Friday, October 5, 2012

Starting a Fitness Program

I have read a lot of articles recently on “exercise motivation”. I find it interesting to sort through the different theories as to why people do, or (mostly) don’t, get enough exercise. It is widely understood that exercise and proper eating are the key ingredients for health.  If we all know this, then why are the majority of us not getting enough exercise?  

Most of the articles I have read have a pie chart that depicts the reasons people give for not exercising. The results are always the same. The overwhelming majority of people say that they “don’t have enough time”. I think that perhaps time is not the real answer.  In my experience, not having "enough time”, is just the excuse we give ourselves so that we don’t have to face the real reason we don’t exercise. For me, and probably many others as well, that was intimidation.

There are many things that lead to exercise intimidation: having no idea where to begin, being unfamiliar with the equipment, exercise programs with crazy names like “Insanity”, and all of the beautiful bodies at the gym.  There is also the concern that you are not going to be an immediate fitness success story. As humans we seek success and praise, and we try our very hardest to avoid failure.  For a beginning exerciser, who is already critical of their body, subpar exercise performance may just seem like an additional failure.

Let me show you what I mean:

Pretend you have started a new journey towards healthy living, and you are trying to incorporate exercise into your life.  You know a lot of healthy people who run, and you decide to give it a try. You grab your running shoes from the back of the closet, find some sort of clothing that resembles gym clothes, and successfully make it out of the door.  Once outside a feeling of pride sweeps over your body, causing you to smile knowingly at what you are about to accomplish.  You take a deep breath and begin running.  You feel great at first, asking yourself,  “why don’t I do this more often?”.  Then, before you even get to the second song on your iPod, your body answers that question.  You feel a sharp pain in your side, and your lungs begin to burn. You can’t get any air. Finally you are forced to stop to prevent your heart from beating right out of your chest.  Then the real pain starts, as you walk the two blocks back to your starting place, feeling nothing short of defeated.

That is how I felt over and over again as I tried to get my feet wet in the unfamiliar world of exercise.  Thankfully, I figured out a way to stop beating myself up, and to successfully start an exercise program.  Here are some of the techniques that I used:

  • In the beginning, exercise does not necessarily need to look like exercise.  Being more active is the key.  I lost a lot of my initial weight just by walking.  I walked to the store, with friends, and even while talking on my cellphone.  I walked everywhere.
  • I went on a lot of moderate hikes with friends.  I found that having someone to converse with helped me to forget that I was going uphill.  Once I got used to it, I enjoyed going by myself as well.  The nice thing about hiking is that you can do it at any pace that feels comfortable to you.
  • I took yoga classes several times a week.  I found that yoga was a gentle way to begin strengthening my muscles.  The strength base that I gained in yoga helped to make other exercises seem easier (especially the development of a stronger core). Pilates would be great for this too, but I did not know about it at the time.
  • I fell in love with group exercise programs.  I learned a lot about fitness just from watching and listening to the instructors.  The good thing about group exercise is that there are often participants of all levels, so you never feel alone, and you have a trained instructor to tell you if you are doing things incorrectly.  I took a lot of step aerobics, toning and water aerobics classes.
  • I changed my attitude about failure, and started accepting the fact that I could only run short distances.  I knew that running fit with my busy lifestyle, I could do it anytime and anywhere, and I needed to embrace it.  I started going on 10 minutes runs (walking when I needed to), then 15, then 20, and so on.  The more weight I lost, the easier it was to run, and the easier it was to see that I was not a failure.
  • I avoided all of the commercial fitness programs.  I knew that if I had someone telling me what to do, and what level I should be at, I would get frustrated.  I needed to feel in control.
These are the things that worked for me. That doesn't mean you need to follow the exact same path.  The most important message I am trying to portray is that your dreams are possible.  

Previously, I was unable to run around the block, and now I run six miles several times per week.  My greatest suggestion is to start out with the things that you enjoy most, and that will help you stay active.  Remember, we are trying to create sustainable habits. If you push too hard at first, and set your standards too high, you may not even finish the race.  Trust me, there will be plenty of opportunities to push yourself later on!


  1. Great post! The key for me is sticking to exercise that I really enjoy. I love to swim, play tennis, and take ballet classes. They're great exercise, but more importantly they're really fun. I added some weight training when I started trying to lose weight, but otherwise I kept with my favorite activities. It's just to hard to find the motivation to exercise consistently unless I really enjoy it.

  2. Great post! Been telling my Mom a lot of similar things lately.