Starting an Exercise Program 101

If you’re new to the fitness world and have decided that you want to make a change to improve your level of fitness, health, and well-being, you may be a bit confused on where to start.

The question of “what is the best program out there” can have an easy answer, but to many this can be a struggle. Finding an answer that applies to every single person can be confusing. The shortest and most-simple response without detail is to be like Nike and “just do it”. In other words, just get moving doing some form of activity on a regular basis.  

With that being said, here is a bit more explanation to help you understand the basics. In this article, you will learn the most simple yet important bullet points to follow when embarking on your new fitness journey. You will also learn a few common mistakes to avoid making in order to get the most out of your time spent in the gym and get off to your best start possible. If you are new to the gym and not sure where to start, this article is for you!

So, Why Should We Be Active On a Regular Basis in The First Place?

Improves

  • The condition of your heart, lungs, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, blood lipid profile, body composition, self-esteem, mental clarity, stress, productivity, sleeping patterns, libido and all causes of mortality and morbidity.

Reduces

  • The risk for many lifestyle-associated diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis.

What Does a Structured Program Look Like?

This article is geared toward the person who doesn’t have much direction, is brand new to fitness, looking to lose weight and trying to understand the basics to get started in an effective way.

The answer simply put, looks something like this done consistently and correctly:

  1. Weight/resistance training 2-5x/week. These exercise sessions should be less than 45 minutes.
  2. Cardiovascular training (“doing cardio”). This should be done 3-5x/week.(We will cover how long and when to do cardio later).
  3. Healthy eating done appropriately and correctly 90% of the time.
  4. Hormonal balance. This means controlling insulin, growth hormone and more. We will also highlight this a bit in this article too.

When Starting your Workouts and The Sequence of Approach:

Warm up: Before each workout it is important to do a short 5 minute warm up. This can be done walking, biking, using an elliptical or even doing some jumping jacks and shoulder rolls. Simply moving lightly for a few minutes to increase your body temperature and get some blood flowing to your muscles is the point here. This should be done before anything, including stretching.

Light stretching: After a warm-up when muscle temperature is higher and blood is flowing a bit, tissues can be stretched with less risk of trauma/injury to prepare them for the range of motion to be performed. Long held static stretches should NOT be incorporated here. This is a common mistake many new to the trade make.  Save those for after the workout. Keep these short and sweet.

Strength Training:  For most, this should take priority FIRST and it is how most should start their workout. Unless you are training for an endurance event or a marathon, weight training needs to come first and be prioritized. A common mistake made by many is doing 30 minutes of cardio first and then attempting a weight training workout of sorts after. 30-45 minutes is all that is needed with your weight training, 2-5 times per week. Yes, you heard that correctly. Many new to working out have a false belief that in order to see results from exercise, they must spend countless amounts of hours every week in the gym. The truth couldn’t be farther from that. One can spend as little as 2- 3 hours a week in the gym and with the proper approach and intensity find that this can be very effective in getting results.

Most beginners should be looking at incorporating some circuit training or super-setting approach. Circuit training is where you can have 3-6 exercise stations that you rotate through (3-7 exercises) and repeat several times. Super-setting is putting two opposing muscle groups together and doing them back to back with minimal to no rest in between. For example, squats immediately followed by push-ups, then back to squats and repeat. This allows one muscle group to rest while the other is being worked while getting your heart rate up and working your cardiovascular system at the same time. This approach also prevents overloading of weight on one’s tendons, ligaments and joints assuming their body is not quite acclimated to heavy resistance yet. In a short period of time the body will adapt, become stronger and be ready for a more challenging phase of working out. For most beginners, this is an easy and effective way to get started with things.

