Last week we covered why exercise is good for you. The next question is what form of exercise is right for you? This is where we all differ; not all sports and activities are suited to everyone and choosing the wrong type of workout will probably have you throwing in the towel pretty quickly.
The first thing to decide is your goal. Without a clear vision of what you want to achieve, choosing the most effective workout to achieve it is impossible, and we need to make sure those two things line up, for example, if you want to reduce body fat and build large muscles, those two things can seem at odds with one another – to reduce fat you’ll be looking at diets that reduce calories to ensure you burn more than you consume on a daily basis, but if your plan is to bulk up, you’ll need to increase your calorie intake (spread evenly throughout the day and made up of healthy, lean food choices), so you can see how those two goals may not live harmoniously in the same workout plan. As they need different diet plans, so do they need very different workouts.
First let’s cover how to choose the workout that’s right for you with these basic checkpoints:
· You need to enjoy it. If your exercise routine bores you, you’re not going to stick to it.
· Choose options that fit into your lifestyle – if you have a local pool or facility then before or straight after work may be a great thing to work into your daily routine; if your children go to school/activities where you wait for them, perhaps you can take a walk or workout while they’re busy, or maybe you can take a walk during your lunch hour – you are the expert when it comes to your schedule, don’t allow anyone else to dictate what is best for you. If it doesn’t easily fit into your schedule, you won’t stick to it.
· Choose options that can easily become part of your daily routine, like parking your car further from work and walking part of the way, taking the stairs instead of the elevator when possible. An excellent goal when working to improve your physical fitness is to add more activity into every day life. They won’t feel like big changes but they’ll definitely help improve your fitness level.
· Choose more than one thing – your weekly exercise routine should include aerobic exercise (like running, walking, cycling etc.) to improve your cardiovascular health, plus gym type sessions for muscular and bone health. By combining the two you’re ensuring you’re working on all aspects of your health and fitness, while adding variety and keeping things interesting.
· Vary the intensity – even highly trained, professional athletes don’t work out at maximum intensity every day, this would lead to injury and burnout. Vary your workouts from day to day so some are easier than others; this gives your muscles time to recover between intense sessions and keeps you safe from injuries. Ideally you want your programme to include all aspects of physical fitness – muscular strength, aerobic fitness, endurance and flexibility.
· Work out with others – if you find encouragement and motivation through working out with others, consider joining a group activity or workout class, or exercising with a friend.
· Have options – planning something that is dependent on the right weather conditions leaves room for disappointment and cancelled sessions, have plans for indoor and outdoor exercise so you’re not left stuck without a back up plan.
· Set aside time to exercise each day – I’m a firm believer in crowding in good habits before trying to get rid of bad ones; setting a regular time each day to exercise helps you form a good habit, which will make it less of a choice to ponder and create something you do as automatically as taking a shower.
· Make sure your new exercise programme accommodates any injuries you have – if you have any health concerns, are overweight or have been inactive for a long time, check with your doctor before taking on a new sport or workout. That doesn’t mean don’t do it – exercise can play a huge role in recovery and improving chronic health conditions, but to avoid hurting yourself and putting you off forever, get the all clear from your doctor to get started.
· Check with a trainer – if you’ve joined a gym or class and you want to make sure you get the most out of it, ask a trainer there to help you devise a plan, or consider a few sessions with a personal trainer. A decent coach/trainer/instructor will listen to your goals, take a history and do a fitness assessment to see where you’re starting from and tailor a plan for you that suits your needs and is line with your schedule and interests. Listening to a colleague or friend may be a great way to get motivated, but remember their fitness goals may be different to yours so piggybacking into their workout plan may not be in your best interests.
In my twenties I used to go to a local gym three times a week. I worked an early shift so was finished just after lunchtime. For three workouts I was in the gym for hours, and, three times each week, worked every muscle group with a goal to tone up my body. Within two months my body looked great and I felt good about it, but my overall fitness wasn’t good. I didn’t include enough aerobic training, so while I looked great, I couldn’t have run a mile if my life depended on it. Now I’m far more active in my general day to day life and I can trek for miles at a good pace with two young children in tow, but my muscle tone isn’t what I would like it to be, nor my flexibility, so to reach my overall goals, I plan accordingly: I workout at my local gym which combines strength, endurance and aerobic fitness at least four times per week, walk every day and have recently included an evening yoga routine to de stress and improve flexibility. I started slowly and have built up to what works for me. I have a flexible work schedule which allows me to do this, and our family schedule is hectic so I know if I don’t fit it in when I’ve scheduled it, my workout isn’t happening, which leaves me feeling disappointed and lazy. That doesn’t mean you should do the same, it’s an example of what works for me. When I first started planning my workout schedule, I was dreading it, but I found a gym I really love going to and workouts that keep me interested and motivated. Now I hate missing even one session – I feel it in my body and mind. I pound out a lot of my stress during treadmill intervals and when the workouts are hard I stay focused on my ‘why’ (my reason for improvement) and that gets me through. I want to reach my goal more than I ever want to skip my workout, and that’s the key. If you dread whatever your scheduled exercise or programme is, you won’t stick to it or give it your all; finding what you enjoy is the most important thing!
Don’t be pressured by what others do or manage to fit into their days and weeks, your body and fitness needs are unique to you, just like your schedule, do what works and makes you feel good. Just get moving, that’s a perfect way to start.
Health Coach & Nutritional Therapist
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