Starting a Workout Program?
If you are a twenty-year-old bathing suit model who runs half-marathons in your spare time for fun you can probably just keep moving along. If you are like almost every other human being on the planet, and if you are just now starting a fitness program, here is some well-earned and well-kept advice offered in an attempt to deprogram you from some of the silly and potentially harmful exercise advice many of us have bought into:
For starting out:
Check-in for a check-up
It’s said all the time and most people will ignore it: check-in for a check-up. You probably need one anyway and your doctor will be impressed with your efforts at better health. Really. Unless you know you are ill or have a condition, they will give you permission to start slow and that will comfort you on your first trot around the block. Get the blood-work done, too, and save the results. When you return for next year’s check-up, compare the results of your blood work. You’ll be surprised with how your work has paid off. You will look better and feel better but these results prove that you actually are better. On the inside.
Do the warm-ups
Do not ignore stretching and warming up. Prep your body for the work ahead. Warm up slowly and ease into stretches. Ignore this at your peril. Mix up dynamic stretches – the kind you do with movements – with static stretches. These are the classics you’re probably familiar with. I will tell you from experience: it is stupid to lose a month of training time while you recoup after tearing a muscle because you couldn’t spare five minutes to stretch. If you only have twenty minutes and can’t get your full workout in then focus on stretching. You can run tomorrow. The earth will still turn.
Use the right gear
Wear good shoes on a forgiving surface. My preferred gym is my garage when it’s ninety degrees outside. I wear heavy running shoes and have a sturdy carpet on the concrete to cushion my legs and feet. If you are doing more weights than cardio then consider a pair of heavier gym or cross-fit shoes. They will give you a solid foundation and help hold your ankles in place. They don’t have to be expensive but be sure they are of good quality.
Take the time to learn good form
Most guys won’t be able to do this: we’ve simply been too brainwashed about what it means to be manly. But if your workout program uses weights, I highly recommend going through the first week or day or at least the first set without the weights. Learn the movements. Your body is used to doing everything in a straight line. The very best way to hurt yourself is to get excited about losing forty pounds, grab a fifteen-pound dumbbell, and start swinging it sideways. I can guarantee that while the weight goes in one direction, your lower back or your hamstring, which hasn’t made a turn like that since the fifth grade, is going to stay right where it is. When one part of you moves and the other doesn’t? It’s not a good day. You can still work up a good sweat without the weights so start in easy.
For the mind:
Don’t be stupid
“No pain, no gain” is stupid. Pain means that you are doing something wrong or moving something too far or aren’t ready for the movement. I’m not talking about soreness or the feeling of pushing yourself. I’m talking about that feeling of having an ice pick jammed into the side of your left knee when doing a squat. Quit immediately and adjust if you feel pain. Use smaller weights or don’t go so far into a movement. Maybe forget the step altogether until you are ready for it. Maybe you need to drop twenty pounds before you do the movement. Listen to your body and it will tell you when you are ready.
You’re not a fitness model
Remember that the people featured in those videos you are watching are fitness models and fitness professionals. While true that you can reach their level of fitness, you probably don’t have six hours a day to exercise while a professional chef waits in the wings to cook your meals. Be nice to yourself and take some time. Learn to enjoy feeling your body improve.
Pace it out
Don’t worry if you can’t work at a 110% or 50% or 10% effort through the entire workout. Keep at it bit by bit and you will finally do it. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. But to rush because of false expectations only invites injury or frustration and both will detract from your efforts and goals. Feel free to rest for a set or just to take a few breaths. Enjoy the workout! It’s not a punishment.
Get on some kind of eating program
If you want to lose weight, then you’ve got to do some kind of food plan. It’s becoming more and more clear that while exercise promotes fitness and health it does not always equate to weight loss. Consuming fewer calories is the key to losing weight. I really, really, like the container system used by the Beachbody programs. It takes away the guessing and calorie counting and tracking. You’ll be hungry sometimes and that’s okay. Find a program that suits you and your personality. I know that I won’t stick to anything too complex to explain to the nearest third grader. The simple fact is that if you want different results then you need to cultivate different habits.
Learn when and what to eat
Avoid eating at least a half-hour before your workout and avoid heavy fats or protein. In time, you will learn what your body likes. I feel best and do my most energetic workouts in the morning before I eat anything. I don’t use pre-workout shakes or meals though many people enjoy them. I doubt that they provide any real boost but experiment to find out what you like.
Celebrate your workout with protein
Do nibble on or drink some protein after your workout. The efficacy of protein for post-workout muscle repair and replenishment is one of the very few sports nutrition guidelines that you can trust. Your muscles are hungry after a workout and as our bodies age, we have a more difficult time metabolizing protein. So you want to replenish what you have burned and add a buffer for building new muscle.
Take a swig or three
Don’t be stingy with the water. It’s free out of the tap and is the single best ‘nutrient’ to can put in your body.
Here’s a anti-bonus!
Here’s another idea you might find appealing: you can always forget about exercise altogether. Running around the block in silk shorts while you sweat like a dog isn’t the only path to a better life. Some of us like to do this stuff. I do. But if you don’t there is golf, gardening, walking, yoga – any kind of movement will improve your health. For more on healthy living without spandex read about a real-life Mountain Man here.
Like this post? Here are a couple of others from the archive you will enjoy:
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