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It can be hard to make a significant life change, because of something we like to call “defeating inertia.” Inertia is quite simply a lack of movement. And when we defeat it, we are starting moving.
When we begin a fitness routine, we are defeating inertia literally, by moving our bodies and fitness equipment around, but also metaphorically, by getting ourselves moving towards progress after a long life of staying in the same place.
This change can be challenging, so it would help to bear in mind that right now you have a habit. Your habit is “not working out,” aka inertia. And you need to form a new habit: “working out,” aka defeating inertia. And all new habits take 30 days to develop.
So don’t be afraid of the change, and no matter how hard it gets, just keep going. Keep telling yourself: “It takes 30 days.”Pro tip: Take a photo before you begin!
Things To Consider When Starting Your Fitness Program
Picking Your Workout
When we start working out, sometimes it can feel impossible to pick some sort of workout to stick to. We are bombarded with messages from gyms telling us to use their services, writers telling us to buy their books, and friends asking us to join their club.
But when it comes to picking your exercise, you need to choose something that you can stick to. Firstly, you need to select an activity you find fun. But secondly, you need to exercise in a way that you can enjoy. What is important varies from person to person.
There are those who will do any exercise as long as they do it with other people. Others prefer to workout alone and quite the opposite some people
have to be doing something they truly love no matter who they do it with.
Finally, you need to remember to pick something accessible to you in terms of cost and location.
If you choose an exercise you like, in a way you want doing it, that you have the time and money to do, then you are more likely to stick to it.
Sticking To A Schedule
When you have chosen a type of exercise that suits you, the next thing to do is to work out a schedule that works for you too. No matter how good your intentions or how great the exercise, if your program is wrong you will end up quitting before you succeed. If you decide to workout in the morning and you’re not a morning person, it won’t turn you into a morning person; it will just make you hate them even more.
If you decide to workout six days a week, but you never have time on one of the days, you will not be able to stick to it. If you have plenty of time but do not commit to working out enough, you will have trouble holding to it too. It is vital that your workout is something you can actually make time for.
You need to look at your schedule and workout, how many hours you have for working out a week, and when is the best time. Make sure to account for leisure and leave spare time in case things go wrong. You might even need to change what exercise you are doing to fit it into your schedule, but this is better than choosing another exercise which you never have time to do!
Timing our workouts may seem simple, and if you don’t have much time to play with it is better to exercise whenever you can, than not to exercise at all. But if you have more flexibility in your schedule, how do you know what the best time to workout is?
The first thing to consider is that even people who consider themselves night owls have more physical energy after waking up than at any other point in the day. This is because the process of waking releases all sorts of hormones designed to give us an energy boost.
The second thing to consider is that some people workout harder if they have had a meal to fuel them, whereas others workout harder if they are building an appetite for breakfast. You need to work out which of these people you are.
The third thing you need to consider is that exercise tires our body but boosts mental functioning. So it’s a great idea before work or school, but a terrible idea before commuting, sleep or rest.
And finally, you need to ask yourself what times are normally free for exercise. Not just what time you are off work, but also what time you want to keep free. For example, if your sister often calls you after lunch, then that is a bad time for a workout. Putting these four elements together you should be able to decide on a good time for working out.
Warming up is an essential part of working out. If you don’t warm up properly, then you risk hurting yourself as you workout. But how you warm up is very important.
Recent studies have found that warming up by stretching is not good enough. In fact, stretching too much before a workout can make you more likely to injure yourself!
What you actually need to do is to move every joint to make sure it is comfortable, but not to overstretch any of them.
Then you need to follow up with some cardio. The reason for this is that the most important part of warming up is just what the name suggests: the warming. When you do cardio two things happen.
First of all, your breathing speeds up and becomes more efficient. This means that your lungs are taking in more oxygen from the air, to help fuel your body.
Secondly, your heart speeds up. This pumps more blood around your body, which helps carry the oxygen to the muscles that will need it for energy. This increased movement makes our bodies warmer, which helps improve our workouts too.
The amount of cardio and type of cardio you need varies from person to person, but generally, five to fifteen minutes of light cardio before working out will have you ready for your main exercise. Even something as simple as pushups, or marching up and down the stairs, will get you prepared for the gym.
Whether your main exercise routine is something you simply have to do in a gym, or your exercise of choice is flexible and can be done anywhere, it is important to develop a home workout routine.
This is because some days you can’t make it to the gym, for whatever reason. If we don’t work out on these days, then we are risking getting in the habit of “missing” the gym and staying home, doing nothing, instead.
Besides that, if you genuinely can’t make it to the gym, you could fall behind on your exercise routine and lose some of the strength, endurance, and speed you were working so hard to create. It doesn’t take much time to lose all the muscle you grew, or regain body fat so every missed day could be a serious setback to you.
