It really is as simple as putting on a pair of shoes and moving. Anything other than sitting on the couch is good for your health. However, if you want to see improvements in your fitness level, here are ten strategies for exercising properly, preventing injury, and avoiding frustration.
1. Consistency. One workout every two weeks is better than zero workouts every two weeks. Don’t quit your gym membership just because you haven’t been there in a while. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, get back on and move forward. You need to exercise several times a week for the rest of your life.
2. Appropriate Intensity. Exercise must overload your muscles, heart, and lungs in order for these body systems to adapt and get stronger. No overload, no results. No results = waste of time. Ensure your intensity zone is challenging enough to see results, but not so difficult for you to become discouraged or injured.
3. Time Effectiveness. Regular life gobbles up most of our 168 hours each week. Workouts must make maximal use of your time invested, or your adherence will go out the window. Choose movements that use multiple joints and more than one muscle group simultaneously. Transition quickly between movements and have a little downtime as possible.
4. Muscle Balance. Because we are forward-moving creatures, we have an imbalance of strength and flexibility on the front and back sides of our body. This leads to misaligned joints and potentially injury and pain. A comprehensive workout plan targets upper, lower, front, back, right, and left sides of the body.
5. Rest. Exercise is stress on the body. During a workout, you tear muscles, inflame connective tissues, and deplete energy stores. After a workout, you are broken and weak. Go home and rest. This time is needed for your heart, lungs, and muscles become stronger and more efficient. Amount of rest needed depends on exercise intensity and specific body parts targeted.
6. Cross-Training. The body has a sneaky way of finding the path of least resistance. Have the same workout over and over and over, and you’ll smash into a motivational plateau. Cross train by choosing a variety of workouts and activities to move your body in different ways, preventing injury and maintaining interest.
7. Proper technique. Every joint is designed to handle a certain amount of force, plane of movement, and range of motion. Improper technique (too much force, twisting, or beyond range of motion) is a sure path to injury. Watch out for momentum too. Uncontrolled speed is both ineffective and detrimental.
8. Realistic & Measurable Goals. Set yourself up for success. “I will get outside and walk vigorously for 45 minutes four times a week for the next two months” is a goal over which you have 100% control. Try to keep pounds and inches out of your goal statements. Let weight loss simply be a positive side effect of a healthy lifestyle.
9. Accountability. The hardest part of every workout is showing up. Hire a fitness trainer, team up with your best friend, or join a group. Thinking of a valid excuse about why you’d rather be home on the couch is almost impossible when someone is counting on you. Even on your laziest or busiest day, accountability works.
10. Fun. There are as many ways to move your arms and legs as there are people in the world. There is no reason why a workout should feel like punishment or simply a means to an end. Find what you like, and DO IT. Exercise is invigorating, empowering, and a darn good time.
When it comes to achieving the disease prevention and stress management benefits of exercise, lace up and head out the door almost daily. These ten strategies may leave you with more questions than answers. Seek the help of a fitness professional (personal training or group exercise) to ensure your time and energy is spent wisely. You’re worth the investment.
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