It’s easy to have the best of intentions when it comes to fitness.
We make vague promises about going to the gym three times a week, about doing more cardio, or working on our strength.
But what does that actually look like in practice? Without the the help of an expensive personal trainer, figuring out the best way to hit your individual fitness goals can be really tricky.
And not having a plan can lead to some seriously half-hearted workouts, a lack of clear results, and a loss of motivation.
Carol Espel, director of fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center, has shared her tips for creating a bespoke exercise program to fit your needs, and, crucially, how to commit to doing it.
‘To ensure your success, I would recommend investing in a thorough fitness evaluation and assessment from a qualified exercise physiologist who is also a certified personal trainer,’ suggests Carol.
‘From there, you learn much information about yourself, your health, and your movement capabilities to put together a program most appropriate for you.’
Once you have that in hand, Carol says you should consider your over-arching goals for the workout.
‘Is it to improve health, fitness, and athleticism?’ she asks. ‘There may be cross-over. It’s important to identify yours to program safely and effectively.’
Next, she says you should identify your top three-five goals for your specific exercise plan.
‘Then take each goal apart and answer the following questions for yourself:
‘Is it specific – what exactly are you going to do and how are you going to do it? No room for vagueness here.
‘Is it measurable – how will you measure your progress over time?
‘Is it achievable – are you going to be able to manage this?
‘Is it timely – is there a time frame you can set for yourself?’
To keep yourself on track, Carol suggests you evaluate yourself after four weeks.
‘Do any adjustments need to be made? If it helps, consider getting that trainer back to assess your program and revise and update with your feedback,’ she adds.
The four components of fitness
Make sure your workout includes the four key components of fitness: aerobic endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility.
‘For each of the components use the standardized F.I.T.T. principle:
Frequency (how often you will do each one of these components throughput the week based on your goals).
Intensity (how hard you will work during each exercise session).
Time: (how much time do you have to work out each week and how do you want to organize that time so you can reasonably achieve your goals?)
Type: (what kind of activities will you do to meet your goals?).
‘All of these components are important, so be strategic knowing your time limitations and plan accordingly.
‘Follow the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) guidelines for recommendations on each component.’
How to stay motivated
Getting started isn’t always the hard part, sometimes the toughest thing is to stick with it.
Carol has shared her top tips to help you stay engaged, excited and motivated by your workout plan:
1. Make it fun.
Do something you really enjoy. If you love dancing, find a local Zumba or other dance classes. If you hate the treadmill, maybe you have a local park with trails and hills.
2. Anything counts.
Do something, anything, each day – even when you are snoozing the alarm clock!
3. Make exercise a part of your daily routine.
Just like brushing your teeth.
4. Enlist social support.
Ask a neighbor, friend or even family member to join you in your mission.
5. Stay loose.
If you just need a day or two off, go with it and get right back in the next day. Or if you have to work late, re-book your exercise ‘appointment’ for the next day.
6. Put your exercise clothes out the night before.
Ready for your morning workout.
7. Invest in the right kit.
Consider getting new pair of fitness shoes to replace the old, worn out ones.
How often should you workout?
‘You risk injury, pain and soreness and fatigue when you over-train not to mention de-motivation,’ says Carol.
‘The fitness gains are actually lessened when you over-train. The ACSM recommends five days a week to safely and effectively train.’
But what about under-training?
‘Bottom line, exercising once or twice a week is going to make health and fitness gains tough,’ says Carol.
‘When you train so little, your muscles aren’t able to strengthen properly. You continue to get sore the day after you exercise which often leads to frustration and de-motivation.
‘However, I don’t want to discount the value of any kind of exercise. If one or two days a week is the best you can do, start with that. One day at a time.
‘For the best results, go with the science that supports credible and safe systems.
‘Overall, what’s most important is you. Your lifestyle, your work and what you can realistically manage.
‘Less is more when starting your program. If you can manage three days to start with, three it is.
‘Set yourself up for a safe, pain-free, successful exercise program.’
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