Starting on your fitness journey might seem hugely overwhelming at first. I’m making this assumption because it certainly was for me when I first started exercising regularly. There were so many programs available and within many of those programs, there were different types of plans you could follow. There were endless cardio options, a million different ways to formulate a weight lifting plan, and let’s not forget about yoga, pilates, and barre – the list goes on and on. What I found when I first started is that I hopped from one plan to another pretty often because I was trying to do them all. I wanted to figure out what plan was best for me, which is hard to do when you’re expecting major results in just a few weeks. Then I went through a phase where I only ran, a lot. That often led to many injuries for me, so then I’d switch back to a different program to see if that would work. Here’s the thing: I kept trying to find one that would “work” for me, and if you pause and think about that, what does that even mean?
After thinking a lot about what I was searching for, the answer became clear: I was trying to find a program that would lead to short-term weight loss. But that’s not much of a plan for multiple reasons. 1. It is very hard to find joy in something if you’re only looking at it as a temporary means to change your body. 2. A successful fitness program should be designed to help you gain strength in some capacity, whether it is aerobic or anaerobic, and that takes time to do. 3. If you don’t drown out the noise that comes from the fitness industry – often in the form of promoting a “new” workout that will change your body immediately – it is very hard to stick with the plan you’re on because you’re afraid of missing out on the new one and its many promises.
While well-intentioned, my thought process behind finding a plan that “worked” for me was very wrong. My exercise journey – and yours! – should not be based around fixing or changing our appearances. Movement is so good for us, but it’s not when you’re following a program you hate in hopes that if you can push through for ten more minutes, you’ll burn 50 more calories, and it will magically re-shape your body. That’s not a very nice way to treat ourselves.
Once I realized this, I figured out what I wanted out of my daily movement. I wanted a routine that would make me stronger mentally and physically. I needed something that would push me, and at the end of a tough workout, it would leave me feeling proud of myself for the work I had put in. I also use my exercise time to clear my thoughts and reset myself, so I needed to incorporate that. It took some trial and error, but I settled on a strength training routine accompanied by running. Talk about basic, right? Both were challenging, and they helped me build strength and stamina in different ways. Now, I’ve made variations to that plan, like adding more running mileage, tweaking my strength training plan, or choosing to walk instead of running days where my legs feel overly tired.
No part of my plan is a “quick fix” designed to change my body immediately. I gradually add on miles, and I make myself stronger each week whether its by adding one more pound or one more rep. There is no timeline because I plan to do this for as long as I’m able to. I do my best each workout, and I end each one feeling better than when I started. And that’s it.
If it sounds easy, that is because it is! The first thing you need to do is to set your intention for your fitness routine. Choose to do it because movement makes you happy. Once that becomes your focus, formulate your workout using a simple two-step process.
- Choose cardio movements that will bring you the most joy. If you dread running, there is certainly no pressure to do it. Perhaps walking outside while listening to a podcast, skyrocketing your heart rate while performing plyometrics, or riding a bike are more your speed. All of those are excellent aerobic options and great for your cardiovascular system. As an attainable goal to get you started, aim for 90 minutes of cardio each week, broken up however you’d like. That could be anything from three 30-minute workouts to nine 10-minute workouts that you can fit in between other obligations.
- Strength train. Weight lifting has many health benefits, including increased strength and muscle mass, better cognitive function, and a faster metabolism. In the beginning, I’d recommend bodyweight movements. As your strength increases, you can start adding in weights. To start, twice a week is sufficient as long as you’re hitting all of your body parts.
Don’t be afraid to incorporate other movements that I didn’t mention! It’s your fitness journey – make it what you want it to be. Let’s say yoga is your passion, and you are in a challenging class that requires holding difficult positions for long durations. Yoga could be the strength training portion of your routine. Or if you are in a barre class that always gets your heart rate high, by all means, make that the cardio portion of your regimen.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that fitness is a lifelong journey that will change as you change, whether it’s due to you getting stronger or older or simply changing interests along the way. The best workout routine is one that makes you happy and strong. And there is nothing complicated about that.