Starting An Exercise Program And Sticking With It Successfully

OK, you are all fired up, motivated, and ready to go. You have new training shoes, have just gone up a dress size, and you have seen new numbers on the bathroom scales that are frightening you. You may be battling the bulge, or just wanting to improve your fitness in general. You have told yourself, and possibly others, that you are starting an exercise program.

Not surprisingly, statistics show that only 30% of people follow through with their fitness resolutions over a 12 month period. To keep yourself in the minority who manage to keep their exercise program going, why not follow these tips to help yourself succeed with your workout program:

*Medical clearance.

It may be worthwhile having your doctor check you out before you start running 5 miles before breakfast. This is especially important for anyone suffering from health conditions, is over weight, elderly, or hasn’t exercised for a while. Your doctor will be able to weigh you, check your blood pressure, and advise you on your optimal cardiac workout rate. You will be amazed at your next evaluation at the differences between your resting heart rate and blood pressure, before you started your fitness program and 3 or 6 months down the track.

Physical fitness test.

Before starting on your new exercise program it is a great idea to perform some sort of physical fitness test. These can be as complex or as simple as you like. You can do a relatively straight forward one yourself. Personal trainers, gyms, and health clubs will probably throw in a few extras to help test you. However you are assessed, keep the initial results for tracking your progress.

If you are testing yourself, try some of these pointers:

* BMI (your body mass index). This is a measurement derived from your height and weight.

* Body measurements. Measure any areas that you are looking to tighten up, bulk up, or reduce. Usual measurements include chest, waist, hips, thigh, and various parts of the arm.

* Flexibility. How far can you stretch? Can you touch your toes?

* Resting heart rate. This is a great guide of overall fitness, and is also necessary so that you know when you are working out at the correct intensity. ( More on that later.)

* Recovery rate. How quickly does your heart rate return to resting after your first workout? As your fitness improves, this time will become shorter.

* Your speed for running, swimming, or walking a certain distance. What distance can you actually cover initially?

* How many push ups and crunches can you perform?

Retest every month to six weeks. Initially you will be astonished at how quickly your fitness improves.

Beginner exercise programs.

* Beginner exercise programs are a sensible and safe place to start for seniors, those coming back from injury or rehab, the very unfit or overweight, and those who have never exercised, or can’t remember the last time they saw the inside of the gym.

* The most important point to remember is to start off slow. If you strain or injure yourself, you will just be going backwards.

* Listen to your body. If it hurts, stop. Chest pain, breathlessness, and feeling faint or nauseous are all signs that you are working too hard. If you should experience any of those signs consult a doctor ASAP. If chest pain continues, call an ambulance.

* Your body will be stiff and sore to start with, generally the second day after exercise is the worst. Gentle stretches and heat packs are invaluable for loosening up sore spots. Gentle exercise is also usually helpful for relieving the stiffness.

* Warming up and cooling down are essential components to any exercise routine. Miss these and you will strain yourself. Aim for 5-10 minutes for both warming up and cooling down.

* Eventually you should be able to exercise for at least 30 minutes. Start with whatever interval you can, and then build up in intervals between 1 and 5 minutes, depending on what you can manage.

* Ideally, when you begin you will want to be exercising for a minimum of 2-3 times weekly. Eventually you should be able to manage a workout time of 30 minutes. (This does not include warm up and cool down times.)

* When beginning a new exercise campaign, always start in the lower end of the recommendations for frequency and intensity. If the first time feels too easy adjust accordingly the second time.

* Doing too much initially will result in burn out or fatigue.

Weight loss exercise programs.

* Weight loss exercise programs should include a variety of exercises incorporating both aerobic and resistance work. The aerobic component will burn calories and the resistance component will tighten up your muscles, improve muscle mass, and ultimately speed up your metabolism.

* When exercising to lose weight it is important to remember that every little bit of activity burns calories.

* Take the stairs, use each and every opportunity to get your butt off your chair and moving.

* For significant weight loss, many experts recommend some kind of regular activity daily.

* Weight loss exercise programs will be further enhanced by a sensible weight loss diet.

Aerobic exercise programs

* Aerobic exercise is important for maintaining heart and lung, or cardiovascular, health.

