Where Do I Start?
Let’s face the facts. Small obstacles can seem insurmountable when it comes to getting ourselves to stay active, assuming you are not one of the lucky people for whom being active is a joy rather than a necessary evil. We won’t enumerate the possible excuses here, lest we inspire future sloth with a new excuse you hadn’t yet considered. But sometimes we just feel less than inspired with our workouts, or perhaps you don’t even know where to start.
Let’s talk about what you should be doing, then. There are three areas that every person’s physical fitness regimen should address: cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and flexibility.
Cardiovascular activity: We should strive to do 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise, 75 minutes of intense cardiovascular exercise, or a combination of the two each week. But always remember that something is better than nothing! Don’t get caught up in doing “enough” when you’re not doing anything at all; just get moving and worry about whether or not what you’re doing is enough after you’ve sustained the habit of exercise for a while.
Treadmill: Aside from the stationary bike, this is usually the easiest piece of equipment for new exercisers to figure out. Add some degrees to the incline to burn more calories. Try a light jog or even throw in some short sprint intervals after your muscles have had plenty of time to warm up.
Cycling: Stationary bikes, recumbent bikes, spin bikes, etc., you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to spinning pedals. The low-impact nature of this exercise makes it a good choice for beginners, people with arthritis, etc. A spin class absolutely shreds calories and will give you the guidance and camaraderie you might desperately need starting out.
Rowing: Rowing incorporates your entire body in your cardio workout, while still offering the benefit of low-impact movements. Check https://fit815.com/2017/05/row-smarter/ if you missed our rowing primer.
Elliptical: The elliptical offers a chance to burn calories with movements similar to the treadmill, but without the impact on the joints that comes with the treadmill.
Stair Climber: Nothing burns calories quite like carrying our own body weight upward! There’s a reason people suggest you take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Aerobic Classes: Aerobics, dance, and cycling classes are a great way to burn calories while getting your heart rate into that aerobic zone. They will also push you out of your comfort zone and help you improve your stamina quicker than exercising solely on your own.
Strength Training: Try to hit each of your major muscle groups twice a week. Compound movements incorporate more muscles than isolated movements, so concentrate on those for the greatest gains in strength and fat burn. Make sure to give yourself a day-off between lifting with the same muscle group, e.g., don’t train your chest muscles on Tuesday if you trained them on Monday. Wait until at least Wednesday. Try for 3-4 sets per lift and 8-12 repetitions per set.
The Major Compound Lifts: Squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and pull-ups (or lat pull-downs) are the best lifts for hitting all the major muscle groups; they will also engage your core muscles too if done properly. They take a lot of time and practice to master; study up on them and talk to a fitness professional about proper form. Make sure you have enough flexibility to achieve the proper range of motion before you load up heavy weights.
Strength Training Machines: These are a good starting point for beginners. Most of them have a description and diagram of the proper movement of the exercise and shows which muscles are utilized. Start with a very small amount of weight and then gauge whether you can increase it. But always keep in mind that we should be pushing toward being able to lift more, not just lifting the same weight for the same amount of reps every time! Ask a fitness professional if you are unsure whether you are using them correctly.
Total Body and Functional Training Classes: Ask your health club about these classes; they typically incorporate strength training with other aspects of fitness to provide a great overall workout in a condensed period of time. If you really don’t know where to start, let a personal trainer put you through a workout so you don’t have to think about it and just concentrate on giving maximum effort.
Flexibility/Core: Your flexibility is often the most neglected area of your overall fitness; we focus so much on “burning fat” or “getting stronger” that we don’t remember to lay the groundwork for being able to do both of those things! Strength training shortens our muscles, making them more susceptible to injury; stretching our muscles helps to ensure that we stay healthy, have the capacity to perform exercises with proper range of motion, and can provide a tranquil moment for us to focus on our mind-body connection.
Yoga: Taking a yoga class is a great way to improve flexibility, but if you only think of it as improving flexibility, you’re missing out on the bigger picture. In addition to taking you through movements requiring full range of motion, you center your mind and focus on the connection between your mind and your muscles. Yoga also ties in proper breathing technique, which is crucial in all forms of exercise.
Pilates: We spend so much time in strength training focusing on vanity muscles that we forget that being strong starts with a strong core. Pilates and other core-focused classes help to develop a strong core that provides the foundation to excelling in cardiovascular and strength training activities.