At this time of year, there are droves of people heading to gyms with a firm resolution to get in better shape and lose weight, get strong or finally run that race. New Year, new you – and this year you’re going to make it stick. I want you to be successful.
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of fitness professionals and facilities who prey on these people and are trying to land them as new clients by any means necessary. They will promise free classes, free months, free back massages just to get you into the door of their place and try to sell you into a program or membership or package.
Most people equate fitness as something that has to be difficult in order to make progress. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. So when you’re about to start that new fitness program or change your habits, ask yourself these three things and you’ll be much more likely to stick to them long term and achieve the goals you set out:
Have I Done my Research?
When finding a new facility or possibly hiring a professional, everyone is offering bargains and deals. In fact, just a couple of days ago I received an unsolicited message from a spammer asking ME if I wanted to join his group classes for free for a month.
Your workout space should fit not only your personality (if you’re new to fitness, going to the local Iron Gym might not be a good idea), but also your ability to go as frequently as possible (ie close to home, work or in between somewhere) and your budget. Also, acknowledge to yourself if you prefer working out by yourself (so strength training or spinning at home might be for you) or as a group (HIIT training, Crossfit or yoga).
If you’re hiring someone, everyone is giving consultations for free. First thing I suggest is to trust a referral from someone who HAS GOTTEN RESULTS that are similar to your goals. Next you have to see if their philosophy and personality are things you will get along with. Last is budget – if a trainer asks you to sign up for a year of sessions on the spot, walk away.
Finding a good fit for you means you are likely to go more often because you enjoy it, not because you feel like you have to. If you don’t want to be there, you’ll find an excuse to stop going and that is what you want to avoid.
Is what I’m Doing Appropriate for Me?
Joining a new group exercise class that promises high intensity training and quick results is typically the first stop for many. Unfortunately, group classes are rarely scaled or supervised properly unless they are small groups (ie about a 4 participant to 1 instructor ratio).
You also might be put into a room with people who have been doing intense exercise for years and asked to do the same thing as they are doing. This can involve things like heavy dynamic movements, tons of repetitions using bodyweight, or complicated sequences that will exhaust you quickly, making you think it is good for you. You’ll sweat, feel exhausted and get caught up in the moment where you’re encouraged to probably do way too much, way too hard, way too SOON. And then get discouraged and quit, or get injured and quit.
There is a period that your body goes through when it is introduced to new stimuli (like a new movement or environment) called neural adaptation. I call this subconscious competence, almost like riding a bicycle. At first, it is difficult and you fall or feel unstable. Then your brain and nervous system learn to adapt to the movements and you acquire more balance. This is also a fundamental principle of strength training. Think of it as gradual learning for your muscles, which are controlled by your brain.
As the difficulty of a movement goes up, the harder your nervous system has to work to recruit things, giving you less possibility to control any individual component. Again, this is where proper coaching comes into the picture and learning something that sounds simple like a squat, can be very important.
For experienced exercisers, this window is smaller. For new exercisers, it can be quite large. Far more than a quick explanation or watching other people doing it and trying to emulate it. In new classes, make sure you’re doing things that you can manage, and if that means every other rep then so be it. Go at a pace that you can manage and NEVER go to muscular failure.
Another quick mention for those of you who were “in shape” years ago. You’re not now. Therefore your body needs time to re-adapt to movements you haven’t done in a long time. You will adapt faster, but not instantly.
Am I Listening to my Body?
As I’ve said before, pain is your body’s way of saying STOP IT. Especially acute pain, which is generally a signal that you should stop immediately, like putting your hand on a hot stove.
Even after a workout, if you feel shaky or lightheaded and have trouble walking to your car or more importantly, driving it – you may have done too much during that session.
Feedback to either yourself or whomever you’re working with is essential for this. My clients report to me the day after every session, even if they are fine. Recording what you did, how long and how much is also vital to make sure you can go back and adjust if need be.
This can also be a question you need to ask when it comes to your diet. If you’re considering making changes, start recording what you’re eating, but include a section where you write down how the food you eat makes you feel and when you’re eating it. Most people can progress quite well just by reducing or eliminating the big three (alcohol, sugar and starchy carbs).
Some need a more involved protocol or elimination diet. If a food makes you feel crappy – why are you eating it? If you’re eating because of the HALT method (habit, angry, lonely or tired) then reconsider why you’re doing it.
If you ask yourself these three questions when you start back in this New Year, you’ll be set up much better for success. The last thing you want is another year of gym fees disappearing because you gave up in February. And as a professional, I want you to be as healthy and fit as you can possibly be. Just make sure you’re asking the right questions, doing the right things, and listening to your body along the way.
Have a wonderful 2020, and as always, if you have any questions, my inbox is always open at firstname.lastname@example.org!