Mental health problems are on the rise, and while the stigma is nothing like it…
I. What Is A Fitness Program?
Starting a fitness program is the first step to living a healthier life. Exercising in a regular and systematic fashion can lower your risk of chronic disease, help you lose weight and get in shape. While most people realize that they need to make changes in how they exercise, eat and reduce stress, often several factors stand in the way of these changes.
A fitness program is a set of guidelines, goals and exercise routines you do each day. Even if you can only find 30 minutes three days a week, this will be enough time to improve your health, provide you with more energy and reduce stress.
Essential Components of A Good Fitness Program
Whether you want to lose weight, build strength or get in shape, there are three main components of a health related fitness program:
- Cardio exercises: These involve any type of activity that raises your heart rate such as walking, jogging, cycling and aerobics.
- Strength training: This involves any type of weight lifting exercises at a light to moderate level that help you build strength and develop stronger muscles.
- Flexibility exercises: Flexibility is important in carrying out your exercise routine without risk of injury. Stretching, bending, reaching and squatting increase your flexibility and help your body recover after a workout.
Basic Tools You Will Need
You will have to use some basic tools when you start your fitness program such as:
- Stop watch
- Fitness journal
These items can help you track your progress and offer you tangible proof that your fitness program is working or not working at all.
II. Your Fitness Level and Status of Health
1. Assessing Your Current Fitness Level
You probably have some idea of how fit and healthy you are. However, before you develop a fitness program, it is a good idea to assess your current level of physical fitness so you can measure your progress against some initial benchmarks to see how much progress you’ve made. For example,
- If you want to lose weight, step on the scale and record your starting weight.
- If you want to get stronger and build muscle mass, record how much weight you are able to lift before you start weight training.
- If you want to improve your physical endurance, time yourself while walking or running a certain distance.
- You can take similar measurements for other physical activities you intend to do.
- You may also want to get your body composition measured.
2. Seeing Your Doctor About Your Health
Before starting a fitness program, it is important that you see your doctor and have a complete physical check-up in order to determine if you are healthy enough for regular physical activity so you can proceed with your program without having to worry about health issues.
Depending on your age, physical condition and other health issues, you may be limited in the types of activities you can participate in. There may be several reasons which require you to alter your fitness program such as:
- Old knee or back injury
- Recent surgery
- Age related problems
- Advanced stress or fatigue
Even if you have some health issues, you should not be dissuaded from doing physical activity altogether. While you can still incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, you may need to shorten the exercise time or do lighter exercises instead. For example, if you have bad knees or back problems, you should avoid running but you should be able to walk. If you are overweight, you may need to start out with light weight training and other exercises until you lose enough weight to begin heavier training.
III. Dietary Changes
When you start exercising, you will need a well-rounded and healthy diet that complements your fitness program. A well-balanced diet can help you get the calories and nutrients you need for your physical activities. It will provide you with more energy during your workouts and help you see faster results. For example,
- If you’re trying to lose weight, avoid processed and junk foods. that are high in sugar and salt. Replace them with fruits, vegetables and foods that contain healthy fats.
- If you are trying to gain muscle mass, your protein and calorie needs will be higher. So you will have to consume protein-rich and high-carb foods.
- if you are on a rigorous training program or trying to increase your endurance with high intensity exercises such as biking or running for miles each week, you should increase your carbohydrate and protein intake.
If you are unsure what type of diet you have to follow to get the most out of your fitness program, ask a dietician for help at your fitness center.
IV. Designing Your Fitness Program
Creating a fitness program requires a commitment to set aside time for physical activity. Regardless of whether you are trying to lose weight, increase muscle mass or improve the quality of your life, incorporating a fitness program into your life can help you gain more control over your well-being.
When you want to start a fitness program, you you will have to consider several factors such as:
- What you want to achieve with your fitness program
- Types of activities you enjoy or feel comfortable with
- Amount of time you want to devote to your fitness program
- Amount of money you want to spend (fitness equipment, gym membership, personal trainer, etc.)
