How to make working out work for you!
Something my clients often tell me when I meet with them the first time is that they feel really overwhelmed with figuring out what workouts to do and how often. Should they do cardio or strength training, the treadmill or HIIT, three times a week or six? While exercise needs may be specific to your goals, there are some basic guidelines almost everyone should follow. Knowing how to make exercise efficient for you time constraints will make it more effective. Making exercise more efficient and effective means you're more likely to stick to an exercise plan. Exercise really needs to be a life-long habit. Consistency, not perfection, is the most important component of exercise. A downfall I see too many people make is that they focus on perfection, which inevitably fails at some point...because hey, life is crazy sometimes. Then when they break that cycle of perfection they feel guilty and give themselves a million reasons why they don't have time or can't exercise. In reality, making your goal consistency will allow for life to get in the way, but give you the resilience to get back to it when life gets straightened out. It's far better to exercise 1-2x a week for a lifetime than 6x a week for 3 months. Consistency, not perfection, is key!
Let's start by looking at the basic exercise recommendations according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. According to these guidelines, adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic-activity a week or an equivalent combination of moderate & high-intensity aerobic-activity. In addition, adults should strength train 2x per week working all major muscle groups. On the surface that may seem like a lot of exercise, but if you break it down it's not as much as you may think. If you do moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes 5x a week, or high-intensity exercise 20 minutes 4x a week you can meet the aerobic-activity recommendation. And keep in mind that doing 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there during the day counts!! Find pockets of time in your day to get in a few minutes of exercise. Take a 15 minute walk during your lunch break, do a minute each of squat jumps, burpees, jumping jacks, high knees and speed skaters and you're on your way to meeting the aerobic-activity goal for the week. Strength training can be done a variety of ways as well to fit into your schedule. If you have 45-60 minutes 2x a week, do total body strength training. Only have 30 minutes? Break up your strength training. Do lower body for 30 minutes 2x per week and upper body for 30 minutes 2x a week. It may initially take some planning, but fitting in the recommended amount of exercise is possible. Having said that, going back to what I said earlier...consistency is key and doing something is better then nothing! Only have 30 minutes, 3x a week? Then workout 30 minutes, 3x a week. Don't let the fact that you may not be able to perfectly fit in the recommended amount of exercise every single week keep you from exercising at all.
Now that we talked about how much, let's talk types of exercise.
1. Cardio (aerobic) exercise
So many times I see people coming to the gym, doing the same 30 minutes on the elliptical and getting frustrated when they don't see any changes. Variety when it comes to exercise will do 2 things for you. One, help you see changes and progress faster and two, keep you from getting bored which will help you stick with exercise over the long-term. Aerobic activity is important and if you love running, the elliptical or the stationary bike...awesome!! But I encourage you to change up what you do on those machines. Don't always get on the treadmill day after day, week after week and run at 4.0 miles per hour for 30 minutes. You may see some changes in the very beginning, but eventually you'll reach a plateau...either in interest or physical changes. Run at 4.0 miles per hour for 30 minutes sometimes, walk at a brisk pace for 60 seconds followed by a jog for 60 seconds repeating for 30 minutes sometimes, change the incline sometimes and throw in sprints sometimes. And if you can, run or ride a bike outside occassionally. Changing up what you do on the treadmill, elliptical or whatever type of cardio equipment you like to use will keep you from getting bored and keep your body guessing, decreasing the chance of reaching a plateau.
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is one of my favorite ways to get my cardio exercise. I'm lazy when it comes to cardio and if I'm keeping it real...I would rather be like cardi-NO thank you (anyone with me??)! However, I see the importance of cardio in keeping my heart and lungs healthy and efficient and helping me maintain a healthy weight among other things, so I do it even if I don't love it. This is why I love HIIT. I can get an amazing cardio workout in 20-25 minutes and then I can cross cardio off my list for another day. Interval training can be done in different formats and can be modified to fit any fitness level. So what exactly is HIIT? HIIT is when you do an exercise for a short burst (20-60 seconds typically) followed by short rest periods (10-60 seconds) repeated for a predetermined number of sets. You can get a great interval workout just using your own body weight without any equipment. Just a quick example would be to pick 5 exercises (I'm picking squat jumps, burpees, jumping lunges, mountain climbers and speed skaters), do each one for 30 seconds followed by 15 seconds rest and repeat for 4-5 sets with 60 seconds rest between sets. Do this and you've just done a 20-25 minute HIIT workout!! If you're short on time, this may be the type of cardio exercise for you because you can get such an effective workout done in a short amount of time with little to no equipment. In fact, you can do these workouts right at home because you don't need anything other than body weight.
2. Strength Training
Finally, I get to talk about my favorite exercise. I love strength training...for so many reasons. But I won't get into all of them here. For women especially, strength training seems to be a little overwhelming. First, there is the belief that if women lift heavy they will bulk up bro! I'm here to promise you that the average women will not bulk up. What will happen, however, is you will build some muscle (not bulky muscle) and strength which can help with weight loss and confidence (if feels really good to be strong enough to do something without needing to ask for help). Second, the weight room at many gyms can be a scary and intimidating place. With all the weird grunting noises and odd smells it is a little overwhelming at first. Trust me...I avoided the weight room for a long time because of this. But I overcame my fear by bringing a friend along! Third, I often hear women say they don't know what to do for strength training or are afraid of getting hurt. A group fitness class geared toward strength training, a knowledgeable, experienced workout buddy or working with a personal trainer can help you figure it out safely. Strength training is necessary for lasting weight loss and to keep strength as we age. Unfortunately, we lose strength with age if we don't work on it. Ever see an older person who has a hard time getting out of their favorite recliner? Often it has to do with a loss of lower body strength. The good news is there are probably a million different exercises for strength training every muscle in the body. So you should never get bored and always feel challenged. Split up your strength training as I discussed above to fit your schedule. Try doing 8-12 reps for 2-3 sets of each strength training exercise for the best results, and make sure to hit each major muscle 2x per week.
3. Flexibility/Balance Training
Although this isn't addressed in the guidelines, working on flexibility and balance are an important component to a balanced exercise program. Yoga or Pilates is a great way to do this. I recommend working on this at least 2x a week. You can even work on balance while doing everyday activities. When you are cooking, talking on the phone, folding laundry, or watching TV work on balance by standing on one leg as long as you can. Work on flexibility by doing a variety of stretches either while watching TV or before bed as a way to relax before going to sleep. Just find a way to work on both. We also start to lose flexibility and balance as we age and the only way to prevent that is to make a targeted effort to work on it.
So now that we've talked about what and how much, I've got another tip for you. What exercise should you do? Whatever exercise you enjoy doing. Finding exercise you enjoy will mean you will be more likely to stick to it over the long term. If you love running...run, if you are a social person...take a group exercise class. Just find something you love and do that as often as possible. And find a way to tolerate the other types of exercise you need to be doing for better overall health. For me, this means HIIT training for my cardio. I don't love cardio, but knowing that I can be done in just 20 minutes makes it doable for me. I love strength training, so that is easier for me to get done. I teach Pilates, so I get my flexibility/balance training in that group exercise class. And please always remember...consistency not perfection!!!
Still overwhelmed, just need help getting started with exercise or want an exercise plan customized specifically for you and your goals? Let's work together. I offer in-home personal training along with some other options. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a FREE consultation so we can talk about how I can help you.