Setting yourself up to succeed
Here you are almost halfway through January already and still trying to get back into the groove. The holidays have become an almost distant memory except for those extra pounds that show up on the scale and that lethargy that inhibits your regular fitness program. More often than not I hear the words “I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution this year. I don’t want to simply set myself up to fail again.”
So, why not get with it and, scrapping the resolutions idea, simply set yourself up to succeed.
The definition of success is entirely individual. Clearly what is successful to one person is far different to another. Perhaps there is an end goal, perhaps it is a change in some habitual practice. Perhaps there are measurements or markers, or perhaps there is simply a feeling that colors one’s experience and rewards one’s efforts.
In any event, it’s time to restructure your fitness goals and crank up your motivation. Trust me, it doesn’t just happen all by itself. You need to reverse your inertia and put yourself in gear to motor on through some physical exercise in order to navigate your days with energy and enthusiasm.
Last week I talked about January as the ideal Base Building Period. Not only should you train aerobically as suggested, but this is the time to build strength, coordination, balance and, above all, a stronger core. Therefore I suggest that you block out adequate time to go to the gym, join classes, workout on your own at home or use whatever time and tools you have to do some solid conditioning.
Begin by identifying your own personal goal. Some like to make two goals – one short-term and one long-term. In any event, choose your goal and work backwards from it to where you stand (or sit) right now. Assessing your current condition can be a bit depressing if you have departed from regular training. Do not, however, be discouraged. You can only get better, stronger, more efficient, more coordinated, better balanced and more energetic.
Divide your body into three: upper, lower and core. You will want to train each muscle group three solid times per week with a day off in between. Keep your exercises simple but effective. After warming up for 10 minutes or so with some rhythmic stretches or moderate aerobic exercise, I recommend that you begin with your lower body. After all, the largest muscles of our body are located there in the muscles of the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and shins, adductors and abductors) and, of course, the glutes. Large muscles gain strength rapidly and need more fuel to function so your rewards will be identifiable soon.
Next I recommend that you move on to the core – everything from the hips to and including the shoulders and all that lies in between. That means your core work will include abdominals, lower and upper back, hips and chest. Finally do some work to increase the strength of your upper body – biceps, triceps, deltoids.
Always work opposing muscle groups: the quads and the hamstrings, the lats and the pecs, the abs and the back, and so on. When beginning a new strength training program or returning from a recovery period, it is better to begin with moderate weights or resistance and perform more repetitions. I usually suggest that someone begin with eight reps and work up to 16 before going back to raise the weight or increase the resistance. This is not the time to see what is the most weight you can lift once.
Finish your training with some balance work testing your equilibrium and ability to function when your base of support is challenged or body placement is skewed. This training most closely simulates the work that your body will need to do during the course of a normal day. Often referred to as functional training, this off-balance work that asks you to reach, pull, twist, turn, raise, lower and move with resistance or on an unstable surface – this work ultimately strengthens both your core and confidence.
End all conditioning sessions with gentle flexibility exercises, taking care to lengthen the muscles that you have contracted with work and encourage appropriate joint mobility.
There are many components to weight training. An excellent rule is to determine the muscle(s) that you wish to work and then, within the context of the chosen exercise, be certain that you feel those muscles engaged in the effort to complete the task. Good form is more important than the amount of pounds lifted/resisted or number of repetitions. Be adamant that you teach your body to train with good body mechanics so that, when in daily use or stress, the body defaults to safe and competent form.
There is a plethora of information to be found on the web, in books and magazines, from friends, in the gym and on videos. Check your source. Is your advisor qualified to guide you? Always be sure to have medical clearance. Fortunately, these days and especially here in Vermont, your medical care provider will probably prefer that you get and/or remain active so will encourage you to do so. Most limitations can be identified and accommodated – either averted or improved.
So, then, your January challenge consists of equal parts moderate intensity aerobic exercise, muscle conditioning, recharged motivation and, of course, appropriate nutrition. But that is a topic for another day.