- Types of equipment you will need for your fitness program
- Support system that will keep you motivated
- Goals you will have to meet along the way
- Available fitness programs or sports activities in your area
- Your current health condition
After you have figured out these criteria, you should be able to put together an effective fitness program. In as little as seven days you can begin your personalized fitness program. Being honest with yourself is the best way to develop a realistic fitness program that fits your lifestyle. Also, proper planning can help you add fitness activities into your daily schedule easier.
1. Fitness Activities
Since there are so many fitness activities to choose from, you may first want to try a few in order to determine which ones you are most comfortable with.
- Jogging or running
- Weight training
- Sports activities (individual and team sports)
It is important to choose physical activities based on what you enjoy and what you want to accomplish with your fitness program, as this will keep you motivated. Find an activity that is something you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to try something new or combine activities in order to stay motivated.
If you have never been all that physically active, you should try something that is low impact at first like brisk walking and then, as you get in shape, you can move on to more challenging activities.
Get professional help
If you want to start a fitness program that requires guidance such as weight training, aerobics or yoga, you may need help from a qualified trainer at a fitness center. Before beginning your fitness program, sign up for classes or talk to a personal trainer for advice so you will be able to start your program as soon as possible. Make sure that classes and training sessions do not interfere with other aspects of your life.
2. Setting Your Fitness Goals
Setting goals is the next step in creating an effective fitness program. Once you have decided on the types of activities you want to try, you should set some goals that can be used as a guide, motivational tool and a way to gauge your progress. You can have both short-term and long-term goals.
Your fitness goals can include several things such as:
- Number of pounds you want to lose each month
- Number of miles you want to walk or jog each week
- Changing diet and exercise habits
- Getting at least 30 minutes a day physical activity
When your fitness goals are set properly, they should:
- Be realistic for your age, weight and current physical condition
- Be compatible with the time you have set aside for fitness
- Be increased gradually as you become more fit
- Motivate you to move forward instead of holding you back
- Allow you to gauge your progress so you can make changes, if necessary
- Help you reach your ideal weight or body fat composition
- Give you a sense of control over your health
Write down your fitness goals in a diary
Writing down your goals in a diary will make them seem more attainable and easy to remember. While goals are meant to help and inspire, they are only guidelines. You may have to adjust your goals according to changes that occur in your life from time to time. For example, if you have an injury or become pregnant, you will have to alter your fitness goals to adopt to those changes.
3. Maintaining Your Fitness Program
Maintaining a fitness program in the long run may be the biggest concern for most people. Because of life events, jobs, family and other obstacles, you need to adopt a flexible fitness program so you can easily adjust it to changes that may occur in you life. Once you have created a set of goals, you will need to learn how to follow them properly. This can be done in several ways:
- Use a calendar or day planner – You can use a calendar or day planner to highlight the days you plan on working out or participating in fitness activities. This will force you to reserve a certain amount of time for your fitness program. Over time, it will become just another daily habit.
- Avoid busy times during the day – Schedule fitness activities during times that are not busy. This may mean having to exercise in the morning or at night. Try to schedule your fitness activities at times that are not only convenient for you but also matches your personality. For example, if you are a night person, don’t schedule a workout early in the morning.
- Educate yourself about fitness – Try to learn as much as you can about fitness. Not only will this inspire you, it will also give you ideas about new activities you can add to your fitness program in the future.
- Vary your exercise routine – Change your routine every few weeks or so. While your goals can remain the same, the activities you do can be changed so you don’t become bored.
- Don’t use illness or injury as an excuse – Do light exercises when you are ill or injured so you will not be interrupting your fitness program totally.
- Get your family to participate – Have your family involved in staying fit so family members can encourage each other to continue their fitness programs.
- Take it easy on yourself – Don’t be too hard on yourself when you miss a day or two for one reason or the other. You can always make up for the missed workouts later on.
