Last week, we went through a 7-step process for transitioning into new eating habits, so this week I’d like to follow up with the other big “should” we often neglect: exercise.
We’ve talked about setting exercise goals (here and here), but it’s not enough to set the goal. You also need a concrete plan for achieving it.
Whether you want to train for a specific activity–like tennis or martial arts–or you just want to make sure you’re moving enough to stay healthy, you can break any fitness routine down into small steps and gradually incorporate them into your day.
Here’s a free PDF worksheet you can download, to help you work through the process: Ease Into a New Fitness Routine Worksheet
1. Decide what kind of activities you’d like to incorporate into your life.
What have you enjoyed doing in the past?
Do you want to find small ways to be more active as you go through your normal routine, or would you prefer to set aside a specific time to work out?
The three types of activity the human body needs to be healthy are:
- cardiovascular training
- flexibility training
- strength training
(Strength training, by the way, doesn’t just mean lifting weights, it can be any activity that builds muscles. If you’re doing karate, for example, repetitively practicing kicks, punches and blocks is a type of strength training. Calisthenics, like pushups and lunges and squats, are also strength training.)
If you’re not sure what kind of exercise you’d enjoy, what kinds of activities would you be willing to try? Do you think you might enjoy nature hikes or dance classes? Would frisbee golf on a course big enough to require some walking get you motivated? Do you long to feel as relaxed and meditative as the group who does tai chi down at the park on weekends?
Also, how much time do you have to devote to exercising? If you answered “not much,” I’m right there with you.
A 10-minute walk in the morning and another in the evening is a great way to get started with exercise. But if walking isn’t your cup of tea, here’s some fast workout options that I’ve been experimenting with:
T-Tapp Basic Workout: designed by a physical therapist, this is an extremely efficient whole-body workout that takes only 15 minutes and puts your body into fat-burning mode. Ms. Tapp has a few exercises posted on her website if you’d like to check them out (ttapp.com, click on the Try Before You Buy tab at the top of the page).
High-Intensity Interval Training: gives the same benefits (some say more) as traditional aerobics, but in less time. HIIT is the kind of exercise humans evolved to be good at, with short intervals of high-intensity movement (like running from predators) interspersed with rest.
Dr. Al Sears’ book, PACE: The 12 Minute Fitness Revolution, is what got me started with HIIT (and I highly recommend it), but I’ve also been experimenting with the Tabata Protocol, which is more intense but only requires 4 minutes of cardio (plus a couple minutes warmup and a couple minutes cooldown).
(If you’ve been completely sedentary up until now, don’t start with the Tabata method, go with the PACE method, which can be adapted to any fitness level.)
The 7-Minute Miracle, by Sheldon Levine: lets you focus on one major muscle group at a time and takes advantage of the way your body chemistry works to maximize fat burning in a specific area of the body.
The 10-Minute Solution DVD series, which includes short programs for just about any type of exercise you could want to try: latin dance, pilates, fitness ball, kickboxing, yoga, hip hop dance, resistance band, etc.
Total Stretch for Beginners: consists of three easy 10-minute stretching routines (standing, sitting in a chair, and on the ground) to increase flexibility from head to toe.
7 Minutes of Magic: Qi Gong instructor Lee Holden has collected three 7-minute routines on one DVD: an energizing routine to wake up to, a routine for staying healthy, an a relaxing routine to help you unwind in the evenings. This is one of my all-time favorite DVDs.
Yoga Quick Fixes and Yoga House Call: short kundalini yoga workouts designed to help you tackle specific issues like anxiety, stress, lack of energy, back pain and more.
Don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find exercises you enjoy. If doing pushups brings back too many traumatic gym class memories, you can strengthen your arms and back by practicing the breast stroke, or learning to fight with a staff, or taking up kettlebells, or getting your belly-dancing best friend to teach you how to do snake arms. If you get tired of doing the same water aerobics routine all the time, maybe you’d rather jump on a mini-trampoline, or play frisbee with your kids in the park, or go on a civilized “hike” through the local arboretum.