* Best examples of aerobic exercise include brisk walking, jogging, running, dancing, aerobics classes, roller blading, bike riding, swimming at a fast pace, aqua aerobics, and using Stairmasters.

* Your heart rate is meant to rise and you should be feeling sweaty.

* Current recommendations for aerobic workouts are three to five times weekly, ranging from 20 minutes to 60 minutes in duration.

* Your heart rate should be in the workout zone of 60-85% intensity.

Heart Rate.

* Your optimal and safe heart, or cardio, work out rate is generally worked out at your age in years subtracted from 200. So if you are 40, then your maximum pulse would be 160 beats per minute.

* Many gyms and health clubs have charts on the wall to guide you. Take a look and write down the figures appropriate for your age for when you are exercising at home or outdoors.

* The elderly, and people with significant health problems should consult their doctor to adjust their safe heart rate zone.

Strength training or resistance work

* Strength training and resistance work not only helps eliminate those flabby bits, but will also result in more muscle mass. No, you don’t need to end up looking like a body builder. The more muscle mass you have, the more effectively your metabolism will work as muscle requires more calories than fat.

* Current recommendations for resistance work are 2 sessions per week, with ideally 48 hours rest between. Try for at least 8-10 different exercises or movements, in repetitions of 10. Each repetition should be performed between 1 and 3 times.

* You don’t need to own a set of gym style weights or equipment for an effective resistance workout. Bands can be an effective and inexpensive way to firm up these muscles.

* Resistance workouts can be performed in basically one of two ways: firstly, lots of small fast repetitions with light weights, or secondly, less repetitions using much heavier weights. Personal trainers and gyms can be invaluable on advice as to which method will suit you best.

Stretches and flexibility.

* Stretching can be easily overlooked in a workout program. However, stretching is vital for improving flexibility and balance. An effective set of stretches can reduce muscle stiffness and pain, minimize injury, improve coordination, and increases the blood supply to your joints.

* Many people find that stiff necks and lower back pain can be effectively managed with appropriate stretches.

* Check in with your local physiotherapist if you suffer from any joint problems and have them customize a suitable routine for your conditions.

Aqua aerobics or therapy.

* Aqua aerobics can be a brilliant and safe way for those with joint conditions such as rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone recovering from a significant injury.

* Not only does the water help buffer the joints, it also acts as resistance in your routine, and prevents the participants from overheating.

*As the name suggests aqua aerobics is a form of aerobic exercise, but it is also considered resistance work as well.

Set yourself goals.

* There is absolutely no point setting unrealistic goals. You need to break things up into smaller pieces. Evaluate your fitness and weight on a monthly basis, not daily or weekly. There is no magic way to lose the love handles overnight, or regain your college fitness by the weekend.

* Are you wanting to lose a significant amount of weight? Break it up into smaller numbers. Look for the next big number down on the bathroom scales and work towards that first. Telling yourself you need to lose 20 or 30 pounds can be very overwhelming. Saying to yourself I am aiming for that number ending in a 5 or 0 is much easier mentally.

* Weight loss is a long term commitment and a lifestyle change. If you are planning a summer vacation, or a school reunion, give yourself plenty of time, in weeks and months, not days and weeks.

* From a fitness perspective do you want to tone up, get fit, or run a marathon? Your long term goals can vary widely. Figure out your goals and what you want to achieve, and then document them.

Up the intensity.

* As you become fitter, and your body becomes more accustomed to your workout program, you will need to up the intensity.

* What does this mean? Well, basically you will have to work your body harder. This can take the form of a longer workout time, or a harder workout eg: running faster, lifting heavier weights, or a combination of the both

* If you don’t increase your intensity every 4-6 weeks, you will lose the effectiveness of your training.

Exercise journal.

* An exercise journal is an excellent way to document your progress. It is terribly easy to forget your best running time from the day or week before.

Writing down your reps with strength training will prevent you from losing track.

* At the end of each week you can have a look back at what you have done and see whether you are still on track. If you have slackened off during the week, you may need to do a little more on the weekend to make up.

* State your goals clearly at the start of every week. If you are training for a specific date, give yourself a countdown. There is nothing quite so motivating as realizing there are only so many weeks left to go.

