The winter blues have melted away and with the long, sunny, summer days, there are so many opportunities to get outside and be active! This is the best time of the year to establish a new workout routine – more sunshine elevates Vitamin D levels to make you feel more energetic and the extended daylight hours help to improve mood. Even with all these optimal levels, finding the motivation to begin a workout plan can feel overwhelming. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
START SLOW, START FUN
Athletic achievement can be a great motivator, but setting lofty goals can leave you disappointed with your progress. The most important part of starting a new plan is to start slow and set small, easily achievable goals. It is important to create goals not focused on weight loss. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so as you tone and increase your muscle mass, the scale will not reflect these improvements! Gaining muscle will increase the amount of fat you burn while working out and at rest. With strength training you will see progress in blood sugar, cholesterol, and in inches of girth lost, rather than pounds in the beginning. Gaining muscle through strength training is critical because it also eliminates blood sugar spikes by increasing insulin sensitivity and replaces muscle lost through muscle wasting, a natural aging process. Take advantage of the benefits by mixing strength training into your workout schedule!
When getting started, instead of leaping into a workout plan, just take a few steps – start with a 5-minute walk or run. Each week, add a few minutes to your workout, especially on days when you are feeling energetic as you exercise. Just like eating a healthy breakfast daily, building exercise into your routine is key to success. In the beginning it can be easy to make excuses to put off your workout – the weather, low energy, other commitments – but it is important to commit to making this exercise happen, even if only for a few minutes of slower activity. You’re creating a new habit! If you notice you have low energy one day, get out there and do an easy exercise. You may be surprised at the outcome. If not, the next day your energy will return, making your workout easy, fun, and fulfilling.
Keep in mind that exercise will feel better when your body is adequately prepared. If you are cutting back on sleep to make room for a workout or not eating beforehand, your exercise will feel arduous. Find a time to work out when you feel rested and energize yourself with a light snack like a banana or a fruit smoothie before you exercise.
Choosing activities you enjoy can help you get excited about exercise and meet your short-term goals. If you enjoy biking more than running or walking, build your workout plan around that preferred activity. You are more likely to build a long-lasting exercise habit doing something you like rather than forcing yourself to struggle through an activity. Once you’ve established a routine, you can integrate other activities and exercises into your plan to add variety and cross training. After a few weeks, you will already have achieved several goals and be feeling great physically and emotionally.
LET TECHNOLOGY HELP
Technology for monitoring your activity and bio-stats has significantly improved within the past few years and can give you a more complete perspective on your health. There are many options for monitors and apps, but focusing on technology that requires minimal or no manual input with maximal information, like the Polar A300 fitness watch, can help you better understand your movement trends and track your exercise. Technology that monitors your activity levels and prompts you to move more frequently can be a helpful reminder, especially if you work a desk job.
There are also many apps you can use that will structure your workouts for you. Apps like Nike Training Club have a library of workouts that you can sort by duration, intensity, muscle groups, and equipment needed. This app in particular gives you a preview of each of the exercises in the selected workout (both in list and video form) and gives you coaching points about body positioning throughout the session. With workouts ranging from 11 to 45 minutes, you can start with a short, low intensity workout and increase time and intensity as you improve, or do shorter back-to-back workouts with different muscle group focuses.
WORK OUT IN A GROUP
Sometimes a workout buddy, group exercise class, or the energy of others at the gym will inspire motivation to reach your goals. On your least-motivated days, finding the willpower to work out alone can be a hindrance. Being accountable to a group or partner can help you muster the energy to follow through. Working out in a group can also be helpful when your favorite exercise activity is an organized sport. Whether this means joining a dance, yoga, or exercise class at a local club or finding a pick-up sports group in your area, meeting others for a workout can integrate an enjoyable social experience into your exercise. If you have difficulty sticking to a workout schedule, committing to a weekly or biweekly group class or league can help you build an exercise habit with more structure.
CHECK YOUR TARGET HEART RATE OR PERCEIVED EXERTION
Monitoring your target heart rate can be motivational and informative as you build cardiac endurance. Your target heart rate is the percentage of your maximum heart rate that provides the most cardiovascular benefit without strain. The range recommended by the American Heart Association has a conservative starting point of 50%, which is great place to start in the first few weeks of exercise. However, we recommend that after a week or two of exercise you aim for 60% as the lowest point in your target heart rate range.