Keep a fitness journal
Keeping a fitness diary of your activities is a great way to get motivated. A fitness journal can be used to track your progress along the way, vent your frustrations, motivate you to keep going and determine which fitness activities are the most effective. Always write down what you did, how long you exercised and how you felt about it. Some days you will want to write more, while others days you won’t. But try to keep it short so journaling won’t turn into another nagging task you have to do every day.
V. Fitness Equipment
Needless to say, the types of fitness equipment you need will vary depending on your fitness program and the results you are looking for. When creating your fitness program, it is a good idea to make a list of the types of equipment you will need for workouts. Below you will find information on different types of fitness equipment used for popular fitness activities.
Since there are different types of aerobic activities you can participate in, the equipment needed will vary. When taking an aerobics class, you may need:
- Supportive footwear
- Light clothing
- Light weights
- Bands or straps for stretching
- Jump rope
- Exercise ball
- Exercise mats
When weight training, you will be targeting different muscle groups which require using different types of free weights and weight machines.
- Hand weights
- Bar bells
- Kettle bells
- Ankle weights
- Medicine balls
- Weightlifting belt
- Weightlifting mats
A weightlifting belt is useful when lifting heavier weights or bar bells. Belts will keep your back aligned so you maintain the correct posture and reduce the risk of injury. Gloves will help keep the weight from slipping out of your hands. Weightlifting mats not only help prevent wear and tear on your equipment and floor but also protect you from excessive physical stress and potential injury.
Weight machines are also used for weight training that allow you to work various muscle groups including legs, arms, back and chest. Most weight machines require the use of cables that act as a resistance to the weights that are attached. You will be able to increase or decrease the amount of weight adjusting the tension from the cables.
Common weight machines you will find at a gym include:
- Bench press
- Curl bench
- Leg extension / leg curl machine
- Leg press machine
- Row machine
- Circuit training machines
Since yoga involves stretching and sitting, the equipment used is very basic. In most classes, you will need the following equipment:
- Yoga mats
- Bands or straps for increased stretching
Yoga mats are important because they cushion the body from the floor. Straps can be used to help those who do not have good flexibility be able to stretch fully. Towels are often used to elevate the head when stretching the upper back.
Walking and Running
The most important piece of equipment you will need when walking or running is a pair of good quality shoes. If you have trouble choosing the right shoes, the following guidelines can help:
- Always try shoes on before buying them as manufacturers may size their shoes differently.
- Walking and running shoes should have rubberized soles that will absorb ground shock.
- Shoes should have padding inside to protect the foot from injury.
- Water proof or water resistant shoes will help protect them when walking or running after a rain shower.
- Removable inserts are useful for added protection when walking or running for a longer period of time.
Protecting your feet, knees and back is very important when walking and running for fitness. The best way to go about it is to purchase a pair of shoes that is meant for walking or running. These shoes will not only cushion your feet, they will also help you maintain your posture.
The equipment needed for various sports activities will vary depending on the type of sport you are involved in. If you need to buy your own equipment, make sure you buy the equipment that fits properly, is made of strong materials and is practical for different types of weather. Buying the right equipment will allow you to feel more comfortable throughout the activity. If you are unsure about what to purchase, ask store employees at sporting goods stores or your trainer at the gym..
VI. Fitness Apparel
What you wear is just as important as the types of equipment you use when participating in a fitness activity. In recent years, fitness apparel has grown from frumpy outerwear to trendy fashion pieces that can be worn in other places.
While you don’t have to dress to impress when you are at the gym, most people try to find clothing that matches their personality. Clothing should be functional, comfortable, made of breathable and quality materials, and easy to take on or off.
Since many people have only a limited amount of time for workout, choosing clothing that can be worn outside the gym is becoming more important.
When choosing workout clothing, you have several options:
- Yoga pants
- Cropped tops
- Tank tops
- Sport shorts
- Sweat pants
- Layered shirts
- Sweat resistant clothing
- Sweat shirts
VII. Buying Fitness Equipment
Many people are more concerned about having the right fitness equipment rather than using it. Prioritizing what you want from your fitness program will help you make the right decision in purchasing fitness equipment. If you are not planning to join a fitness club, then consider buying a few pieces of fitness equipment that you can use at home. Making a list of the types of exercises you want to do each day can give you a better idea about what type of equipment you will need.
