For some people the thought of exercising or going to the gym can be an overwhelmingly daunting experience that causes more anxiety than excitement. The reason this happens is usually because they think a workout needs to be grueling and painful in order to see results. That is NOT true! In fact, that is the opposite of how you should approach getting in shape, especially if you have not been physically active for a while or ever. In order to understand how to workout, it’s important to understand the core concepts of exercise in order to blow the whistle on the ubiquitous myth that the harder and more intense the workout, the better it is for you. To avoid injury, you must prepare your body for high intensity activity in a progressive manner. Here are some tips about the most common types of exercise that will help you understand how to progressively engage in a workout routine to effectively build yourself up to not be so afraid of doing a workout.
Cardio short for “cardiovascular exercise” is any activity that increases heart rate and blood circulation in your body. It’s one of the best ways to burn calories and strengthen your heart. There are many types of cardio activities that can help you achieve your fitness goals. Some cardio activities are for advanced participants, while others are for beginners. For example, classes such as the very popular CrossFit and/or HIIT are for advanced students. For beginners, it’s best to start with simple cardio. This is where many people go wrong and what usually causes the workout anxiety. Often when trying to get in shape, people make the mistake of going from zero activity to trying to run a marathon immediately. This happens because there is very little information out there about how to safely begin a workout routine. Instead, what you mostly hear is the higher the intensity of the workout, the more calories you burn. And since we’ve developed into a society of “calorie counters,” logically most people want to go for high intensity of the bat. This is not only ineffective for the long term, it is highly dangerous as it increases the chances of injury.
Since you may not have access to exercise machines, I will use running as a great a cardio option to get you started on a healthy cardio routine. Contrary to popular belief, running is actually NOT a natural human motion—it is a technique in motion that is very stressful on your ankles, knees and hips. The only way to protect these very essential yet sensitive joints is to build the muscle around them in order to avoid injury. The way to build up your cardio is to start with a simple motion and practice it until you either go faster and/or can do it for longer. For example, if you’d like to get into running and have not run for a long time or ever, start with fast paced walking. See how long and how fast you can do that activity initially, then each time you do it try to increase your speed and/or distance.
Try this workout motivation tip:
Week 1: Walk on a treadmill at a speed of 3.5 for 20 mins for 3 days every other day. If you don’t have access to a treadmill, calculate a mile in your neighborhood (with all the navigation apps available, this should be no problem). If walking outside: walk 1 mile every other day for 3 days and see how long it takes you.
Week 2: On the treadmill, increase your speed to 4.0, and do that for 3 days. If walking outside, try to cut your mile walk by 2 minutes from the week before.
I suggest 3 days a week to start, because rest between workouts is so essential for muscle recovery, especially when you’re just starting to workout. If you stress your muscles too much and do not take rest days your chances of injury increase, which will set your workout efforts back!
Keep this steady 3 day pace and increase your speed each week until you get to the point where you naturally want to jog. This is the best way to build up to running. Not only is 3 days a week for 20 mins not as intimidating as trying to force yourself to run for an hour, it will easily help you get into the swing of doing cardio, which will help your fitness motivation long term without burning you out!
Cardio may speed up the process of burning fat initially, however strength training in combination with a healthy diet is the ONLY way to lose body fat for the long term. Strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction which builds strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles (the muscles that protect your bones). We lose lean muscle mass naturally with age. If you don’t strength train to build and maintain your muscles, they will continue to diminish and over time your body fat will replace it. The only way to have low body fat is to develop muscle, and the only way to develop muscle it to implement a strength training routine into your workouts. Strength training is important to help preserve and build your muscle mass at any age, because without it you will have a high body fat percentage, which may lead to acquiring heart disease, diabetes and/or issues with blood pressure. Not implementing a strength training component into their workouts is another mistake many people make.
There is a common belief that cardio is the best way to lose weight. This theory has developed because when you begin adding cardio exercise to your life the extra calorie burn will usually help you lose weight quickly initially. However, the problem begins after about 2-3 months of engaging in new cardio activities as this is when you “plateau” weight-wise. The plateau happens because without building muscle, the cardio that initially was so great at helping you lose those extra pounds, will eventually eat away at the little muscle you did have and your body fat will begin to replace it.
There are several reasons strength training is beneficial to your health in addition to helping maintain a low body fat percentage:
- It strengthens your bones. By adding stress to your bones, strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- It helps manage your weight. Strength training increases your metabolism to help burn more calories, which can help you manage and/or lose weight.
- It fixes chronic spinal and joint conditions. Strength training helps with back, knee and/or hip pain, by developing the muscles around your spine and joints, which helps protect them from stress.
- Strength training enhances your quality of life by improving your ability to do everyday activities. Building muscle contributes to better balance, overall agility and reduces your risk injury.
Like cardio, strength training should be incorporated into your workouts in a progressive manner.
Try this workout motivation tip: I suggest starting a strength training routine twice a week with no more than 2-3 rest days in between. You’ve probably heard of breaking the workouts into two parts—upper body one day, lower body the next, and yes, this is the optimal way to start overall strength training/muscle building. Start with 5 basic upper body exercises one day then 5 lower body exercises the other day. For each exercise do 3 sets of 12 repetitions. Make sure you don’t take more than 30-60 second breaks between your exercises for a more efficient calorie burn!
Working out does not have to be a scary experience! Just be patient and start your routine out slowly. As I explained, both cardio and strength training have their individual benefits to overall health, but a combination of both is necessary for weight loss and healthy weight maintenance. The right kind of cardio can help you burn fat, but building muscle is the only way to keep body fat low in the long run. If you only do cardio, you will eventually hold on to more body fat over time. Building muscle not only reduces body fat, it also helps burn more calories at rest. Do both and you’ll be in optimal shape! For best results long term, give yourself 3 months to progressively build your workout routine up.
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