Five Steps to Starting a New Fitness Plan
by Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS
The holiday season is over with all the indulgences behind you and now it is time to tackle that infamous New Year’s resolution. Many American make a fitness resolution to get back into shape, lose those unwanted pounds and to improve their health. I encourage you to make not just a resolution, but a commitment to make healthy a way of life. Like any major behavior change, committing to a fitness plan involves many steps. I have highlighted things to contemplate below, which will hopefully help you keep your resolution and stick to your health goals all year round.
Step 1: Identify your goals.
Although it may seem like the easiest step, identifying your fitness goals can often be very difficult. Your fitness goal should be “S.M.A.R.T”, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Simply stating that you want to lose weight isn’t enough because the goal is not fully defined. Below is an example of a S.M.A.R.T goal, and any goal should include something you enjoy doing so you stick with it.
Specific: Lose 10 pounds
Measureable: Weekly weigh-ins on Fridays
Achievable: 1 – 2 pounds per week is considered safe weight loss for most people
Relevant: Take group exercise classes because you enjoy them and the group setting is motivating
Time bound: Achieve your goal in 2 months
Step 2: What is realistic?
Once you have set your S.M.A.R.T goal now it is time to determine if your goal is realistic. Consider your ability to make a commitment by evaluating things that may affect your dedication such as children, schooling, and job demands. Finances are also extremely important when figuring out your desired fitness plan. If specialized exercise (swimming, Pilates, dance fitness such as Zumba) are your thing, you must consider how much it will cost to have access to these types of exercises. At home DVDs are also another option, but some people find DVDs are not as motivating as a group exercise or gym environment.
Other things to consider are how many minutes per day, days per week, and time of day can you exercise. All of these will factors will affect your exercise performance and how quickly you achieve your goal. For those who only have a short window to exercise such as 20 – 30 minutes, I recommend increasing your exercise intensity. Running a little faster, increasing your level on the elliptical, and selecting heavier dumbbells will all increase your exercise intensity. If you can workout 4 to 5 times per week, shorten your exercise time to prevent excess soreness and fatigue. Time of day can greatly affect your workout. Personally, I am a night owl so exercising in the morning for me would be a complete waste of time. In addition, my body works best after a few meals so that I have enough fuel to sustain my routine. Evening workouts also allow me to consume enough water during the day keeping my muscles fully hydrated. I would recommend exercising at different times during the day to see what feels best to you. You might find that cardio in the morning is a great way to “wake you up” for the day and improves your mental clarity for work.
Step 3: Assess your current health status.
How old are you? Are you injured? Are you post-menopausal? Do you have arthritis? Are you a Type 2 diabetic? All of these factors will affect your ability to achieve your fitness goals and may increase the time it takes to achieve your goal. Always consult with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, and make sure any medications you take will not affect your ability to exercise. It is very important to consult your physician if you have not had a physical in the last year. You may have an underlying condition you are unaware of that exercise may worsen.
Step 4: Get the gear.
The most important piece of exercise equipment that you must have before starting any new exercise routine is a GOOD PAIR OF SHOES!!!! This is one of my biggest exercise pet peeves. Please, please, please do not try to workout in the same shoes you mow the grass in or had for the last 10 years. Think of your shoes as the foundation of a house. If the foundation is worn out then there will be cracks in every level of the house. Clients often complain about knee, back, or hip pain after exercising. My first questions are how old are your shoes and how many miles did you put on those shoes? Shoes are like car tires; the tread will wear out and affect your exercise performance. If you are an avid runner then you need to change your shoes every 6 to 8 months. The average exerciser will probably need to change their shoes every year depending on how often they workout. I also recommend having a professional running store assess your feet to determine what kind of shoe you need. The technology in running shoes is amazing nowadays with so many different types of fabrics and support systems. Shoes can now correct for pronation, stability issues, arch problems, and have a wide variety of cushion options to accommodate for your joint needs. Lastly, any new exerciser should AVOID the barefoot shoes especially with higher impact cardio such as running. Barefoot style shoes have their place in the fitness world, but I would reserve those more for weight lifting and more advanced exercisers.
Step 5: Time to exercise!
You’ve checked stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 off your list so now it is time for stage 5, EXERCISE! So where do you start? My favorite adage for beginner or returning exercisers is to “do a little and see how you feel in the morning.” We’ve all done it, did a little more than our bodies could handle in the gym, and paid the price with super sore muscles. You know, when your arms hurt so bad washing your hair is painful! Or when the sight of a flight of stairs makes your legs ache even more than those squats! That is not our goal here. We want you to experience a little stiffness, mild soreness, and the overall feeling that you’ve done something in the gym. Many new exercises will experience mild soreness after a short duration cardio workout such as walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes at a moderate pace. If you don’t experience any soreness within 36 hours after your workout, then you know you can handle a little more next time. I would recommend increasing only one thing at a time. Increase one and ONLY ONE of the following: exercise time, distance, speed, resistance level, or machine programs. I will cover more exercise progression in the articles on starting a cardio routine and starting a weight training routine.
By following the steps above and setting a S.M.A.R.T goal, you will be able to achieve that New Year’s resolution. Start small when making goals and edit your goals along the way as you need to. Just remember we are all human, slip-ups are normal, and don’t beat yourself up if you get derailed. You can do it!