Tuesday, January 3, 2017

That time of year again: New Years Resolutions

It's been quite some time since I wrote a blog post, but this is the perfect time of year to do it.  Why?  Because this is when you are most likely to read it.  In the past, I've written quite a bit and there's no reason to rehash anything I've done before.  So, I'll write this one as a list of quick hits with links to my old stuff along the way.

So, here goes...

  • Yes, you are most likely to read stuff about fitness at resolution time, but this really isn't the best time of year for fitness resolutions to work.  I'd say it's actually the worst.  (I like to point to fall as the best time, if you're curious.)  Am I telling you to give up now and continue eating the holiday treats?  No, of course not.  What I am saying is that January and February is pretty tough, so don't be surprised if you fall off the wagon a few times.  If nothing else, give yourself a few months to get through a few false starts and be ready to jump in for the long haul in the spring -- that's the second best time if you ask me.
  • Your starting point for thinking about diet should be Choose My Plate.  Is it the end-all, be-all?  No.  But, this is where to start and the system to think about as you read what others write about nutrition.  I wrote about it years ago, but here's the quick take.  Choose My Plate replaced the food pyramid a few years ago and makes far more sense.  The plate icon imagines all food from a meal in four categories:  fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein.  You'll find yourself replacing lots of carbs with lean proteins and vegetables.  Parting shot:  Carbs are not the enemy that some diets will make them out to be -- we just tend to eat way to much of them. 
  • You probably have one or two real "problem areas" that you wish you could really target. If you are thinking that way, you need to understand one fundamental thing about how the body works: Muscle is built specifically while fat is consumed generally. Said more completely, individual muscles are built specifically based on demands put on each of them while fat is consumed generally by the body when it needs energy.  If you want more muscle somewhere, you can target that.  If you have an area that's a little pudgy?  That can't be targeted.  Read a little more.  The crazy thing is writers out there will talk about areas being "really tough" to target.  And crazier still, they'll talk about targeting fats right after telling you that you can't target fat.  
  • A lot of people out there, particularly women, are hesitant to lift heavy weights.  Let me be clear:  Everyone should lift heavy weights.  Everyone.  Now, what is heavy?  That's where things get interesting -- it depends.  You can call it heavy if you can't do more than 12 repetitions.  So, yeah, it's different for everyone.  If you can do 12, add weight.  This doesn't mean you get lazy at #13 and just stop.  It means repetitions 11, 12, 13, and 14 are a heck of a lot harder than 1 through 10.  And, no, if you aren't "bulky" already, lifting "heavy" isn't going to make you bulky any time soon.  Still not sold?  Here are some examples of women lifting pretty darn heavy.  And, I'll ruin the surprise -- none of them are particularly bulky.
  • Those are probably the biggest fitness myths out there, but they aren't the only ones.  Fitness myths can drive you crazy if you let them.  Myths have their origins, and it's good to understand them a bit.  Read more...
  • There's a tendency to worry about how you look and how other people perceive you while you are in the gym.  Here are some thoughts about how the regulars in the gym view newbies.  In short: no, they aren't judging you because no one looks their best in the gym.  The best exercisers train so they look (and feel) the best *away* from the gym regardless of how they look in the gym.
  • Yes, the gym can be pretty intimidating place.  There are so many things that you can do and it isn't always easy to know what to try.  One good way to start is to think about a few generic body movements, all of that craziness will start to make a little more sense.
Once you get going:
  • When you are just getting started, the best way to handle cardio is to try out the various methods (walk, outdoor bike, indoor bike, elliptical, treadmill, classes, etc) and see what works for you.  See what feels good even though you are being challenged.  Once you've done that you can try out interval training.  It doesn't have to be as intense as it sounds, but it is work.  But that's what we're looking for, after all.
  • There is a tendency to want to measure fitness progress.  There are plenty of ways to do this, but the most obvious is to step on the scale.  The trouble is body weight isn't always the best metric.  And, no, BMI isn't any better -- it was never intended to be used on an individual.  I'm a big fan of using body fat %.  It can be a little involved, but nothing too crazy.  If you want a really easy way to measure, use your tight-ish fitting clothing.  I summarized all of this in a series of posts.
  • Once you've been going for a month or two, be on the lookout for overtraining.  Yes, overtraining is a real thing -- it happens when you don't give your body enough time to recover on an ongoing basis.  Know the symptoms: cold/flu, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, irritability, even depression.  Symptoms tend to be relatively mild, but there's no reason to put yourself through that if all you need is to give yourself a day off here and there.  How do you avoid overtraining?  Add to your regimen slowly over time and take breaks when you need them.  (Read more...)
  • The toughest part about getting going in fitness is just that -- getting going.  Getting into a rhythm.  The toughest part about making progress long-term?  Getting out of that rhythm.  It's a tough balance.  The real key is being willing to fail during your workout.  Yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird.  And this isn't a piece flowers-and-sunshine logic whose only purpose is to make you feel good.  Failing during a workout is a critical part of tough workouts.  You should fail a few times in every tough workout.  If you don't fail a few times, you should have pushed yourself harder.  Now, this doesn't mean you end up as a defeated puddle of sweat in corner.  It just means you lined up an exercise that you thought you'd be able to complete but weren't able to.  You wanted 10 but you had to stop at 8.  It's cool.  Really.  It's the only way to make sure you are willing to line up an exercise you may not be able to finish.  
So, that's all that I have to get you started.  Honestly, there's a piece of me that hopes you didn't even get through the whole post and just went for a walk.  But, that's not how everyone works.  

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