The nice thing about the holidays is that they give us time to rest, hang out with family, and think. I spent my time thinking about how to improve both this blog and my fitness training plan. I've seen a gazillion articles this week about New Year’s resolutions and fitness, so I thought maybe it was time to write a General Fitness/New Year’s article, too. I should note that my wife Sally helped me with this; about half the items listed below are hers.
|Sally mugged it up before class on Sunday.|
Sorry the shot is blurry. That's my fault for taking exactly one picture.
Sally works in fitness, but I'm like you. I'm trying to manage my weight and my health at the same time that I'm working and raising a family. I'm lucky, though. I grew up with a father who took the time to teach me how to run and lift weights, and I got involved in competitive swimming at an early age. This gives me an excellent base from which to build lifelong fitness. I'm still busy, though, and I still find staying fit a challenge. I envy folks for whom vigorous exercise is a part of their basic job functions. For the rest of us, staying healthy is an important part of our daily lives; it’s just not easy.
You can abuse your body all you like. In time, though, your body will abuse you back. More importantly, kids become their parents. If you want happy, healthy kids, you have to model a happy, healthy lifestyle.
So… how do you get in shape for the New Year?
There’s not just one way, of course, but there are a few basic things you can do to help yourself succeed.
1. Plan and manage your time.
The most difficult part of goal setting is deciding what’s reasonable and what’s either too much or too little. With fitness, it’s important to have an idea how much time you canafford to devote to training and to then use that time-budget when deciding how to set your goals.
I use a points-system to track my training every week. It helps me plan what I’m going to do. This gives me an idea how much time and physical effort I can afford to spend training before either exhaustion or family requirements start getting in the way. I love my family, and I’m cognizant of the reality that too much focus on fitness can become an impediment to being present in my kids’ lives. Against that, though, is the need to set a positive, winning example. Similarly, if I work myself to exhaustion, I’ll get sick. That helps no one.
Communication is key. I get my wife’s buy-in before committing to a new program, and it ensures that the entire family is on board with the program’s requirements.
2. Set appropriate goals.
Once you have an idea how much time you have to train, set your goals. My goal this year is to swim twice per week, run twice per week, and get into the gym twice per week. I also commute on my bike as much as possible. This is an aggressive but achievable schedule, but it’s important to stay on it, especially since I’ve been teaching my oldest daughter to lift weights. She needs the work as much as I do.
|Before my bike commute Tuesday morning. It was 11-degrees outside|
with 15 mph wind. Felt like -4.
I also need some racing goals. I’ve thinking about running a half-marathon this spring, and I’d like to participate in the Swim Across the Sound again this summer. I may set other goals as well depending on how the year progresses.
It is functionally impossible to get into shape without getting enough sleep. Your body uses sleep to flush toxins from your brain, and it repairs and recovers from workouts when you sleep as well. Training burns calories, but it also breaks down muscle fibers. It’s only during the recovery phase that these fibers are repaired and made stronger. If you don’t sleep you’ll have neither the motivation nor the physical ability to work hard enough to make a meaningful difference to your health.
4. Think about what you eat.
You are what you eat. If you eat crap, you will be crap.
This is not complicated.
As a general rule, try to avoid eating things that are not technically food, loosely defined as anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Industry calls these “edible non-foodstuffs.” They are the artificial bullshit that go into processed foods to make them cheaper and longer lasting, and they’re sometimes used to maintain “mouth-feel” when replacing more traditional ingredients like butter, cheese, or cane sugar. In many cases, labels will tout the so-called advantages of their chemicals by saying “less sugar!” or “less cholesterol!” However, unpronounceable chemicals do not make the foods healthier. They make them cheaper and longer lasting, and that’s fine if you’re worried about food profitability per cubic volume.
For your health, though…? No, that stuff is not healthy.
If all else fails, try this:
-- Cook for yourself
-- Stick to fresh or minimally processed foods
-- Eat a green salad every day.
5. Don’t do too much too soon.
Every time I go to the gym, I see some poor woman in there for her first workout ever, and the trainer has her doing something crazy like box-jumps. I think the trainers are trying to send new customers away thinking, “Wow, I just had this amazing workout!” What seems far more likely, though, is that these same folks will walk away so sore that they’ll never set foot in the gym again.
Here’s the reality: you are not going to get fit in a day. Or a week. Or even a month. You may see meaningful results, but even a month is not enough time to totally transform a body that’s been basically idle for a prolonged period of time.
The most important statistic in sports is availability. Or, to put it another way, if you want make plays, first you have to be in the game.
Do not crush it your first time out. Do what you can do, but do it consistently. Stay on your schedule, and when your fitness improves, then start crushing it.
6. Try new things.
Sally says that there are ways to approach fitness:
Individual exercise. This is running, swimming, cycling, weight lifting, etc. This is what I do, and it works great for me because I think other people are a pain in the ass. I also know what I’m doing out there. If you have the right background and you’re self-motivated, individual exercise is great because it is the easiest to schedule.
Group fitness. These are the classes that my wife teaches. PLYOGA, barre, water aerobics, yoga, boot camp, spin class, Zumba, treadmill interval class… There are a million of these programs, and if you’re just getting into fitness, they are a terrific resource. Why? Because you get an expert like Sally to help you get a workout that makes sense as part of a larger program. She does the thinking for you. She also helps push you physically and emotionally. For some, that really helps.
|Hannah doesn't know fitness, so she's working with me and taking|
classes with Sally. That's how you learn.
Franchise programs. This is P90X and every over DVD program you see on TV. In theory, these programs are great because they coach you like a class, but you can do them on your own time. In practice, I think they’re the hardest of all because who wants to stare at a TV screen while they work out? Not to mention the difficulty of keeping good form. However, I don’t know your schedule. Maybe one of these is right for you.
If you’ve tried and failed to get into shape, this means that you’ve not found the right approach. Keep looking. There are a lot of options out there. Once you find one you actually enjoy, it makes getting a workout much, much easier.
7. Do what makes you happy.
This is the corollary of the above. What’s the right fitness program? The program keeps you involved and engaged. You get fit when you stay consistent.
8. Be careful comparing yourself with others.
Competition is fine, but it’s a mistake to compare your results to others out of context. I’m a fine swimmer and a decent runner, but how I do in any race is as much a function of who else enters as it is my own personal performance. If Michael Phelps shows up to the Greenwich Point One-Mile Swim, he’s going to win. That doesn’t mean that I have to feel bad about myself and my performance.
I mention this because I hear all the time about people who don’t want to go to the gym because they don’t want to look foolish. But everyone had to start somewhere. Every athlete had a first day of practice. What’s important is that you get out there and work. Get the best results you can get, and if you want to compete, make sure that you are competing against appropriate competition.
9. Bad pain versus good pain.
As I said before, the most important statistic in sports in availability. If you’re hurt, you can’t play.
With that in mind, recognize the difference between “good” pain and “bad” pain. Good pain is the burn in your muscles you get from working. It’s caused by the formation of lactic acid and by the micro-tearing process that is the initial stage of muscle growth. Bad pain is the sharp pain of ligament or cartilage damage.
You will feel the difference. However, folks have a tendency to try to “work through” bad pain in the hope that it will go away. Don’t do that. It’s fine when you’re twenty, but if you’re forty, you’re gonna tear an ACL or meniscus.
10. Fitness is mental toughness.
Sally gets frustrated with people who won’t work. They come to class, go through the motions, and wonder why they aren’t seeing significant improvements.
There is no secret to being fit. You don’t learn the secret handshake, and suddenly you look like a rock star. You have to go out there and try—hard—every day. As I tell my daughter, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
Start slow, be consistent, get your sleep, and then go like Hell. That’s what you have to do. Do that for six months, and you’ll be a different person.
Good luck out there!