Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 5)
Celebrating National Physical Fitness and Sports Month by Creating a More Enjoyable, Sustainable and Beneficial Physical Fitness Plan
Steps 6 – 10
May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, sponsored by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. To celebrate this month-long event, this is the final of a series of three Life entries providing suggestions (many self-tested) on how to approach several fitness-related types of major life changes in smaller, single-step ways that can make them more fun, manageable and ultimately, sustainable.
Today’s topic: Five final steps to help you increase your physical fitness level in enjoyable ways, whether this means embarking on your first truly regular exercise routine or improving/revitalizing your current training regimen. Read on for five more suggestions on how to create a more fun, beneficial and potentially more sustainable physical fitness plan, one that you can not only start but also, stick with, expand on, and hopefully enjoy for the rest of your life.
6. Explore and experiment with options that can help keep you motivated to work out regularly. Making a commitment to others can help you keep your workout dates, whether you sign up for a fitness class or you simply have a regular walking or climbing partner. Buying a gym membership can potentially be motivating because of the expenditure – people think that if they spend the money, they’ll feel obligated to work out – but before you make this purchase, honestly assess yourself and your willingness and ability to use the membership – is it worth the investment, or would your money be better spent on another fitness-related item that might realistically get more use and motivate you more?Fitness tools like heart-rate monitors, pedometers and calorie counters can also be highly motivating, allowing you to keep track of your exercise and to work toward achieving goals. Also, rewarding your efforts along the path with small purchases like new workout clothes or gadgets as you achieve specific fitness goals works well for some individuals. The internet offers a lot of great free resources for logging your fitness progress, such as LIVESTRONG and FitDay. The key here is to assess and utilize those supplemental supports that will truly help you stay motivated and committed to improving your fitness, whether this means lining up workout companions, taking classes, buying a gym membership, downloading apps, using exercise videos, or purchasing a set of weights for your basement. It’s up to you to figure out the workouts and settings and types of commitments that motivate you, whether you exercise best in a group situation/with a partner or prefer to go it solo, or some combination of these. Your schedule and budget should of course come into consideration, too.
7. If you don’t know where to start at all, or you feel totally overwhelmed about embarking on any component of a new exercise program or training regimen, don’t hesitate to seek some expert advice or guidance from a qualified human being. A personal trainer, a clinic taught by experts or a specialized coach can educate you, motivate you, guide you, support you and instruct you, whether you simply need to sign up for a single session to get you going or you feel like you could benefit from a long-term partnership. Yes, the internet is rife with exercise information, and there are certainly tons of great resources out there in book and video format available for purchase as well, but sometimes having another person’s insights into your particular set of circumstances can prove to be the most valuable stepping stone into crafting a more productive, effective and viable personal exercise or training plan.
8. Work to establish and stay committed to a fairly regular exercise routine, but at the same time, strive be flexible and open to changing it and varying it as needed, whether this is due to work or other scheduling constraints, or to your body needing more rest than you planned on, or family/social obligations, and so forth. Remember that our minds crave the absolute certainty of routine more than our bodies – our bodies thrive on variety within continuity, meaning that if we change the time of day we exercise or we vary our routine regularly, having lighter days and heavier days and cardio-focused days and strength-focused days, and we mix those all up but keep the overall themes and goals of our exercising or training in mind and in place, our bodies will respond to our efforts.While it’s better to go for a 30-minute jog on the exact same path at the exact same time every single day than not doing any exercise at all, you’d be far better off in terms of improving your physical fitness by varying the terrain, the time of day and the distance you run, not to mention incorporating some interval training into your jog, plus a few days each week of strength training and stretching, along with some activities that challenge your balance like yoga or dance or climbing.This also means that if you miss a workout on any given day, it’s not a crisis and your training plans aren’t destroyed; you don’t even necessarily need to make it up – especially not if you’re training regularly and especially not if you’re exercising enough to be building up a bit of a deficit anyhow. Your body will likely appreciate the break and enjoy the healing time, bringing you back stronger and more refreshed than you were before.
