Exercise is the proverbial trump card. It’s the one thing that everyone can benefit from. Unfortunately, it’s the one thing lacking from many people’s lives.
When done right, exercise can improve strength, cardiovascular health, energy, mood, and overall well being. It can decrease the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis, and it’s an important part of the treatment process for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and chronic fatigue.
If you are exercising (if not, start immediately), follow these 10 tips to make sure you’re doing it right and getting the most out of your training program.
Tip 1: Get an assessment. Before you start any training program, it’s a good idea to get an exercise assessment. This will reveal where your weaknesses lie and establish where you need to focus your training. Correcting weaknesses and dysfunctions is a great way to prevent injury and increase training longevity. Remember, if you’re not assessing, you’re just guessing.
Tip 2: Have a plan. Know what you want to accomplish before you get to the gym and have your workout on paper, preferably with space to make notes and record weights. You should also know what you want to accomplish long term and have a plan to achieve it. Remember, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”
Tip 3: Perform strength training and cardiovascular training. Walk into any commercial fitness center and you’ll see mostly women on the cardio equipment and mostly men lifting weights. A sound training program should include both weight training – to build and strengthen muscles – and cardio – to improve cardiovascular health. It’s best to lift weights before you do cardio, or perform them on separate days.
Tip 4: Stay hydrated. Drinking plain old H20 before, during, and after your workout (and throughout the day) is a great way to ensure maximum performance in the gym. You can use the pee color test to determine your hydration level.
Tip 5: Make it enjoyable. Training hard at the gym is effective, but it’s not always fun. Balance the arduous with the enjoyable by adding in activities that combine exercise and a good time. This can include playing a sport, rock climbing, or mountain biking.
Tip 6: Be consistent. Results take time. The people who make significant changes in their physique are the ones who are consistent with their diet and training month after month, year after year. Remember, “slow and steady wins the race.”
Tip 7: Use the buddy system. There will be days when you dread going to the gym. On these days, a motivated training partner who will hold you accountable can be invaluable. Some friendly competition doesn’t hurt either, and sometimes it can be the only thing keeping you motivated (and that’s perfectly fine).
Tip 8: Set SMART goals:
- Specific – instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” set a goal of losing a specific amount of weight.
- Measurable – set goals that you can measure and track. For example, set a goal to lose 4 inches off your waist, and then record your waist circumference once a week.
- Adjustable – you aren’t always going to achieve your goals exactly as you laid them out, and there will surely be set backs along the way. Allow some wiggle room so you can adjust your goals as you go – particularly long term goals – but not so much that you’re making them easier or allowing yourself to cheat.
- Realistic – it’s great to set your sights high, but don’t set yourself up for failure. Set goals that you can actually achieve and reward yourself when you do.
- Time-sensitive – set a date that you want to achieve your goal by, or try to accomplish it within a certain time frame.
Tip 9: Rest and recover. Taking one or two days off from intense training per week will help keep you feeling fresh and focused. Don’t just sit on your butt, though, use this time for active recovery like foam rolling, stretching, and light cardio.
Tip 10: Hire an expert. When all else fails, hire an expert to write your training programs or train you one-on-one. Make sure you do your homework: ask friends or fellow gym-goers about their experiences with personal trainers, check their credentials, and ask for a trial session to make sure your personalities match.
To review: make a plan, be consistent, measure and record, and adjust accordingly. Balance necessary hard work in the gym with enjoyable activities and rest. If your motivation is lacking, find a workout partner or hire an expert. Most importantly, stick with it; changes take time and the benefits are too great to quit.