It’s like the old joke about quitting cigarettes: Start an exercise programme? Easiest thing in the world. Must have done it 20 times already.
So, why did you get off to a false start – and a crash landing?
Perhaps because you did not follow that old boy-scout motto: Be Prepared.
Now, for the twenty-first time, try again. You’ll get it right if you score full marks on these six questions:
1. Are you clear about your reason/s for wanting to exercise?
There are as many possible reasons for wanting to work out as there are workouts themselves. Do you want to exercise to lose a belly… build muscles… boost your energy levels… pass the company’s annual fitness exam… put on 5 kilos… meet the challenge of a particular sport… make new friends… oust Tom Cruise from his pedestal?
Depending on what your goal is, you’ll need or want to take up a specific exercise or sport or prescribed regimen. Thus, a 30-minute brisk walk thrice a week can’t train you for the superb speed and stamina of an athlete, but it is enough to burn off excess fat.
However, if you’re aiming for total fitness, you should know that there’s no single exercise that covers all the ground – that gives you stamina (cardiovascular fitness), strength and flexibility. For instance, yoga is great for improving flexibility, but will not get rid of love handles. Callisthenics brings gains in limberness and strength, but it usually falls short of having an aerobic effect – the normal start-and stop motion of calisthenics is not continuous enough to improve cardiovascular fitness.
So, if you really want all-out fitness, it may be a better idea to cross-train, that is, to combine exercises: for instance, brisk walking and weight training. The walking will burn calories and bring in aerobic benefits; lifting weights will build muscle mass, preserve bone density and improve balance tremendously. Together, they bring in optimal fitness benefits.
A spots consultant can best advise you on the workout combo that will meet your needs.
2. Have you got your doctor’s okay?
This is particularly important if you have been as active as a tree slug for the first 25 years of your life; if you’re over 40; if you suffer from any chronic or debilitating disease (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, epilepsy, Parkinson’s), if you are on medication; if you are anaemic (your haemoglobin level is low.)
It is unwise to plunge headlong into any exercise programme without first knowing how fit or unfit you already are. Today, sport medicine centres offer specific tests to assess your fitness status. Among them are: The Body Composition Analysis which provides the ratio of body fat to lean body mass; Flexibility Tests for the back, shoulders, knees; Strength Tests; Lung Function Test; The Stress Test.
It is essential to know your blood pressure, heart rate and aerobic capacity (or the ability of your heart, lungs and blood vessels to take up and utilize oxygen in accordance with the demands made on them).
A lot of store is laid these days by the stress test which basically looks at how the heart performs. The concept underlying the stress test is that abnormalities of the heart that are not apparent at rest may become evident during physical work. Mainly, the test (which can be done using the treadmill. The two-stepper, or a stationary bicycle, among other methods), attempts to do two things: detect or confirm the presence or absence of heart disease, and establish a safe level of exercise for you.
But its reliability is by no means guaranteed. A stress test doesn’t necessarily detect heart disease, and “passing” a stress test is not firm evidence that you don’t have heart disease. A stress test’s value at best lies in confirming a diagnosis already arrived at by the more conventional method of a thorough medical history-taking. So, make sure the fitness physician you consult takes his time on that.
3. Have you considered your personality type?
If you’re a gregarious extrovert, you’ll enjoy the social opportunities at a gym class or golf sessions at the club grounds – and you’re more likely to stick with a workout that you’re enjoying.
If you possess a strong competitive streak, you’ll get a better kick out of racquet games such as tennis, badminton or squash.
If you are introverted, you’ll most likely enjoy and stay with activities you can do alone, such as exercycling or jumping rope.
If your chosen activity is in conflict with your temperament and personality, you are unlikely to keep at it for long.
4. Have you considered the logistics?
If you want to take up walking, you should be familiar with the lie of the land before you put on your sneakers: Look for a smooth, even surface – which may be outdoors or indoors. You should not be struggling to make your way through harsh terrain, dilapidated pavements or a traffic-congested road.
If you want to take up swimming, you should have access to a pool with trained instructors and lifeguards, within a convenient distance from your home or office (depending on how you plan to schedule it into your available time).
You also need to slot in time – and possess the inclination – to pack up, get there, change, shower and then return with a wet bathing suit.
5. Have you considered the clothes and accessories you’ll need?
We don’t mean from the point of view of impressing the gym class with your snazzy leotards – we mean the protection and comfort factors.
Exercise clothes should be loose and comfortable and suited to climate conditions. Shorts and t-shirts are better options to jog in during summer than designer track-suits.
When walking, running, jogging, skipping, you need a good pair of fitness shoes to cushion the impact on your joints.
When swimming, wear a cap to minimize the amount of chlorine that comes in contact with your hair. The chlorine in swimming pools is strong stuff and can leave your hair dry, stiff and coarse.
6. Have you educated yourself in prudence?
You should be aware, before you start, that most exercise injuries occur because exercisers overextend their limits, or because they hurl themselves into a workout without warming up. And most injuries are therefore avoidable. (The exceptions are contact sports that are inherently injurious, such as football and boxing, where inflicting damage on your opponent is necessary for winning).
There are specific precautions for every sport and form of exercise, and you should be aware of those that relate to the activity you are intending to take up. Many workouts that are done with exercise equipment need to be done under supervision, especially in the initial stages – and you should not attempt to begin them without such guidance.