We recently talked about gift ideas for those people in your life that are looking to get healthier in the new year (and what better way to do it than through a gifted piece of exercise equipment or an accessory).
Well, as nice as that is to get something that can jumpstart the health kick, it could be a case that the desire to do is greater than the ability. Exercising is like a muscle (well, actually it’s almost entirely muscle), if you don’t do it, it gets harder.
In anticipation of the big New Year’s resolutions and the sweat that comes with it, there are some steps that should be taken—especially if it’s been a while since any form of exercise has happened.
A Danish study suggests that after two weeks of inactivity it takes as much as six weeks of exercise to regain the same muscle mass.
If you have spent any amount of time at the gym, you will have a little bit of an advantage going back. According to this Livestrong article, the longer you have trained or worked out, the slower your muscle loss will be.
The inverse is true, too. If you are new to regular exercise, your muscle loss will be quicker.
So what can you do to ease yourself into your new commitment and a better body?
Train like a Beginner
Your memory of what you used to be able to do in the gym is likely to cloud your actual capabilities. You are more likely to recall the height of what you did and use that as your benchmark. This can be dangerous.
Overexertion and rampant enthusiasm can be a sure-fire recipe for any number of injuries—like muscle or ligament strains, pulls, tendonitis—that will very quickly derail your fitness goals before they actually get going.
Pick a routine and go into it at 50-75% of your perceived ability for your first couple of sets. You can always add intensity or weight to it once you see where your body is.
If you aren’t sure what is the best “regime” for you, try a circuit that addresses the whole body. And don’t be afraid of complex exercises like squats or bench presses. They get a whole slew of muscle groups in one fell exercising swoop.
Get a Personal Trainer
Yes, they are worth it. Especially if you are just starting back. They can help with a lot of the small (but important) details that go along with exercising, like:
- Tailoring exercise plans
- Correct form
- Correct weights (types and amounts)
- Current exercise techniques
- Current exercise equipment and how to use it properly
- Discussing trends that are useful
- Dismissing fads
- Healthy diets to suit your exercise goals
In some instances, a gym membership can sometimes have a few free personal training sessions tied to it. It is worth looking at to maintain your commitment as well as get the most out of your time in the gym.
And it doesn’t have to be forever. Personal trainers are experts in breakups so you won’t hurt their feelings.
Pain and Gain
Yes, they can be good in tandem. But not the point of injury. Muscle fibers have to be stressed to the point of overload in order to strengthen. But you need to understand what constitutes the type of “pain” that gives you the gain you are looking for.
Hurting yourself will mean time out of gym, recovery and in some instances, a trip to the emergency room.
Low impact machines, like ellipticals or recumbent bikes, are a good place to start, as they don’t put as much stress on your joints or extremities.
Similarly, using weight machines instead of free weights can be a better place to start when getting back into strength training. The debate about whether free weights or weight machines are better will go on forever, but for beginners, a machine can be useful for:
- Improving lifting technique
- Targeting and isolating specific muscle groups
- Safer exercising
- Easier weight adjustment
Define “In Shape”
You need to define what “in shape” looks like for you at the point of the life you are in. And be honest with yourself. Only 2% of Americans have six packs. And it is usually something that takes time, hard work and dedication.
If you set goals that are attainable, you are more likely to get discouraged and fall into the 80% of people that quit going to a fitness facility by May. And reaching milestones is not only its own reward, it can be a great incentive to set new ones.
It’s worth mentioning again in a different way. Getting healthier is a long-term proposition. This isn’t a sprint and there are no fitness magic bullets. Be ready for a gradual progression in strength gains and weight loss. Although if you have done it before it will all come back to you and your muscles more quickly than you thought.
What you are willing to put in is what you will take away (or off if shedding pounds is your goal).
You might not even be the one that notices the outcomes of your work immediately. It can be a co-worker or loved one that points out how good you are looking.
Days to Start
This follows from the last one. You will want to maximize the get-up-and-go spirit that the post-holiday mirror check brings, but find a balance. Three days a week (think Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) for the first month is a good target. You aren’t overextending yourself or being unrealistic as to what you can actually commit.
Hours of Operation
If you aren’t looking to get discouraged because you can’t access the fitness equipment you need, or you are worried about everyone’s eyes on you, look at coming in during off-peak hours. You will have a little more space and more privacy then.
It is useful in taking the excuses out of the equation.
A lack of one is probably the main reason that people swear up and down that (add year here) will be the year they finally get in shape. A well-balanced diet is an integral part of a proper exercise plan. In fact, your diet (and what it is comprised off) is probably more important than working out in your quest for health and fitness.
Even some cursory internet searching will set you up with a diet plan to match your newfound interest in getting fit again. A simple search like “the best diet to gain muscle” yields a number of different options from which to choose. You can even get more granular with something like “best vegetarian diets to lose weight fast.”
If you are serious about fitness (and more importantly your health), you can talk to a dietician and have them set you up with a plan.
Basically, just know your limits, keep at it and don’t be discouraged. You can be the healthiest you with a little introspection and healthy dose of elbow grease.