Cardio: This is where you can “kill two birds with one stone” and get not only your strength training in, but also your cardio. So if you do just three or four of these 40-minute weight training workouts a week in this fashion and even throw in a short 10 to 15-minute bout of straight cardio at the end of it, you will be accomplishing both weight training and cardio together! If you’re capable of doing so, a H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) or a Tabata approach to cardio is most effective, especially for fat loss. An example of “HIIT” is doing a one-minute all out sprint followed by a one-minute walk and repeat 8 times. An example of Tabata is doing a 20 second sprint followed by a 10 second rest and repeat 8 times. You can read a bit more on this here. If you are not ready for this form of higher intensity cardio YET, that is ok and you can start with a brisk walk, jog or bike. However, you should not stay at this lower intensity for too long if you want the most effective results. This is the goal to work up to if you are not ready yet.

Cool Down and Stretching: A cool down can be done with a 3 to 5-minute walk or some type of easy rhythmic movement of your choice. Following should be another 3-5 minutes of good static stretching.  Post workout stretching helps bring the muscle tissue back to “normal” resting length and also may reduce recovery time and muscle soreness.  These stretches should include all muscles of the abdomen and lower back since these muscles are used for virtually all activities. Of course, focusing on areas that just got worked is important as well. Holding the stretch for 10-20 seconds to a point of almost mild discomfort is the goal here. Once again, this is where you want to hold the stretches for a longer period of time, NOT before the workout!

Abs Are Not Made in The Kitchen, But They Can Be Lost There!

Nutrition is key when it comes to maximizing your efforts to look and feel your best. This doesn’t mean we have to munch on wheat grass and dry chicken everyday either. Healthy and nutritious foods can taste amazing if we learn how to put them together correctly and they fit our lifestyle and schedule. When it comes to eating correctly, eat greens and colorful sources of carbohydrates, lean sources of protein and healthy sources of fats while limiting starchy carbs and boxed foods.  You can read a bit more on this here. Having a cheat meal or two each week isn’t going to ruin things either. It is all about what we are eating 90% of the time that primarily predicts success or failure with our diet.

Do Hormones Really Matter?

The short answer here is, absolutely! This can be a lengthy topic of discussion in and of itself but we are going to keep it as short and simple as possible here. There are a few hormones that encourage fat accumulation on the body including insulin, cortisol, estrogen, and also leptin and ghrelin if out of balance. There are also a few that help and encourage fat loss. In short, it is important to have a grip on controllable things that influence hormones and the way they influence our health, well-being and body composition.

Controlling insulin by being mindful of sugar and excessive starchy/high glycemic carbohydrate intake is crucial. This hormone is released by our pancreas in response to excessive amounts of glucose (the most-simple, broken down form of a carbohydrate) in our circulatory system. Insulin acts as a vehicle of sorts that will drive and store this excess glucose somewhere when there is too much of it. As you might guess, too often this gets stowed away as fat on the body.

Excessive levels of estrogen are attributed to many ailments and complaints today. Commonly referred to as estrogen dominance, this is associated with painful menstruations, cramps and endometriosis in women. High levels of estrogen are also associated with gynecomastia (“man boobs”) and low testosterone in men. Estrogen is often associated with excessive levels of body fat, certain processed foods, and even external lotions we apply on our skin loaded with parabens that act as “weak estrogens” in the body. We can help keep estrogen in check and in optimal zones by getting plenty of DIM and endol-3-carbinol from cruciferous vegetables and sufficient amounts of zinc from either supplementation or by consuming seafood, beef, spinach or cashews.

Although sometimes easier said than done for many, reducing our levels of stress, if high, is important for not only any fat loss efforts but also for our health and well-being. Excessive levels of cortisol from too much stress is known to encourage weight gain. High levels of stress for prolonged periods of time is also associated with heart disease and many other big health concerns. Yoga, meditation or simply getting a pet may be the ticket to help us in this department here. Oh yeah, exercise works very well too!

Summary:

So here we have it, this is what a snapshot of a successful program should look like. We may not have the nitty gritty details and specifics here, but we can’t succeed without each of these being addressed. These are the simple, universal, and the most important elements that should be a part of every successful and balanced program. Incorporate  these into your routine to get the most out of your time and efforts while becoming the best version of yourself that you can be!

Best in fitness and wellness,

Roger Bowman, CPT

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