As January 1st approaches, many of us are thinking about goals for the new year and new decade. And if you’ve let your workouts fall to the wayside during the holiday season (or maybe longer), you may be thinking about getting back to it. But should you go back to what you’ve always done? Should you try something new? With so many options, how do you know if you are doing the “right” workout or program?
For the majority of us who desire general fitness, many paths can take us there. Each of our bodies, goals, and preferences are unique so my “right workout” is likely a bit different from yours. However, here are six questions to ask to help you determine if yours is a good fit:
1. Is it suited to your current fitness level; is it appropriately challenging? Beware of programs or classes that have you jump in with both feet and go too hard too fast. That’s a recipe for burnout or injury or both. If you haven’t exercised in a while, you need to build a foundation first. Get proficient at a movement before adding speed, weight or distance. Set mini-goals to add time or intensity so that you build that strong foundation that will keep you moving for months and years rather than just weeks. If the workout encourages you to immediately perform complex or high intensity exercise without offering regressions or modifications, it’s not the right one.
On the flip side, for those who have a current workout regimen these questions still apply. A beloved workout may no longer be helping you reach your goals if it is no longer adequately challenging your body. Often this is the result of doing the exact same thing for years and getting complacent. You begin to go through the motions. As a group fitness instructor, I've seen this happen!
In many cases you can breathe life and effectiveness into your favorite form of fitness, even if you’ve been doing it forever. Inattentiveness has no place in your workouts. Make it a point to pay attention to what you are doing, how you are feeling, and when applicable, the trainer or instructor’s cues. What muscles are you working? Do you feel it where you should? What’s your rate of perceived exertion? If you aren’t sure, seek guidance from a fitness professional. Have you been using the same weights for years? It is likely time to increase the load. Is cardio class feeling a bit too easy? Ask your instructor for tips on how to get the most from class. I would be willing to bet that there are things you can do to make your current workout regimen more appropriately challenging.
2. Does it have an end? 60 days, 100 days, 180 day programs can be appealing due to the specific time-frame, however, don’t become one of those people who “finish” a program and then gradually slide back to inconsistency. You’ve read over and over that ‘fitness isn’t a destination, it’s a way of life.’ It’s true: no one can improve fitness, stop exercising, and retain what they’ve gained indefinitely. Your goals and training will likely change over time, but you’ll always have to be doing something to retain what you've worked hard for.
3. Does it support your goals? It’s okay to try different programs...just do so with your specific goals in mind. If you want to get stronger or build muscle, each of these requires training in a specific way for greater lengths of time. Be aware of always searching for the next best thing as that can prevent you from achieving higher performance levels, if desired. Your body adapts to what you do therefore you want to train in a way that supports what you want your body to do. (Read that again!) If your goal is to get stronger, you don’t want spend all of your time doing cardio and using light weights. You need to have a program that will progressively overload those muscles. If your goal is to run a 5K or half marathon, you don’t want to just lift weights and do the elliptical.
4. Does it support your lifestyle and add enjoyment? Exercise is meant to enhance your life. It should improve your energy, health and resilience. It should make many of life's tasks easier. In addition, some level of enjoyment is crucial; most of us aren’t going to stick with something for very long if it makes us miserable…even if we like the results. (As we all know, consistency is key!)
5. Does your body feel better doing it? If your workout regimen leaves you injured, constantly exhausted, or feeling broken rather than built up, it’s not the right one. If the trainer or instructor encourages you to do exercises that cause pain, it’s not the right one.
6. Does it support your mental and emotional health? If you feel anxious and uncomfortable during the workout, examine why. New things are uncomfortable for just about everyone and building fitness is uncomfortable sometimes. Ultimately though, you want to see yourself becoming more at ease with the trainer or instructor, the atmosphere, the exercises and the challenge. If you consistently feel anxious about your body or your ability and these feelings do not improve over time, it's not the right one. What you do for exercise should positively impact your mental and emotional well-being.
So, have you found the right one for you?
The right workout boils down to: an adequately challenging program (for YOU) that includes elements of cardio, strength, and mobility/flexibility with emphasis on the elements that are specific to your goals. It falls in line with your preferences so you enjoy it on some level and supports lifelong fitness and overall health and well-being.
If what you are doing doesn't quite align, it's not that you've been doing it all wrong. It just means that it's time to explore other options and get moving in a different direction.