* Document your weight loss weekly. Keep track of your before and after measurements. You will be astonished how quickly those love handles can start to diminish.

* Circle the dates monthly when you are set to up the intensity of your training. It can be easy to forget what date you started.

* When you feel demotivated, or that you are getting nowhere, go back to the beginning of the journal and reread your goals. You may find that you are a lot closer than you realize. Take a good look in the mirror. Does that glowing face really belong to you? Think about how much better you are feeling and sleeping.

* Have your doctor give you a copy of your starting blood pressure, resting heart rate,and any blood tests such as cholesterol. Attach these at the start of your journal. Whenever you revisit the doctor, get your figures updated. These will give you a very realistic view of just how much your health and body are benefitting from your fitness program.

Personal trainer.

* A personal trainer can be ideal for the individual who is unsure what they should be doing.

* A personal trainer can optimize a routine for you and then once you have the hang of it, you can continue along yourself.

* Many health clubs and gyms have personal trainers available to help you get started and introduce you to all the equipment. They will perform fitness and weight assessments and custom make a plan suited to your needs and requirements. This is a great way to minimize injuries through incorrect usage of weights and equipment.

* If a personal trainer is too expensive, why not share one with a friend until you know what you are doing? The rates are generally much cheaper when you share with a mate.

* A personal trainer can be invaluable for the person who is never going to get out of bed or exercise on their own. Those hefty cancellation fees, not to mention someone banging on your front door first thing in the morning, are enough to get anybody out of bed.

Handy hints:

* Select activities that you actually enjoy. You will never stick with a program that you hate.

* Find a workout buddy. Enlist you children for roller blading, walking or running. Take your dog for a regular brisk walk. Take your spouse to the gym, yoga, running, etc. Encourage one of your friends to join you in some of the activities. The more social your exercise program, the more you will enjoy it. It is also harder to break set dates.

* Don’t be tempted to weigh yourself daily. It takes time to lose weight if that is your goal. Never forget that toned muscles also weigh more than flabby bits, so your clothes are actually a better gauge. If your clothes are getting baggier, you are getting smaller.

* Mix it up. Variety is the spice of life. It is better for your muscles if you change your routines around. It will also be a lot less boring for yourself. Exercise outdoors when the weather is good. Hop in a pool when you can. The better the variety, the more your muscles have to work. Repeating the same routines day in day out, can result in repetitive strain injuries.

* Wear the appropriate workout gear. It doesn’t have to be designer label and expensive. Ensure that you are comfortable, not self conscious, and that you can move freely.

* Take the water bottle with you everywhere. The more you sweat, the more you need to rehydrate yourself.

* Make a time that suits you and stick to it. Some people prefer first thing in the morning, and then no matter where the day ends up they have already done their exercise. Some night owls prefer to exercise after they have finished at the office. If you do not select a workable time that fits into your routine you will never be able to keep your program up.

* Let the weather guide your outdoor exercise sports. If there is snow, go skiing or ice skating on the local pond. Spring and fall are ideal months for walking, jogging, running, or roller blading. Hotter summer months are perfect for outdoor swimming.

* If you are planning on exercising at home, perhaps you can get a temporary membership at your local gym to see which equipment you prefer to work out with. This can save you a fortune in purchasing equipment you will not be using. You do not want to go the cost of buying a Stairmaster or treadmill to discover that it gives you sore knees, do you? Alternatively, you may discover that you prefer the ellipticals.

* Visit the local library and get yourself some workout or fitness DVDs. These will give you plenty of ideas on how to mix-up your routines. Many DVDs are themed for arms, butts, thighs, yoga, or whatever.

* If your kids have a Wii, buy yourself the fitness program. This will allow you to work out in the privacy of your own home at any time of the day or night. Even better, as the program detects that you are getting fitter your personalized avatar will get slimmer as well.


Starting and sticking with an exercise or get fit program requires some planning. Select activities that you find pleasurable, and a time of day that will work best. There are many benefits to be gained from improving your fitness including better weight management, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, improved quality of sleep, and improved flexibility, balance and coordination. Fitness programs should be regarded as a total change of lifestyle, and realistic and long term goals should be set to avoid disappointment and frustration. After a week or two the feel good factor will kick in, and it will become easier and more pleasurable as time goes on.