“A Beginner’s Guide to Creating the Fitness Habit”
Loathe it or hate it, in some form or another, exercise is one of life’s necessary ‘evils’. It doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you have in the bank or who you know – Your body is your responsibility… and you only get one.
Some think of exercise as pure hell. Others simply refer to it as the “E-word”. And then there are those who have found ways to completely eliminate all thoughts of physical activity from their minds (and have less-than-stellar medical records to prove it). But on the positive side, exercise doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or spend a ton of money on high-tech moisture wicking clothing. Exercise is supposed to be fun. It’s what our bodies are meant to do. Hard to believe, huh?
If I had to define exercise…
It is nothing more than a consistent practice one would use to induce a specific physical adaptation
[…or die trying] Like it or not, you are adapting to something – even if you do not/can not/will not “exercise”. The question then becomes, what activity (or lack thereof) are you developing a physiological specialty in? Maybe you’re a world class couch potato… Or maybe you hold the record in ‘comfortable reclining’? Or you’re an Olympic-caliber desk jockey… Just how fit do you really need to be for such non-physical activities anyway? If you are completely happy sitting there – barely above coma-level - far be it for me to tell you to do something different. But since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you want to make some changes.
Please don’t do anything I suggest simply because I’m “the expert”. In fact, you probably know much more about fitness than you give yourself credit for. Heck, even my grandmother (now in her mid-80s) can tell you it comes down to two simple concepts: eat right and exercise. Grandma’s wisdom also included, “if you don’t like it, it must be good for you”. As a kid, that advice was good enough to get me to eat my broccoli, but as an adult, I’ve learned that just because you don’t like something (eg: exercise) doesn’t mean you can’t find an acceptable alternative. It’s critically important to trust your intuition – YOU are about to create a program you’ll enjoy based on things you already like to do…
…and fitness is all about options.
As Forrest Gump might say (if he would just put that box of chocolate down for a minute), “Fitness is as fitness does.” So what would you want to do if you had a greater capacity for anything physical that you can’t do right now?
Keep in mind, this isn’t about having a six-pack (that’s fitness slang for “chiseled abs”, of course; nothing to do with beer). This isn’t about running marathons, bodybuilding or becoming a full-fledged “fitness junkie”. And this certainly isn’t about becoming a professional athlete or Victoria’s Secret model.
This guide is about one thing and one thing only: Creating the exercise habit
Once physical activity becomes a habit, I KNOW you’ll want more of it. Then you may decide to compete at sports. You might think about getting as lean and muscular as you can. You might even be inspired to get a degree in kinesiology, biochemistry or physiology and help others implement the ‘fitness lifestyle’. You might subscribe to all the different fitness mags, buy the books, hire a trainer and see just how far you can take your physical development. Or you may be happy just getting rid of a few extra pounds.
Wherever you decide to take this “fitness thing” is ultimately going to be your choice. First things first. Before we even start to think about ‘which exercise plan is the best’, it’s important to start with what you already know. It’s even MORE important to start with what you already like. (I realize we’re talking about exercise, but hear me out). At this point, it’s really not important to know the difference between a sit-up and an abdominal crunch (but if you do, that’s fine, too). Rather than worry about a potentially overwhelming mass of new information, we won’t re-invent any wheels – just use your current understanding of what counts as exercise and start doing it.
As I’ve already said (and will likely repeat many more times), the first goal is to create the HABIT of regular physical activity.
• Lift weights.
• Back-flip, somersault or cartwheel.
The point is that I want you to find something physical you don’t mind doing – even if it’s not considered “by the book” by those who specialize in program design. If you like to hop, skip and jump, then dagummit, start hopping, skipping and jumping already! Remember, YOU are now in charge of program design. (Are you feeling powerful yet?) Keep in mind that even the worst fitness program that gets done will easily outperform the countless books, DVDs and gym memberships you paid for but never used. So your “less than perfect” workout program will do much more good than any “ultimate workout” I create that never gets done.
Establish a Baseline
Recent research suggests that people who are happiest with their physical appearance, health and wellness accumulate 5-7 hours of exercise each week. If you’re currently getting ZERO hours, 5 may seem like a loooong way to go. So start with 3. Or 2. Or even 1. The point is to start – TODAY! It doesn’t have to be all at once. It doesn’t have matter if it’s weight training, walking, yoga, tai chi, tae bo or anything in between. You can do sit-ups for 5 hours straight if you really want to – or you might start by walking around the block after dinner.
As a trainer, of course I would prefer to create a goal and ability specific training plan, but that’d be jumping too far ahead. As a coach, I’m here to help you do what you already know you should be doing. I can give you new success strategies you may not have thought about (or chosen to ignore!). Regardless if I’m playing the role of “Trainer Joe” or “Coach Joe”, it’s still up to YOU to do the dirty work. Serve your time. However you want to look at exercise – (or whatever you choose to call the activity you find least offensive) – I KNOW you’ll improve if you can just build some level of consistency.
You Get Out Of It What You Put Into It
By focusing on the exercise habit, all those little goals (you know the usual suspects: weight loss, better health, improved stamina/endurance, etc) will magically start to “happen” on their own. Once the habit is firmly in place, THEN you can start thinking about the finer details: specific goals, measuring progress, refining your training & nutrition, etc.
After you’ve been bitten by ‘the fitness bug’, you may consider going public with your newfound enthusiasm for exercise. (Ok, so maybe training in a crowded gym is never going to be an option. That’s fine too. If training in the comfort of your own home is more your style, you might enjoy my home gym guide at www.HomeExerciseResources.com – find out how to get killer deals on top-quality training gear.)
Now that you’ve decided to do something, all that’s left to do is keep track of your efforts. If your self-prescribed fitness plan is giving you the results you want, keep doing what you’ve been doing. If your efforts are consistent but your ‘results’ are lacking, then it may be time to change what you’re doing. But now that you’ve developed “the habit”, working with a trainer or trying a new workout in a magazine won’t seem quite so intimidating.
About the Author —”Mighty” Joe Stankowski is the creator of “This Workout Doesn’t Suck” (www.ThisWorkout.com), a training adviser to Men’s Fitness magazine, a co-author of “The Power of Champions”, an IDEA Master Trainer and an all-around-good-guy.
For even more of Joe’s caffeine-inspired thoughts on all-things-fitness, be sure to visit his blog, www.MorningCupOfJoe.com