All of us have started an exercise plan before, and all of us have fallen off an exercise plan before.
Often, we just can’t find the time. Unexpected things happen, schedules change, people move and we get knocked out of our routine. Or maybe we’ve never been able to develop a routine. This is real. Life is often inconvenient and unpredictable.
There are ways to make exercise more time-efficient, and ways of thinking that won’t sabotage our efforts. Some ideas:
• Replace isolation exercises with functional ones. Functional exercises use multiple muscle groups with each repetition, while isolation movements work only one muscle group at a time.
For example: When working legs, it’s not uncommon to use one exercise or machine for the hamstrings, one for the inner and outer thighs, one for hips and one for quadriceps. To work the same muscles using a single exercise, you can perform squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups or dead lifts or climb the stairs. Cardiovascular exercise works multiple muscle groups as well.
If you are pressed for time, you can start out with a simple program that includes primarily body-weight-only exercises such as the ones mentioned, performing one set of each to muscle fatigue. Typically, this equates to about one minute per set. Depending on the amount of time you have left, you can go back and complete a second or third round.
• Another option is to work the upper body and lower body at the same time. This type of training is the most time-efficient, and as a bonus, provides greater calorie burn. An example of an upper/lower body combination would be to work the arms with bicep curls or shoulder presses while doing lunges or squats for leg strengthening.
• Minimize rest breaks during the workout. If using a program similar to the one described, you can further maximize efficiency by eliminating or decreasing your normal rest breaks between reps or sets.
But be careful: While the energy or effort put forth during exercise is key to continual progress, it is also important to safeguard against overtraining.
There are a few easy ways to tell if you are going too easy on yourself or working out too hard. The “talk test” or “sing test” are simple methods that can be used to measure intensity during cardiovascular workouts in order to help avoid overexertion.
An example of exercising at a light intensity level would be if you were able to sing during the activity, meaning breathing is not difficult. A moderate intensity level would allow you to carry on a conversation while exercising, but the degree of difficulty would leave you feeling somewhat winded. Exercising at a pace where you are too winded to carry on a conversation is considered a vigorous intensity level.
• Here’s the real secret to fitting exercise in for the long haul: Manage your expectations, and watch the labels you use. Don’t ever expect to “be totally on top of everything” for very long. If you get into a nice rhythm and tell yourself that you'll stay totally on top of it this time, then you’re just setting yourself up for major disappointment and you'll spend a lot of time and energy being upset instead of adapting to life. Expect challenges to your schedule and focus on adapting better.
In terms of labels, watch it here: Many people think they’ve “failed” or “done it again” when they notice they’ve missed a few days or a few weeks. Yes, you have failed to be perfect, but perfection isn’t the goal.
• The No. 1 most important thing to do in order to get back into fitness (and feeling awesome) is to do something – anything – today. This is very easy advice to read, but not so easy to actually do. Be mindful of how out of shape you can get in a few weeks, and also of how much psychological momentum you can lose. Today is the restart day, not the day to have the best workout of your life.
• Make a written plan for the week. Don’t go overboard on detail. What exercise will you try do this week? Where will you do it? What days and times? This type of plan will increase the odds of follow-through by more than 200 percent for what is very little effort.
• The final thing to remember about a reboot of your fitness routine is that you do not need motivation. Motivation is a feeling, and feelings are unpredictable, and not dependable. When you’re off a routine you will not feel like exercising, and that doesn’t matter one bit. Just show up, and get your body moving, and the motivation will take care of itself in time.