THE ROAD TO FITNESS
For most of us, choosing to be fit is more a test of will than a one-time decision. Being "fit" covers a change in our lifestyle much more than just embarking upon a new exercise or diet program. For me, the choice came about 20 years ago. I was about 24 years old when friends of mine convinced me to start going to the gym as a group. At that time, I knew I didn't really like the way I looked, so I thought it would be a good idea. How hard could it be? Well, it didn't take long before I knew the answer to that question. And to tell you the truth, at that time my workouts were not that difficult. But getting up at 5am to be at the gym by 5:30, certainly was, Also, since there were 4 of us and only 1 really knew what he was doing, the workouts were VERY long. Too long when you mix in the water cooler talk that often took over some workouts.
So, after trying this approach for about 3 weeks I still wasn't motivated nor did I look forward to working out and was about to quit. As luck would have it for me, 2 guys in the group beat me to it, leaving just myself and the only person who knew anything about working out correctly at that time. That changed everything.
With just 2 of us now, we were much more focused and I got some really good coaching on the basics. After a month of 1-1 time, we started increasing the intensity of the workouts and mixing in some really fun cycle classes. Somewhere within the next month, I saw a change. Not just in my appearance, but my outlook and attitude were all effected. At that point, I was hooked. I worked out consistently at the gym 5 times a week incorporating cardio, running and weights. I looked and felt good thinking this would always be my way of life.
And it was, until about 14 years ago. In 2007, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer and turned my life upside down. I quickly lost interest in many of my normal activities including fitness. During the next 2 years, I really let myself go and didn't much care to get back into the swing of things. A major life changing event will do this to a person, and I was no exception. My wife became really concerned about my decline in fitness and began encouraging me to get back into it. I tried but absolutely could not get motivated. After much research and a hard look in the mirror, I was able to pull back the self-discipline I once had. It was not easy, and it took a lot of planning and hard work. So, today, I want to share what helped me conquer my fitness demons. Hope these help you.
The reason I'm giving so much background of my personal fitness experience is to show that each of us will struggle in different ways with choosing fitness. Lifetime fitness really isn't a "one size fits all" approach. We all have different situations that initiate our interest of getting in shape, keeping us motivated and sustaining the lifestyle for the long term. However, I do believe there are some common practices we can all adopt to help us overcome obstacles at any of these stages and become an improved, healthier and fit person.
This may be the easiest of the 3 stages because it only requires us to decide to get fit, but not actually do anything. That said, don't underestimate the importance and key factors that should be used to initiate your fitness journey. The main things to remember here are the following.
- Do this for you: Be sure you're not just giving in to pressure from others. You need to be willing to take this step and feel it's the right approach for you.
- Start with the end in mind: Set goals and imagine what you want your body and health to reflect during the journey. Lose 25 pounds, get ripped, lower cholesterol, feel better, keep up with the kids.
- Choose the right program: The right fitness program for you is very important and will vary depending on your fitness starting point. Choosing one too hard, or that doesn't yield results fast enough will quickly discourage you and run the risk of bailing too quickly. Find the balance of enjoyable exercise that challenge you enough to hit early goals. Don't discount the power of proven favourites like walking, jogging and biking to get started. These can help your body start getting into a routine that will be a base to adopt going forward. Just try to perform your exercise at the same time daily to get your internal clock know what to expect. As you establish a rhythm, and hit some milestones you've set, it may be time to try new programs or increase the difficulty of your current routines.
- Accept that your eating habits MUST change. Like it or not, it is part of the game. By not embracing the fact that the workouts alone will not cut it, you're bound to fail when results do not come. The good news is, the change in eating habits can actually be a very positive experience. You'll feel great and have the energy to work out the right way. Completely removing everything you like about food is the WRONG way to approach this. You can still eat really good tasting and satisfying foods without sabotaging your hard work. There are even ways to sneak in your favourites and not feel guilty about it, so don't worry about that. Just know that what and how you eat makes all the difference in the end.
Everyone is motivated out of the gate when starting a fitness program, but that quickly fades for many people when they realise the process is more difficult than they imagined. Make no mistake, getting fit is HARD, but the challenge is not unlike anything else worth having in life. You must commit and keep motivated using several tactics, of which I've tried many. Try these to help you stay on track.
- Aim for some quick results: Everyone wants this, but it is key to see some quick results early on, so that the momentum of starting the program does not dwindle. Losing a pound or two, dropping a pant size, completing a workout without stopping, whatever makes you feel good. Be realistic about this, but have something you shoot for so you can taste success and drive you to continue.
- Read about being fit: This is truly a big motivator as it shows you success stories and gives a lot of ideas about achieving goals. So, take the time to read a magazine or internet article about your favourite exercise, or healthy food. You'll be surprised how engaged you may quickly become.
- Get the sweat flowing: For me, a workout that doesn't do this leaves me somewhat empty. Getting your heart rate up (and sweating) activates all of the key things that makes exercise so effective. It burns calories, strengthen the heart and cardio system, and releases endorphins in the brain that make you feel great. You'll see!