To calculate your target heart rate, find your maximal heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then calculate 50-85% of that value:
220-(YOUR AGE) = Maximal Heart Rate x (0.5 to 0.85) = Target Heart Rate
Keep in mind that exercising at your target heart rate is a great goal, but there may be days when this isn’t feasible due to energy levels. If you are having an “off” day, scrap the target heart rate and just focus on getting some activity.
CAUTION: While exercising at your target heart rate can be a great goal, it isn’t for everyone. Beta blocker and some calcium channel blocker medications* are designed to slow the heart rate. These medications lower the resting and exercising heart rate (the intended effect), which will prevent one from reaching the usual target heart rate range, invalidating this measure. People taking these medications* should not use target heart rate as an exertion measurement during exercise.
A commonly used alternative method, is the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE):
|Borg RPE Model|
|Rating||Level of Exertion|
|6||No exertion at all|
The scale is subjective and requires you to specify how much energy you feel it takes to perform an exercise. Exercise at an intensity similar to target heart rate is rated between 12 to 14 on the Borg model.
For more information on target heart rate and heart rate recovery, read our previous article about heart rate and exercise.
MOTIVATE WITH MUSIC
Finding the right music can go a long way! Rousing lyrics and an upbeat tempo are a great way to push yourself throughout a workout (especially at the end!). If you have some favorite songs that keep you motivated, try compiling them into a playlist on a music device or phone app.
For the ultimate benefit, try matching the beats per minute (bpm) in songs to your target heart rate. Research has shown that your heart rate can be influenced by song tempo, so playing songs with specific bpm can help you reach your optimal exercise benefit. Spotify.com can tell you the bpm of all your favorite songs and help you create the perfect playlist for your target heart rate. There are also sites like Clickmix which allow you to alter the speed of your favorite songs and blend them seamlessly.
Not sure where to begin? We have created a playlist of some motivational tunes on the Spotify app (accessible by computer and phone) organized by bpm. The links for these playlists are below:
You can create a free account to access these playlists, along with many others, or create your own.
GET YOUR ENDORPHINE RUSH – INTERVAL TRAINING
You’ve most likely heard of a “runner’s high,” the endorphin rush that comes from prolonged, vigorous exercise, but you don’t need to run a marathon to get it. Any vigorous exercise can induce this feel-good rush – even just a few minutes! Using High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts can help you get the biggest bang for your buck, not only for endorphin rushes, but also for cardiovascular health. HIIT and regular interval training alternate segments of high or moderate activity with lower activity periods of recovery. There is no specific formula for these workouts, so you can find an app that works best for you or design a workout that fits your exercise capacity.
Regular interval workouts are a great place for beginners to start. To begin, warm up for several minutes. Then alternate 1-2 minutes of moderate to intense activity in your target heart rate range (50-85%) with 3-5 minutes of easier activity that allows your heart rate to recover to below your target range. For beginners, start with two to three repetitions of this alternation and then work up to doing as many repetitions as you can in 20 minutes.
For a more intense workout, try HIIT. Always start with a warm up. Then alternate 20-40 second spurts of intense activity at 70-85% of your target heart rate with 30-60 second stretches of moderate activity at 50-65% of your target heart rate. Do at least 8-10 repetitions of this intense-moderate alternation to push yourself.
Due to the strenuous nature of this activity, HIIT or interval training should be mixed into your workout schedule from one to three times a week, leaving adequate time for recovery between workouts. Even 10-15 minutes of interval training can leave you feeling tired, but happier and more relaxed. After a workout (especially moderate to intense exercise), aim to consume 20-40 grams of protein to help build muscle. This can easily be done with protein powder mixed into a shake or smoothie.
Before beginning a new exercise regimen or increasing the intensity of your current one, always check with your doctor to determine if your medications or medical conditions could impose limitations for your plan. As we said before, aim for short-term, achievable goals that will boost your confidence and help establish a routine. If you would like assistance with creating a new workout plan or improving a current regimen, please feel free to reach out to us! Marilyn is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to teach group exercise. She is happy to help get you started with a few private coaching sessions at Equinox in Chestnut Hill.
*Examples of beta blocker and calcium channel blocker medications: Atenolol, Propranolol, Metoprolol, Labetalol, Bisoprolol, Diltiazem, Verapamil, Gallopamil, Fendiline, Benzothiazepine, Mibefrazil, Bepridil, Flunarizine, Fluspirilene. If you are taking any of these medications, you should have a detailed discussion with your doctor about your exercise plan and any restrictions. If you are unsure if you are taking a medication that may affect your workout plan, please speak with your physician.