Why Exercise at all?
There have been plenty of slogans and catchphrases that have been used to fill classes and personal trainers’ appointment sheets. These wear off and then, before you know it, the next big thing has arrived and people are flocking to the gym. There is nothing wrong with that and you might think that I would be grateful for the business. The thing is that there’s a lot of enthusiasm when getting people to invest in the next great solution but there isn’t enough follow through. People quickly get bored and, when they do not have the promised results, they lose interest and give up exercise altogether.
There are lots of varying experiences of fitness centres, and there are also some common complaints that ought to be addressed. These include:
- Once I became a member there never seemed to be anybody to talk to or to help me with my workouts. If I got stuck on the gym floor I was on my own, so I stuck to what I knew and eventually got bored of it
- I got fit and then I wanted more – I didn’t want to plateau – but the personal trainers were £30 a session and I could not afford that. I read a lot and taught myself as much as I could but it’s hard to motivate yourself
- I did a tour of the gym but it was full of fit people and I felt really out of place and too self-conscious – I didn’t join
- The fitness instructors all seem to suggest different things and I am not sure what is really the best approach for me – it’s confusing
- Aerobics classes scare the hell out of me, everyone knows what they are doing and I would stick out too much. I have no coordination and I would feel stupid
Exercise is not a mystery, and people who talk to you in riddles or use big words so you cannot follow them are more of a hindrance to your fitness than a benefit.
- Exercise increases your level of muscle strength
- Exercise enhances the efficiency of your immune system
- Exercise can dramatically reduce stress or help you manage a stressful workload
- Exercise will help you to lose weight when it becomes a consistent element of your lifestyle
- Exercise can help to keep the body supple and reduce the chance of tension headaches, posture-related muscular aches, lower back pain, and repetitive action-related injuries
- Exercise can help to reduce high blood pressure when combined with a balanced diet
- Exercise reduces your risk of developing type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes
- Exercise helps to maintain weight loss – especially when the routines are kept fresh and challenging
- Exercise reduces anxiety levels, can assist greatly with any mental health issues, and can relax a mind that over thinks things or is full of the stresses of the day
- Exercise slows the rate of joint degeneration in people with osteoarthritis
- The more exercise you do, the greater your anaerobic threshold – which allows you to work or exercise for longer
- Exercise improves your ability to recover from physical exertion, which means that it makes you fitter and more able to deal with life’s physical toils
- Exercise increases your ability to supply blood to the skin for cooling, which means that your temperature control improves and you are likely to sweat more. This can make you feel less uncomfortable in hot climates because you have developed a more efficient system
- Exercise gives you more energy to tackle the daily demands of life, and also gives you a reserve so you are better equipped in times of emergency
- Exercise increases your level of muscle endurance, so you are more likely to be the last one standing on a shopping trip, to win an arm wrestle, or to complete a charity fun run
- Exercise can regulate your sleeping patterns and improve sleep quality
- Exercise improves posture, helping to correct the gradual wear and tear on the frame from jobs and careers that involve repetitive sitting, standing and lifting
- Exercise can help to alleviate depression. The endorphins that a good workout creates is like a natural anti-depressant, so a little exercise can go a long way
- Exercise can certainly improve your physical appearance in relation to weight loss, and this in turn can lead to greater confidence and self-esteem. It is far more than a body shape enhancer; when you decide to introduce exercise into your life you reap all the benefits above and, though the path to real weight loss is slow, the rewards are worth it. It is more about how you feel on the inside. You should become stronger, fitter, and have increased concentration and less stress in your life. Exercise is an all-round giver so try not to get caught up on the physical alone. Take note of the other benefits you begin to notice and these will help you to reach your weight loss goals
- Exercise improves respiratory muscle strength and muscle endurance, and it is this benefit that can greatly relieve the symptoms of asthma and in some cases eliminate the condition altogether
- Exercise can give you the skills to feel safer in the world – particularly if you start a martial art or do some self-defence training. These usually have rigorous training plans to go with them and are an excellent way to stop your fitness from getting boring
- Exercise can help you relax and unwind in an increasingly stressful and demanding world
- Exercise can increase your productivity at work and increase the chances of you doing something fun, even adventurous, with your weekends, instead of choosing to catch up on sleep and recharge ready to start work again on Monday!
