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Principles for Starting an Exercise Program

Before and After BMI

April 24, 2013

Principles for Starting an Exercise Program

We spend a lot of our time focusing on eating the right foods, finding healthy recipes, and taking the right vitamins. These are very important parts of the weight loss process, but we also need to make sure we are incorporating the right exercise program into our lives. While some people already have an exercise program that works well for them, if you are one of those people who does not, hopefully this will provide some helpful information about starting a program or improving an existing exercise program.

One of the questions that I am frequently asked is “what kind of exercises should I be doing?” In picking the right exercise routine it is important to remember that while the same exercise plan may not be appropriate for everyone, there are some fundamental principles that everyone should be working on in order to get the most out of their workouts.

Principle 1: Set aside some dedicated time for exercise.

Many of us do a lot of walking as part of our job or part of our daily routine. While being active is great, there is a difference between exercising and being active. In order to get the most out of your exercise time you need to set aside some sacred time designed just for your exercise. As a general rule of thumb this should be 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times a week. If you can do more than that, fantastic, but everyone should be aiming for at least 30 minutes every other day. You can choose to exercise alone, or with a group. Some people love to exercise with their family, some with a good friend, or some prefer to use their exercise time as personal time. Whatever your preference, make sure it is a regular routine that you can count on as part of your life.

Principle 2: Mix it up

Great athletes have repeatedly shown that the key to a successful exercise program is variety. The body adapts over time to the same exercises and routines. Over time muscle memory kicks in, and the body gets less out of a repeated exercise unless you mix up your workouts and introduce some new work outs as well. A good routine should incorporate some cardiovascular exercises, and some weight exercises. Make sure you work all your major muscle groups. Your cardiovascular exercises can be as simple as strenuous walking, jogging, running, elliptical training, swimming, dancing, or bicycling. The weight exercises can involve weight lifting, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups or crunches, or resistance bands. Find the combination that works for you. You can choose to do both cardio and weights in the same workout, or you can separate them to different days. If you are just starting out I recommend a day of cardio followed by a day of weights. When you do weights, don’t make the mistake of working every muscle group in the same work out. Do chest and shoulders one day, thighs and buttocks another. The one exception I recommend to this would be to incorporate a short abdominal routine with most of your workouts. The body’s core muscles which include the abs and back muscles are able to recover quicker than other muscle groups, and once you have gotten use to exercising them on a regular basis you will notice less back pain, and improved performance in your other exercises.

Principle 3: Keep track of your progress

As you get used to your exercise routine, you will notice it becomes easier, and may become too easy. That is the time to bump it up to the next level. That can involve increasing your time or distance if you are working on cardio, or increasing your weight if you are working on weights. Keeping a record of your progress will not only motivate you, but will also help you identify the workouts that work best for you.  By keeping track of your progress you will be more likely to try to continually improve your workouts rather than fall into the rut of continuing an exercise that is not sufficiently challenging your body.

Principle 4: Have fun

Find a routine that you enjoy. Exercise does not have to be a painful or dreaded part of your day; on the contrary it should be a part of the day you look forward to. If you are not enjoying the exercise you are doing, look for a different one. It is very difficult to maintain a program long term if you do not enjoy it.

We have a lot of resources available to help if you need suggestions or examples of routines. Come by the gym at Foundation and talk with the trainers to get some additional workout ideas. We can also help you arrange a fitness evaluation to help determine your ideal heart rate during your exercise. While this isn’t a comprehensive guide to fitness, I hope it helps if you are looking for some direction on getting started.

Rich Englehardt, MD