Finding a workout plan that works for you

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As we head into the New Year, many of us will make a resolution that involves exercise. But how do we make sure that 2015 is the year our exercise program succeeds? To find out, BeWell sat down with ASHLEY GEPHART, a BeWell health adviser.

Starting a fitness routine seems easy, but maintaining that plan is so much harder. How does one to stick to an exercise resolution?

Starting a new fitness routine can be a blast. Your energy levels are high and nothing can stop you from getting up at 5 a.m. to take that jog. Then perhaps the time changes, and it’s now dark and damp in the morning, making pushing the snooze button (for the third time) sound like a better idea than lacing up your sneakers. While it is totally normal for our motivation to fade, you can definitely beat that slump and stick with your routine. Here are a few of my favorite tried and true tips:

  • Remind yourself of why you started this fitness routine in the first place. When it gets tough to stick with your routine, it can be helpful to remember what it is that you are working toward or trying to accomplish.
  • Sign-up for an activity. The accountability of having registered for a class or preparing for a fun activity, like a 5k walk/jog, can keep motivation high.
  • Get friends or coworkers involved. I have definitely had days when the only thing that saved my workout was the fact that I was meeting a friend at the track. The accountability of friends and co-workers is amazing and it is also fun to have workout buddies.
  • Keep it fresh by switching up your routine! Our bodies and our minds get bored doing the same old thing. If your same strength training routine isn’t fun anymore, check out a TRX class or try interval training.
  • Set realistic goals. Success breeds success, so set yourself up for it! Create small steps that will add up to your big results.
  • Have fun! The best exercise is the one that you will do! Find an activity that you actually enjoy. You will be more likely to do it and stick with it if you are having a good time.

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When starting an exercise routine, what is the most important thing to keep in mind?

Safety and injury prevention are key! Depending on your current fitness level, it may be a good idea to check in with your primary care physician to discuss a healthy starting point for physical activity. Conducting a session with a personal trainer can also be a great way to help prevent injury when starting a routine.

How do I best go about avoiding injury with a new routine on my own?

Warming up and cooling down are critical for preventing injury. Warming up prepares the body for exercise by increasing heart rate and blood flow to the muscles. A dynamic, full-body warm-up can actively stretch our muscles and move our joints through their full range of motion.

The cool-down plays an important role in supporting our bodies to return to homeostasis. Make sure to hold your static stretches for at least 20 seconds. I know it can feel like a lifetime, but it is worth it! Put on a timer if you have to.

As you start out, don’t overdo it! Start slowly. You can always ramp it up as your fitness levels improve. You can increase the frequency, intensity and time of your workouts as they become easier for you.

Finally, make sure to rest! I know it can be hard to take a break, but it is important to give our bodies recovery days. Build these rest days into your routine to prevent overtraining and burnout. ACSM suggests that a rest day must occur at least 1-2 times per week.

I used to work out five times a week for an hour every time, but I haven’t exercised in six months. Can I jump back into the same routine?

You can march strongly back into your routine, but don’t “jump” into it! You want to avoid injury, so start slowly and be mindful that your body has deconditioned (depending on what other types of activity you have been doing in the past six months), so you cannot start back in where you left off. You will get there again, but take your time.

I hate running, but it seems to be the best way to get in shape. Any tips?

While I personally enjoy running, I think that there are many other great ways to get in shape. This really depends on what getting in shape looks like for you. If you are looking to improve your cardiovascular capacity, try cycling, swimming, dancing, strength training, rowing, etc. You should find an activity that you enjoy, or can at least tolerate. If you truly hate running, don’t do it.

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If you want to explore running to see if you might grow to love it (I have witnessed this), try visiting a local running store and ask about their group runs. This can be a fun way to meet other people and also learn a little bit more about the sport. Plus they already have runs mapped out, so you don’t have to think about the logistics. Apps for your phone can also be fun. Map My Run is a good one that tracks your distance, pace, and location for free.

I hear that strength training is good for me, but I really don’t want to get bulky. What should I do?

Strength training does not have to mean bodybuilding! ACSM reports that women generally have too much estrogen in their bodies to build up large amounts of bulk, so don’t worry, your circuit training class will not leave you looking like The Incredible Hulk.

Strength training can have significant health benefits for both men and women. Combined with cardiovascular exercise, strength training can help the body to burn fat and build lean muscle mass, which gives the look of being toned as opposed to bulky.

How can exercise help me lose weight?

All of our bodies are different, but at the most basic level, weight control is about energy balance. When we consume more calories than we expend, we are in a positive energy balance and have left over energy that has not been used up. Every 3,500 calories that we consume, but do not use, turns into one pound of fat. Over time, this adds up and we experience weight gain.

In order to lose weight, our bodies need to be in an energy deficit. An energy deficit can occur when we use more energy/calories than we consume. Exercise burns calories; in conjunction with healthy and mindful eating behaviors, exercise can help us to lose weight in a healthy way.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) reports that resistance training also plays an essential role in overall weight loss success, as it can not only make a person stronger but will also make a person more metabolically active. Active muscle requires more calories to sustain itself than fat tissue.

When I exercise, can I eat whatever I want?

I wish! Exercising is great for burning up some of the calories that we consume during the day, but the composition of those calories is still very important. Consuming high quantities of unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugar will be detrimental for our bodies, regardless of whether or not we are exercising.

Being mindful of eating well-balanced meals and not eating too much remain important factors in our health and may become even more important when we are asking our bodies to perform strenuous physical activity programs.

 

AMANDA PEREZ is a social science research assistant for the Health Improvement Program and BeWell.