained a ligament in my knee. What ensued was a month of frustration as I WANTED to run and exercise but I couldn’t.
Be sure and listen to your body and take rest days accordingly. This is one area may people fail to understand or simply don’t do. When exercising, you are gradually tearing down your body’s muscle fibers and taxing your system. Gains in fitness don’t come from being torn down; they come when your body heals itself stronger than before to meet the new demands being place on it. Rest is important and should be a part of your routine. Don’t worry if you miss a workout or two because you are sore or feel off. These things happen and it’s your body’s way of getting your attention.
Warm Up, Elevate Your Heart Rate, Cool Down, Stretch
This may be the most important advice I can give you. It is critical to make sure you have a proper warm up and cool down session and stretch your major muscle groups. The American Aerobics and Fitness Association recommend a warm up of eight – twelve minutes before beginning any activity. This can be a very slow paced aerobic activity such as riding a stationary bike, using a rowing machine or even a brisk walk while limbering up the upper body. When I work with my personal trainer, we always begin with a light session on the rowing machine. You want to warm up the muscles that you will be using during your workout. During spin class you will spin in an easy gear to warm up and begin to elevate the heart rate.
Once you are warmed up, it’s time to begin your routine. You are aiming to increase your heart rate and maintain your heart rate above resting levels during your work out. By raising your heart rate you are increasing your cardiorespiratory fitness and burning more calories….all very good things. Be sure to monitor your exertion level and do what is comfortable for you, yet requires effort. The use of a heart rate monitor and intervals will be useful as you advance your fitness and I will discuss those in a later column.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on five or more days per week for a total of 150 minutes per week. To promote weight loss, 50-60 minutes per day (frequency of three to five days) to a total of 300 minutes per week of moderate exercise is recommended.
On the other end of the work out, you need a proper cool down. Similar to the warm up, you want to slowly bring your heart rate back down and give your muscles a chance to cool down. The American Aerobics and Fitness Association recommend a cool down of three to five minutes of gradually decreasing intensity. When running, lifting weights or riding my bike, I always utilize a cool down period. For me it is an easy walk or very easy ride. You don’t want to stop suddenly as this can lead to injury.
Stretching is also very important for proper fitness. Always stretch AFTER your workout when your muscles are warm. You are aiming to increase your flexibility and range of motion. This will not only make you feel better but allow you to improve your agility. I recently adopted a full body stretching routine, but in particular my legs and hamstrings. As a runner I have naturally tight hamstrings and by stretching on a regular basis I have been able to increase my running speed.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Finally, and equally important, is the need to stay properly hydrated at all times during the day, and especially during your work out. Unfortunately this does not mean adding a second Venti Coffee or 32 ounce soft drink. Water is beverage of choice. I drink a minimum of 70 ounces of water a day and always have water with me during workouts. I find that if I drink at least this much water during the course of every day, my performance is better, I recover more quickly and I sleep better.
Exercise Using Multiple Muscle Groups
This is one area I wished I had learned when I started my fitness routine. When planning your fitness, try and develop a routine that works as many of the major muscle groups as possible to give you a well-rounded experience. When I started exercising, all I did was run. I found as my mileage increased, my lower back and upper body were more tired than my legs. Once I worked on strengthening my core and upper body, I found I could run faster, farther and with much less fatigue. I also found my swimming improved dramatically as well.
In general, focus on your arms, shoulders, back, core and legs. There are a number of good resources online or in the book store that can help you with this. Most health clubs have personal trainers available for a reasonable fee. You may also find a group exercise class to join like a step class and ask the instructor questions on how to exercise multiple muscle groups. They are there to help and most will be glad to answer your questions or point you in the right direction.
Stay Educated and Branch Out
Keeping your exercise or fitness routine fresh is a good idea and helps avoid burnout. You can do this in several ways. One, stay educated on fitness in general. There are a number of excellent blogs, magazines and books that will introduce you to new ways to add to your fitness routine. Google and Amazon can be your best friends. Reaching out to other fitness enthusiasts, group exercise instructors or personal trainers can be beneficial as well.
A second way goes back to goal setting. When I started working out, it was purely to improve my fitness, quality and longevity of life. Quickly I learned I needed more motivation so I set some goals around endurance events like a 10K, running a half and full marathon and ultimately completing a full Ironman Triathlon. By establishing these goals, it gave me hard targets to aim for while keeping me motivated to reach these shot and long term goals. When competing I always compete against myself, not others. By setting these types of goals you may find other areas of fitness you want to try. When I set the goal of competing in triathlons, it was a way to help me learn to swim. Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to try new things.
I hope these additional steps have been helpful in moving your forward in adopting a fitness routine. I am proud of your commitment and dedication and wish you nothing but success. Remember, it is a journey and enjoy every minute of it. Through my fitness process I have made some wonderful new friends, have learned a great deal and at 47 am in better shape than many 20 year olds. You can do the same and Here is to being fit for a lifetime!
I would love to hear what you would like me to cover in this column or if you have a question for me, please feel free to reach out to me via email and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast. He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.