This post is written by a physically average guy who has never quite fully committed to an exercise routine or fitness lifestyle since his high school years. That is, until recently.
In late January for my 28th birthday, I decided to casually sign up for a monthly gym membership at a fitness facility a few blocks away from where I work. I also invested in about 2.5 months worth of personal training sessions, serving primarily as a means of accountability so that I do not slack off and lose sight of my primary personal objective: “to get back in shape.”
A little about me: I’m a fulltime web designer working in a co-working space in San Francisco. My day job consists of sitting for hours at a time (with occasional short breaks) while working at a desk station. Generally I get a minimal level of exercise during three parts of my day: walking from home to public transit to work, finding sustenance during my lunch hour, and walking from the office to public transit to home. Sound familiar? It’s all pretty average for the most part, and is a typical portrait of an urban American career.
I’ve compiled this post to share the five most important things I’ve learned during my initial three weeks of personal training, nutrition counseling and long-term fitness planning. As you read this, please keep in mind this is coming from someone who has previously given little thought to regular physical activity.
With that said, I present to you five ways to improve your fitness!
1. DETERMINE YOUR GOALS
Let’s be honest. Everyone wants to tone up, but not many people have the willpower or discipline to put in the effort required to get results. You have to decide what you want out of yourself, just like in every other aspect of your life. Fitness is no different than a job or a relationship. It takes effort, and you’ll only get out of it what you put into it!
If you are unsure of what you want to accomplish at the gym, talk to a personal trainer first before you start doing what you think is best. They generally offer a free body composition test and consultation with no obligation to sign up for further sessions. These folks can also provide you with invaluable feedback on proper technique and will give you plenty of encouragement to get through the beginning stages of your goals. These are often the hardest!
Either way, what the professionals will tell you is that you need to alter your routine between resistance training/upper body workouts and endurance/cardio training. Variety is the key to keeping your body from hitting a plateau. Imposing dynamic stresses on your body will help you to stay strong and reach the next level more quickly.
2. Develop A Routine
Fitness is not something that can be ignored. It must be integrated into your lifestyle. I have been telling myself long enough that when time is available for a walk, I’ll get on it. But you can’t count on time to be available. You have to MAKE time and CREATE a routine, otherwise it will never happen.
Time is our ultimate resource in life. It’s a resource that goes beyond the temporary such as money or comparable quantitative tools. Open up your Google Calendar. Determine how to make it work. Know that your health comes with sacrifices, and you should be okay with making them. If you create a consistent plan for yourself, you are already half-way there.
If you struggle with accountability in your life, it would be beneficial to start your fitness plan with a personal trainer and develop a routine. And there surely won’t be any shortage of challenge by taking this route!
3. Monitor What You Eat
Perhaps one of the most crucial aspects to becoming healthier is being conscious of what you are eating on a daily basis. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between: every calorie, every snack and beverage, every little splurge counts. It’s all relevant! Clearly, we all know this, but how often does one think twice about grabbing an additional side of fries or having an extra beer during happy hour?
Take note of what food is really worth. Try using a calorie counting app, such as the free and popular MyFitnessPal, to begin tracking your meals. If something is not helping you to meet your goals, cut it out of your diet entirely. This includes alcohol, which provides very little nutritional value and takes a deep slice out of your daily caloric intake. Remember: what you put into your tank directly correlates to what you’ll get out of it.
There is a lot of ground to cover with this one in particular. It is such a big topic, especially when you get into the different kind of diet options available to you. But I’ll leave it at this for now and may revisit this again at a later time.
4. Learn How To Properly Stretch
To keep up with your routine, you’ll need to prevent the chances of injury from occurring. Learning proper stretching techniques will ensure that you can continue on your path to success without it ending abruptly. We’ve all done them, but perhaps ineffectively. That is, until someone shows us a better way.
One of the best devices I’ve come across to assist in stretching is the foam roller. By using a foam roller, you can ease tension in your muscles and endure longer training sessions. Whether you use a foam roller or perform stretches manually, you’ll want to hold your stretch for at least 30 seconds for it to be of benefit to you.
Don’t try to cut corners with pre and post-workout stretches. You can’t fool your body here! If you are uncertain as to the proper technique of a stretch, be sure to consult a professional or someone who wouldn’t mind showing you, such as a friend or colleague.
5. Use Your Body’s Own Resistance
The best workouts don’t necessarily involve intense cardio work, large machines, or even equipment at all. You can accomplish an insane amount of progress just by using your body’s natural resistance and the wonderful force of gravity to get you breaking a sweat in no time.
Planks, lunges, floor cobras, squats, push-ups, crunchies and sit-ups are very effective when integrated into a fitness routine. These types of exercises can be performed virtually anywhere — at home, at your office, in the park, etc. — and are therefore invaluable. Depending upon the exercise, you’ll also be increasing your core strength which is essential to develop for more advanced exercises later on.
A great tool to help you use your own resistance is TRX, which involves utilizing suspended cables with handles to work on various muscle groups without interacting with heavy machinery. If you do not have access to TRX, I suggest giving the SWORKIT app a try. It comes in free and pro versions, and will help you to perform these types of exercises quickly via short, concise video demonstrations. It’s a great timesaver for those always on the go.
Health is not a destination, it is a lifestyle. Fitness must be as important as every other aspect in your day for it to change your life. There are plenty of ways to approach fitness, however be aware that some are more expensive than others — and if something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Repeat after me: no shortcuts, no judgments, only self-improvement.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make progress towards being a healthier person. It just takes the right attitude and a simple desire to better yourself. There are plenty of apps available which are great tools but should not be relied on entirely. In general, it comes down to what you are willing to take on and acknowledging the opportunity cost that comes with it.
The most important thing you can do to move forward is to start. Not next week. Not tomorrow. But today. Give it a shot, and you may end up surprising yourself with how rewarding it can be!
Have a comment? Feel free to leave your thoughts below!