[Preamble: When I sat down to write this, I didn’t know what to talk about exactly. Once I got going, though, I realized that this topic is close to my heart, and it was difficult to keep it short. So you get your money’s worth this week. And there will definootly be spin-offs from this one!]

I’ve spoken with a few different people in the past few weeks about getting started with regular exercise. They have done exercise – even stuck at it for a few weeks – but they haven’t been able to turn it into a regular habit. I have a few thoughts about this:

1. You won’t do what you don’t want to do. Most people want to be fit, and some also want to be active. My view is that we ultimately do what we want to do. When I say “want to do”, what I mean is “are committed to doing.” Ergo, if we are not active or exercising, we have not committed to doing it. You can commit to something you don’t want to do, like laundry. The key is that you need enough self-discipline to bridge the gap. Self-discipline involves making a decision (a thought process) and executing (a behaviour) that decision.  Notice what’s missing? Feelings. Of course you often don’t “feel” like exercising, but if you are self-discplined, you can choosing to do it because you committed to do it. Over time, you’ll worry less about the feelings.

2. Not knowing what do (for exercise) is a big motivation-killer. If you’re relatively new to exercise, you may not know what (which exercises) to do. That makes it really difficult to actually step up and do anything. Or, if you checked the Internet, you could have too many exercises to choose from. How do you know? You will need a plan that is reasonable for your basic fitness level, your interest level, and the time you have available. You will need a reasonable goal to work toward. And you really should have a fitness mentor who can guide you and answer your questions. Stay tuned to the blog, because I am planning to write more about this specific topic of how to get yourself started and established.

3. New exercisers risk muscle-strain or even injuries due to lack of form. Another big motivation killer. You may have had a gung-ho moment and started your exercise program with 20 minutes of skipping, or as many pushups or pullups as you could do. I personally did this once when I let my brother (Infantry officer) talk me into doing cross-fit with him. I learned that chin-ups to TMF means you do chin-ups until you can’t do them any more (Total Muscle Failure). But you’re still trying to do as many as you can in the time, so you keep trying. It was two weeks before I could either fully straighten or fully flex my arms. In my case, it was not so much the bad form as the intensity without any base preparation. I recovered, but my motivation took a hit. My worry for Noobies is that they will inadvertently hurt their lower back. So be careful and take it easy as you are getting started. I’ll be saying more about this also.

4. Core strength and stability is. . . UNDERRATED! I know, I know. I’ve been hearing about core strength training (CST) forever. And I basically ignored it because CST seemed intimidating and a bit too serious for me. I mean, if you intentionally do CST, doesn’t that make you kind of a serious athlete, and shouldn’t you be competing or something. I thought CST was right up there with weight-lifting, for goodness sake! What I discovered, quite accidentally, is that if you sign yourself up for a crazy fitness challenge like doing kettlebell swings, and then do another month with a burpee challenge, you will massively tune up your core strength, not to mention your cardiovascular fitness. Serendipity in action. Without actually realizing it, I was doing CST. And, let me tell you, it was tough but rewarding. I didn’t realize how rewarding until I resumed my summer workout activities and saw a considerable jump in performance. My outlook on personal fitness has morphed to the position that building your core strength gives you the platform for all other training. It strengthens and stabilizes everything from your hips to your shoulders. When you walk or run, things that used to slosh all over the place hold their position. I believe this firmed up torso allows you to waste less energy trying to hold your innards in place!

5. Lack of a vision for your exercise/activity over time is a big motivation-killer. If you can’t see where you are going, or how that fits into where you have been and where you want to be, exercise is rather aimless. Don’t get me wrong – the activity and cardiovascular workouts are not likely bad for you (as long as you have good form), but it is hard to keep yourself going. Almost everyone I talked to after the February challenge went through a bit of a let-down and a fitness wilderness after the challenge ended. Why? Because we had a vision during the month and it motivated us; after the challenge was over, the vision faded and, with it, our motivation. What I’m driving at is this: you need to cast a vision for your overall well-being and fitness. It should include any big fitness events like races or triathlons or bike excursions or hikes. And then you need to sit down with someone who has some exercise experience and map out out some ideas for improving your fitness over the year. Be flexible, but build in variety and make sure that you employ activities which will build the strength, stability and stamina (what a great alliteration!!) you will need for your planned events. Write this down and keep a rough record of what happened – did you stick to the plan? Did you gradually raise your effort level as you got stronger/fitter? My conclusion here is the converse of my starting point: A vision for exercise/activity over time is a motivator!!

6. An appropriate plan PLUS some coaching on basic form PLUS regular encouragement can keep you motivated, active and satisfied (more or less) with your activity. This is what I am all about when it comes to personal fitness. You don’t need just any old plan. What you need is a plan which is appropriate for you. It needs to suit you so that your workouts are more or less enjoyable (at least they should not deter you from doing more workouts!). You also need a fitness mentor who can simultaneously wield a mean whistle and an encouraging comment. Your fitness mentor needs to respect you, and you need to trust them. You essentially submit yourself to your fitness mentor’s wisdom and knowledge, and allow them to correct your initial form and movement errors. Ask lots of questions, so you understand why you are doing what you are doing. All this potentially gives you a HUGE advantage over trying to motivate yourself: learning from another’s experience. You don’t have to try 50 exercises to find a good combination – your mentor can listen to you and put together something that is probably quite suitable, even the first time around. With a bit of tweaking. . . it’s magical. Okay, I overstated that. But it’s way better than you would come up with on your inexperienced own. And, on top of getting some good workout ideas and guidance on safe, correct form, your fitness mentor is always close by with some encouragement. Or trash-talk, if appropriate.

Well, now you have it.  You’re ready to get started and become established.