how to choose an exercise program

This post was originally written in Oct 2012


So people ask me, “what exercises do you do?”… And “how can I pick an exercise program that is right for me?”… and “what do you think if I pick <insert current fad video here> and do that every day?”… or “what do you think about just running, I could start with 10 miles a day and go from there?”…

Sigh… my answer is always the same… first I sigh… then I smile… people usually don’t want to hear me say it because they expect that there is some magic answer… a one size fits all answer… humans aren’t one size fits all

First… the key to making any lasting change is to make it something you can stick with… so when picking an exercise routine… pick something you like! I can NOT dance… I have absolutely ZERO coordination… so something like a Richard Simmons dvd… or Hip Hop Abs   would totally be a disaster for me (I actually tore ligaments in my ankle when my brother tried to teach me to dance in the 90’s… I am strictly forbidden from trying again) BUT something like Leslie Sansone who has like FOUR steps in her beginner videos… she worked for me… for some of you that might bore you to tears… and that is ok because we are all different…

Second… you can’t just become super fitness guy overnight… you can’t go from completely sedentary to running 10 miles in one session… the key here is making SIMPLE and SMALL changes… download a program called C25K (couch to 5k) it’s a program designed to systematically increase the distance you can run until you can run a 5K… ok good… but what if you are like me and can’t run 60 seconds? I started with a HIIT timer and programmed it to have me jog 20 seconds and walk 90 (repeat for 30 min) with the plan of increasing it 5 seconds every time until I could do 60 seconds… I am so out of shape I even have to modify the beginner programs!

Third… it is OK to modify a program! If you get it and it is too difficult to do now… say you get a Jillian Michaels dvd… and you like it… but it is plain too hard… then modify it… do the positions to half of what the dvd does… or move at half speed (doing one rep for every two on the screen)… the point is that you move… and move more today than you did yesterday…

Fourth… every workout program should involve (in my humble opinion – and keep in mind that while I am a health care professional – I am not a doctor, physical therapist, kinesthesiologist or in any way trained in exercise – I just know what has worked for me) cardio and strength training. Cardio doesn’t have to be doing a video. Cardio doesn’t have to be running on a treadmill. Cardio doesn’t have to be an elliptical or stationary bike or anything. Cardio exercise is simply something that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a while. My favorite cardio is biking. I LOVE it. I also love hiking, the more elevation change the better. I plan my vacations so that I can go on long bike trips or hiking trips (longest biking trip to date was 140 miles on greenbriar river trail in WV in 5 days… we loved it!) strength training helps keep your metabolism up and makes you stronger. I have noticed a definite difference in my ability to handle my chosen cardio. Climbing mountains is so much easier now that my legs are stronger. I don’t have to worry so much about obstacles when trail biking because I can just heft my bike and climb them (we had a giant storm this summer that nearly ruined many of my favorite trails… I felt like I was in the jungle to heft the bike and climb the downed trees in the middle of the trail!)

So my workout program (we are talking my normal program because I am down for injury right now… and when I go back I am not allowed to run again until I lose 50 more pounds)  consists of getting 100+ miles per month in cardio. That could be biking or hiking or walking. I try to get 25 miles per week but that doesn’t always happen and some weeks I have 50. It doesn’t matter to me what I do because my cardio is usually time I spend with my kids. We like to find a new trail and tackle it. And I try to hit the gym three days a week. I am fairly happy with that routine. It works for me. That is the ultimate to any work out program. It has to work for you. It has to be something you can and will do. Once you see that you like exercising you can take a class at the YMCA or join a club (check I found a local singles hiking club that I joined and as soon as I can walk again I intend to get in there and get my hike on!) 


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