You have finally taken the initiative to get to the gym, with the best intentions of starting a workout routine. When you step onto the training floor you realize—gulp—that you haven’t a clue as to what to do, where to begin, or how to use the equipment. Minor details. Don’t let your enthusiasm be overtaken with such practical matters. Let me help you develop a game plan.
Step 1: Set a Goal
You’ve probably already done this in your mind to some extent, which is why you are searching for more guidance to a smaller gut, slimmer thighs, and an easier trip up the subway stairs. Inspiration could have unintentionally set in when trying on a new pair of pants and pleading [out loud] with the zipper to complete its ascent. Or, you could have been troubled by the fact that a 5-minute wrestling session with your child left you breathless and wondering how such a small amount of exertion could tire you out. Whether it be weight loss, reduced blood pressure, a climb in Kilimanjaro, or just staying in good overall shape, there should be some overarching theme to help focus your individual workouts. Start by picking a shorter term goal—something you can achieve in 1-2 months*—so that you can experience success before boredom and disenchantment set in.
*Be realistic about what you can accomplish in that time. Losing 30 pounds to fit into that revealing bathing suit…not realistic. Losing a belt size, now that’s reasonable.
Step 2: Objectively Assess Your Starting Condition
It is very important to establish a baseline in the areas relevant to your goals so you have a way of measuring if you’ve achieved them. An obvious example would be to weigh yourself before you start working out in order to know if you’ve lost some lbs after a couple of months. If you want to be able to run a mile, you’ll have to determine how far you can run now. This may be the hardest part for some of you, if you haven’t moved since the term “climate change” was introduced into the American lexicon. The good news: the farther from your goal, the quicker you’ll notice the changes. Take 2 people who want to lose 10 pounds. One person weighs 300 and the other weighs 150. The heavier person will lose the weight quicker.
Some sample measurements to take:
- Goal: Lose inches in the waist.
- Measure: Use a non-elastic measuring tape, find a landmark (i.e. belly button), exhale fully (but don’t “suck in” to minimize the damage) and take a measurement.
- Goal: Increase flexibility.
- Measure: After a brief warm-up (40 jumping jacks, a 3-minute jog, etc.), stand up straight and then bend forward so your fingers dangle towards the ground (keep your legs straight, head down). Use a ruler to determine how far from the ground your fingertips are. You are primarily assessing hamstring flexibility.
A couple of thoughts about measurements:
- Use the same technique each time for reliable results. If you weigh yourself for the first time in the morning before eating or dressing don’t reassess under different conditions. The numbers will be skewed.
- Try to resist measuring more than once a week, unless you really can’t control yourself. If you do it too often you might get discouraged that the numbers aren’t moving quickly enough (and then possibly abandon your hard work for a tasty-looking piece of cheesecake). If you do it too infrequently you might not be aware that you are slowly veering off course (due to nightly consumption of said cheesecake).
- Write them down! I can’t tell you how many times a client has asked me if she has made progress and then becomes pleasantly surprised when I show her that she started out 2 months ago squatting with 15lbs in each hand and can now do 35. Because I keep pushing clients in new ways the workouts still feel hard, and they may lose sight of the objective, measurable facts. Make the effort to document your assessments so you can focus on the workouts rather than trying to remember if you weighed 142 or 124 when you first started.
Now that you have come up with a thoughtful approach to your new exercise program, you need to know how to implement it, right? Hang in there because Part II is coming right up.
Keep on Movin’