Getting started with an exercise routine – Part 2 of 3

(Read the first in the series, "Finding balance on your path to well-being.")
So now that you’ve got your motivation on for exercise, you’re anxious to get started on your path to greater well-being. Where, when, how often and how intensely you should exercise are all valid questions. And, of course, if you’re like me, you’re already asking “How soon will I begin to see results?” 
Again, I’ve asked Purdue University grad and summer intern Matt Maassel, a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, to help me answer a few questions about getting started with a fitness routine. 
As always, I invite you to post additional questions unique to your situation in the comments section of this blog. 
How soon will I begin to see results?
  • You can see results pretty quickly with exercise, but you have to look in the right places. Don’t put so much emphasis on your weight. The scale only gives you one number and doesn’t account for changes in muscle and fat composition. 
  • Measuring the circumference of problem areas, like your waist, can give you another number to track other than just your weight on the scale. Many people won’t see a change on the scale but will notice a decrease in waist size. 
  • Skin fold measurements can give you an estimate of body fat percentage, and you can use various sites on your body to track progress. For example, you might notice that you decrease fat around your waist faster than around your thigh or the back of your arm. 
  • If you’re really dedicated, take pictures of yourself every month or so. This can help you gauge your muscle tone and fat percentage visually. Compare the photos with the numbers you have been recording. 
Most fitness centers offer to take your measurements for a small fee. 
What is the best way to stick with my exercise regimen?
  • Here’s how exercise touches on the social aspect of well-being – find a training partner. Having someone else to exercise with can help keep you accountable and make exercise more fun.
  • Hire a trainer. If you have the funds, a personal trainer can help keep you motivated and push you to succeed.  
  • Have a plan. A lot of people struggle to stay consistent because they don’t have a specific plan. The more you can plan exactly what you are going to accomplish each week, the easier it will be to reach your goals. Ask yourself questions like: 
    • How far am I running?
    • How fast am I running?
    • What exercises am I doing? 
    • How much resistance am I using? 
    • How many repetitions (number of times for one push-up, for example) and sets (groups of 12-15 repetitions)? 
    • How am I challenging myself to work harder than last week? 
  •  Take a week off every few months. Sometimes we might work ourselves too hard for too long. 
How often should I exercise? 
  • Start by asking how often you CAN exercise before worrying about how often you should. What amount of time are you able to commit? Once you establish a realistic amount of times per week you can set aside for exercise, compare that figure with the current recommendations. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. 
  • How do I start if I have never exercised?
  • Start with what you know. Whether it’s walking or taking the stairs, think of ways to increase activity in your daily life. 
  • Decide why you want to exercise and what your goals are. 
  • Whatever you do, start gradually. If you begin weight training, learn proper form before lifting heavier weight. If you begin any cardio activity, be sure to check with your physician first. 
How intense should my workouts be?
  • In general, think about your exercise intensity as “doing a little more, a little better.” Every time you exercise, or every week, or every two weeks even, try and increase your intensity in some way. This can mean going to the next weight level for weight training, or maybe increasing the incline on the treadmill by one notch for part of your workout. And it doesn’t have to be all at once, either. The bottom line: over the span of a month or two, your workouts should look more intense than when you started. 
What are the best strength exercises to do for beginners?
  • For beginners, the best exercises are those that have the biggest impact on the body and train large body-movement patterns. This means doing exercises that involve multiple joints and multiple muscles. Examples include: 
    • Squats (any variation)
    • Overhead presses
    • Pull-ups or pull-downs
  • You can start on machines as well, but make sure to focus bigger movements and work your entire body. Too many people train their biceps excessively while neglecting their legs. 
  • What if I don’t have time to exercise 60 minutes a day?
  • Good news, you don’t have to! Be creative with your time. You can have success with just 20 minutes a day, but you have to make each of those minutes count. In general, the less time you have for exercise, the more intense and vigorous your workout should be.   
Is weight lifting dangerous?
  • Every activity has a risk. The best way to reduce your risk with weight lifting is to learn and practice good form. If you are unsure of the proper form for an exercise, I recommend finding an exercise specialist to coach you. 

Next: "No excuses: alternatives to routine exercise – Part 3 of 3."

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