- Never settle: Set, Reset and Reset your PB (Personal Best). Constantly challenging your last record is an awesome way to stay in the game. Run that mile faster, go longer, extra reps, extra sets, higher jumps, deeper lunges, better form. The list can go on and on. You can be your best competition and there's nothing like competition to motivate the heart and soul. So, kick your own butt! You'll enjoy it.
- Do what you can! We all have limits and quite often use them as excuses that interfere with our fitness routines. Time, stress, aches, and tiredness all contribute to our justification to digress or completely stop a program. Don't let that happen. If you find yourself giving in to one of these temptations, try to at least do something. Convince yourself you can at least do 1/2 or even 1/3 of a workout (10minutes). Don't go as intense or fast. Give yourself a break, without actually giving yourself a break. You may be surprised by convincing yourself to at least get started, you'll be more willing to push harder during the workout.
- Don't tempt yourself or give in to food junkies: Everyone I know encounters this during their fitness journey. It involves either being introduced to a food situation that makes it difficult to say no, or being encouraged by others to "cheat" even when they know how you feel about staying on track. By giving in to either, you will likely feel guilty afterwards, which oddly enough increases your chances to continue cheating. The negative feeling of guilt is powerful and can actually begin a vicious cycle of continuing the pattern, so don't let this happen. The first of these is actually easier to deal with by simply planning around it, or modifying the portions of food you have available so they at least meet some of the standards of your diet. For the second, if you find yourself in this situation often, have a game plan. Either be ready to defend your stance on cheating or plan to deal with it in another way. Maybe use it as your cheat meal, compensate for it on the next day or week, or modify the portions so you can at least control the damage.
- Keep a support network: Family, friends, social networks, whatever. Have some person you can confide in about your struggles that can offer positive support. Works wonders in the beginning.
SUSTAIN THE LIFESTYLE
This part can seem a little easier once you achieve your goals, but the long-term approach to fitness is actually one that must always be top of mind. While this stage is a practice of discipline, even an "iron will" can be bent when the lifestyle is too far from what a person enjoys. So how can you force yourself to embrace a long term lifestyle that doesn't match who you are? Well, actually you can't. I think people are amazing and capable of just about anything. But not allowing yourself to be YOU jeopardises your character and simply said, is not right for anyone.
Because of this, let's look at this challenge from a different approach. How do you create a lifestyle that is both fit and matches your personality? The answer may be a little different for everyone, but for me, I can provide a few tips that helped. Consider these and possibly modify to suit your own needs.
- Find your fit, in fitness: Find exercise and diet that allow you to be fulfilled. What activities do you enjoy, or for that matter, dislike? Running, walking, lifting, bike riding, Plyometrics, calisthenics, WiiFit, whatever. If nothing lights your fire, you will have a tough road ahead.
- Challenge yourself! Once you've found the exercise(s) you enjoy, don't always settle for moderate workout. You need to push yourself for various reasons. It not only keeps your workouts interesting; it provides the edge required to make an impact on your fitness. The level of "intensity" differs from person to person, but you know when you've given your all. Don't cheat yourself out of real benefits. I don't think someone really taps into the true benefits of fitness until they crank up the volume of the workout. You'll look better, feel better, and even be more confident and positive.
- Learn how to eat clean, then do it 90% of the time: There are a ton of books on the topic of eating right, and they all have some validity. Find a good nutrition plan that works for your body, and learn the framework. Once you understand the basics of nutrition, portion control and the most harmful foods to avoid, the rest can be adapted to your eating habits. Now, eat this way 90% of the time. This gives you the break people need to keep their sanity. I eat approx. 5 times a day, which means I have 35 meals per week. In my world, I allow 3 of those meals to stray from my normal eating. I don't lock myself to a day, or time of day to do this. I choose the right meal to allow this based on "life". Sometimes it's a donut breakfast with my daughter or an awesome dinner with my wife. Maybe a good ole fashion home cooked meal from my mother-in-law. It doesn't matter, just stay committed not to go beyond this limit and please don't overdo it. The 90% rule is not a free for all at the dinner table. That could really wreck your progress! It is a way to give yourself the freedom you need to eat foods you really enjoy to make the system work for you.
- Variety, Variety, Variety! Did I say that enough? If so, it's because I believe without variety in your fitness it will inevitably become boring while not allowing enough areas of the body to get attention. If workouts become stale and mundane, you run the risk of disengaging in them and eventually quit. This doesn't mean you have to always recreate your entire workout. Most often slight adjustment to your current routine will provide the mix needed to spice them up. If you run/bike, change the route, look at modifying the weights or reps on a lifting routine, even changing the intensity or order of the exercises can help liven things up. Whatever you decide to do, making them a little different helps and you'll see how quickly it rekindles your interest in staying fit.
Hopefully these tips on "Choosing Fit" will help you Set, Hit and Maintain your fitness goals. They have done wonders for me in my life and I am constantly looking for new items to add in each section. Let me know your own ideas, and feel free to share with all your fit friends. Like I said, it's a tough road but worth it and doable with a little bit of strategy. Hope this helps you on your journey.