Something about the Holiday Season creates an irrepressible guilt that seems to predictably surface the day after New Year’s. Maybe we ate too much, exercised too little, are feeling a little overweight and out of shape. So, we buy a gym membership on January 2nd, enlist the services of a personal trainer, buy a heart rate monitor and away we go off toward our new-found destiny with health, fitness, and improved self-image. It has been this way for decades in my observations, as a regular health club member who has always dreaded the “January Rush”, mostly because I have to wait for machines to open up.
If your fitness commitment is new-found than don’t make a fad out of it. Here are a few good general rules to live by that will make your exercise more enjoyable, successful, and increase the chances that you’ll stick with it:
1. Warm-up and Warm-Down – The reality is that we should all spend 10 or 15 minutes stretching before every work out or competition because it loosens us up and reduces the risk of injury.
2. Hydrate – drinking water is important and, for exercise of longer duration, drinks containing electrolytes can help overcome premature cramping and fatigue that are symptoms of being dehydrated.
3. Start Slow and Build a Base – Every solid house needs a foundation and so does your exercise program. If you are just beginning an exercise program it is very important to build a base through proper zone training. This is where a heart rate monitor becomes an invaluable tool and combined with the advice of fitness professional it can go a long ways toward starting you off on the right foot.
4. Get Advice – All serious athletes and fitness buffs should use a personal trainer, or coach, to talk about goals, develop a realistic schedule and plan, and to act as a motivator. Decide why you are exercising – for general fitness, to get better at golf, at skiing, or some other sport. A trainer can help you develop a sport specific routine that will enhance your enjoyment of whatever it is that you want to enjoy. It is also critical to know proper technique for all sports and this is especially true for weight lifting – we don’t want to see you injured when you’ve just gotten out of the starting blocks.
5. Monitor Your Rest & Recovery – It is important to keep track of your resting heart rate on a daily basis. It is a good gauge of fitness and provides a benchmark that lets you know how well you have recovered. If you normal resting pulse is 60 and following three hard days of training you awake to find it at 70 that is a good indication that you need a day off to rest. Taking periodic days off provides your body with the opportunity to recover rejuvenate and re-build.
6. Plan Your Training in Modules – It is important to plan your training in modules. When I was a competitive cyclist we called the first 1,000 to 2,000 miles each year our base building period. We had rules we followed such as trying to maintain a cadence between 90 and 100 pedal revolutions per minute and we never used the big chain ring until our base period was completed. Develop similar rules for your base building that are consistent with reaching the final goal – better fitness, faster 10k time, or whatever your goals may be. There is a progression for any sport that if adhered to will help ensure you reach your goals.
7. Write Down Your Goals and Your Schedule – There is an old saying – “That which gets measured is that which can be improved”. Plan your training weekly and it doesn’t hurt to have a dietary plan, either. Many heart rate monitors will allow you to measure calories burned and if you measure calories consumed and know what your resting calorie burn rate is you can calculate total caloric burn versus intake. No matter how many dietary fads develop the real truth is that if caloric burn is greater than uptake you will lose weight and it’s the only dietary truth that has withstood the test of time.
While most of these rules are just good common sense and basics, it is always good to go through basic training before embarking on any new adventure. Happy Holidays!