Beginners Fitness - as told by Alice and Bob
Prelude: Wherein Bob decides he wants to get fit
Scene: A workplace lunch-room. Alice, an athlete, sits reading a book on Frozznastics - a physically demanding sport that (coincidentally) requires all the skills and talents of the physical activity the reader enjoys, but requires none of the skills or movements the reader hates. Alice is educated on fitness and especially Frozznastics and it is plain to all that she works out.
Enter Bob, the beginner, he is a little out-of-shape and hasn't really done much exercise since high school. He's had trouble with the yard work and his wife Carol (sweet as she is) has started commenting on his belly. He has just felt not quite right and he wants to change that.
Bob walks over to Alice and says, "Hi Alice, I want to get fit and I've noticed you eat healthy and talk about fitness a lot, perhaps you can help me?"
Alice turns looks to Bob with a smile and replies...
Section 1: "Why do you want to get fit?"
Bob looks confused by this question, so Alice continues, "Fitness isn't an overnight change it can take months or even years to complete. So if you want to get fit, you need to have the right motivation otherwise you might just give up.
Now from the people I speak with at Frozznastics training, motivation for fitness comes in a few ways:
- Health - This can be as formal as a doctor has commenting on your weight or cholesterol, or as simple as you noticing you are having trouble getting up the stairs. But at some point you decided you want to live a longer life.
- Ease of life - Being fit can help in day to day life. This can be as small as having the strength to a water cooler in place at work or joining in games at picnics without getting out of breath. But you've decided that you want to live a better quality life
- Life goals - You've hit a milestone and realise half your bucket list remains unchecked - you've never run a marathon, lifted your own weight, done a pull-up, done 100 push-ups, walked the local mountain, or been on a winning Frozznastics team. But you want to live a happier life
- Vanity - Try as we might to deny it, we are all a little bit vain. Perhaps you want to look better for your loved one, or look better so you can get a loved one! Or the healthiest and longest lasting motivater, you want to look better for yourself, but either way you want to live a sexier life.
Bob looked puzzled and said, "haha, I'm not vain". Alice cut him off, "Bob we are all vain, even me, some days when I have a hard day or things aren't great I will pause in front of the mirror, and be proud of the body I made for myself. Not all the time, but sometimes.
Often its a mix of all 4 motivators that help us make the decision to get fit. As long as you are honest to yourself and remember what motivates you fitness is easy! So Bob, what motivates you?"
Bob paused and stood silent.
"Well Bob, think about why you want to get fit, but until you can honestly tell me that you know how you want to improve over the next year, then I can't help."
Bob walked away deep in thought, and Alice went back to re-reading "Starting Frozznastics". A few days later Bob came over and told Alice that he had an idea of where he wanted to be - able to work in the yard without losing his breath, lower his body fat like his doctor suggested, and yes... a little better looking both for himself, but also he knew how much it would please Carol and set a positive role model for their kids.
Alice smiled, proud of her new brotege (its French for protege). "But Alice, I have no idea where to begin. I haven't exercised since high school and that was millions of push-ups...
Section 2: "How do I get fit?"
"I mean Frozznastics looks interesting, but I'm not sure that's my cup of tea."
"Bob, remember how I told you that fitness is a long term activity, the truth is fitness is for life. We need to help you find what you will enjoy doing so that it won't be hard to keep it going."
Bob was puzzled, "But I thought all exercise was hard?".
"Well, yes, all good exercise is tough, but its all about finding the kind of toughness that you enjoy. Even when they know they are out of energy, a runner will love the next mile. Even when they know that the next kilo will make them so sore they won't be able to move tomorrow, a lifter will smile as the load the bar. If you find something you enjoy, even when you are sore and your lungs are burning, you'll be happy with how much fitter and stronger it makes you on the inside as well as outside. Our challenge is to find out, are you a runner, lifter, swimmer, cyclist, gymnast, a crossfitter, a tough-mudder or even... a Frozznaut!"
Bob sat slumped in his chair, "That seems tough, I haven't even done half of any of those things, how am I supposed to know what I'll enjoy?"
Alice felt for her poor friend, before she started Frozznastics, she has well meaning friends drag her on 10km runs, and made her lift until her legs turned to jelly and one even took her to the pool so often she thought she was going to grow gills! Often experienced people forget, what they enjoy about fitness might not thrill others, thats why Alice wanted to help Bob find what he enjoyed, even if it wasn't Frozznastics.
"I'll tell you what Bob. One thing I do know is that when you start to get really fit, its always good to take a break from your routine to relax and let your muscles recuperate. So I'll tell you what, I'll help build a routine that explores all the different things you might enjoy, that we can do together. This way I can go with you to the gym and show you the ropes, besides a change might be good to expand my horizons too!".
Ever fretful, Bob looked a little worried. "That all sounds great but...
Section 3: "I'm a little intimidated by the gym"
"I mean its full of fit people, especially away from the machines, near the bar -thingies. I mean all of the guys there are huge and strong".
"Of course every one at the gym is fit, that's because they go to the gym. If you went to a library, the people over in the non-fiction section are also probably well-read, but that shouldn't stop you checking out the books or asking for a good book to read. Besides, everyone at the gym will keep to themselves and are more focused on their own motivations than yours. So with that in mind, lets talk about what you are going to do. Now, you said you wanted to go 3 times a week, so I've put a little plan together that we can run through together." Alice slide a piece of paper over to Bob..
Section 4: Alice & Bob's simple fitness program
This plan is designed to cover a few different activities and give you a taste of many different exercises so you can learn about what you want to do next.
There are two main workouts, that we will alternate on the days we can go to the gym. We alternate because our muscles need time between workouts to recover. While recovery from endurance activities like jogging can be as short as overnight, if you start lifting heavy weights its most useful to have a few days between working the same muscles.
