Many people overeat and live a sedentary lifestyle, only to find themselves stepping over the edge again. Summer comes, so we feel like we can return to our fit and young self in a 3-week program. Booty pump, 21-day-fast or HIIT body attacks. No.
Problem is, that such weight fluctuation and intense short exercise is a strong physiological stressor for your body. It increases oxidative stress, inflammation and spikes our cortisol. No wonder we don’t like exercise. Instead, we should aim at a more sustainable approach to a healthy lifestyle.
It’s about finding activities that we can enjoy. Structure our lifestyle to allow free time for physical activity. Be mindful of our diet, drink more water, and eat cleaner. Consider the body type we are at, and see if we’re more suitable for weights, running, or mobility. Incorporate active rest and focus on recovery too. Dive into a pool of motivating, fit, like-minded people for support.
Consider Your Goals
The first most important thing you can do is consider your goals. As a kinesiologist, It’s extremely important for me to differentiate between fat-loss, aerobic endurance, physique aesthetics, and strength.
Running will allow you to run longer. Lifting will allow you to lift heavier. Stretching will allow you to stretch deeper. It’s true, but it isn’t specific enough. How much weight, what about reps, sets, and volume. Run at what speed, rest how long, etc.
So, to properly structure a program or even ask someone to do it for you, you need to decide on your goals! Fat loss comes as a result of a caloric deficit, not extensive exercise. Muscle gain comes with proper muscle-focused lifting at 8-12 reps, high volume, caloric surplus, and optimal recovery. Yoga helps you relax, and gain flexibility and mobility.
Specific goals can be: to increase running speed, lose 4 lbs of fat, gain 4 lbs of muscle, improve endurance, increase hip mobility, and so on. Considering most of us aren’t athletes, specific goals and tests may be inconvenient.
Many exercise methods will improve the fitness of someone inactive. But as we progress, we must get clear on what we want to achieve. Goals can be also subjective like sleeping better, feeling more confident, being more relaxed, standing up straight, etc.
Challenging yourself during a workout gives you a big confidence boost. The weight room or running track heavily impacts your psyche. If you can mentally go over the challenges you physically face, it increases perseverance and strengthens your character.
To be effective, workouts need to be challenging. It’s rarely that workouts are comfortable, it’s usually in the maintenance or active recovery phase. Discomfort is part of the journey. For your muscle to grow, you need to lift in a way that tears the muscle. To run further, you need to get your lungs working and your heart pumping. That’s the beauty of it.
By challenging yourself you do two things. First, you’re more confident in tackling daily tasks, you appear more confident. Second, your training is effective. Whether that’s muscle growth, losing fat, or improving performance, results are there.
Schedule, Free Time
It’s important to realistically schedule your workouts. To ask yourself how much you work, or you spend time studying for school or have to take care of your kids, and so on.
Then, you need to pick the chunks of free time in your week and reserve a spot for exercise. And oh, don’t try for 7 workouts weekly if you’ve been inactive, start slower at 2 sessions weekly. It’s more important to be convenient, so it’s sustainable.
Also, take into consideration ALL the time workouts take, not just the workout itself. You can have 45 minutes workout, but if you’ve forgotten to add warm-up, travel, stretch, or shower, you’re easily mismanaging your time.
Variety, Keep things interesting
Many people have pre-formed misconceptions about how “good” they are in a given sport. Because they’ve tried basketball twice n their life, and it didn’t go well, they assume they suck at team sports. But that’s far from true.
Try out different things. No one is good on the first try. No one can truly enjoy a sport first time. It takes some progress to be able to gain the skills necessary to feel and experience the sport.
Keeping things interesting with increasing variety, and trying new things can add longevity to your training lifestyle. It makes things spicy and brings novelty. With it, exercise compliance grows and you’re more likely to work out more.
If you’ve never tried ping-pong, Pilates, yoga, jumping rope, rowing (my new favorite), Nordic skiing, or boxing, I dare you to try it. Get a high-quality instructor and hit it for a couple of hours, you’ll find a new part of yourself growing.
Find Optimal Training Metrics
If you’re new to this, it may seem challenging. But training metrics are specific numbers of load, volume, reps, sets, speed, rest, etc. that help you achieve your goal in the most optimal way.
We’ll go through some quickly:
- for muscle growth, you’d want 5-8 exercises, 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps, 80% RM and 1-2 minutes of rest (muscle-focused lifts).
- for weight loss, you don’t necessarily need to train. If you’re diligent enough with your nutrition, eating at a 200-300 kcal deficit will lead to weight loss.
- the best exercise for weight loss is combining weights and aerobic work. Running, swimming, Zumba, and cycling at moderate intensity all optimally use fat for fuel.
- Increasing muscle size can improve your metabolism, increasing the number of calories burned, plus it’s a space to store glucose.
- for flexibility, or the ability to stretch deeper and increase muscle length it’s best to have safe, supported exercises where you can relax. The basic method is passive 30s stretch 3 sets
- for strength, the ability to increase the load of the lift from A to B, training metrics are 3-5 compound exercises, 3-5 sets, 3-5 reps, 3-5 minutes of rest. It’s about neuromuscular activation.
- for specific sports performance, it’s best to pick up a conditioning and periodization book because the specifics of it are more complicated for the scope of this article.
Reserve a Spot
It’s great to decide to lift weights, do yoga or run, but where will you? If you’re doing yoga at home, is there a good spot where you won’t be distracted? If you’re to lift, will you join a gym? If you’ve to run, what if it’s raining?
You need to consider all the factors, financial too of course, and pick your best option. Getting a gym membership, or joining a yoga class can be the next small step to increasing your adherence to working out. It shows you care for your body and you’re willing to do something to improve your health.
Find activities you enjoy
You need to pause and reflect on your personal training history. What sports have you played, and what skills have you got? How it felt when you were slimmer, stronger, or more explosive.
This will help you gain an understanding of what have you tried, and what new activities are awaiting. You may be watching box every night, but to go and practice it, it’s a completely different world. You might be good at it, who knows?
It’s important to see whether you’re a more elastic, jumpy ectomorph type who’d be more into running, jumping rope, and basketball. Or you’re a stronger mesomorph, with more explosive muscle fibers and you enjoy powerlifting and strength training. Do you enjoy more continual, low-intensity, and long activities, or fast, short and explosive?
Invest in Fitness Equipment (minimal fitness equipment can be great for starters, TRX, balls, elastic bands, bars, or body weight).
Include Strength, Aerobic Work & Mobility
Optimally, there are three main abilities you’d want to train for – muscle strength, aerobic endurance, and mobility. In most sports, you’ll have a certain ratio of strength to endurance you’d train for.
Some sports like weightlifting put more emphasis on the strength and muscle growth component while running, cycling and swimming are more aerobic in nature.
In general, you’d want to balance out all three. Some basic recommendations include working out for strength, balance, and stability 2-3 times weekly, aerobic training for 3-5 days weekly, and 2x weekly flexibility and mobility.
Everyone will be more inclined to one of those, depending on their genetics, body type, preferences, etc. But if you’re a lifter, try adding 20 min cardio twice weekly to warm up. If you’re the more aerobic type, pick up a few kettlebells and do some basic strength exercises like deadlifts, squats, swings, rows, and so on.
Start Slow, Adaptation, Realistic Goals
Starting slow is what I consider to be the most important on this list. If you start slow, you’d get your body to adapt. Starting too ambitiously, mostly results in quitting 2 weeks later. And one thing we know about healthy living is, consistency is key.
So try to make it as sustainable as possible. One best tip is to listen to your body, structure your lifestyle to prioritize training, and give your body time to adapt.
Continuous suffering won’t get you far. Exercise compliance falls, you start to deteriorate and worst of all, you’ve just built a negative attitude towards exercise.
Last but not least, the models you see on Instagram with 5% fat, don’t aim for that if your main goal is health and longevity. The picture of what an optimal physique looks like has grown way out of control. For most people, that’s a very unsustainable lifestyle with a lot of temptation and hormonal imbalances.
Plan for Recovery
Most believe that pushing weights in the gym or running is hard work. But without optimal recovery, you didn’t really do anything. Don’t assume that if the workout is 45 minutes, that’s all the time it takes.
Hard workouts leave you drained afterward, and you need to factor that in. You need to allow relaxation time to fall asleep, you need to eat great nutrients to support recovery, and plan your cognitively-demanding work with it in mind.
Recovery is priming for the next training. Adding massage, stretching, relaxing breathing techniques or light activities are crucial to support recovery. And guess what? That’s part of a healthy training program, not just the 12-minute intense HIIT.
To create a workout plan that works for us we need to know our bodies and what we like first. Then structure our day in a way that makes it easy, practical, and convenient to work out.
Optimally we’d want a combination of strength work, aerobic exercise, and mobility. Bring versatility to the game, and try out new stuff. Write your goals down, find proper training metrics, and challenge yourself. Reserve a spot for training, join a gym, join a yoga class, or a recreational club of like-minded people who’ll provide support.
It’s important to factor in the effects of a workout, to plan for recovery, optimal nutrition, and sleep. Sustainability is crucial, consistency is key to long-term success.