9. Don’t overdo it, and don’t do too much too soon. It’s really common for newbie exercisers or newcomers to a training plan/sport to avidly embrace the routine without paying attention to how their body is responding – but things can quickly turn south if you take on too many elements of training too soon or if you take on too-heavy loads, too high an intensity or too much volume (or all three) for your current fitness level. Keep in mind that even with a perfect training or exercise plan, you’ll experience dips in energy levels/performance and minor regressions in your progression. Your improvement from training should ideally undulate in a wavelike fashion, with minor ups and downs, but always with the peaks of each subsequent wave cresting higher than the previous waves’ peaks. If they’re not regularly peaking higher than before, you’re probably overtraining or training improperly to improve your weaknesses (i.e. undertraining!), or both (yes, you can both overtrain and undertrain at the same time – you can overtrain your strengths while ignoring your weaknesses – worst of both worlds!).This is why it’s a good idea to deliberately include lighter weeks (or even lighter months) of training in every athlete’s or regular exerciser’s training plan. A lighter week is a week in which nothing is set in stone and you can take each workout as lightly (or even not at all) as your feelings of recovery and your excitement about physical activity dictates. This allows your body to heal and recover from any minor injuries or aches and pains. Rest is as important as working out, since muscles only grow stronger when you rest. You don’t want to hate moving your body or cultivate feelings of dread about workouts, and you definitely don’t want to end up with overtraining syndrome or overuse injuries. Of course, you can overdo it on the resting side of things, too – this is where honest self-assessment comes into play, where you have to ask yourself if you’re avoiding a workout because it might be hard, or because you’re actually too tired to do it.
10. Remember that it’s not about what others can do; if they’re working hard at whatever level they’re at, they’re actually having a similar experience to yours, even if what you can do is easy for them – and vice versa. Let go of concerns about comparing your body’s performance and abilities with other people’s bodies and their capabilities, whether natural or trained or (most likely) a combination of the two. Instead, focus on what you can do to enhance and improve your own innate physical capabilities and work to embrace your enjoyment of those capabilities by finding the joy in movement and training your body to move more adeptly and proficiently. Consider how and explore ways to effectively and efficiently change what you can’t do physically into what you can do if that’s important to you, keeping in mind all the while that enjoying the experience of testing and pushing your personal physical capabilities in the present moment – and learning to enjoy this self-driven process now – is every bit as important, if not more important, than attaining some future fitness-related goal.
The No. 1 thing that makes for a successful fitness plan or program is your ability, desire and commitment to stick with the exercise plan(s) you make. No matter how awesome an exercise plan might be in terms of training someone’s body in an ideal fashion to meet his or her goals, if that person is unable to sustain a commitment to the plan over time, the plan is a failure, through and through. A workout routine has to be something that is realistic and attainable for the person in question. It has to take into account both the strengths and the limitations of the individual. These limitations include not just current fitness level but also other relevant factors such as age, time constraints, budgetary considerations, stress levels at work/home, past injuries, health conditions and access to appropriate workout spaces, to name a few. As you work toward creating your ideal fitness plan, be sure to consider all of the above as keys to formulating a workable physical fitness routine.
A final thought to conclude this Stepping Stones series: Just as with efforts to modify your eating plan in order to lose weight, please forgive yourself now for any past workouts missed and move on. Now is the only time when you can do anything about your fitness level (or any aspect of your life you want to change, for that matter) – the past is gone and can’t be altered. It’s simply not productive to live in or dwell on the unchangeable past. Rather, it’s far more effective and important to seize the present moment and to strive to make changes – taking those first small steps that can lead to bigger transformations, overall fulfillment and greater enjoyment of life – now.
“If you go step by step, there will be no problems. Enjoy each step. Trying to leap many steps at once can be a problem.” (From “The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice,”) ~ T.K.V. Desikachar
~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambassador
Read Steps 1-5
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