Some Tips for Starting a New Exercise Program

Before you jump into an exercise program to shed those extra holiday pounds as part of your New Year’s Day resolution, pay attention to the tips provided in this article. Before you begin, be smart. Before checking local health clubs or buying a home gym, get a physical and get your doctor’s approval to pursue a fitness regimen.

When the doctor gives you the green light and if you are an exercise novice, consider hiring a certified personal trainer or conditioning specialist to help meet your goals and needs. Your physician may even recommend a certified trainer or a registered dietitian to get you started. The local library or bookstore also carries fitness, weight training and nutrition publications to complement your workouts.

How to go about achieving your goals

Proceed slowly and set a realistic goal. If you need to drop excess weight and body fat, for instance, realize that it will not come overnight. Others may be on the opposite side of the spectrum and need to gain weight and muscle for specific sports. It takes discipline, determination and dedication, and if you have someone to motivate you such as a personal trainer or conditioning coach, the results may come quicker than if you embark on your own. Again, be realistic not in dreamland.

If you want to look like a magazine model, sometimes genetics play a role preventing you from attaining the large musculature of the model no matter how hard you train. However, with dedication and a consistent approach (and without resorting to risky performance-enhancing supplements), you can naturally enhance your appearance (increased muscle mass/lower body fat percentage, for example) through a combination of weight training and aerobic exercise.

Health professionals are endorsing weight training for youths, adults and the elderly (using barbells, dumbbells, machines, bands, weighted balls or your own bodyweight, for instance) to strengthen muscles, bones, joints and tendons, lower the risk of osteoporosis, and increase muscle and reduce body fat. Aerobic exercise such as walking, bicycling, or jogging builds cardiovascular endurance, strengthens the heart, and enables you to go distances without fatiguing.

Three Keys to Fitness

Exercise is terrific. But it will only get you a third of the way. Two other necessary components to a fitness program are nutrition and rest. Adhere to a balanced diet comprising plenty of water, and healthful carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and protein sources such as nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, meat, fish, cheese, milk or yogurt, and beneficial fats such as olive oil, fatty fish and nuts.

Balanced nutrition will provide the fuel for your workouts and the post-workout meals will promote the recovery phase of training. Rather than follow the latest trendy diet, it’s really all about calories consumed versus calories expended through exercise and other forms of physical activity. Exorbitant calories consumed (whether it be in the form of too many protein foods or carbohydrates or high fat foods) and insufficient activity will eventually expand your waistline.

The third component, rest/sleep between workouts is equally significant to restore energy and boost recovery to help build muscle and reduce fat between exercise sessions. Bear in mind that muscle growth occurs after training during rest/sleep and not during your workouts. So try to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep regularly to ensure recovery.

Starting your Exercise Program

An intense full-body training session focusing on muscle groups in the upper and lower body should be done within 30 to 45 minutes (no longer than an hour including warmup) and requires 48 to 72 hours of recovery. Training hard the next day without sufficient recovery can compromise the immune system and prevent progress.

If you are beginning an exercise program, schedule weight training sessions two or three times weekly on non-consecutive days (try Monday, Wednesday and Friday if done three times/week), then, as you increase the resistance and intensity of your workouts, train twice weekly (Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday, for example) to allow for more recovery time.

A 15 to 30 minute brisk walk, light jogging, gardening, cleaning floors or other types of moderate exercise or activities on your non-weight training days will supplement your fitness program. And, whether you’re a novice or experienced exerciser or athlete, always warm up the muscles (i.e. jog in place for two to five minutes, or do a set or two lifting light weights before using heavier weights) to minimize the chance of injury. And, make sure you cool down after each workout by gently stretching the muscles.

Resuming Training After Illness, Injury or Procrastination

If you are resuming an exercise program after illness, injury or just not finding time to fit fitness into your life (i.e. procrastination), go slowly as a first-time exerciser would do. Jumping right in and training hard the first day after weeks or months of not training can be detrimental. Proceed gradually for example with weight training exercises.

After a long layoff, your strength declined, muscles may have atrophied, and trying to lift the same or close to the same amount of weight preceding the time away from the gym may aggravate an injury and set you back again. Also, after a layoff, the muscles have to adapt and muscle soreness generally occurs the next day or may last a few days after your first workout.

In Summary

In conclusion, if you are new to exercise, first get a physical. Before exercising on your own, either hire a personal trainer or join a health club where a certified instructor can customize and monitor a program for you. Familiarize yourself by reading books or magazines with illustrations and descriptions of weight training exercises, for example.

A well-rounded fitness program combines resistance training (using weights, machines, or your own bodyweight, for example) with aerobic exercise (cycling, walking, jogging), and regular stretching to promote flexibility. Besides exercise, balanced nutrition and adequate sleep are two other basic components in a fitness program. Consult a nutritionist or registered dietitian to incorporate meal plans with your exercise program.

And remember that muscle growth is enhanced by periods of deep sleep lasting seven or eight hours. Set realistic goals for yourself and be consistent and patient. Try to increase the resistance gradually in each weight training exercise and increase the intensity of each workout with shorter rest periods between sets of exercises, for instance. And for those who are resuming exercise after illness or injury or procrastination, ease back into it with one or two light workouts before upping the intensity.