Whether you’re a fitness newbie or a former athlete getting back into the game, it’s never too late to start (or restart) a fitness routine. But before you take off running full-steam ahead, ask yourself: Am I fully prepared in both mind and body for the journey?
Here’s a scary stat: Studies indicate that 50 percent of people starting an exercise program call it quits within the first six months. Despite starting with fervor, enthusiasm and all the best intentions, many people face setbacks like loss of focus, burnout and injury when starting a new workout program.
Don’t be one of them! Follow these tips to safely start a new workout or training program. And, most of all, enjoy the process.
Even if your goal is physical, you first need to get your mind on board. Your mind naturally fears change. So whatever you’re currently doing — the strength-training routine you started in college, the same old jogging route or going straight home after work and sitting in front of the TV — your mind and body are comfortable just the way they are.
To break out of your brain’s comfort zone and see real, lasting results, you must first ask yourself: Why do I want to start a new workout or training program?
Next, strengthen the bond to your why by getting informed and inspired. Scientific data and friends or role models who have already conquered what you’ve set out to do provide reassurance that you are making the right choice and can be successful, too.
It’s also important to recognize how you’ve reacted to similar situations or changes in the past. What’s your attitude toward starting something new? Do you rush toward the finish line at whatever cost? Do you have a tendency to throw in the towel if you don’t have immediate success? Or do you lose focus and jump to new activities without finishing what you started?
By cultivating awareness of how you approach a new activity or the learning process in general you can choose to overcome resistance when it arises and alter thoughts and old patterns to align with success.
Your body is made to move, but unfortunately, today’s world has many people at a standstill — whether it’s sitting in traffic, at a desk or on the couch. The lack of movement causes a number of postural and movement dysfunctions that need to be addressed in order to work out safely. No matter what specific skills or techniques your new workout entails, you must first be able to move your body as it was made to move — multidimensionally.
Here are five ways to prep your body for a new workout:
1. Release Tension
Stress from daily living and repetitive motions takes a toll on the body, commonly in the form of aches and pains from knots in your muscles. The good news is you don’t need a sports masseuse to accompany you to each of your workouts; a foam roller will do just fine. Foam rolling is a technique for releasing knots and built-up tension so you can restore balance to your body and avoid injury. Try focusing on your calves, IT bands (side of your leg from hip to knee), back and chest.
2. Perform Daily Joint-Mobility Exercises
Unlike muscles, joints have no direct blood supply. They rely on synovial fluid to wash away waste products that build up and compromise the integrity of the joint. A daily mobility routine helps lubricate the joints so you can move with more ease and less aches and pains.
3. Address Muscle Imbalances
Muscles work like a pulley system: When one muscle or muscle group contracts or shortens, the opposing muscle or muscle group lengthens. When muscles are not at their appropriate lengths because of tension or differences in strength, muscle imbalances occur.
Overly tight muscles can tug on joints, affecting posture and gait, while weak muscles force other muscles to pick up the slack, creating overuse injuries when not properly addressed. In addition to imbalances between opposing muscles or muscle groups, lack of strength in stabilizing muscles around the joint can impair movement and lead to aches and pains or injuries.
To work toward balance in your body, incorporate a functional-strength training routine into your workout regimen that addresses basic moves like the squat, push-up, deadlift and row as well as specific exercises that counterbalance repetitive movements of your new activity.
For example, running is a forward motion that primarily taxes the calves and quadriceps. Train for harmony by strengthening the hamstrings and anterior tibialis muscles of the legs and incorporating lateral and backward motion into your workout.
4. Gain Flexibility
Flexibility is not some rare gift that only certain people have and others do not. It’s a component of fitness that can be enhanced with proper training. A more flexible body means you don’t break easily under pressure, but a body that is too flexible struggles to maintain structure. So, once again, it’s all about balance.
Key areas to focus on are the hip flexors, low back, chest and calves. Try these stretches to get you started:
- Low Lunge With Side Bend: Start in a low lunge with your right leg forward and knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your hips square to the front of your mat. Avoid leaning into the pose and overarching the low back. Place your right hand on your thigh for support. With an inhale, reach your left arm up. Exhale as you bend to the right side. Repeat on the opposite leg/side.
- Pectoral Wall Stretch: Stand in line with a doorway or pole. Place your arm against the wall or pole. Rotate your body away from the wall. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other arm.
- Reclined Spinal Twist: Start lying on your back with legs extended out. Hug your right knee to your chest. Release your right arm out to the right with the palm facing up. Look to the right. Drop your right knee over to the left side of your body. Scoot your left hip back one to two inches to the right for a deeper stretch.
- Standing Calf Stretch: Stand arm’s distance away from a wall. Lean forward and place your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Stagger your legs, sending one leg back behind you about two feet with the heel grounded to stretch the calf muscles. Deepen the bend into the front knee, keeping the knee over the ankle. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
5. Improve Core Strength
Your core is your power center. The stronger your core — which includes your abdominals, glutes, obliques and hip flexors — the more powerful and efficient you’ll be. A strong core also helps prevent lower-back and spinal injuries because the core muscles stabilize the spine. To get started, work on core-stabilization exercises, such as the bridge and straight-arm, forearm and side planks, Try holding these poses for up to 90 seconds.
Now that your mind is prepped and your muscles are primed to move, it’s time to get specific! What exactly do you want to do? Do you want to run a 5K? Build muscle and strength? Gain flexibility and body control in yoga? It’s important to choose one main goal to work toward, since different disciplines have different physical and mental demands. Having specific markers to work toward and surpass helps build confidence and fuel your continued motivation.
Physiologically, when you learn new movements, routines and skills, your brain and nervous system get an upgrade because it reorganizes itself to build new neural pathways for new skills. Then it takes lots of practice for your brain and body to become efficient at the skill, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you’re not a pro right away. Focus on the small wins — they’ll eventually add up and you’ll reap huge gains!
It’s Not Easy, But It’s Worth It
Starting a new workout or getting back in the game of fitness after a long hiatus is never easy mentally, emotionally or physically. But it’s when you overcome resistance, ignite self-confidence as you master something new and prove to yourself that you can reach your goals that you grow exponentially. Keep reaching for new heights, be prepared for the journey and enjoy the process!