It’s intimidating but doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need a clear plan.
It’s that time of year again. We promise ourselves that ‘after Christmas’ we’ll get back into our fitness routine. You know, the one you started in January 2015.
Millions of men make ‘getting fit’ one of their New Year’s resolutions, yet only a small percentage keep up with the new regime, losing motivation and discipline within a few months.
Often this leads to people concluding that New Year’s resolutions in general, are a waste of time and effort.
So What Goes Wrong?
Potentially a combination of things. Certainly a lack of motivation steadily sets in as the weeks and months go by. Also, a lack of specific details and structure concerning the vague ‘getting fit’ resolution and affirmation means that we have no actionable plan of action come January 1st.
Why Should I Get Fit?
With motivation being essential in terms of adherence to a new exercise regime, it’s important to keep the benefits in mind.
There are many reasons that we should all make an effort to stay physically fit; but all of the reasons underpin and contribute to either increased physical and/or mental health.
Exercise is essential for reducing the risk of many diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and cancer. In addition of course, physical activity helps to burn calories and increase metabolism, which in turn helps people to maintain a healthy weight – another huge factor in disease-prevention.
If you have a partner and/or children, then you really owe it to them as well as to yourself, to exercise and remain physically healthy.
Physical activity has also been shown to be as effective as medication when it comes to mental health. By providing a sense of achievement, a positive outlet for stress and tension it can have an instant boost on our mood. In addition the release of endorphins that occur during and after exercise further create a sense of mental wellbeing. Exercise has a short term impact on our mood, but can also have a longer impact on our self-esteem. Making us feel better day to day.
Exercise classes and sports clubs; also provide a great deal of social interaction – another important factor that has a positive impact upon mental health.
Having a sense of mental wellbeing is great for the individual partaking in the exercise, but in addition, the reduction in stress can have a positive impact upon relationships with family members.
How Do I Get Fit?
Remember the important thing is to do some physical activity and form a positive habit. It takes about a month to form a habit, and once it is established, you should find it much easier to get your workout done. As little as 3 minutes of exercise 3 times a week can have an extremely positive impact on your health and fitness levels, so please don’t use the most common excuse of “I don’t have enough time”.
The Paradox of Choice certainly comes into play when people are contemplating how to get fit. With so many different methods, routines and programs available, people often don’t know where to begin.
Here are some ideas…
Go to an Exercise Class
Going to an exercise class is a great way to start out. I would recommend emailing the instructors of your local fitness classes, explaining that you are a beginner and see what they come back with. A good instructor will reply to your email and make sure that you are comfortable during the class. Whatever class you choose, you’re extremely likely have a fair amount of muscle-soreness for around 72 hours after. But don’t worry, this fades the more classes you do.
Go to the Gym
If you go to a gym to get fit, I would highly recommend asking a gym-veteran friend to accompany you for the first 2 or 3 sessions or if post-Christmas funds allow, look to hire a Personal Trainer for your first few visits. You’ll find that every person you speak to, has a different opinion about the best way to get shape, and everyone you ask is equally assertive with their point of view. Welcome to the world of bro-science and gym-egos.
Here is some gym jargon to be aware of:
Reps or repetitions – relate to the number of times you lift a weight. For example, 10 reps of press ups, means performing 1 press up, 10 times in a row without rest.
Sets – 1 set is a collection of reps. So 2 sets of 10 press ups, means doing 10 press ups, then resting a minute or two, then doing another 10 press ups. The rest that you have in between sets is usually referred to as the ‘rest interval’.
Free weights are the dumbbells, benches, barbells and squat racks. Basically everything except for the fixed machines. Free weights are thought of as superior to machines, certainly when it comes to enhancing athletic performance. This is because machines do not replicate ‘real world’ movement as closely as free weights.
Machines are easier to use for beginners, as they do not require the same balance and technique as free weights. In specific cases, they are also better for isolating and building specific muscles or muscle groups.
For complete beginners I would recommend starting off with the machines, unless you have a friend or an instructor to help you with the free weights. Machines are easier to use, so can be a good starting point. This is very subjective however, and by all means, if you feel comfortable, start with free weights instead. The main thing is to get in the gym, and form the habit of exercising.
If you do choose machine-weights, here is a very simple workout. Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes on an exercise bike or cross trainer and then perform 8-12 repetitions and 2 sets on each exercise.
Typical Beginner Routine:
Chest/Bench Press 2 sets of 12 reps
The chest press machine works the triceps, chest and the shoulders.
Breathe out as you push the weight away, and breathe in as you lower the weight back down towards your chest.
Take 2 to 3 seconds to push the weight away, and 3 to 4 seconds to lower it back down.
Try and make sure it’s only your arms that move, and that you head remains still, rested against the head-pad and your back remains in contact with the seat throughout the movement as well.