Each workout has a Cardiovascular (cardio) component and a strength component. The cardio work comes first as an exercise on its on right, but also serves as a warm up to the basic strength exercises that come after.
Cardiovascular activity helps stress the heart, and as you run or ride for longer this can help lower your resting heart rate and improve overall mobility and endurance during everyday activity. Contrary to popular believe, cardio doesn't have special fat-burning properties, but there are numerous other positive benefits.
Strength training requires us to constantly increase the difficult of the work to see benefits, either by adding weight or changing the resistance through changes in angles or leverage. Strength training not only helps build muscle, but also can help improve bone density and flexibility. Strength training is also good for long term weight control as it causes more 'damage' to muscles which the body will repair using nutrients that may otherwise be stored as fat.
All of these exercises can be performed with dumbbells, but if you prefer barbells then you can use those instead. If possible perform all exercises in front of a mirror to see how your body moves and ensure you are performing the action correctly. Terminology: a rep or repetition is one full completion of a movement, up and down. A set is a number of repetitions. A barbell is a long, two-handed bar that can be loaded with weight and may be of a fixed weight, a dumbbell is a short, one-handed bar that is usually of fixed weight, but may be variable.
Cardio : 15 mins jogging or jog/walk. This is a light jog that gets you used to running. Each workout aim for an improved pace.
- Goblet squats - 5 reps x 5 sets. Aim to for a weight that ensures good posture. Hold a dumbbell to your chest and squat as low as you can. Keeping your head up will help keep your back upright to perform this movement in the safest manner. Squats help with balance and start building leg strength, but will also improve your flexibility in your quadriceps and hamstrings that will help if you choose to progress to a more advanced program that features back squats and deadlifts.
- Shoulder press - 8 reps x 5 sets. Aim for a weight that is taxing but allows you to complete the required sets. These build the shoulders and help outside the gym when lifting weights safely overhead. Using dumbbells practices lifting unsteady objects, whereas it's easier to lift more weight with a barbell.
- Push-ups - 8 reps x 5 sets. An old 'favourite', these build basic chest strength for pushing and don't require the setup of a barbell or the unsteadiness of dumbbells. How to do a good push-up: stand up, arms straight, hands by your side. Pull your arms out to about 45 degrees and then bend your elbow, so your hands are in line with, but just below your shoulders. Now face your palms forward and point your thumbs to the sky. That's a safe lowered position. We do these after the shoulder press, as that exercise leaves your chest fresh but exhausts your shoulders and triceps, forcing your chest to do more of the work in the push-up. Learning where to position your hands in a push-up will translate over to safely performing barbell bench presses.
Cardio : 15 mins alternate cycling or and rowing machine. These are designed to introduce other cardiovascular activities. If you prefer on of these more than running, then swap the activities around and experiment with what you enjoy. Each workout aim for an improved pace.
- Straight leg deadlift - 5 reps x 5 sets. Use a weight that allows you to keep your back straight. Stand up straight, holding the bar in your hands with your arms relaxed. Bend at the waist, but keep the back straight. Let the weight hang straight down, and lower as far as you can. Slowly lift yourself back to upright. You will feel tension in the hamstrings. Unlike the other lifts, keep your head in a neutral position facing forward, then as you lower keep your neck straight so at the bottom of the lift you are facing the floor. Deadlifts help improve your ability to safely lift an object when you need to bend to reach it, will help with your back and hamstring flexibility, and will strengthen your hamstrings in preparation of other other strength programs.
- Back rows - 8 reps x 5 sets. Place one arm on the wall or sturdy object, lean forward to about 45 degree, leave the other relaxed with a weight in hand. Using your upper back, pull the weight to your chest. After doing 8, switch hands. That's one set. These balance the pushing exercises and, because they're done unilaterally, give you practice bracing against rotation.
- Bicep curls - 8 reps x 5 sets. We all know what these look like. Hold a weight in a relaxed arm, bend your arm at the elbow and pose. These help make your arms look good.
Day 3: (Optional)
The above workouts will be fine for starters, but after a week or two on your non-workout days, start testing exploring other types of exercise. There is room for a 4th weight exercise on each day, look online and see what might be interesting to try. Additionally, explore other forms of physical activity such as team sports, rock-climbing, swimming or sprints. The goal here is to find exercise you enjoy.
Bob finished reading the paper and starting thinking about how sore he'd be after his first workout.
Two months later: Alice and Bob started going to the gym, and as he predicted Bob was usually sore after his workouts, but keeping his motivation in mind he kept working at it and was out of breath less. But the exercises had started to become to easy, so Bob walked over to Alice and asked...
Section 4: "Where to now?"
Alice replied, "What do you mean?"
"Well, I know that I'm not into Frozznastics, but I also know that this program is becoming too easy. What should I do now?"
"Well that all depends on what you enjoy. While I love it, Frozznastics isn't for everyone. This program is a very basic one that should improve your basic flexibility and functioning in day to day life. But if you are looking to challenge yourself you'll need something more and that all depends on what you enjoy.
- If you are interested in athletics or strength or power training, a book like Starting Strength would offer a good program and introduction into the benefits of strength training for passionate amateurs or seasoned athletes.
- If running is your forte, look into the Lore of Running, a text book that covers the physiology, nutrition and programs for running distances from as little as 5km up to 100km.
- If you are interested in the aesthetics of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding is one of best resources covering training and nutrition.
- If you enjoyed cycling, swimming, gymnastics or other sports, research online for resources or communities that can point you in the direction of good books and programs.
"But Bob, remember, fitness is a multifaceted endeavour. Which ever road you go down, remember to occasionally incorporate different activities both strength and cardiovascular to ensure your body is fit for all purposes."