- Exercise improves balance and coordination making you less likely to fall over, trip, or slip on icy pavements
Drink plenty of water when training. Small, frequent mouthfuls are much more beneficial, as they keep you hydrated without putting too many fluids in your stomach all at once (which can make you feel nauseous). Make sure you drink plenty after training as well to prevent post-workout headaches, light-headedness or fatigue. I drink two pints of water when I get in, and the second pint is often taken with a snack of nuts, some cooked chicken, sliced ham, or a protein shake if I have been doing weights and have a demanding morning the following day. If the weather is hot then you can drink anything from one to two litres of water. The best gauge is not to give yourself a minimum, but to drink when you are thirsty and put a little fluid in every chance you get. I usually take a litre bottle with me to the gym and then have an isotonic drink (usually a bottle of squash) to sip alongside it. This gives a little more energy than water because it has a few more calories in it and is therefore good for demanding workouts. Concentrate on you
When you go to a gym or take part in a class, try and remember that your number one concern is how you feel and what your ambitions and abilities are. It does not matter what everyone else is doing – you are there for you and nobody else. This is one of the most important tips I can give you. I have seen plenty of people come to spin classes and stubbornly try to keep up with their neighbours. It is often their first class and they quickly burn out after two or three tracks. Then I have to monitor them intently because they have run out of energy and quite often look like they have nothing left in them. These types of people rarely ever come back.
You should approach everything new with caution and moderation. Take things slowly and your speed, power and stamina will build over time at a healthy and motivational rate. If you kill yourself in your first class, you will leave feeling inadequate, unfit, embarrassed and reluctant to return. This should never be the case. There is no shame in starting out slow; everybody else there was once in your situation and, when you get to know some of the regulars, you will find them supportive and they will recognise and compliment you as you progress. The instructor will also give you the motivation you need to keep pushing yourself while feeling good about how far you have come. So take it slow – there is no rush – and pacing yourself is not weakness, it is just damn good common sense!
Check yourself out in the mirror
No, I am not encouraging you to become a poser – we have plenty of those in the world already. And yes, many of them are guys in the free weights section. However, when you are doing weights it is crucial that you keep assessing your posture and technique. If you do not use a personal trainer you are on your own. As you get tired you can start to rock as you curl weights, sag forwards as you perform bent over rows, or pull one side at a different rate when executing lat pull-downs. These are all flaws that could lead to an imbalance, an injury, or a dilution of what you are trying to achieve. So remember what you were taught in class or during a gym induction/session and, if you have to do fewer reps or reduce the weight, then do so. You will soon be able to step it back up again, but next time you will have a flawless technique and reap all the benefits you were setting out for.
Do not overtrain
It is so tempting to do one class, and then the one after that, and then a couple the following day, and then you can’t miss circuits because it is your favourite. Before you know it you are doing something every day of the week and you are doing too much. The golden rule first off is that you must always have a rest day.
So every week you have to have one day where you are not doing any exercise at all. Then you have to consider your reasons for doing classes back-to-back or even three in a row. The aerobic benefits of doing three hours of exercise are not any greater than doing one hour. Once your body is tired you are more likely to make mistakes and allow bad form to creep into your workouts. If you are training for long distance events, then training moderately over hours at a time makes sense, as this will increase stamina. However, if you are training for strength gain and to burn calories, then two hours of exercise is plenty, as you only really need an hour a day. That hour should max out your muscles’ endurance and extract your very best performance. You will be focused, eager to train and full of energy because you have fuelled yourself right for the anticipated workload. If you wish to combine classes then choose those that complement each other like a weight circuit and an aerobics class. These could be:
- Indoor Cycling and Body Pump
- Mixed Aerobics and Kettlebells
- Jump or Fight FX and a Gym Weights Circuit
- Body Combat and ViPR
- Boxing circuits and Pump FX
- Circuits and Suspension Training
- Bootcamp and Body Balance
There are lots of differently named classes, dependent on what gym you are near and what they have subscribed to, or what they have on the timetable. Hopefully, you understand what I am saying and what beneficial combinations might be available to you in your area.
You should always eat when you are hungry and not put too many demands on the body after it has gone past its endurance levels. Just be careful about how often you train, and remember to mix up your workouts so that some days you take the intensity down to 70-80% in order to give your body repair time, and to simply maintain the work you have done previously. You do not need to push on with every workout, so listen to your body and train wisely.