There is no question as to whether or not exercising is good for us. It is essential for stress management, can improve sleep quality, improve immunity, decrease body fat, improve strength and endurance, decrease risk of depression and dementia, decrease the risk of diabetes and osteoporosis and much, much more.
Starting a program can take a bit of discipline and motivation as can maintaining the habit of exercising regularly. This is the first article in a series. In the series I will be going deeper into more specifics to help you create workout routines by covering specific types of workouts like circuit and intervals. I will also be talking about strategies to get and keep you going, even when you are struggling. We will also talk about nutrition and meal plans since what you eat is about 70 to 80% of the weight loss equation. For today let’s get you started with a program.
1. First things first: Preparation
You may want to see the doctor and have a physical if you haven’t done much physical activity for a while or if it has been more than a year since your last check up. Having a record of your blood work and blood pressure etc. before you begin an exercise program can help you see how much you improve over time. If you have any health issues or injuries you can talk to your doctor or a physiotherapist regarding the type of exercises that are appropriate for you.
• Get a notebook (I like spiral bound) to record your measurements, track workouts, weights being lifted, and notes about your workouts and also if you plan to track your eating plan.
• Take your measurements at minimum of your waist, hips, thighs, and chest and record them.
• Record your weight first thing in the morning (you can choose any time of day, but you should be consistent weighing yourself at the same time of day, preferably not more than once per week).
• Take a picture of yourself from the front, back and side in form fitting clothes so you can see your progress over time.
2. Plan your fitness program:
• Set your goals. Are you looking to lose weight, improve your health, work on a specific area of your body, start playing some kind of a team sport or engage in competitive running, triathlons etc.? Do you want to do the minimum of recommended exercise for overall health or work to develop a higher level of fitness?
• There are 6 components to a well-rounded fitness program. They are cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, agility, power and balance. Of those the first three are considered to be the most important, but the last three supplement them and can also be built into a program eventually.
• An effective exercise program involves four elements:
o Type of exercise
• The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest adults should have about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in segments of 10 minutes or more. It is also recommended to add at least 2 days per week of strength training. Check out the CSEP Guidelines
• Create a balanced routine with a variety of activities but start out slowly if you are unaccustomed to physical activity. Doing too much too quickly can result in injuries or significant temporary muscle soreness. A little soreness can be expected, but if going up or down the stairs makes you cry out in pain, then you’ve overdone it.
• Ensure your workouts include a warm-up of 5 to 10 minutes to prepare your body for exercise. This allows for your heart rate to increase slowly and your muscles to get the blood flowing . The more fit and flexible you are the more quickly you warm up.
• Your workout should, ideally, last for at least 20 minutes for aerobic or anaerobic workouts. (We will discuss the difference between aerobic and anaerobic at the end of the article.)
• End your workout with a 5 to 10 minute cool-down. This allows for the temperature in your muscles to decrease and for the blood to be pumped back to the heart, if you stop suddenly during a workout your blood pools in your extremities and it’s harder for your body to circulate it back to the heart and eliminate the lactic acid in your body. The cood-down should be a slow decrease of intensity of activity and include dynamic and static stretching.
• Add your workout schedule to your calendar. It should have the same priority as a doctor or dentist appointment.
3. Make sure you have the equipment you will need.
• Clothing is a personal choice. As long as it is comfortable and will allow you to move is what really matters. Personally, I like clothes that are close fitting so I don’t have anything flapping or moving while I exercise. You need to decide what works for you.
• Shoes are the most important part of your equipment. Choose shoes appropriate to the activity you will be doing and ensure they are comfortable and provide adequate support. Particularly when your workouts include any kind of running or jumping you want your shoes to help absorb some of the shock.
• Devices such as smart watches and trackers are not necessary. If you like techy gadgets then there are lots of them, including fitness apps etc. Some will track the steps you take, your heart rate and calories burned, though take all these numbers with a grain of salt, but they are a good guide.
• If you choose to workout at home you may want to invest in a few weights at some point, a skipping rope, fitness ball or fitness bands. There is an overwhelming amount of equipment out there to choose from but you can use your body weight and activities that don’t require anything more than some floor space as well.
• You may want to include dvd’s with choreographed fitness routines. But you can create your own routines or check out Pinterest for lots of ideas as well. If you do your own routines, it has been shown that music can help to motivate you.
4. Start Exercising
• Start slowly and build up gradually if you haven’t had much physical activity for some time. Ensure you take the time to warm-up properly. Keep your intensity lower initially, you should be able to talk while exercising. As your body gets used to regular exercise you can increase the intensity of your workouts.
• Break it up. If you don’t have time to exercise in long durations, then it’s better to do 10 minute segments then nothing at all. Just remember to do a short warm-up and cool-down.
• Variety is the spice of life. You can do lots of different things for exercise including walking, biking, hiking, skipping, playing a sport, swimming etc. If you are the kind of person that needs variety, then mix it up. Even if you don’t need the variety, it’s important to mix up your routines every couple of weeks because as your body gets to know a routine, it adapts and tries to make it more efficient which means the workout can lose some of its effectiveness.
• Hydrate. Ensure you drink about two cups of water in the hour or two before a physical activity. You lose water through sweating and deep breathing even in cooler weather. Stay hydrated during and after your activity as well.
• Eat properly. Your body needs fuel to exercise at peak efficiency. Especially for building muscle, your body needs protein. Ensure you are feeding your body properly before and after your workouts.
• Listen to your body. If you start exercising and you really aren’t feeling well, stop or maybe just do some stretching. Also, during a workout, if an activity is causing pain or significant discomfort, either modify the exercise or do a different exercise. For example, I’ve had knee issues for much of my adult life so I modify squats by not going as deep and ensuring my form is correct. I also do low intensity versions of some exercises like jumping jacks if it is bothering my knees. Remember, modify as needed.
5. Track Your Progress
• Your Notebook. Record when and what you did. Also, keep track of what weights you are using. For example, if you start by doing wall pushups, record how many you do, or if you move to a pushup from your knees make a record of it. This will help you to see the progress you are making.
• Check your measurements. I suggest you don’t get on the scale more than once per week, but record it. Also, redo your measurements every 4 to 6 weeks and take a new picture. You will start to see changes in your body after 4 to 6 weeks of regular exercise.
Some final information:
• Aerobic exercise involves a sustained activity that increases your heart rate and challenges your cardiovascular system. This type of exercise needs to be done at moderate to vigorous intensities.
• Moderate intensity is the equivalent to a brisk walk and noticeably accelerates the heart rate.
• Vigorous intensity is equivalent to jogging and causes rapid breathing and a significant increase in heart rate.
• Anaerobic activity incorporates intense power and strength but is short in duration. It helps develop speed, strength and power. This would not be recommended in a beginner’s workout program.
I hope you find this information useful to get started on an exercise program. For now get yourself a notebook and start recording. Check out my Pinerest link for workout ideas and sign up at the bottom of this page for the latest updates on my website. Also, leave a comment. If there’s something you would like to know about in a future article let me know. Stay positive, every day is a new day and a new beginning.
Join the journey.