What to do when beginning an exercise regimen

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At the dawn of a new calendar year, many people decide it's time to turn over a new leaf and shed those extra pounds that accumulated over the previous 12 months. The resolve to lose weight is perhaps never stronger than at the beginning of a calendar year, when the holiday season has passed but those added inches on the waistline remain.

Though it's noble to want to lose weight and improve health, regardless of what time of year it is, there are precautions men and women should take before beginning a new exercise regimen.

* Visit your physician. It's best to get a full physical before beginning an exercise regimen. A full physical can reveal if you have any health problems that might limit what you should and shouldn't be doing at the gym. If anything turns up, your physician can develop a plan of attack for you to address the issue. If nothing turns up, then your doctor will probably give you the green light to go forward with few, if any, limitations.

* Conduct a self-assessment. Once you've visited the doctor and received the go-ahead to start working out, do an honest self-assessment to see where you are in terms of fitness. Walk a mile and time yourself. Do as many push-ups and sit-ups as possible, but be careful to stretch and not push yourself. This self-assessment should not be demanding. Instead, the goal is to gauge where you are and how your body feels when doing some simple exercises. 

* Establish your goals. The goal of most people beginning a new exercise regimen is to lose weight. However, there are other incentives as well. For example, some people might be starting to train for a marathon or another sporting event. Whatever the reason, know why you're getting started, as such goals can help you monitor your progress as the year goes on.

* Start slowly. Caution should reign supreme when beginning an exercise regimen. Diving into the deep end at the onset increases the risk of injury, which could limit activity for months to come. First get your body acclimated to exercise, then gradually challenge yourself as you see fit.

* Leave time to recover. Though it might feel rejuvenating to get back to exercising, it's important for everyone, but especially those who are just starting, to allow themselves some time to recover. Allow your muscles and joints to recover between workout sessions. Frequency of sessions can increase as your body gets acclimated, but at first allow a day or two between sessions so your body can recover.

* Listen to your body. Exercising after a long hiatus from routine exercise won't be easy, and your body is likely going to tell you that through certain aches and pains, if not nausea, dizziness or shortness of breath. If any of these symptoms appear, take a break. This could be your body telling you that you're asking too much and you need to take your foot off the gas pedal for a little while.

* Consider hiring a personal trainer. Many people are overwhelmed when entering a gym after a long time away. If you find yourself intimidated or simply don't know where to begin, hire a personal trainer. Many charge by-the-session, so you can learn which machines to use and how to use them after a session or two and then continue working out on your own. If joining a gym as a new member, the gym might offer a couple of complementary personal training sessions. If so, take full advantage of this offer.

When beginning a new exercise regimen, don't forget to let caution reign until your body has adjusted to this healthy lifestyle.

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