Richard Hoo-Fung, Physiotherapist
Are you ready to create a complete fitness program based around activities you enjoy?
Do you need help in setting up your program inclusive of detailed instructions for developing and maintaining fitness?
If so this information concerns you.
Step 1: Set Goals
Setting goals to reach through exercise is a crucial first step. Ask yourself, “What do I want from my fitness program?” Develop different types of goals-general and specific, long term and short term. General or long-term goals might include things like lowering your risk for chronic disease, improving posture, having more energy, and improving the fit of your clothes. It’s a good idea to also develop some specific, short-term goals based on measureable factors. For example, to reduce the time it takes you to jog 2 miles from 22 minutes to 19 minutes, increasing the number of push-ups you can do from 15 to 25, and lowering body mass index (BMI) from 26 to 24.5. Having specific goals will allow you to track your progress and enjoy the measureable changes brought about by your fitness program.
Physical fitness assessment tests are essential to determining your goals. They help you decide which types of exercise you should emphasize, and they help you understand the relative difficulty of attaining specific goals. If you have health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, or serious joint or muscle disabilities, see your physician before taking assessment tests. Measure your progress by taking these tests about every three months.
You’ll find it easier to stick with your program if you choose goals that are both important to you and realistic. Remember that heredity, your current fitness level, and other individual factors influence the amount of improvement and the ultimate level of fitness you can expect to obtain through physical training. Fitness improves most quickly during the first 6 months of an exercise program. After that, gains come more slowly and usually require a high-intensity program. So don’t expect to improve indefinitely. Improve your fitness to a reasonable target level, and then train consistently to maintain it. Sometimes you may lose fitness-due to illness, injury, missed workouts, or on a vacation- so you must begin again at a lower level. Developing fitness is a dynamic process that involves gains and losses. Even if you lose ground occasionally, stay with your program, and you’ll be able to achieve your goals.
Step 2: Select Activities
It’s usually best to include exercises to develop each of the health-related components of fitness.
- Cardiorespiratory endurance is developed by activities such as walking, cycling, and aerobic dance that involve continuous rhythmic movements of large-muscle groups like those in the legs.
- Muscular strength and endurance are developed by training against resistance.
- Flexibility is developed by stretching the major muscle groups.
- Healthy body composition can be developed by combining a sensible diet and a program of regular exercise, including cardiorespiratory endurance exercise to burn calories and resistance training to build muscle mass.
One strategy is to select one activity for each component of fitness-bicycling, weight training, and stretching, for example. Another strategy applies the principle of cross-training, using several different activities to develop a particular fitness component- aerobic classes, swimming, and volleyball for cardiorespiratory endurance, for example.
[Cross-training: Alternating two or more activities to improve a single component of fitness.]
If you select activities that support your commitment rather than activities that turn exercise into a chore, the right program will be its own incentive for continuing. Consider the following factors in making your choices.
- Fun and Interest. Your fitness program is more likely to be successful if you choose activities that you enjoy doing. Start by asking yourself, “Is this activity fun? “Will it hold my interest over time?”
- Your current skill and fitness level. Your current fitness level may limit the activities that are appropriate for your programme. For example; if you have been inactive a walking programme would be more appropriate that a jogging programme. Activities in which participants control the intensity of efforts such as walking cycling and swimming for example, are more appropriate for a beginning fitness programme than sports that are high paced such as football, basketball and tennis
- Time and convenience. Unless exercise fits easily into your daily schedule you are unlikely to maintain your programme over the long term. As you consider activities think about whether a special occasion of facility is required. Can you participate in the activity close to your residence, school or job? Are the necessary facilities open and available at times convenient to you? Do you need a partner or a team to play? Would a home treadmill make you more likely to exercise regularly?
- Cost. Some sports and activities require equipment, fees, or some types of membership investment. If you are on a tight budget, limit your choices to activities that are in expensive or free. Many activities require no equipment beyond an appropriate pair of shoes.
- Special Health needs. If you have special exercise needs due to a particular health problem, choose activities that will conform to your needs and enhance your ability to cope. If necessary consult your physician about how best to tailor an exercise programme to your particular needs.
Step 3: set a target frequency, intensity and duration for each activity
The next step is to set a starting frequency, intensity and duration for each type of activity you have chosen. One way to check whether the total duration you have set is appropriate is to use the calorie costs. This is the amount of energy used to perform a particular activity, usually expressed in calories per minute per pound of body weight.
Refer to your physical therapist for further details.
Step 4: set up a system of mini goals and rewards
To keep your programme on track, it is important to set up a system of goals and rewards. Break your specific goals into several steps, and set a target date for each step. For example, if one of the goals of your programme is to improve upper body strength and endurance you could use the push-up test. If you can currently perform 15 push-ups you might set up intermediate goals of 17, 20 and 25 push-ups. By allowing several weeks between mini goals and specifying the rewards you’ll be able to track your progress and reward yourself as you move towards your final goal. Reaching a series of small goals is more satisfying than working towards a single more challenging goal that may take months to achieve. Realistic goals, broken into achievable mini goals, can boost your chances of success.
Step 5: include lifestyle physical activity into your programme
As part of your fitness programme plan, specify ways to be more active during your daily routine. Identify routine opportunities to be more active and add these to your programme plan.
Step 6: develop tools for monitoring your progress
A record that tracks your daily progress will help remind you of your ongoing commitment to your programme and give you a sense of accomplishment. Post your log in a place where you see it often as a reminder and as an incentive for improvement. If you have specific, measureable goals, you can also graph your weekly or monthly progress towards your goal. To monitor the overall progress you may choose to reassess your cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition every 3 months or so. Be sure to compare results for the same assessment over time.
Step 7: Make a commitment
final step in planning your programme is to make a commitment by signing a personal contract. Find a witness for your contract preferably one who will be actively involved in your programme. Keep your contract in a visible spot to remind you of your commitment.