Your First 4 Steps Toward a Fitter Life
I started my journey as a strength and conditioning trainee when I was 12 years old. My dad signed me up for a program in Pewaukee, Wisconsin at a facility called NX Level Athletics. Since then, NX has been my home away from home. Every time I visit home I go to NX, catch up with the coaches, and get my weightlifting training in. The coaches and people associated with that facility are great friends, and they are where my passion for training came from. I now train five days a week without exception. Training is what I look forward to every day, but it has not always been this way. I am convinced that anyone who wants to start a path towards getting healthy, strong, and in shape can make training a highlight of their day, too.
Take the first step towards making a change - that’s usually the hardest part. [Photo credit: Thomas Showers]
Your Body Is Adaptive
Let’s establish what exercise means to the body. Your body is incredibly adaptive to the stresses of its environment. If it spends most of its time sitting in a chair typing on a computer, it will change its structure and function to fit the demands of sitting and typing on the computer. If we immerse you in an environment that involves appropriate physical stress, it will specifically adapt to what those stresses are. This immersion in physical stress is commonly known as working out. People generally work out for 1-2 hours a day, 3-5 times per week and get healthy, strong bodies from it. Remember: your body will adapt to the environment you immerse it in.
Step 1: What Do You Want to Be?
The first step is to think about some goals that you have for your body. If maintaining a healthy heart is all you want from training, then walking, running, or playing sports will probably be enough to achieve that goal. Many people want to look good naked. For them, a combination of resistance and cardiovascular training will be the most effective option. Others want more from training. These people want to be strong, look great naked, have a healthy body, and perhaps compete in sports. Fitness enthusiasts are often drawn to sports like weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, Crossfit, triathlons, marathons, etc. They want the whole spectrum of benefits that physical training can offer. No matter your long-term goal, you need to establish small and medium sized goals to check off along the way. Doing so will ensure you stay on the right track.
Step 2: Select Your Medium
Once you’ve decided on your goals, step two is to select a training medium. The medium through which you exercise should be somewhat enjoyable because it needs to become a habit, especially if you are not already active on a daily basis. This could be playing basketball, soccer, intense games of ping pong (I’ve walked away from some ping pong games sweating like crazy), lifting weights, running, walking, or anything you enjoy that gets you moving around and tired. Hopefully, the innate enjoyment you feel from your chosen activity will make it easier for you to perform it three or more days per week. If that amount of activity is enough to wipe you out after every session, then stick to it for about a month. Make an effort to discover aspects of the activity that you enjoy, and aspects you don’t enjoy. Remember to set those small goals from session to session, or within a session. These goals can manifest as exercising with 5lbs more than your last set, adding extra repetitions, running an extra 100 meters, etc. Use your creativity!
Step 3: Find a Buddy and Keep It Fun
Finding a partner to do the activity with is a good strategy, because it may assist in holding both of you accountable to the schedule. If you don’t enjoy physical activity and are having a hard time choosing a medium, remember that there is something to enjoy about all the options; you may just have to spend some time discovering the enjoyable part. You’re just getting started, so let’s keep it fun in the beginning.
If you decide to play sports as your starting point, great choice. Sports do a good job of giving you tasks to distract from the exercise and keeping the environment fun. You’ll use your body in new ways and perhaps discover your hidden athleticism.
Step 4: Find a Place and a Coach
The fourth step is twofold and involves finding a place to exercise. For those just starting their exercise journey, this can be in your living room, at the park, at a gym, or virtually anywhere. Obviously, if your medium requires certain amounts of space or equipment then you’ll need to adjust your environment accordingly. You need to be somewhat comfortable with your environment. Remember that any change you decide to make in your fitness will involve some level of discomfort.
I recommend hiring a coach or personal trainer if you have the means to do so. The spectrum of quality coaching is very wide in this field, so it’s important to know how to identify the high quality coaches. Hire a coach with the appropriate certifications and make sure the governing body of those certifications is nationally recognized. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), are nationally recognized organizations and offer courses to certify personal trainers (CPT’s). The NSCA also offers a certification called the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), which requires a college degree and issues perhaps the most extensive exam in the field.
The perfect coach should hold a degree in exercise science, biology, or similar field, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) for the NSCA, has a long and impressive client portfolio; and successfully coaches an iron sport (weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, Crossfit), track and field, or distance running, depending on your chosen exercise medium. Successful coaches in these sports should have an understanding of effective training because winning performances necessitate it.
Keep Going Until It's Fun
If we take a step back to look at your overall fitness journey, we want you to get to a point where the physical exercise itself is what you enjoy. This kind of exercise can be in the form of lifting weights, running, rowing, cycling, or many others. These are collectively known as strength and conditioning. Experienced athletes do them because they like how they feel, and that’s what you should try to achieve. These exercise forms are consistent, effective, and time efficient. The great part is that you never have to drop the sports you enjoy. In fact, these forms of exercise can be organized to improve performance for your preferred sport.
If you’ve decided that now is the time to get fit once and for all, these are the first steps you should take. Establish some concrete goals, choose an exercise medium that you’ll stick with, find a conducive training environment, and choose an experienced coach. We’ll get into the details of what comes next in a later article. For now, just take the first step towards making a change. That’s usually the hardest part.
Don't let your fitness fall victim to your intellect: