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How to Start an Exercise Program

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

In my last article, I discussed the benefits, tips, and strategies for setting goals, especially in relation to New Year’s resolutions. This article will focus on how to safely start an exercise program for the novice or returning exerciser.


Why Resolutions May Not Work


Before I dive into guidelines and program recommendations to exercise. Let me touch on a few reminders from my last article on setting New Year’s resolutions and goals. The three most common resolutions set are exercising more, eating healthier, and losing weight.


Did you know that only 9% of people that set resolutions actually stick to them? And 23% fall off within a week, but 43% expect to fail by February!


Why? Because they lack motivation, have time constraints, or encounter a shift in their goals and priorities. Simply put, their level of readiness to commit isn’t there yet.



Setting Your Fitness Goals


The reason I share these statistics is to remind you that when you set health-related and fitness goals, it is essential to be clear on what your level of readiness and commitment is.


The other key component is understanding your why. Connecting to your why is the anchor to achieving your health & fitness goals, thereby increasing your motivation and readiness to commit. If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing and where you are at in terms of readiness to commit, you may find yourself in that 23% or 43% who bail before they get the chance to see any progress.


My goal is to provide you with a practical guideline and format to apply when starting and sustaining an exercise program.


The first step is to first identify the goals of your exercise program. Examples of common training goals are:


• Muscular strength, endurance & power

• Increase aerobic capacity and function (healthy heart and lungs)

• Improve stamina, endurance, & balance

• Increase pain-free range of motion (ROM) and flexibility

• Weight loss or weight gain

• Enhance sport performance


Let’s take a closer look at three fitness components: aerobic, strength training, and flexibility, and figure out how to ensure the goals that you set are met. But first, a few definitions and notes so we know exactly what we are talking about here.



Definitions: Physical Activity vs. Exercise


Physical activity (PA) is any movement of the body such as walking the dog, going up and down the stairs, bike riding, hiking, gardening, mowing the lawn, walking outdoors in nature alone or with a friend, playing sports or recreational activities, and cleaning the house.


Exercise is PA that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful in the sense that improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is an objective. Exercise must have fitness-related goals.



Start Moving!


If you are looking to start being more active for improving overall health and live a better life, then begin with any type of physical activity. Begin with just a few minutes at a time throughout the day such as 5, 10, 15 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Something is always better than nothing.


Being physically active:

• Improves sleep and mood

• Slows down the effects of aging

• Lowers health risks associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, and many types of cancers

• Boost and maintains the immune system and may lower risks of infection, lessons symptoms and increases recovery time from various illnesses

• Improves cognitive function with aging and lowers risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s

• Increases energy and improves the quality of life (QOL)


Pre-exercise safety tip: get medical clearance from your doctor first before you start an exercise program. Especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition(s) that could be made worse by a change in your activity.


Balance is key to creating a workout plan. A well-rounded fitness program incorporates at least these three fitness components. Aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility work in unison with each other and not separately. Picture it like a three-legged bar stool: you couldn’t sit on the bar stool with only two legs and certainly not one as you would surely fall and injure yourself. The same thing holds true for having a workout plan that includes time spent in doing aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility.





Aerobic Exercise

Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the most effective ways to improve health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults recommends at least 150 minutes/week of aerobic moderate intensity and 75 minutes of vigorous intensity or a combination of both. Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, dancing, water aerobic classes, swimming, jogging, cycling, rowing or any type of rhythmic and continuous movement increases your heart rate and breathing which improves stamina and heart health.


The key here is to find an activity that you enjoy doing, make it fun and sociable (if applicable), and keep it simple. Engage in physical activity as a way to celebrate movement and your body. Be curious and look for opportunities to move and be active daily.





Aerobic Exercise Examples

  • 30 minutes of brisk walking outdoors or on a treadmill

  • 3 x 10-minute intermittent walks throughout the day

  • 30 minutes of bicycling

  • 30 minutes of walk-to-jog intervals

  • 30 minutes of swimming


Aerobic exercise can be fun and enjoyable when approached with the right mindset and a doable plan. Remember to take it slow in small increments of time and action consistently. Before you know it you’ll be moving more frequently and feeling better in your body and mind. If you’re uncertain where or how to begin that meets your needs and abilities feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to meet with you and find a plan that suits your lifestyle and health capabilities. Schedule now.



Strength Training

Strength/resistance training has many health benefits outside of getting physically stronger. Participating in regular resistance exercises reduces the risk of numerous diseases, health conditions, improves the quality of life (QOL), and reduces mortality.




Resistance Training can improve the following:

• Increasing muscular strength, endurance, and power

• Enhancing bone, muscle, and connective tissue growth and durability

• Communication between brain and muscle

• Growth hormones (GH)

• Blood glucose regulations

• Aerobic Fitness


To obtain the health benefits from resistance exercises, it is essential to challenge your muscles with the amount of weight lifted, number of repetitions x sets (8-12 repetitions of 2-4 sets) performed, and cadence of lifting e.g. 2 seconds to lift and 2 seconds to lower (2x2).

Proper form and technique are equally important during resistance training exercises. Use controlled movements through the full range of motion (FROM) of the lifting and lower phases of the muscle action.


An exercise program that includes the combination of resistance training, aerobic exercise, and a flexibility program plan can enhance overall health gains, fitness improvements, and well-being.


