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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mike's Fitness Guidelines Start Here...

(Ok, we've been through this before, but here we go again... Get a checkup before starting a fitness program, I'm not a doctor, follow my advice at your own risk, all disclaimers apply, yadda yadda yadda. Got it?)

Today we'll start by looking at some general principles on how to design your own maintainable fitness program. That word maintainable is important, because a routine that isn't routine won't help you at all. I want you to find a comfortable plan that you can stick with, one that you can look forward to doing each day; there's nothing worse than adding one more thing you dread to an already busy day.

To balance the hard-won lessons of a 51-year-old man who's still reasonably active (hey, I'll have you know I used to run 5 miles in 40 minutes regularly!), Apryl DeLancey from Women Love Sports has agreed to give you the perspective of a younger woman who is like the Energizer Bunny, only much cuter. I think you'll find Apryl's thoughts to be very helpful, especially since her personal fitness program is built around two sports, golf and surfing. By comparing her approach to mine, which will be about building a general fitness level with an emphasis on golf, I think you'll learn a lot more than I could show you by myself. I want you to be able to design a fitness program that specifically fits your needs, and be able to adjust it (without hurting yourself) so you don't get bored.

Apryl has already posted some information about her fitness goals and how she plans to reach them. She has very kindly collected a lot of that info, along with some links, in this post. In addition, Apryl has agreed to do a guest post for me later this month when I get into the aerobic aspect of your workouts, so be looking for that.

Let's start by looking at some very general things to keep in mind when creating a fitness program. Forgive me if some of this seems very elementary, but it's usually the simple things that trip us up.

First, you need to set some goals and decide what you intend to do. Goals are by definition measureable, which means you can look at them and easily tell whether you reached them or not. Here's a simple example: "I want to get stronger" is NOT a goal. What do you mean, "stronger"? How will you know when you've reached it? How long do you expect you'll need to reach it?

We turn that into a goal by making it something we can measure; we state it in units of measurement like inches and feet, ounces and pounds, days and weeks. "In 6 weeks I want to be able to do 20 pushups nonstop." THAT'S a goal; after 6 weeks, can I do 20 consecutive pushups? If I can, I achieved my goal; if I can't, I didn't. But the point here is that I know, without any question, whether I did or didn't make it.

Second, you need to set goals that are challenging but not impossible. It's very important to recognize that goals are simply a kind of yardstick to help measure progress; you may not achieve your goal, but that doesn't mean you failed. Maybe we only got to where we could do 15 consecutive pushups; if we could do 10 when we started, we probably didn't try hard enough, but if we could barely do 2 or 3, then I'd have to call that 6-week program a success.

Third, you can change your goals if you see they weren't hard enough or if they were too hard. Sometimes we don't know what we can do, so we don't know what our goals should be. It's ok to make adjustments as we go. In golf, we see this all the time. How many players have you heard on TV, just after a win, say "Well, I guess I'll have to change my goals now"? Remember, a goal is just a yardstick; don't make it your ruler!

Fourth, don't try to achieve your goal the first day; it's ok to start slow. You'd be surprised how many people blow it right here. They say, "I ought to be able to do this" and they do too much, hurt themselves, and then it's bye bye, fitness program.

Personally, I think it's better to go too slow than to go too fast, especially when you start trying to get back into shape. You didn't get out of shape overnight, so don't be surprised if it takes you a few weeks to get it together. Here's a good rule of thumb for you: It takes about a month to see changes of any kind. If you're learning a new exercise, don't be surprised if it takes a month to get comfortable doing it. And here's a second rule of thumb: Give yourself three months to see results, and you'll probably be successful. It generally works like this:
  • In one month, you'll get comfortable with your workout;
  • in two months, you'll start feeling the results of your workout;
  • in three months, you (and most of your friends) will start seeing the results of your workout.
And finally, don't feel like you have to start your complete routine all at once. It's perfectly ok to start off with one or two exercises; in fact, it may be better that way since you may not know exactly how much you can do. Deciding to begin by walking for 10 minutes and doing a few pushups each day - especially if you haven't exercised for a long time - may be far more productive than launching into a full-blown workout that turns out to be a little bit beyond your capabilities. Pain is NOT good, and don't believe any idiot who tells you it is. Starting small makes it easier to be sure you won't overdo it and hurt yourself; it also makes it more likely that you'll stay with it. To quote Monique from the cult classic Better Off Dead, "Try a little success. I think you will find that it suits you."

These are the most basic principles for developing a successful workout routine. If you keep these in mind, you'll virtually guarantee that you get in shape with a minimum of discomfort and and a maximum of enjoyment.


  1. Well, I've never been referred to as being much cuter than the Energizer Bunny. *blush*

    Thanks, you're very sweet.

    And for the record - I am taking this morning off for some recovery time. I might, just might do some cardio tonight but it depends on when I leave the office.

  2. Maybe I should get you to read those three points into a recorder so I can make it my ring tone. :-)

    I'm one of those people who get very frustrated going to the gym with all the machines that have to be set up individually - and going by myself is just no fun.

  3. Apryl... What a coincidence. I'm having to take a recovery day as well. I worked out for several days in a row but slept a little harder than I expected last night, so I decided to play it safe and take a day's break. I also woke up with a slight neck ache; I must have tweaked my neck during sleep, so that helped me decide. Safety first!

    But these are things everybody needs to learn. Making these kinds of decisions are what will allow them to stay on a workout and enjoy it.

    And thanks again for helping me this month!

    Court... Yeah, that contributed to my frustration with gym workouts too. Seemed like I spent over half my time just setting up and taking down the weights! What really attracted me to the whole Atlas approach was that it not only eliminated setup time, but I didn't have to do my whole workout at once. It helps me get past the "all by myself" problem, too; a gym trip is 90 to 120 minutes, but I can take a couple of minutes to do some pushups now, then take 5 minutes while watching TV to do some ab work, etc. It just doesn't seem so overwhelming that way.

    That doesn't mean I think weights are a waste of time, not by any means. They just require a greater time and effort commitment than I'm willing to put forth at this point in my life. For you, the nicest thing about this approach may be that you can experiment with it a little and see if you like it better than the gym. I know I keep saying this, but the best workout routine in the world won't help you if you can't make it a routine part of your life.

  4. Have you been to to see the workouts with Michael Strahan ? Pretty good stuff.

  5. I popped over after I saw your comment. Pretty cool! It's nice to see popular athletes encouraging fans to get in shape with short workouts -- they're more likely to make time for them, simply because they feel like "I could do that."