The Pumping Station

Starting An Exercise Program

Starting An Exercise Program

by Vicki Pierson,
ACE Certified Personal Trainer

 


 

 

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If you're considering putting an exercise program together it's perfectly normal to have a lot of questions swimming around in your head. What's the best activity to participate in? How do I get the most out of exercising? How long should I exercise?

Often, the hardest part of getting into shape is taking the first step. Here are some simple steps to help you begin your journey.

Think F.I.T.
To make physical improvements, you need to work your body harder than usual. This is referred to as the overload principle. As your body becomes more conditioned, you need to increase the frequency, intensity, or time of your workouts in order to continue improving your fitness level.

Exercise Component 1: Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise increases the health and function of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. For maximum effectiveness, aerobic exercise needs to be rhythmic, continuous and involve the large muscle groups (primarily located in the lower part of your body.) Walking, jogging, cycling, aerobic dance, and stair climbing are examples of activities that use large muscle groups. Activities combining upper and lower body movements such as cross-country skiing, rowing, and swimming can lead to even higher levels of aerobic capacity.

Exercise Component 2: Strength Training
Strength training is the process of exercising with progressively heavier resistance to build or retain muscle. Unless you perform regular strength exercise, you will lose up to one-half pound of muscle every year of life after age 25. Muscle is a very active tissue with high energy requirements, even when you are asleep, your muscles are responsible for over 25% of your calorie use. An increase in muscle tissue causes a corresponding increase in the number of calories your body will burn, even at rest.

Exercise Component 3: Flexibility
Flexibility is a critical element of an exercise program but it is often overlooked. Stretching is important for a number of reasons; increases physical performance, decreases risk of injury, increases blood supply and nutrients to the joints, increases neuromuscular coordination, reduces soreness, improves balance, decreases risk of low back pain, and reduces stress in muscles.

Choosing an Exercise
The best exercise is an activity that you enjoy enough to really pursue enthusiastically. Experiment with different forms of activity (cross training). Alternating new activities with old favorites will keep your enthusiasm high. Cross training also helps avoid injury due to repeatedly doing the same activity. Here are some suggestions:

Determining Your Starting Point
To achieve cardiovascular benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends exercising 3-5 times per week (frequency) with a training heart rate of 60-85 percent of your maximum (intensity) for 20-60 minutes (time).

To attain muscular fitness benefits, the ACSM recommends weight training two days per week (frequency), performing one to three sets of 10 repetitions (time) of eight to ten different exercises at approximately 70-85 percent of your one repetition maximum (intensity.)

If you're just beginning an exercise program, start in the low range of the above recommendations. For example, participate in a cardiovascular activity (walking, aerobics, cycling, etc.) for 20 minutes, three times a week and add strength training exercises to your workout, twice a week. Schedule your strength training workouts with 48 hours rest in between to allow your muscles to recuperate and repair after each workout.

Begin Slowly and Gradually Build
Unfamiliarity with movements and equipment can prove frustrating enough that you may consider throwing in the towel. Take heart, it's normal to feel awkward in the beginning, especially if you have undertaken an activity that you aren't familiar with. It doesn't take long for your skill to improve if you stick with it. After all, even fitness instructors were once beginners!

If you attempt "too much, too soon" it will lead to soreness, fatigue and/or injuries. Work at your own level, start out slow, and gradually increase duration and level of difficulty as your body progresses. Getting fit is not an overnight proposition, it's a lifestyle commitment. Don't expect immediate dramatic changes in your body shape or weight loss. Although changes are happening internally, most external benefits won't become visible for the first four to six weeks. Stay focused on your lifestyle choice and celebrate the internal benefits you're experiencing such as increased energy, less stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem, and an increased feeling of well-being.

Staying Motivated
Only one-third of those who begin an exercise program are still exercising by the end of their first year. The good news is that with some strategizing and planning, you can beat the dropout odds and make a successful transition to a lifestyle that incorporates exercise. Here's some tips to help you stay motivated.

 

Before beginning any exercise program check with your physician.

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