Exercise, Fitness and Enjoyment.
Starting an exercise programme in January is easy. Millions of people do it every year. The tricky bit. The bit that catches many of us out is the question of how to still be exercising by the time March comes along.
The obstacles to maintaining a coherent programme can seem formidable and lots of us stumble to a halt in the face of such things as bad weather, illness and the twin demands of Work and Family but with a bit of care and forethought that which appears difficult can be surmounted without too much drama. If you are thinking about getting into a new training regime then some of the following may help.
Realism versus Fantasy.
Before expending a single calorie on exercise take some time to answer a few questions. Why am I training? How much training time will I really have every week? What sports do I enjoy doing? Is there anything new I might like to try?
If you work full time, have a long commute and a family to care for then planning to train six times a week for an hour each time will probably leave you tired, unwell and fed up long before the end of your first month. Be honest with yourself and try for something achievable that fits in around your lifestyle. It is much better to start small and easy and build up later. If the habit of exercise becomes a part of your life then expanding the habit is easy. After a month or two you can always decide to add an extra session if it starts to feel too simple. If you find the gym boring then why fork out the membership fee? Try Rock Climbing, Ballroom Dancing or some other sport that may have greater appeal. Same muscles, more smiles.
Boredom. The constant enemy.
Lots of runners pound endless streets for endless miles. Weightlifters push more and heavier reps and after a while two things happen. One is that your muscles get used to making the same movements and become more efficient therefore the exercise benefit is less. The second thing that happens is that it easy to become so incredibly fed up that anything and everything else in the world starts to become more appealing.The pub, the TV even DIY.
Keep changing things around. If you are a runner try a few-off road trail sessions. If walking is your thing then try an occasional short session walking with light dumbbells. Adding curls and other moves to your walk ups the calorie requirement, works different muscles and gives your brain something new to think about. Jump on a bike, hit the hills, play football or go swimming. Try something new whenever the opportunity arises.
Try to find a training partner. Training with someone else will help smooth out some of the bumps in motivation and chatting to a friend makes the sessions fly by. Join a sports club or gather a pool of like minded friends to train with.
Add in stealth exercise or “Playing” as we used to call it when we were kids. One colleague would never claim to be an athlete yet he and his wife go to salsa dance classes twice a week and enjoy gentle kayaking trips in the summer. If you enjoy it and you are moving then you will do more of it and that has to be a good thing.
Have an ambition.
You may not want to compete at the Olympics but it is good to have an ambition of some kind to aim for. I would recommend basing it on experience rather than numbers. By this I mean something along the lines of “I will improve my running to the point that in late summer I will run for ten kilometres and feel good about it”. This is qualitative. The point is to enjoy and feel good about yourself. If your target is to run a personal best time in a 10K race then your aim becomes quantitative. Setting a target time leaves you hostage to too many uncontrolled variables such as extreme weather, health or conditions underfoot. A broken shoelace or high wind can leave you feeling disappointed for no good reason. Similarly setting a target weight to lose or reach is putting an awful lot of stress on one number. Ideally, your target should be a challenge but achievable. It should also be enjoyable whether you succeed or just fall a bit short of perfect. The point of having a target is to give you a focus for your training. It shouldn’t ever be a stick to beat yourself with. If you try but fall short then so be it. The trying is always the important part.
Timing and intensity.
Whether you train in the morning, evening or lunchtime is a matter of personal preference. There are lots of studies trying to pinpoint the ideal exercise time but ultimately, going out for exercise at any time is better than not going out at all. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Personally I prefer the early morning. It is a definite wake up and I know I always struggle to get up off the couch after a day at work but that is just me. The right time is the time that suits you. No other opinion matters. If you are struggling to get up early or can’t get motivated for a late session then try switching the times around and see what happens.
Whenever you train take it easy especially at first. The main benefits of exercise don’t come about after training they come about after recovery from training. If you go too hard and don’t get enough time to rest and recover then all that you are likely to get is tired. Keeping the effort level well down from maximum is the key to success. If you are unable to chat to someone, if your breathing is very heavy or if every session leaves you wrung out and drained then the chances are that you are working too hard. Take it easy. You’ve got all the time in the world and there is absolutely no upside to overtraining. Should you continue to find it all a bit easy after a month or so then gradually build up the time or intensiity.
Keep track of your training.
Once upon a time when I was a young cross-country ski racer I kept a training diary. Several of them in fact covering quite a few years. All full of information on the weather, resting heart rate, training sessions, blah, blah, blah. This level is detail is not remotely required nowadays but I still enjoy keeping track of my training. It allows me to see what level of effort I have been able to maintain and prevents me glossing over the gaps in dedication.
Currently I use a GPS watch with a heart rate monitor for this. The heart rate function is great for letting me know when I am overdoing it. There are more options on the market now than ever before, they usually come with software that provides far better information than the old diaries ever did for a fraction of the effort and from what I have seen so far none of them are bad and all are getting better and easier to use.
For many people however this level of sophistication is neither required nor desirable. A perfectly good training log could be as simple as a wall calendar or year planner. Score off the days you train and count them up at the end of the month. If you plan to do x minutes of exercise three times per week then most months would show a dozen days crossed out. If you get a sudden drop in activity level you may need either a rest or a metaphorical kick in the pants but at least you have an idea that something isn’t quite right.
Whatever it is you decide to do, whatever targets you set. Make sure you enjoy it. Get into something that makes you happy and where you meet new people where you can enjoy new experiences.
Set out on an enjoyable long term journey to improve your health and fitness. If you crack the first bit you will find that the journey never really ends and that the destination becomes much less important than the travelling.
As always I welcome comments and feedback. If you have anything to say then get in touch through the comments section. Thanks for reading and happy training.