Resistance Training Exercise Example

  • Train all major muscle groups (multi-joint) such as push-ups/wall pushups, squats or chair squats, exercise band back rows, and or dumbbell overhead shoulder presses.

  • 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions for muscle strengthening of vigorous, heavy to very heavy intensity.

  • 2-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions for muscle endurance or fat burning of moderate effort, somewhat hard, to hard intensity.

  • Rest 1-3 minutes between sets. Rest time periods are dependent on the level of intensity (the higher the intensity the longer the rest period).

Resistance training offers many health and fitness benefits for the body from weight loss, diabetes prevention and the improvement of A1c and glucose levels, increase in bone density and the prevention of osteoporosis, improves balance, coordination and posture. In addition, improving overall mental health and overall wellness. Strength training is not isolated for bodybuilders and strong-man competitions. Here’s a myth buster for women: you will not get big muscles as a result of lifting weights nor can you turn fat into muscle. You can and will get stronger, feel more confident, and move better from working with weights. You’ll see greater results when you incorporate resistance training into your fitness program. Everybody (and every body) can benefit from working their muscles 1-3 times every week.


Setting reasonable and approachable goals is one way to make resistance training work for you. The other is creating the appropriate strength training program that not only meet your goals but also your physical needs and abiIities. I would be happy to help you figure out those goals. Schedule a free clarity call today.


The Importance of Flexibility and Stretching


In all my years as a personal trainer, I’ve observed many exercisers limit the amount of time to stretch or omit stretching all together. Stretching before or after a workout is usually overlooked and undervalued.


Stretching is equally important if not as important as aerobic activity and resistance training, especially as we age. These three fitness components work well together creating a balanced and effective exercise program.


Flexibility is the range of motion (ROM) around a joint and the ability of the muscles and joints to move freely. It is important for many activities of daily living (ADL) such as carrying groceries, picking up boxes, sweeping and mopping, sitting to standing from a chair, walking up stairs, etc, decreases with age and is most neglected.


Benefits of Increased Flexibility


Improvements in flexibility and range of motion ROM can be achieved by engaging in stretching exercises. Increases in both flexibility and ROM can be seen in about 3-4 weeks of regular stretching when performed at least 2-3 times/week. Postural stability and balance are greatly improved when actively stretching coupled with resistance training.






Flexibility Program Guidelines


Flexibility exercises should focus on the major muscle groups: shoulders, chest, trunk, upper and lower back, hips, quadriceps and hamstrings (thigh muscles), calves and ankles.


The primary goal of a flexibility program is to increase range of motion (ROM) around the major muscle and tendon groups of each joint. It is highly recommended and most effective to increase muscle temperature through warm-up exercises prior to stretching, specifically static.


Static stretching is holding a specific muscle group for 10-60s of 2-4 sets after aerobic exercise or resistance training. The muscles are more responsive to a sustained lengthening of the muscle groups. Static stretches should be performed with slight tension and mild discomfort of the muscle(s).


Dynamic stretching are active movements where the muscles and joints move through a full range of motion (FROM). They need to be incorporated into the warm-up before exercising and mimic movements performed in the workout or sport. For example, leg swings, hip openers, torso twists, walkouts, bridges, arm circles, and walking lunges with a twist. These stretches are designed to prepare the body for movement. The best time to do dynamic stretches is before aerobic exercise, resistance training, or playing sports.


  • Leg swings

  • Hip openers

  • Torso twists

  • Walkouts

  • Bridges

  • Arm circles

  • Walking lunges with a twist


Incorporating a stretching program can be as easy as doing a few stretching exercises before getting out of bed (such as ankle rotations), after a hot shower, or at the kitchen counter as you wait for your coffee to finish brewing (such as calf, back and shoulder stretches).


If you work from home and or sit for long periods at a time which isn’t good for our bodies, mind and performance. You may want to rethink how you are working and take micro breaks to stand up and stretch your hips, glutes, and hamstrings, chest, torso, and wrists).


Your body will thank you by giving you more energy, decreasing overuse injuries, and increasing your productivity and presentism. Let’s work together to get you the flexibility your body is craving and deserves.


Conclusion


A program that incorporates aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility that suits your body’s needs and goals can ensure that you are consistently improving your health, fitness and quality of life. Let’s get you started by scheduling a free clarity call by clicking here. I would love to help you figure out what type of program works best for you.


References


Allen, Cynthia. “Connectedness to Nature and Improved Health Outcomes.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 26, no. July/August, ser. 3, 1 July 2022. 3.


“Being Active for a Better Life .” Exercise Is Medicine, America College of Sports Medicine , 2020.


Deschenes, Michael R, and Carol Ewing Garber. “Chapter 6 General Principles of Exercise Prescription.” ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, edited by Deborah Riebe, Tenth ed., Wolters Klumer, Philadelphia, PA, 2018, pp. 147–171.


Desimone, Grace T. “New Year, Wiser You.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 27, no. January/February, ser. 1, 1 Jan. 2023, pp. 3–4. 1.


Fiataraone Singh, Maria, et al. “Resistance Training for Health.” Exercise Is Medicine, American College of Sports Medicine, 2019.


Schlicht, Jeffrey A, et al. “Just What the Doctor Ordered.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 25, no. November/December, ser. 6, 1 Nov. 2021, pp. 18–27. 6.


YuanDian, Zheng, et al. “Developing a Home-Based Body Weight Physical Activity/Exercise Program.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 26, no. March/April, ser. 2, 1 Mar. 2022, pp. 20–28. 2.


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