If you’re attempting to jumpstart your fitness, choose a well-designed exercise plan that meets your body and your schedule.
We’re well into winter and the year is in full swing. So how is your New Year’s resolution to exercise regularly going?
You can be fair. No one’s listening.
Maybe you’re not quite hitting your goal. Or the whole thing has dropped by the wayside. Or you haven’t even begun yet.
Do not worry, there’s still hope.
Sometimes all you need to reach your goal is a well-designed strategy. A sensible strategy.
So here you are — a strategy for kick-starting your fitness program. One which just might work for you.
How much exercise do I need?
We know that regular physical activity is great for us, however, just how much is enough?
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans urges the following for healthy adults:
- 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic action. Or 75 minutes per week of vigorous action. Or any combination of both.
- 2 or more times a week of moderate or vigorous muscle-strengthening — aka resistance training — that targets all major muscle groups.
On top of that, it’s also advisable to incorporate stability and flexibility training into your fitness plan. These can often be done alongside aerobic or muscle-strengthening activities.
There are many methods to fulfill those guidelines. What’s important is to find something which works for you.
Sarah Walls, a personal trainer and owner of Virginia-based SAPT Power & Performance Training Inc., advised Healthline that if you’re starting out, one option is to break it down like this:
- Aerobic activity: five days a week, 20 to 30 minutes per day
- Resistance training: three days a week, 30 to 60 minutes a day
At Fuse Fitness at Berkeley, California, founders Kristin Rios and Pascha Brown, both certified personal trainers, stated they ease beginners into exercise.
“Together with beginners, we have them start with two workouts every week so that they have plenty of time to unwind and recuperate between,” Rios and Brown informed Healthline. “We encourage walking and yoga between sessions, and tons of great water and sleep to aid with soreness.”
The workouts in Fuse Fitness are hour-long sessions that pack in all of the vital elements of fitness — mobility and flexibility, strength training, conditioning, agility, balance, and core training.
This saves you time, which is nice if you’re short on that.
As people become more comfortable exercising, Rios and Brown encourage them to increase to three to four-hour-long sessions weekly. These sessions could be either one-on-one workouts or group classes.
Similarly, Walls said that “over the span of one or two years, the intensity ought to be improved as the person grows more comfortable with doing the moves correctly and their fitness level improves.”
Working out at the gym, though, is only one way to stay active.
“We invite our customers to participate in activity every day when they are not training,” said Rios and Brown, “whether it is hiking, bicycle riding, gardening, rock climbing, or biking .”
These non-gym activities can easily get you around 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity.
Just don’t neglect whole-body strength training to get more aerobic activity. Stronger muscles burn calories, strengthen your muscles and also make it a lot easier to remain active during your life.
And remember, resistance training is not only lifting weights. Exercises that use your body as resistance — things such as pushups, pull-ups, planks, and squats — count also.
You can arrange your workouts through the week in whichever manner you need, but here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
- Alternate your hard and easy days, especially with resistance training. This gives your muscles an opportunity to recover.
- It’s OK to do aerobic activity and resistance training on the exact same day. Walls urge that if you are performing a traditional resistance training session, then take action before aerobic exercise. Circuit training and some fitness classes, however, mix things up more, with good results.
- To avoid fitness burnout, just take off one day per week from structured exercise. Go for a hike or bicycle ride, hit the beach, or walk around town.
How hard should I exercise?
One way to tell if you are working hard enough is to just “sense” it.
“All activities need to be done at a level that challenges the person. Cardio should make us huff and puff. Strength training should make us grunt a bit. Stretches should make us wince. Balance training must make us moan,” said Fitz Koehler, a fitness and game performance pro using a master’s degree in exercise and sport sciences.
Koehler added that in case you can hardly talk, you’re probably working too hard.
Tasks like brisk walks, baseball, and some types of yoga are generally moderate intensity.
Martial arts, bicycling at a good rate, and basketball are often vigorous.
Heart rate and activity monitors may also tell you how hard you are working. Check your device’s instructions to know how to figure that out.
Walls recommends that folks try to do aerobic exercise and without one of these devices.
“As people become more used to knowing how hard they have to work to receive their heart rate up to ideal ranges, the track can be used however, is much less necessary,” said Walls.
Rios and Brown said a heart rate monitor can also be “a fantastic way to stay motivated and inspired to work hard. It enables you to know when it is possible to push harder (on these lazy days).”
Once you’ve got a good base of fitness, you can try increasing the intensity much more.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) — also called sprint interval training (SIT) — alternates extreme bursts of exercise together with rest or low-intensity activity.
“In HIIT, you work as hard as possible for a short quantity of time, anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds,” said Rios and Brown. “Then you break for a brief interval to allow your heart rate to come down a little and prepare for another interval of workout”
Rinse and repeat for 10 to half an hour.
Many people are drawn to HIIT since you get exactly the very same benefits in less time as you would with a longer, less-intense workout.
But don’t overdo it — give yourself at least one day between your HIIT workouts to recuperate.
“People often overlook that part,” said Rios and Brown. “The body actually gets stronger during your recovery period. If you continually work at a high degree of intensity without taking any rest days, you will end up very vulnerable to injuries and/or overtraining.”
How can I start exercising safely?
If you are just starting out, give your body time to adapt to the new movements and activities.
“Training should always progress slowly,” Koehler told Healthline.
If you do too much, too fast, you risk burning out or perhaps injuring yourself.
A good way to look at the physical activity guidelines would be as a long-term goal.
You may start to see changes in your energy levels after a few weeks of regular exercise, but the big shifts in your fitness can take per year or more.
So start with what you can realistically handle — both physically and time-wise.
The longer you stick with exercise, the more likely it will turn into a habit.
One 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it requires on average 66 days to construct a new habit.
So choose a plan that you can achieve each daily.
That might mean walking moderately for 20 minutes three days per week.
Once you’re comfortable with that, consider doing one day of resistance training every week. Then two. Then three.
For long-term success, increase your intensity or duration bit by bit.
And first and foremost, remember the most important principle of fitness — choose activities that you like doing.
“Pursue the things you love, but keep adding variety so as to consistently challenge your body in new ways while keeping things fresh,” said Koehler.