It’s a new year and all of those resolutions are manifesting themselves all over the place. As is typical in January, I’m seeing a lot of new faces at the gym . . . and some old familiar ones I haven’t seen in awhile, too. Usually the population settles back to the same group of hard core regulars by about March. It’s true that a few newbies will actually continue, but each year it’s just a few.
I’ve been working at getting fit for ten years and each year I make progress: I get fitter. I’m far healthier and in much better shape today than I was in 2004. In recognition of all the good intentions out there, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learned about getting fit.
- Stretching and flexibility are the foundation for everything you want to accomplish at the gym. If you are stiff and sore, if your range of motion is restricted, jumping into heavy cardio or resistance training will likely result in injury. I know you want to lose 50 pounds by June, but start by spending a month doing nothing but stretching. Go to a yoga class 3-4 times a week. Warm your muscles up and get your joints functioning again. Then take on other activities one at a time.
- Once your stretching and flexibility program is established, mix in the other two elements of your exercise program: cardio and resistance/weight training. To become fit will require work in all three areas, but start and establish them one by one.
- Don’t go crazy with the diet. Instead of giving up everything you love, make a couple of small changes, or change just one meal a day. I changed breakfast. Most days it is the same thing: a fresh fruit smoothie (a VitaMix machine is a wonderful investment!) and a bowl of oatmeal. Six months after I started, my cholesterol was off the scale . . . in the right direction. Small changes that will bear big results are things like quitting soda (and the diet stuff is at least as bad as the regular; have you ever noticed that most people drinking diet soda are overweight?), increasing your consumption of fresh vegetables, eliminating something white from your diet (potatoes, white rice, white bread, crackers, something like that).
- Make water your best friend. There’s a reason why almost every diet and fitness book advocates big increases in water drinking: it works! Years ago I did both Jenny Craig and Nutrasystems and I am convinced that the rapid weight loss that occurs at the beginning of those programs is primarily from increased water consumption! Plan to pee your pounds away.
- When it’s time for cardio and resistance training, consider NOT going it alone. It is a rare person who can start a fitness routine all by themselves and find the discipline to make it a habit. A workout buddy is a great thing but so are classes. For cardio, try indoor cycling (spinning), zumba, or swimming classes or join a running group. There are many group options for resistance/strength training: Boot Camp, TRX, Body Pump and so on.
- When you find something that works and that you enjoy, stick with it! Today, I have a yoga/Stretch class twice a week, an hour of spinning (indoor cycling) once a week, a Muscle Pump class twice a week (rapid fire weight lifting to music) coupled with my own mini-cardio and weight training sessions.
- While I love a good hour long spinning class – and used to do 3 or more of them a week – there is a school of thought that that kind of intense endurance-cardio exercise is counter-productive to weight loss. The theory is that when faced with frequent long cardio sessions, your body actually goes into fat and calorie preservation mode. I’ve started experimenting with a kind of ‘burst’ cardio training and it seems to be working – meaning that I’m pinching less flab around my mid-section. I use a rowing machine, but you could do this on a treadmill, orbital trainer, in a pool, on a bike or any other piece of cardio equipment. I row as hard as I can for 30 seconds; then I row at a more casual pace for a minute. I repeat the combination four times – and front load it with 30 seconds of casual rowing just to set up – so it takes 6 1/2 minutes to complete. I do it just three times a week, usually right after yoga
- I kept one spinning class in my regimen because I can’t imagine going through my week without it! Ray Torres puts together the most fun, musically interesting, physically challenging cycling class I’ve ever attended. At the end of the hour everyone in the class is wet from head to toe and smiling. If you are in San Diego and can get to the Downtown YMCA by 5:30 on Tuesdays, check it out. It will do as much for your positive attitude as it will for your fitness program.
- I’ve talked about 3 components of a fitness exercise program, stretching, cardio and resistance training, but I’m starting to believe there is another: balance. Balance is something you can work on, something you can improve over time. If you get into a yoga class you will likely work on balance a bit with things like Tree Pose. But I’ve had great results working on it on my own with a Bosu ball. That’s the half ball with the hard plastic base. Try turning it upside down (hard side up) near a wall (in case you get into trouble) and then just standing on it. Pay attention to how your body feels as it adjusts to keep you from falling over. Lots of muscles should be firing in your low back – which is a good thing, especially if you have some weakness there. Then try doing and holding a squat. You’ll feel much more work in your thighs. When you are comfortable with those two moves, try standing on one foot, then the other. Maybe you’ll even be able to do a Tree Pose on the ball.
That’s it: my collection of tips for anyone beginning a fitness program. I would emphasize the one-step-at-a-time theme that runs through this list. Getting fit is not something you should try to accomplish in six months. You can look and feel better in six months; in fact, you can look and feel better in one month. But establishing fitness as an important part of your lifestyle will probably take a little more time.