So you need to think of a home workout which complements your main exercise. For example, if your main exercise is free weights, then you can do bodyweight exercises at home on the days when you miss the gym.
Or if it is dance, then you can practice routines at home if your class is canceled. Whatever you have chosen to do, find an exercise you can do at home which affects the same muscles. That way you never need to miss out.
Rewarding Yourself, Or Sabotaging Yourself?
When we have been working hard at the gym, it can sometimes feel very tempting to reward ourselves with a little treat, which is great, if not for the fact that all too often this little treat is a snack of some description. And we tend to give ourselves these snacks frequently too. The problem with this is that it seriously undermines our fitness goals.
“Eat little and often” is a mantra created by studies funded by snack foods companies. When we snack often, we teach our body to expect a constant supply of energy, so it will demand it, and as soon as we exercise, or miss a snack, our energy will crash, leaving us flat.
What is more, the snacks we choose are typically small, but high in salt, sugar, and fat, with very little protein or micronutrients, which means that we are eating loads of calories and no nutrition, without even knowing it!
It gets even worse when we reward ourselves with a junk food meal. Swimming an hour only burns a few hundred calories, whereas a junk food meal can be almost a thousand calories and leave you hungry shortly after.
So if you really need to reward yourself for your efforts, don’t choose food. Keep a sticker chart, or a box of fun trinkets, and use them as rewards instead.
Looking After Your Joints
Working out while respecting your joints can be difficult for some of us. Some people seem to be able to do all sorts of crazy things, and their joints don’t suffer at all, they just keep on going.
Whereas other people just need to look at some stairs, or a rain cloud and their joints start locking or dislocating. Working out and keeping your joints healthy doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, though! It is very much possible to do both.
The first step is to acknowledge your limits. Test the amount of strain and pressure your joints can comfortably take. You need to know what your limits are, because reaching your limit will encourage your body to strengthen your joints, but breaking your limit will injure your joints. Really learn to feel them.
Next, you need to strengthen the muscles around the joints. These muscles help hold your joints in place and help them work at their best — the better the muscles, the better the joints. For instance, to improve your elbow movement, you need to have a strong bicep and tricep.
Finally: always cool down after exercise. Make sure to loosen your joints up after doing any activity, to get you back to normal.
Done right, your workout should be good for your joints, not bad for them!
You’re almost two weeks into your fitness plan and the subject of rest days is becoming ever more critical. Do you do rest days? How often? Do you schedule them, or take them as you need them?
Many of us have learned to fear rest days. Some of us because we feel that if we have even one day off, we will go off track and never workout again. Others of us because we feel that we will get the most benefit from working out every day, come rain or shine. But both mentalities are wrong.
The fear of quitting is not entirely wrong, admittedly, because many of us do quit when we take too many rest days. The key to avoiding this, though, isn’t to take no rest days. Because if we take none, then we will burn out, need a week off, and definitely not workout again. What we need to do is schedule our rest days into our week, just like we plan our workouts.
And why is it important to rest? Because the most fat we burn and the most muscle we grow happens during recovery, that’s why. Our rest days are when our bodies catch up on all that muscle building they needed to do, so make sure to have some!
When Plans Clash
Sometimes we have the best intentions, but things really aren’t going our way. We have a meeting that means we will miss our spinning class. We have a date on chest day. We have been asked out for drinks, and there is no way we will be sober enough for exercise afterward or the next morning. So what do we do?
Well, it depends on how often these problems arise. If clashes between workouts and social events are rare, then it is essential to attend the social event. One-day partying did not ruin your health, and it will not destroy your health this time either. Plus, it is healthy to do social things and unwind every once in a while.
But if it keeps happening? Then you need to do one of two things. Your first option is you can reschedule your workout to make it easier to do. For example, if you get invited out for drinks a lot, exercise before drinks, not in the morning. And your second option is to attend fewer social events.
You don’t really need to go to three different places every night, so sometimes it is best to put your health first and cancel something. Whatever your situation, there will always be a way of making things work. You just have to find out what that way is.
Losing Fat from That One Spot
Many of us begin our workout routines with the intention of losing weight. Maybe it is the main reason we are working out, perhaps it is a secondary reason, but it can be a compelling motivator for most of us. And there is nothing wrong with that, whatever your fitness motives, whatever your goals, it is a beautiful thing to start working out.
The problem is that often we are sold ideas by diet and fitness gurus that are just not realistic. One of these ideas is “spot fat reduction”: the idea you can lose fat from specific areas by doing specific exercises, or using a tool, or eating a specific food.