Do NOT hyperextend your elbows. Imagine extending the arms to 1cm away from full extension. Locking out the arms, especially at speed will damage your elbow joints.
The free weight version of this exercise is the barbell bench press or the dumbbell bench press.
Once you are confident on the machine or when you have the assistance of a friend, I would recommend adding in free-weight exercises into your routine.
Grip the bar just wider than shoulder width apart, and squeeze your shoulders blades together as you pull the bar down to the top of your chest with your biceps and upper back muscles. Again take 3 seconds or so to pull the bar down, and the same amount of time to lower the bar back to the starting point and don’t fully lock out your arms – make sure you lengthen the arms as much as possible, without actually locking the arm out.
Chin ups are the free-weight equivalent of a lat-pull down. Again you can move onto chin ups once you are confident on the lat pull down machine.
Shoulder Press 2 sets of 12 reps
The shoulder press machine works the shoulder muscles (deltoids) and triceps. It also works the chest to a certain extent. Again, Take 2 to 3 seconds to push the weight upwards, and 3 to 4 seconds to lower it back down.
The free weight equivalent is the dumbbell shoulder press, or barbell should press. Military press, which is a standing version, is an excellent exercise which works the core too.
Leg Press 2 sets of 15-20 reps
Training legs is always a bit tricky when you are starting off. Make sure that you use a weight that you can control, and do NOT hyperextend your knees – keep them ‘soft’, and maintain a slight bend even at the end of the movement.
Using correct technique with slow and controlled repetitions is imperative.
Front or back squats are the free-weight equivalent of the leg press machine. These are fantastic exercises but again, I would recommend building a base of strength using bodyweight squats and the leg press machine before moving onto barbell squats. The squat truly is the ‘king of lifts’, however, if done incorrectly, it can do so damage to the back and/or knees. Either start off with a light weight, or get a professional to check your technique before embarking on heavy squats.
That’s it – to begin with anyway. 2 sets of chest press, lat pull down, shoulder press and leg press, performed 2 or 3 time a week (always with a day’s rest in between) is great for building a base of strength.
When you can perform 12 repetitions (20 with the leg press machine), increase the weight by 1 increment and build your strength back up until you can perform 12 repetitions with the new weight. Sets of 8 to 12 repetitions are best for building muscle size and definition. I always recommend aiming for around 12 repetitions to begin with however, with a lower weight, just to minimise the risk of injury.
Deadlifts, squats and other ‘big compound’ movements are superior to machine based exercises in terms of building strength and a muscular physique, but I would suggest either hiring a personal trainer or first building a base of strength before attempting these types of exercise.
Tabata intervals are a fantastic and very time-efficient method of getting fit. They can be done with any exercise, but I would recommend using an exercise bike if you are a beginner. Just because it’s easy to use and you’re unlikely get injured on a stationary bike.
A Tabata interval takes 4 minutes to complete. Doing 1 interval, 3 times a week is a great way to get into the habit of exercising. Doing one interval, 3 times a week, also provides a substantial amount of health benefits on its own.
Search for “Tabata Interval Timer” on Youtube or download a tabata interval app for your smartphone. If you don’t have an exercise bike, then you can do tabata intervals with squats or half-squats instead.
Perform as many squats, or cycle as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. After the 10 seconds of rest it’s time to go again and exercise at maximum intensity for another 20 seconds. Repeat this cycle until the 4 minutes is completed, meaning you have performed 8 bouts of 20 seconds of high intensity exercise.
You can perform Tabata intervals with literally any exercise, they are highly effective and very versatile.
Join a Community
In order to maintain your motivation, speak to like-minded people and to enhance your knowledge of health and fitness, it can be extremely beneficial to join a fitness-related community. If you can’t find a gym that has a community-feel to it (Cross-Fit gyms are good for this, as are local, family-run gyms), then join Reddit, and/or a bodybuilding or fitness forum online. Following fitness blogs is also a great way to build your knowledge and enthusiasm.
Set specific, measurable and time bound goals.
Instead of just saying “I’m going to get fit,” set an outcome goals such as: “I’m going to reduce my trouser size to 32 inch waist, by March 2016”
Then, underneath this ‘outcome goal’ set a number of process goals. Process goals relate to how, you will achieve the outcome goal. For example
I will achieve a smaller waist size by:
- Attaching this list of goals to my fridge
- Making and sticking to a healthy shopping list
- Telling all my family and close friends about my goal
- Cutting out sugar completely
- Exercising in the gym 3 times a week
Always strive to Improve
I personally think that self-development in general, is a great topic to read about, and there are lots of great videos on YouTube around the topic. Developing mentally and physically helps you to become a more knowledgeable, well rounded and versatile person, with healthy habits relating to mental and physical health.
Setting a New Year’s Resolution regarding fitness, and sticking to it, is a great way to begin a new lifestyle of continuous self-development and improvement. Something that your family are likely to thank you for.
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Photo: Getty Images