When buying fitness equipment to use at home, keep the following in mind:
- Invest only in equipment you need for your fitness program.
- Try exercise machines and free weights before buying them to make sure they are what you are looking for.
- Make sure all parts of the equipment are included. Some exercise machines require you to buy weights and bands separately.
- Make sure you have sufficient room in your home for the equipment you plan to buy.
- Ask about warranties
Working out at home has many advantages including:
- The ability to workout when you want
- You are the only one using the equipment
- Over time, it is less expensive than a fitness club membership
- Investing in a fitness equipment is another way to motivate yourself.
It is a good idea to attend a gym or fitness center for a while t0 get familiar with the types of equipment used for the types of exercises you intend to include in your fitness program. Learning about the types of fitness equipment and how to use them will provide you with more insight when creating a suitable fitness program.
VIII. Starting Your Fitness Program
Scheduling time for your fitness program is the best way to develop a routine, which will make it easier maintain it in the long run. Also, devoting the same amount of time each day to fitness is a great way to meet your goals, stay motivated and become physically fit. For example, if you plan on starting a walking program or you want to take yoga classes, schedule these activities at the same time during the week, try to visit the gym at the same time or exercise at home at the same time.
A beginner program should include about two to three days of cardio exercises and two days of strength training per week. You can combine these activities if you cannot devote five days to exercising during the week.
You should always ease into your exercise program with a simple cardio and strength training routine. When you first start your exercise program, your body is likely to feel sore, which is quite normal when you try new exercises. So you may need additional recovery days to allow your body to rest and adjust.
Sample Fitness Program
A typical beginner’s fitness program could look like this:
- Monday – 15-20 minutes of physical activity
- Tuesday – rest
- Wednesday – 20-25 minutes of physical activity
- Thursday – rest
- Friday – 25-30 minutes of physical activity
- Saturday – rest
- Sunday – rest
You can gradually increase the duration and intensity of physical activity until you reach 30 minutes. Of course, depending on what you want to accomplish with your fitness program, this can vary. Once you get used to this plan for a month or two, you can advance into a more rigorous plan. Working out at least 30 minutes, three times a week will give you more energy, reduce stress and accomplish your goals.
IX. Getting Your Body Ready For Physical Activity
While you may be ready to jump into a fitness program right away, you should give your body a chance to get used to increased physical activity. Take it slowly when starting a new fitness program for the first few weeks. Starting slowly can help prevent injury, maintain motivation and keep stress levels low.
You can try the following in order to gradually get your body used to regular physical activity:
- Stretch for 5 minutes before and after workout.
- Work your way up to 30 minutes by starting at 15 or 20 minutes a day or every other day.
- Start with smaller weights and work your way up to heavier weights.
- Keep the number of repetitions low and increase them gradually.
- Pick one fitness routine and stay with it until you feel comfortable before you move on to another.
- Drink a lot of water in order to stay hydrated.
After two or three weeks, your body may be ready for an increase in physical activity. If you are too sore to move after a workout, then you may need to scale it back until your body is ready.
Reasons to Take It Easy for the First Few Weeks
1. Preventing injury
The most important reason that you should not overdo it in your first few weeks is to prevent injury. Twisting an ankle, popping a knee or straining a muscle are painful and can lead to permanent injury. This is why stretching is so important. Muscles that are limber and flexible are less likely to be injured when used over and over.
2. Staying motivated
Especially if you work out too much during the first few weeks, you will lose motivation because it may be difficult to keep up with your fitness schedule. This is why setting realistic goals is important. As you become stronger, you will be able to increase the intensity of your workout or take on a few extra days.
3. Keeping stress levels low
In addition to physical stress, you are putting yourself through emotional stress as well. Taking on too much at once could persuade you to not want to work out anymore. A fitness program is used to reduce stress, not increase it.