2. Set your fitness goal.
Is your goal to build up to walking 40 minutes every day?
To use the weight machines at the gym 4 days per week?
To learn to bellydance?
To be flexible enough to touch your toes?
To run in next year’s half-marathon for breast cancer?
3. Identify the exercise you’re already getting, and see if there’s a way to build on or expand it.
What kind of exercise are you already doing? Could you build on or expand your existing fitness routine to include new elements? For example, if you’re already marching in place during commercials, add pushups or a couple of free weight exercises. Or strap on wrist and ankle weights, to make marching in place more of a workout. Or start marching during shows, too.
Do you already walk daily but suffer back pain due to hours spent at the computer for work? Maybe you could start doing a couple of back stretches when you’re done walking.
4. Decide what components you need to add to your fitness routine, and in what order.
If you’re looking to burn fat, exercise that builds muscle mass and boosts your metabolism is the way to go.
If you’re stiff or if you’re in need of some stress relief, gentler endeavors like tai chi, chi gung, yoga, and stretching might be the best place to start.
If your biggest excuse for not exercising is “I’m too tired,” the first step in your fitness routine might not be exercise at all. You might be better off starting the habit of going to bed earlier and/or doing some deep breathing exercises to increase your energy level.
I suggest adding one small increment of activity each week, and making sure that each increment is not painful or strenuous enough to risk unnecessary injury.
If you haven’t been exercising at all, you’re constantly stressed, and your lifestyle is sedentary (i.e. mostly sitting at the computer or at a desk all day), your first six weeks might consist of:
Week 1: Set alarm for 11pm bedtime.
Week 2: Add five minutes deep breathing in the morning.
Week 3: Add ankle stretches while watching TV.
Week 4: Add marching in place during at least two commercial breaks while watching TV.
Week 5: Start setting a timer to go off every hour while working, and when it goes off, stand up and do a whole body stretch (reach for the ceiling 10 seconds, reach for your toes 10 seconds).
Week 6: Add a daily five minute walk after lunch.
If you’re already reasonably active–you walk daily, or you chase small children around–but want to build muscle or need to start doing weight-bearing exercise to keep osteoporosis at bay, your first six weeks might look more like this:
Week 1: Buy free weights and choose a workout routine (from a book like Strong Women Stay Young or by googling “free weight routine”).
Week 2: Learn two arm exercises and do them M, W, F before breakfast.
Week 3: Learn two leg exercises and do them T, Th, S before breakfast.
Week 4: Learn a back and a shoulder exercise, and add them to the M/W/F routine.
Week 5: Learn another leg exercise, and add it to the T/Th/S routine.
Week 6: Add a 10-minute whole body stretching routine, to help relieve muscle tightness.
If you’re already hitting the treadmill regularly but still need an outlet for stress, your first 6 weeks might look something like this:
Week 1: Set alarm for 11pm bedtime.
Week 2: Add five minutes deep breathing in the morning.
Week 3: Buy 10-minute yoga workout DVD or find a short video on YouTube, and do it after deep breathing in the morning.
Week 4: Continue Weeks 1-3.
Week 5: Continue Weeks 1-3.
Week 6: Continue Weeks 1-3. At the end of this week, evaluate my stress levels and if they aren’t lower, choose another stress-relief outlet.
Notice that in each of the six-week plans, I stated a) the specific activity and b) the planned time for the activity to be performed. In other words, how and when the exercises will get done.
There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow! I’m currently working through the T-Tapp DVD I mentioned above by learning one exercise each week. It’s a fifteen minute routine, and right now I’m only doing the first five minutes of it (which are intense enough that I still get sore the next day). It will be a few more weeks before I’ve learned the entire set of exercises, and by the time I get there, I will have built some muscle that will make the whole workout easier. I’m also continuing to listen to my self-hypnosis program for exercise motivation, to keep myself from getting discouraged as I add more strenuous movements to my routine.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your ideal body can’t be built that quickly either. But if you get started now with small steps, by this time next year you could be in better shape than you ever thought possible.
Setting and Achieving Goals: