PUTTING YOUR FITNESS PLAN INTO ACTION
Once you’ve developed a detailed plan and signed your agreement, you are ready to begin your fitness program. Refer to the specific training suggestions provided in Chapters 2-5 for advice on beginning and maintaining your program. Many people find it easier to plan a program than to put their plan into action and stick with it over time. For that reason, adherence to healthy lifestyle programs has become an important area of study for psychologists and health researchers. The guidelines below and in the next section reflect research into strategies that help people stick with an exercise program.
• Start slowly and increase fitness gradually. Overzealous exercising can result in discouraging discomforts and injuries. Your program is meant to last a lifetime. The important first step is to break your established pattern of inactivity. Be patient and realistic. Once your body has adjusted to your starting level of exercise, slowly increase the amount of overload. Small increases are the key achieving a large number of small improvements will eventually result in substantial gains in fitness. It’s usually best to increase duration and frequency before increasing intensity.
• Find an exercise buddy. The social side of exercise is an important factor for many regular exercisers. Working out with a friend will make exercise more enjoyable and increase your chances of sticking with your program. Find an exercise partner who shares your goals and general fitness level. On days when a partner isn’t available, a smartphone or MP3 player can be your workout buddy; see the box “Digital Motivation” for more information.
• Ask for support from others. Consistent exercise requires the support of important people in your life, such as parents, spouse, partner, and friends. Talk with them about your program, and let them know the importance of exercise and wellness in your life. Exercise needs to be a critical component of your day (just like sleeping and eating). Good communication will help others become more supportive of and enthusiastic about the time you spend on your wellness program.
• Vary your activities. You can make your program more fun over the long term if you participate in a variety of activities that you enjoy. You can also add interest by varying the routes you take when walking, playing with different tennis partners, or switching to a new volleyball or basketball court. Varying your activities, a strategy known as cross-training, has other benefits. It can help you develop balanced, total-body fitness. For example, by alternating running with swimming, you build both upper- and lower-body strength. Cross-training can reduce the risk of injury and overtraining because the same muscles, bones, and joints are not continuously subjected to the stresses of the same activity. You can cross-train either by choosing different activities on different days or by alternating activities within a single workout.
• Cycle the duration and intensity of your workouts. Olympic athletes use a technique called periodization of training, meaning that they vary the duration and intensity of their workouts. Sometimes they exercise very intensely; other times they train lightly or rest. You can use the same technique to improve fitness more quickly and make your training program more varied and enjoyable. For example, if your program consists of walking, weight training, and stretching,
If you ever have trouble getting inspired to work out, motivation may be as close as your smartphone.
Since the iPhone’s advent, dozens of interactive motivational applications (“apps”) have been developed for use on smart cell phones. Coaching and motivational recordings are available for use on MP3 players, as well. These apps and recordings can substitute for an exercise partner when your workout buddy isn’t around and can inspire you to keep your program on track. Some smartphone apps can monitor your workouts, track your progress, and even provide on-the-spot coaching to help you keep going.
Here are just a few examples of low-cost or free smartphone apps that can help you keep exercising:
• Nike Training Club. This training app designs programs according to your goals and experience. Goals include “get lean” high-intensity cardio exercise to promote weight loss; “get toned” light weight training and interval training; “get strong” weight training to build strength and muscle mass; and “get focused” 15-minute workouts that target specific areas of the body. The app shows specific exercises, paces, and repetitions for the person exercising. It also has tools for motivating you to exercise, such as workout music and a clock that keeps track of the workout time. It is a digital personal trainer at an affordable price.
• The “Fu” series. Featuring titles like “CrunchFu” and “PushupFu,” each app in this series focuses on one type of exercise and motivates you to excel at it. Using the motion sensors built into your smartphone, these apps can count your reps and monitor your speed as you exercise. A built-in coach offers suggestions and can challenge you to improve your performance.
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• RunKeeper. This app works with a variety of activities, including walking, running, cycling, and skiing. The app uses your phone’s built-in GPS to tell you how far and fast you are moving and to calculate your average and overall pace. The coaching feature offers tips and advice in real time, and you can listen to your favorite music while RunKeeper functions in the background. When you have finished exercising, the program can automatically upload data about your session to the RunKeeper website, which offers more tools for tracking your fitness program.
• BeatBurn Trainer. If you like to exercise in time to music, this app can be a big help. BeatBurn features coaching and tracking capabilities like many other smartphone apps, but it also includes beat-tracking technology. The app analyzes the pace (in beats per minute) of your music, and automatically speeds or slows the music to keep it in time with your movement. The speed shifting does not affect the quality of the music. If you don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to risk breaking your phone while exercising look for motivational albums and podcasts to play on an inexpensive MP3 player. Hundreds of titles, many of them free, can be found online and are already in MP3 format. Although they are not interactive, albums can provide music that inspires you to keep moving, motivational commentary, and coaching tips. Pick one day a week for each activity to train a little harder or longer than you normally do. If you usually walk two miles at 16 minutes per mile, increase the pace to 15 minutes per mile once a week. If you lift weights twice a week, train more intensely during one of the workouts by using more resistance or performing multiple sets.
• Adapt to changing environments and schedules. Most people are creatures of habit and have trouble adjusting to change. Don’t use bad weather or a new job as an excuse to give up your exercise program. If you walk in the summer, put on a warm coat and walk in the winter as well. If you can’t go out because of darkness, join a gym and walk on a treadmill.
• Expect fluctuations and lapses. On some days, your progress will be excellent, but on others, you’ll barely be able to drag yourself through your scheduled activities. Don’t let off-days or lapses discourage you or make you feel guilty (see the box “Getting Your Fitness Program Back on Track”).
• Choose other healthy lifestyle behaviors. Exercise provides huge benefits for your health, but other behaviors are also important. Choose a nutritious diet, and avoid harmful habits like smoking and overconsumption of alcohol. Be sure to stay hydrated with water or other healthy beverages (see the box “Choosing Healthy Beverages”). Don’t skimp on sleep, which has a mutually beneficial relationship with exercise. Physical activity improves sleep, and adequate sleep can improve physical performance.
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