X. Fitness Motivation and Positive Thinking
One of the biggest problems people face when starting a fitness program is to stay motivated. This is where many people fail when it comes to fitness. While they may have the best intentions, buy expensive equipment and take time out of their busy schedules to exercise, they may run out of motivation and stop exercising altogether.
Even though you may realize the benefits of exercising, both physically and emotionally, it may still be a struggle to stay on a fitness program for the long run. That’s why deciding what will keep you motivated can help you along the way.
It is through motivation that you will succeed, and motivation can come from many sources such as:
- Set achievable goals.
- Establish a realistic timeline for achieving your goals.
- Use a calendar to schedule time for exercise.
- Track weight loss and calorie intake, if on a diet.
- Surround yourself with those having similar goals.
- Join a gym or fitness club.
- Vary your activities.
- Read health and fitness articles that promote a healthy lifestyle.
- Set up a non-food reward program and reward yourself every time you reach a goal.
Once you have incorporated a fitness routine into your life, you should be able to stay with it. If you find a few fitness activities you enjoy, you will begin looking forward to them instead of dreading them. Enjoying what you are doing will help you stay motivated.
For many people, starting a fitness program is very exciting. They are happy buying equipment, workout clothing, running or walking shoes, and learning how to safely workout to prevent injury or stress. But after a month or so, they may begin to lose interest.
You can lose motivation for a variety of reasons such as:
- Not seeing the results you anticipated
- Not being able to stick to the fitness schedule
- Gaining weight
- Getting injured after beginning program
- Getting bored with the sames routines.
- Unrealistic goals.
Once people begin to lose interest in physical activity, they either give up or try to find ways to stay motivated.
When starting a fitness program, one of the most important components of success is positive thinking. By remaining positive and upbeat about your fitness program, you will be able to overcome most of the stumbling blocks and get closer to achieving your goals.
Positive thinking can:
- Motivate you to keep going even when you are tired or discouraged
- Help you to come up with realistic goals that you can reach through hard work
- Create challenges that will keep your fitness program interesting
- Make you understand that fitness should be a part of your life in order to remain healthy
If you are beginning to feel discouraged because you are not seeing the results you thought you would see or you no longer feel challenged, staying positive will help you find solutions to alter your state-of-mind and continue your fitness activities.
XI. Making Changes To Your Fitness Program
Many times, you have to modify your fitness program in order to accommodate changes that occur in your life.
Common changes that occur in a fitness program include:
- Decrease in the amount of weight used when weight training
- Taking a class that is less or more advanced
- Adding a new activity to your plan
- Substituting one program for another
- Joining a fitness club instead of working out at home
- Partnering with another person
Many times, altering your workout time and fitness activities can help you motivate and keep you active. When making changes, write them down in your journal and explain why those changes were made and how you feel about them. You may have to make several changes before settling on a fitness program that fits your lifestyle.
XII. After Reaching Your Goals
While reaching a major fitness goal is something to celebrate, it does not mean the end of your fitness journey. As you age, your body will go through physical and hormonal changes. Being healthy throughout your life should be the ultimate goal of your fitness program. Even though you may have to change which activities you participate in, the goal stays the same.
Once you reach your initial fitness goals, you can try several things to get motivated to continue your fitness lifestyle:
- Create new goals – New goals can help you motivate and breathe new life into your fitness program.
- Try a new fitness activity – Trying a new fitness activity is a wonderful way to stay motivated and maintain your fitness program.
- Find other ways to stay motivated – Motivation can come in many forms so try to find new ways to maintain your routine.
- Scale back – Scaling back the number of days you exercise or intensity of exercises can ease the pressure on you and help you continue your fitness program at a more comfortable pace.
Remember that fitness is not something you do just to pamper yourself. It is a way to ensure that you stay healthy for a lifetime. By sticking to your fitness program for life, you will have more energy, you will feel less stress, and you will be able to accomplish a lot more during the day.
Staying fit should be a lifelong goal rather than something you do for a few months. In order to stay fit for life, you will probably have to make adjustments to your fitness program to meet your goals, maintain your health, compensate for injury and get the most out of your fitness activities.