Back to school…back to basics

Fall into a consistent routine

In the past several articles I have discussed the importance of exercise intensity and efficiency. Additionally, I have introduced to many of you the concept of interval training as the preferred method of aerobic conditioning. While these elements of a training program are still of high importance to me, I think it is time to take a step back and return to the core of my philosophy as it relates to exercise and physical activity. First and foremost I believe in making a consistent committed effort towards regular physical activity. I don’t care how great a program is or how great a piece of equipment purports to be, it is only great if you use it.

The problem for many of us is that we are all or nothing. We spend years being totally inactive and then we watch the Crossfit games on ESPN and are inspired to get into shape. The inspiration that is delivered is not the issue, the problem is that we decide to copy it into our own workouts with little to no training. Shortly thereafter, we become really sore or possibly injured, and then we realize that these workouts are way too intense. Instead of scaling back the workout, we instead quit and return to doing nothing.

Our individual fitness levels fall somewhere on the continuum of beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Where we presently fall on this continuum should determine where we begin our exercise programs, not where we hope to be someday. We should be very progressive in developing our programs, incrementally increasing the intensity of our workouts. If it’s been awhile, maybe Jennifer Garner’s workout from her celebrity trainer is not the place to start. I look at the human body as I would a building. For a tall building to be strong and stable it must have a good foundation or a strong base. Our bodies are no different. With my personal training clients I help build them a good foundation. I teach them the basics. We initially begin very slowly, strengthening their core (I define the core as everything between you’re hips and shoulders, not just your abdominals), teaching them the fundamentals of how to push, how to pull, how to squat, how to lunge, essentially how to move. Once they have a good foundation we then up the intensity by increasing the difficulty of the movements, by increasing the loads, by combining movements to create compound movements, by shortening rest times, and by linking movements together just to name several of the strategies I employ. It is amazing to see the progress and the commitment to exercise that develops when the approach is gradual and focused more on improving strength and function, and becoming more active in general rather than a bottom line number on a scale. My experience has been that if you put performance first then, with proper nutrition, the desired aesthetics will follow.

For many of us it is getting over that initial hump of beginning a program that is critical to our long-term commitment to regular activity and thus our success. Before you begin you should accurately assess your current fitness level, and honestly evaluate your current exercise and activity participation. Many of us tend to overestimate the amount of physical activity we partake in; an honest appraisal is necessary if we are ever going to achieve the results we desire. The food pyramid places different types of food in various categories. Nutrition experts recommend that we get a certain number of servings from each category in order to get a balanced diet. The approach to an active lifestyle is similar. There are several forms of activity all of which play an important role in improving our overall health and fitness. They are activities of daily living, recreational activities and formal exercise. Grocery shopping, walking the dog, walking to the train station, and your occupation are some examples of daily activities. Golf, tennis, rollerblading, basketball, soccer, softball, and gardening are some examples of recreational activities. And then there is formal exercise that includes activities such as weight lifting, aerobic exercise, yoga, Pilates, and martial arts. It is important to participate in activities that fall into each of these categories. Earlier I mentioned assessing your current activity participation levels. Now go back and do it again but differentiate what you do by category and evaluate where and how you can make improvements. Performing formal exercise 3x per week for 30 minutes is a great start, but it can’t completely make up for an otherwise completely sedentary life. Start thinking of strategies to incorporate extra activity into your day. On the flip side playing sports, and walking further from your car in the parking lot to get to the store can’t replace the benefits of formal exercise. The point is that it is not an either/or. Each of these categories are a piece of the puzzle, a complement to one another, and all vital to feeling better and becoming more functional and more productive.

For beginners the first thing, the hardest thing to do is to get in the boat. We can’t begin your journey if you aren’t on board. Once we get you in the boat the goal is to gradually increase the amount of activity that you participate in until it becomes a consistent regular part of your life; in other words a routine. For the more advanced exerciser the goal should be a greater move towards quality and efficiency, rather than just quantity. For some this group, commitment is often not the problem. The issue is about aversion to change. I addressed the importance of variety in my last article and how it can help the stagnant break through and achieve further progress. For those advanced exercisers in a rut, the solution is probably not an issue of doing more. For many, the problem is they are doing too much. Higher intensity, more efficient, shorter duration workouts with greater recovery time in between may be a better solution. Recovery strategies including massage, self-myofascial release using a foam roller and stick are also beneficial to improved performance.

In conclusion, the answer to improving our health and fitness is probably not some new piece of equipment or the latest workout fad; it may be as basic as moving more and sitting less.

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