We recently had the privilege of presenting at the Prime Time for Women Conference at the Grey Nuns Hospital.
Our topic, Growing Stronger: Simple Ways to Build Back Your Strength, focused on the mental and physical challenges associated with becoming healthy in a world of confusing information, conflicting messages and gimmicks.
For most people, managing change and trying to work through personal barriers is much more challenging than the exercise itself. The success we’ve experienced with clients over the years all seems to boil down to a combination of the following tips and strategies:
Start where you are: Our clients aren’t usually big fans of gym environments. While they have their place, gyms are intimidating and not overly welcoming. That’s why the boutique market is booming. Everyone doesn’t and shouldn’t start from the same place. Sure, weight training and HINT programs are fantastic but a simple walking program may be your first attempt at exercise. As a beginner, focus on getting started, not on results.
Build willpower: Building muscle comes second to building willpower. In today’s fast-paced, plugged-in world, food is fast, information is instant, brains are overstimulated. Why shouldn’t we expect exercise to be easy and results immediate? Everything else is.
The good news is that willpower behaves like muscle. With practice, it becomes stronger. Perhaps your first step is skipping dessert or second helpings. Little changes strengthen your will, creating building blocks for future improvement.
Learn from your mistakes: You will fail. Accept it, plan for it and get past it — but keep going. Chalk up your weekend of cake and wine as a bit of fun, then reset your course with new determination.
Take one step at a time: Short-term goals set you up for short-term wins. Long-term goals, while important, can seem miles and miles away.
We hear this all the time: “I’ve been exercising for a month but I haven’t lost any weight.” No, it doesn’t work that way. These same people go on to marvel at stronger, firmer muscle and an increased sense of accomplishment. Celebrate the wins that are staring you in the face. Muscle first, weight loss second.
Exercise perseverance: Your most important workout is the first. Your second most important workout is your next. Repeat, document and continue. Showing up, as they say, is half the battle. For beginners, attendance trumps intensity — don’t let the muscled jock tell you any different.
Find a mentor: From someone who trained and oversaw a team of more than 80 personal trainers, I know the fitness industry is cluttered with inexperience and bad fits. Just because you know how to do a pushup doesn’t mean you know how to empower and guide people through their personal challenges.
Find a friend or family member who will provide emotional support and a trusted professional who can guide you through the technical steps. Fitness professionals must be service focused, demonstrate empathy and attentiveness, have many years of experience, hold a formal education and provide references from people who look (or looked) like you.
Squat, push, pull: OK, now for the exercise. Your cardio program should start with walking and move to intervals. That’s means start walking/biking on a flat surface at a consistent speed and progress to one-minute intervals of hard and easy activity, a minimum of three times per week.
For strength, your body is designed to squat down, pull or pick things up and push, or a combination thereof.
Squat: with your heels flat on the ground, lower your butt with your back straight. The lower you can go (keeping your feet flat and butt sticking out backward like an ape) the better. Hold a door handle for support as needed. Your range of motion will improve with practice.
Pull: Purchase a piece of surgical tubing or an exercise band with handles. They are cheap. Wrap the band around something secure. There should be tension on the band. Sit or stand with a straight back and pull until your hands are beside your chest.
Push: Adopt a plank position (body facing the floor with your arms straight). Keeping your back straight, slowly lower yourself to the floor without dropping. Place a pillow under your face for safety if needed. No need to push up unless you have the strength. Repeat.
Slowly perform three sets of 12 reps for each exercise three times a week.
Consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program.