If you’re like most people, by now your fitness-related New Year’s resolutions have fizzled out. Why? Because they were too ambitious.
There’s two types of fitness—general fitness for the masses and specialized fitness for the competitive athlete. Everything that follows pertains to the former. This post is for the lethargic person who is fed up with health problems, lower back pain, a compromised quality of life.
Ask someone how they got so out of shape and they’ll probably say, “It started years ago.” Despite that reality, most people want to get in shape in a few weeks or months. And so they set overly ambitious goals. Sedentary in December, they set themselves up for failure by resolving to “run five days a week” starting on January 1st. Or swim three days a week. Or ride a stationary bike four times a week.
They go from zero to sixty and back all before the month is over because they don’t see any benefits from their first few workouts. Even worse, they’re mentally turned off to exercise as a result of overexerting themselves on the track, in the pool, or in the weightroom. They go too hard, too often, too quickly. It’s counterintuitive, but the answer is to go slower, less often.
Here’s a personal example of how less is often more when it comes to developing positive fitness routines. Despite swimming, cycling, and running weekly, I sometimes suffer from lower back pain because I lack core strength. To improve my core strength, I’ve been doing pushups and planking. My baseline was 60 pushups interspersed with three sets of planking, each set consisting of 30 seconds in three separate positions, for a grand total of four and a half minutes of planking. Ten pushups, stretch lower back, ten more, plank, repeat two more times. I could do it quickly and easily after a run or bike workout. As a result, I’d typically do it five times a week for a grand total 300 pushups and 22.5 minutes of planking. A solid start to improved core strength and lower back health.
Eventually, that routine got fairly easy so I upped it to 90+ push ups interspersed with 35 seconds and then 40 of planking (times three positions and three sets). But an interesting thing happened on the way to core strength nirvana. The greater time commitment and degree of difficulty weighed on me just enough for me to skip the whole work out a few times to the point where I only got in two core sessions in a week. So that meant 180 pushups and 10:30-12:00 minutes of planking. More, in the end, resulted in less.
If this paradox resonates with you, have a Stuart Smalley-like talk with yourself, and start over. But this time think about how long it took to fall out of shape and give yourself all of 2011 to get in better shape. Create positive momentum by setting achievable goals that you can repeat week after week. After exercising easily and consistently for a month, you can turn the knob up ever so slightly if you so choose.
Here are related suggestions from a fitness post from an earlier incarnation of the blog.