The hardest part of getting in shape is that initial leap from the couch into a pair of sneakers. Once a program has begun and becomes an established routine, each day it becomes easier to set off on that walk as progress made and a sense of well being develops. The trick is to make working out a habit, treating it as a part of your schedule that canít be canceled or compromised. Being in shape reduces stress levels and makes you more confident and capable in every other aspect of your life. As such, it needs to be given as much emphasis as grocery shopping and getting to work on time.
So, letís get you started.
When I first sit down with clients, I ask them to list three activities that they enjoy doing (physical activities- surfing the web doesnít count.) These can either be solo or group sports that theyíve done in the past, or something new that they always wanted to try but havenít got around to. It can mean developing a weight program in a gym, hiking, biking, or extending the daily dog walk for twenty extra minutes at a higher intensity level. Itís always highly individual. The only qualification is that it must be an activity that you have fun doing- forcing yourself through a despised step aerobics class increases your likelihood of quitting after a few short weeks. It is best to start with three activities, including at least one that can be done indoors in case of inclement weather. That way, your focus is narrowed. If you record ten things, and sit down before each workout trying to decide of youíre in the mood for biking, Tae Kwon Do, or skydiving, itís easy to become overwhelmed and choose the path of least resistance by opening a bag of Chips and watching CNN.
Once you have your three workouts of choice, sit down with your calendar and find three times a week when you will always have a free hour. Even people with inordinately busy lives can pencil in three hours a week.
I once trained a rock star who claimed that while on tour, it was simply impossible for him to find a spare minute. But when we sat down with his calendar, we found a time during which his tech crew was setting up that would be perfect for him to hit the hotel gym. He soon discovered that taking the time out for a workout actually helped him to relax and focus before he went onstage.
For most people, mornings are best. If you work a traditional, 9-5 day, the chances of you training consistently after hours are low. Either youíll be too tired, or will have social or family commitments in the back of your mind, tempting you to cut the workout short or to skip it altogether. Rising early gets easier as time goes on, and almost every gym is now equipped with more than adequate showering and dining facilities. Getting the workout out of the way lets you start the day feeling good about yourself, having already accomplished something, and leaves the evenings free for relaxation.
I usually recommend starting out with three sessions a week, building up to four or five, depending on what you want to accomplish. Working out with a friend or hiring a personal trainer can be a prime motivator, because on the days when youíre just not in the mood to clock those three miles, thereís someone there to push you into completing your goal. And of course, if youíve hired a trainer and must pay whether you show up or not, the level of commitment is much greater.
Everyone falls off the wagon at some point or another. It tends to happen when someone has either become bored with their routine, or is frustrated because they are not meeting their goals. Every few months sit down and re-evaluate your program. Are you still excited to get up, get out there, and do it? Or is it time to try something new? Your body adapts quickly to repeated exercise patterns. It is part of our evolutionary package- if you run 5 miles a day for three months straight, your body makes you very good at it, assuming that it is necessary for survival. At this point the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Thatís a good time to compose another list, or to vary what youíre doing (try to run at a consistently faster pace, or alternate speed-walking with strolling.) If you are not meeting your goals, try to determine why. Are you eating more, or eating the wrong kinds of foods? Has the exercise not been at a great enough intensity? Talking to a trainer or a registered dietitian can sometimes help pinpoint the root of the problem and will help you to adjust accordingly.
Incorporating exercise into your life can be one of the greatest and most rewarding decisions that you ever make. It strengthens your heart, improves your lung capacity, and benefits both your body and your mind. Keep setting new goals- challenge yourself to accomplish things you never would have thought possible. One of my clients has suffered from arthritis for twenty-five years, and last year she realized her lifetime goal of climbing Half-Dome in Yosemite. You can succeed at anything you set your mind to. Take that first step, and I promise you will never regret it.
The American Council on
Exercise (ACE) can help you to find an ACE certified trainer in your area.
They can be contacted at either www.acefitness.org, or by calling