Thursday, October 17, 2013

So You Want To Get In Shape - Part 1

As the New Year dawns, health clubs in the area will be full with new faces, people eager to get January off on the right foot by getting get in shape.  For some it’s shedding the fifteen extra pounds of holiday cheer, for others January signifies a new beginning and no better time to take exercising seriously. 
Fast forward to late January to these same health clubs and the bright eyed and eager faces are mostly distant memories. Those that remain are the faithful lot that manage to make it to the gym many times every week and are in excellent shape. 
Although January is as good of time as any to take fitness seriously, I argue that ANY time is the perfect time to make exercise and fitness a new habit. January only comes every twelve months but tomorrow comes 365 times in a year and any one of those days is the perfect day to get a start on changing the rest of your life. 
The following are steps one – five to get you started with fitness.  Steps six-ten will be in my next post.

Make the Commitment and Set a Date
The hardest part to taking fitness seriously is making the commitment.  For some it’s easy, for others like me it can take a long time to realize you need to make a change.  Once you have made the commitment to yourself, it’s time to set a date to get started.  This is very important because if you don’t set a date, you have not really made a commitment to change.  
 I recommend getting yourself a nice note book or journal to log your goals, commitments, to plan your workouts, monitor your progress and celebrate successes.  I like a one page per day calendar.  There is something about writing things in your handwriting that is powerful.  It reinforces your commitment and gives you a private place to capture anything related to how you are progressing.  I always plan my workouts for everyday and at bed time I summarize how I did versus my plan. This is a way to keep myself honest to my goals and plans.

Get Ready – Mental Preparation, Support, Plans and Equipment
Making the commitment to real change is the hardest decision you will make.  Everything else is progress towards your goals.  Once you set a date, use the time you have to mentally prepare yourself for your journey.  Think about how you will handle those days when you just don’t feel like going to the gym, or how you will respond to being sore after a few workouts, or those times when the kids are sick or the boss has you working late. Think through the various scenarios and how will you make up the lost workouts.
 To maximize your success, it’s important to identify a support team.  I am very fortunate that my family is extremely supportive of my exercise and endurance racing goals and they play a huge role in my journey.  Family, friends, health club or running club members, co-workers, personal trainers or anyone that shares your love for fitness are some examples of excellent sources of support you can turn to when you need that added motivation to keep going.  Your journal can be a great support partner as well.  Simply review all the progress you have made can be enough to keep you going during those challenging times.
Do some research on the method you choose for your fitness journey.  Fitness should be fun so find something that is exciting and enjoyable to you.  Most health clubs offer a wide variety of classes and programs and many have personal trainers that can help you as well.  You can also find programs that you can do in the comfort of your own home like Insanity, P90X, Zumba, The Firm, Slim in Six, etc.  For others it may be walking, running, swimming or riding your bike.  Whatever you choose, research any special equipment or clothing you will need to exercise. 
Making a financial investment to a health club, personal trainer, clothing and journal is part of the process that will help you stay motivated to keep on your journey.  You don’t need to make a huge investment when you start, but I do advise some investment as this will keep you focused on the goal at hand.  When I started I bought a new pair of running shoes.  That was it but it was enough to get me going and to stay focused on my goals.
Setting Goals, Motivation and Celebration
I can think of no more important thing than establishing goals and writing them in your journal.  When writing a goal, use the SMART method. Keep your goals Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  You should have several goals for your journey.  For example, “I want to lose weight” is a goal but it is lacking. Following the SMART method you may restate that goal as: “I want to lose 15 pounds by May first through eating healthier, walking and taking step classes four times at the local health club.”
You can also add an “R” at the end (SMART-R) and that stands for reward.  To borrow from Cool and the Gang…..Celebrate Good Times, Come On!  Rewarding yourself is important and in the above example you may add “and my reward for reaching this goal is a brand new pair of Jeans two sizes smaller than I am wearing now.” 
 You will have goals that are short term and others that are long term.  For me, in summary form,  a short term goal was to simply run two miles the day after Christmas as my first step to fitness. A long term goal I have is to compete and finish in an Ironman Triathlon in 2014.  Goals are powerful so please take advantage of them.
Once your goals are set, identify ways that will motivate you.  For me, when I decided I needed to work on strength and flexibility, I printed pictures of my favorite male and female triathletes that highlighted their legs, arms, abs and general physique. I also got a personal trainer with whom I shared these pictures and she is very supportive and motivating to help me look like the pros in the pictures.  I still look at those pictures several times a week as a way to keep me going on those challenging days. 
Another example of motivation can be around a specific event.  I am signed up for the Raleigh Ironman 70.3 in June. I have several pictures in my office, in my journal, on the walls that has the Raleigh Ironman 70.3 logo on it with the words “How Bad Do You Want It” printed below.  On days I don’t feel like hitting the road at 4:30 am I look at the picture and realize I want the event more than I want to stay in bed. Motivation can come in various forms so find what works for you.
Lastly, an excellent form of motivation can be pictures of yourself before you start a fitness program and new pictures every quarter.  It’s an awesome feeling to look at before and after photos as you will notice significant and positive changes.
Consult Your Doctor – General Health
If you are like many, it’s been a while since you exercised or followed a fitness routine. Please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.  Test results can also be a great source of motivation and benchmarks for yours goals. Use things such as your weight, blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, etc. as benchmarks from which you can gage your progress.  If you are a smoker, the single biggest thing you can do is to quit.  Just remember that anything worthwhile takes time and effort but the results are well worth it.
Beginning an exercise or fitness routine can produce excellent results but it is only one part of the equation.  Changing your dietary habits to a more healthy diet can help you see even better results.  I am not a dietitian or nutritionist but I encourage you to consult one of these professionals (your doctor can refer you) and also do some self-study on improving your diet. 
Consider things such as eating more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.  Limit your intake of saturated fat (found in red meats and dairy products) and opt for more lean cuts of beef, pork, turkey and chicken while using reduced fat dairy. When using oil, monounsaturated oils like Olive Oil is preferred. Lastly, look at reducing the intake of highly processed foods like soda, donuts, candy, boxed meals, etc.  Many of these items contain a high amount of sugar or high fructose corn syrup and or saturated fat and sodium and are laden with empty calories. Lastly, all alcohol in moderation.

There is some strong evidence that going to a plant based diet may be optimal for health and performance.  Ultra Endurance athletes Rich Roll in his book Finding Ultra and Scott Jurek in his book Eat & Run chronicle their move  to a strictly plant based diet and with outstanding health and performance results.  If you would like to read more on the benefits of a plant based diet, The China Study by Doctors Thomas and Colin Campbell is an excellent book discussing the benefits of a mostly plant based diet.
One of the biggest improvements to my fitness and my performance in endurance events came from a serious change in my diet.  I like to say I am a “Pesca-vega-tarian.” I eat a lot of fish and mostly plant based foods.  I still consume dairy and meat but in moderation and watch the fat content of the foods I choose to eat.
Plan your meals and have fun with it. You will find that the more you work out, the more you will crave healthy food and less of the foods you should avoid.  Although you should change your nutrition to be more health focused, it is important to indulge from time to time and reward yourself for a job well done. For me, I enjoy a bowl of ice cream, a pizza or hamburger or even a donut or two after a race or a long, hard work out.  It’s all about moderation.
I hope these steps have been helpful in getting you motivated to change your life through adopting a fitness routine.  In my next post I outline steps six through ten and go into more detail on some things to consider when exercising. Until them I wish you well and I know you can do whatever it is you choose to do.  Stay positive, stay after it and Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

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.