Picking up where we left off last blog, your life had previously interfered with staying on a regular exercise program, but now it’s time to take care of yourself and get back on track. You’re ready to begin, now, because if you wait past October, you won’t think about this again until January, and then you may have added a few extra pounds via the holidays. You have found 30 minutes, twice each week, to devote to you, so you’re on the way to having the structure in place. Now we’ll discuss what to do within those 30 minutes.
You want to be careful about starting out too aggressively in the first workouts. Any personal trainer or class instructor can convince a client to do anything—once. But if your muscles get too sore, or you get nauseous during the workout, or you find a new/old joint pain after the workout, you may get discouraged and not go back. And there goes getting back into shape.
The first few weeks are key in establishing your new exercise habit. And even though it’s a habit on your behalf, which you’re only going to benefit from, the fact that it is a change from a familiar routine makes it fragile, at least to start. So a point I like to make with clients is, for the first few weeks, don’t worry about setting personal records, or matching what you had done previously, or comparing yourself to other bodies. Just stick to your schedule, take your time breaking back in, and the progression will take care of itself as you feel stronger.
(Remember, this is specifically for someone starting from no regular exercise. If you have been exercising regularly, and you want more in the way of results, you’re going to have to push, so that’s a different strategy.)
First, make sure you don’t have any medical issues that contraindicate exercise: recent heart disease, stroke, or signs and symptoms of the same being the top concerns. The American Council on Exercise makes a screening questionnaire available (http://www.acefitness.org/calculators/chronic-disease-tool.aspx) as a guide. Obviously, if you have any doubt, check with your own doctor. Assuming everything is in order, here is a suggested plan:
Instead of doing one thing for the half-hour, you’re going to balance your workout with cardio, weight training, and stretching. Not only does this keep you from getting bored, but the order makes your half hour more efficient. The cardio warms you up for the weights, and the stretching slows you down at the end of the workout. Otherwise, to do it right, you have to warm up separately for each, and you get a lot less done in the half hour.
Start the workout with 5 minutes of walking, jogging, biking, indoor machines—whatever allows you to do continuous, rhythmic movement. Indoor machines eliminate weather as an excuse, but you should do an activity that’s safe for you, and that you like. Ease into it. Don’t go so hard that you can’t talk or get out of breath. Over the first few weeks, your goal is to work up to 10 continuous minutes, but don’t worry about the numbers, speed, time, etc. for now.
Next, you’ll want to do a very basic weight routine of three exercises: a leg press, a chest press, and a pull. You’re not trying to get on ESPN with this routine; the video link demonstrates how they should look. All the movements are done deliberately, for one or two sets each, well within your capability. Stop before you have to stop. These three exercises involve the major muscle groups, load all the big bones, and on machines, as shown, are relatively safe (subject to whatever individual joint issues you may have).
Last is to finish with stretching for the hamstrings: at least 30 seconds for each, which is twice as long as is boring. So as you hold the stretch, when you think, “boring,” check your watch, that was 15 seconds. But if you only have the patience for one stretch, the hamstrings are the most important, because tight hamstrings have a negative effect on the lower back.
And that’s it: 5-10 minutes of cardio, 3 weight training, and stretch the hamstrings to start. Your goal over the first few weeks isn’t just to start to get in shape; it’s to lock the workout into your schedule. No more “I forgot my sneakers,” no more “I ran out of time,” no more “I’m not sure what to do.” A basic program that you actually do regularly works. The most elaborate, cutting-edge, hour-and-a-half workout, that you do once doesn’t. Don’t worry that the routine is too brief; as the weeks go by, and you tolerate the exercises better, you’ll naturally look to add exercises, push harder, and get more done within the 30 minutes. But lock in the 30 minutes first.
Now, I personally think this is the most useful time to use a trainer. The appointments help you build exercise into your schedule. You learn the proper form for each exercise, and by keeping the list of exercises brief, you retain it while you gradually work harder. Then, after a few weeks (or however long it takes), once you’ve gotten through the break-in phase and developed the new habit, you have more options. You could continue with the trainer, or go on your own in a commercial or corporate or home gym, or do a combination of both.
But not all trainers share this sensibility. Some pride themselves on being the toughest trainer around, and make no exceptions for a re-starting client. Some try to make the client dependent on the trainer, by constantly changing the exercises so the client never learns. Get in shape first before booking with these guys.
Next, we’ll take a look at a new machine, one that really works well with former runners: the Elliptigo.