There are two primary obstacles to getting fit: Not knowing what to do and being afraid. Many individuals are scared to get injured or they lack the physical confidence to exercise in a public gym.
Others have never been physically active or lifted weights before and have no idea how to get started. After all, most forms of exercise require some skill. This article will tell you everything you need to know to design a successful workout program that can help you lose body fat and improve your health.
Pick An Exercise Mode
The first step is to determine which type of exercise you want to perform. Most important is to choose a form of exercise that makes you happy so that you enjoy it and stick with it.
Conventional advice recommends performing aerobic exercise as a good place to start. However, we recommend strength training as a top priority because you will get more out of your efforts than with a strict aerobic program. This doesn’t mean you can’t do aerobic exercise as well. It’s just that there are some drawbacks to doing aerobic exercise alone that strength training can counteract.
For example, strength training overloads the muscles so that they increase in size and strength. whereas aerobic forms of activity are associated with muscle loss over time. If your goal is to lose body fat and improve overall health, you need to avoid losing muscle because muscle degradation results in a drop in the number of calories your body burns and a reduction in metabolic function.
Additionally, strength training conveys many other health benefits: It increases strength, improves mobility, builds bone, improves hormone balance, boosts cognition, enhances coordination and reflexes, and reduce risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
What about other forms of exercise like HIT (high-intensity interval training), yoga, Pilates, or group exercise classes?
These are all great options that you can work into your training once you achieve a base level of strength and fitness. To avoid overloading yourself, focus on strength training for 3 to 6 months so that you can establish a solid workout habit, learn proper technique, and experience the joy of seeing measurable changes in your body composition.
Workouts are typically designed around exercises that are multi-joint (such as squats or lunges that use the hip, knee, and ankle joint or overhead press that use the shoulder and elbow) because these motions have the greatest carryover to daily life and they target the greatest amount of muscle at a time. Examples are squats, lunges, leg press, step-ups, chest press, rows, pull-downs, and overhead press.
Single joint exercises are also important because they allow you to train weak links and perform “pre-habilitation” exercises that are geared at injury prevention. Examples include back extension, hamstring curls, biceps and triceps exercises, and internal and external rotation for the shoulders.
Supersets in which you alternate between two exercises using opposing muscle groups are a time-efficient strategy. For example, you could do squats followed by chest press on a bench with dumbbells, alternating between exercises until you reach 3 sets. Then switch to a superset of step-ups and lat-pulldown. Finish with a back extension and external rotation.
When it comes to frequency, studies show that you’re going to get best results from training 3 or 4 times a week. Although not optimal, as little as one day a week of strength training can improve strength, muscle, and physical function. If you’re anxious about making the time commitment, start with 2 days a week to establish a habit and work up from there.
Training sessions should be about an hour including warm-up and cool-down. Longer workouts lead to a drop in training intensity—basically, people aren’t able to perform quality work for longer than an hour and they end up wasting their time. What about shorter workouts? Something is always better than nothing, however, you’re going to get the best results from doing a thorough warm-up, followed by 5 to 6 exercises, finishing with a cool-down.
Intensity refers to how heavy the weight you are lifting is. Intensity is always relative to the individual. This means that if you are training with weights in the 75 percent range, you are lifting weights that are 75 percent of the maximal amount you can lift. If you can squat 100 pounds one time, you should be lifting 75 pounds for 9 to 11 reps.
Of course, if you’re completely new to exercise, your max may be more like 20 pounds, in which case you’ll start with just your body weight, learning to lower and raise your body in and out of a squatting position with proper technique and without pain. As you gain strength, you can add weight and start using intensity to ensure you continue to progress by challenging your muscles.
Typically, we recommend alternating between a phase in which you focus on improving lean muscle by training with weights in the 65 to 80 percent range (moderately heavy) for 8 to 15 reps and a phase geared at increasing strength. A strength phase will use weights that are a little heavier (80-95 percent of maximal or “heavy”) for 2 to 8 reps. Each phase should be 3 to 6 weeks long. After 3 weeks, the body begins to adapt to your training and if you don’t switch up your workouts by 6 weeks, you’ll find your progress begins to stagnate and adaptations will plateau.
How Many Sets & Reps?
Studies show that up to a point, more sets are better for getting results. Five sets seem to be the sweet spot for young athletes, whereas novices can probably get away with 2 to 3 sets in a workout that includes 6 exercises.
Rest period length will depend on if your training for strength or for muscle/fat loss. When training with heavier loads to build strength, rest periods in the 2- to 3-minute range are ideal. When training for body composition, rest periods can be shorter in the 60-second range. Short rest periods are ideal because they trigger metabolic stress so that you increase lean tissue and burn fat, while targeting the aerobic energy system as well.
Don’t Forget Recovery
A common pitfall that novices encounter when starting a training program for the first time is to ignore the recovery process. We know from theories about how the body handles stress that the greatest adaptations occur when we overload the body’s systems, remove the stimulus, and provide rest and nutrition to allow the body to bounce back a little bit stronger each time. A good night’s rest, high-quality nutrition, and stress reduction strategies are all key elements to complete recovery so that you get the most out of your efforts for a long and joyous life.