What Can I Do for a Beginner Exercise Program?Posted on Oct 12th 2010 11:00AM by Liz Neporent
Is it possible to get in shape when you are really far gone? -- Sarah, New Jersey
I really appreciate getting this question because it seems like a lot of fitness information out there is meant for the person who is already exercising. For a newly minted novice, a quarter mile may as well be a 100-mile trek. If you're at this point, it's OK to consider lacing up your walking shoes to a victory -- because it is!
I think too many fitness plans ranked in the beginner category are lofty and thus discouraging. So here, I've come up with an ultra-basic workout schedule with the ultimate goal of completing a two-mile walk. If you're starting from absolute zero (i.e., you're overweight, you're sedentary and you haven't worked out in years), expect it to take you six to eight weeks to make this one happen, and when you do, shout "woo hoo!" You should feel proud when you accomplish this.
In fact, you may be starting from minus one, so if takes you longer than that, that's OK, too. Just stick with it and do as much as you can every day, even if it's just a tiny bit. I promise you, consistency is what will get you to the finish line. I chose a two-mile walk as a good starter goal because it's within the grasp of most people and doesn't require joining a gym or buying a lot of fancy equipment. Fewer barriers equals fewer excuses not to at least try.
All you need is a decent pair of walking shoes, a measured course, and a stopwatch or sports watch with a chronograph. If you're a woman, wear a sturdy, supportive sports bra, too. Dress appropriately for the weather, of course. You don't have to break the bank for the walking shoes; pass up the shelf with the $100 to $200 models and opt for something in a more modest price range. Most shoes that cost around $40 to $50 should offer you enough support and cushioning to get you through this program without feeling aches and pains. However, be advised that most people experience some muscle pain and mild discomfort in the first few days when their muscles are waking up after a long layoff.
Consider doing your walks at a local running track or park path with distance markers to make it easy to keep track of your distance. If neither is available, drive around a quiet area in your neighborhood and note quarter-mile landmarks on your odometer until you have measured off two miles. (If even that isn't feasible, that's fine, too. Just assume that in the beginning, a quarter mile is equal to about six minutes.) Oh, and keep a journal. It's motivating.
To start, walk a quarter of a mile and time it. Try to walk almost every day of the week noting the time and the intensity. (It's OK to miss a day here or there.) Aim for a moderate intensity: On a scale of one to 10, where 10 is the hardest workout you can imagine, you want your session to feel somewhere between five and eight. When you evaluate intensity, consider how hard your heart is pounding, how deeply you're breathing, the pressure on your joints and the overall difficulty of accomplishing the task. The time it takes you to complete the distance will gradually drop as you get fitter.
Once you can walk a quarter mile at a five or lower intensity at least three days in a row, increase to a half mile at least one to two days of the week. After that, gradually increase the number of days you can do half a mile, until you can walk that far every single workout. When you can do half a mile at a five intensity or lower at least three days in a row move up to three-quarters of a mile at least one or two days a week and so on until you can complete the two miles. Stick with a five-days-a-week minimum schedule.
At around week three of this program, consider adding a two- to three-days-a-week basic strength-training program. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just something that hits all the major muscle groups and works on overall body strength and tone. There will be plenty of time for fine-tuning later. You should also consider taking a good look at your eating habits. I'm not a huge fan of diets, but I do think everyone can benefit from a nutritional tune-up. In most cases, just monitoring portion control and making an effort to eat plenty of fruits and veggies will get you better results than the latest whack-a-doodle diet.
I hope this inspires you to spring up off the couch and get moving. Those of you who have been there, what further tips do you have to share for those just taking their first steps towards a healthier lifestyle? The best motivation usually comes from those who have succeeded! Post your comments here or tweet them please.
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