You’ve decided to start the journey towards health and wellness by beginning to exercise; a decision to invest in yourself and your future. Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make this year (or ever, for that matter). Even better, you’re not waiting until January 1st to start; this isn’t a resolution, it’s a lifelong commitment.
But where to begin? How often should you exercise? How hard? What type of exercise should you be doing? All good questions. And there are tons of great resources out there that can help you answer them.
Rather than focus on the logistics of your new exercise program, however, I’d like to talk about preparation. Psychological preparation. Preparation for success, of course, but for setbacks as well.
Understanding yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your fears, motivations and expectations and most importantly, what ‘fitness’ means to you is a great way to ensure success. The more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to create a fitness program that you’ll stick with. A fitness program that will become a way of life.
Some things to think about before you set foot in the gym;
1) What does fitness mean to you? Is it about aesthetics? Strength? Endurance? Flexibility? Is it a particular number on the scale or your annual blood tests? Is it a feeling? Write out your definition of fitness. Doing so will help you clarify why you want to get fit and help to determine the types of exercise most likely to bring you closer to your goals.
2) What types of activities do you enjoy? It may sound simple, but if you hate running, don’t buy a treadmill. If you can’t stand being in a weight room, don’t buy a year’s membership to one. If you don’t love (or at least like) what you’re doing, you won’t do it. Period. Save yourself the money and the inevitable feeling of failure. Make a list of activities you like. Think outside the box. Be unconventional (hula hooping, pole dancing). Most activities that require physical exertion can be turned into exercise if you increase the intensity.
3) Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Extroverts get energized by being in the company of others. Introverts need time on their own. Choose activities that fit your personality type. Group fitness classes are great for extroverts. Trail running and cycling can be done alone. If you’re an introvert who hates dancing, don’t sign up for Zumba; I can guarantee you won’t get through the session.
4) What type of day is your energy highest? Lowest? When choosing an activity, think about when, during the day, you’ll be doing it. If you’re a morning person, take advantage of your early-in-the-day energy and schedule your exercise for then. Sometimes our preferred activity type conflicts with our daily energy level peak; sure, you’d love to get to that cardio kickboxing class, but it runs at 8:30 in the evening and you’re usually passed out on the couch by 9. Take a pass on it and find something that words with your early bird nature. Perhaps a 6 am spin class?
5) What will you do if you can’t do your scheduled workout? Plan for setbacks. No matter how diligent you are with your planning, at some point, something’s going to happen to make you miss your workout. Traffic, sick kids, cancelled class, power outage at the gym. Having a backup plan for those unexpected events will help keep you on track (as well as providing a bit of cross training). If you usually go to the gym or an aerobics class, make sure you have a set of weights and an exercise DVD at home for those days you just can’t get there. A little bit of exercise is better than none at all.
6) How quickly does your enthusiasm and motivation for new things wane? Know your own ‘reward schedule’; how often you need to be reminded of why you’re doing this, how frequently you need a pat on the back to keep going, at what interval you need a little external validation for all your hard work (for me, it’s a trip to Lululemon every 2 or 3 months for a cute new outfit). Daily motivational quotes and inspiration boards (like my Pinterest ‘Fitness Inpiration’ board) can serve as ‘pep talks’ to keep you moving forward towards your goals.
7) What type of support would you benefit from? Nobody can do this on their own. Everyone needs some sort of support to keep them accountable and on track. Try an on-line support group (Spark People or My Fitness Pal). Use Facebook to meet up with other like-minded individuals. Read fitness and nutrition blogs for inspiration (check out FitFluential Inc.’s Ambassadors for ideas). Enlist the help of a fitness friend. Hire a personal trainer.
Now that you’ve done the mental work, you’re well on your way to fitness success!
Need some suggestions for putting it all together? Feel free to comment below.