However, there are only two components to where you grow fat: your genetics and your hormones. That’s it. No special diet, no new exercise, no machine will melt fat off that one little spot unless it’s a liposuction machine.
Unless you use medicine or diet to control your hormones, you will always have the same fat distribution. The key is just to get your fat levels down.
Does this mean you will have to be super lean to have abs? Yes. Does this mean you can’t lose fat off your hips and waist without losing fat off your chest? Yes. Does this mean your weight loss goals are pointless? Absolutely not! If you get leaner and fitter you will look more attractive, no matter what your genetic fat layout looks like. So hang in there!
Should I Workout If I’m Sick?
Many of us have faced this conundrum. We have a cough or a fever, or we look in the mirror and wonder if the zombie apocalypse has hit us and we’ve just not noticed. The first question is “Does this mean I shouldn’t go to work?” But often the second question is “Does this mean I should skip the gym?” There are reasons for answering yes and reasons for answering no.
Reasons For Skipping The Gym
- You feel you can barely move.
- You are faint, and your vision is distorted.
- You could be contagious.
- You are having trouble breathing.
- You are vomiting or suffering diarrhea.
- The trip to the gym is very far.
- You usually exercise somewhere cool or cold.
- You have nobody to look after you if you get all worn out.
Reasons For Going Anyway
- You are no longer contagious.
- Exercising helps sweat out toxins, which heals us faster.
- Exercising warms our bodies, which heals us faster.
- Exercising releases endorphins, which heal us faster.
- Your gym is a place to find moral and emotional support.
- Sticking to your routine gives you a sense of purpose.
- Exercising makes you feel happy and confident.
The choice is still yours, though!
Can I Workout If I’m Injured?
Another big question we sometimes ask ourselves is whether we can work out if we are injured. This one is harder to answer than the illness one because the situation is very different. When we are ill, it is easy to see how serious our illness is and to work out how much rest we need. But when you are injured, it is not so simple.
You will need a formal diagnosis before you decide whether to exercise or not. If you do not have the time or money for an official diagnosis, it is better to take simple painkillers and to rest your injury until you feel better, than it is to try and exercise and make ourselves worse.
If you get an official diagnosis, usually your doctor will be able to tell you what to do. Ordinarily, for simple injuries, you just need to support the injury during exercise. Light exercise may even help the injury heal. For example, after a trapped nerve, many people feel better for lightly exercising the area every day.
But for serious injuries, you may be looking at a lot of rest time. Some people during this time choose to exercise differently, to stay active but still rest the injured body part. Talk to your doctor about suitable exercises for your injury. For example, if you break a leg bone, you may need to stay off your feet, but you could do seated exercises still.
You’re over three weeks into your fitness journey, and by now you are probably finally experiencing some real changes. Find the photo of yourself from the start of your journey and compare it to how you look right now.
You will notice you are probably slimmer at the waist, hips, and thighs. Your arms and legs may be a little bigger. Your muscles may be more defined. Your posture will be much improved because your body is pulled into position by your stronger muscles.
But there will also be internal changes. You are probably noticing that you get winded less often, that your heart rate stays lower at all times, and that you suffer from water retention and bloating much less. You are probably finding it easier to move around and do your daily activities. You could even be finding that chronic inflammation, pain, and illness are much reduced, or even gone.
And finally, you will be experiencing mental and emotional changes. Your confidence is going up the more you can do. You will probably be experiencing more happiness as a result of both your accomplishments and more balanced hormones. And your stress levels will be crashing down thanks to your improved ability to handle both physical and emotional stressors.
All in all, if you have stuck to your plan, you will be noticing changes. Maybe the changes are so huge you’ve already seen them. Or maybe they are so small, it is only now, after thinking about it, that you realize the progress you’ve made.
But however much or little you have moved towards your goal, take this time to be proud: you are doing it. You are taking something about yourself and making it better. It doesn’t matter whether it takes a few months or a few years; you are on that path. Well done!
It can be very daunting to be facing the end of a plan like this, especially if you followed your schedule rigidly and looked forward to meeting all your goals. You are at a place where, on the one hand, all this activity is complete, and you can check “30-day plan” off your list, but on the other hand, it is not over at all.
You see, fitness is an ongoing thing. No animal ever stops being active until the day it dies. They run and jump and walk and sneak and play and fight and generally stay moving from our first to our last day. It is only humans who put a deadline, an end date, on our fitness. But our bodies aren’t designed for this. We are animals too, and we need to stay moving.
So don’t stop working out now that the thirty-day plan is over. Look at your new goals, your new ideas, and start working towards them. This plan has been the trial mode for the habits you need to maintain for the rest of your life. And that life will be all the better for it.