By Dr. Jeff Spencer
Just as I was finishing tightening the chin strap of my bicycle helmet and ready to head out my driveway for the bicycle ride that I had been anticipating all day I heard someone behind me say, "Hey, Doc, can I ask you a quick question about fitness?"
As I turned around I came face to face with my neighbor who had ambushed me from behind on his morning walk proudly standing there in his brand new sweat suit and running shoes. I gave him a friendly hello and smiled and simultaneously knew from past experience that anytime I hear the words "quick question", it most often meant it would be more than a few word answer and more likely a full-blown conversation.
In response I said to my neighbor, "Sure, I've a moment (I said "moment" to set a time limit on the conversation so I could get to my bike ride), what's your question and how can I help you?"
He straightened up and said to me with unwavering conviction, "As of today I'm starting a new fitness program and I want to know what I need to do to make sure this time I stay motivated and make it "stick" so I get the body that I've always wanted?"
I thought to myself, wow, the word "stick" could not be more perfect word to describe the challenge so many people have with their fitness programs and what a great opportunity to help someone with great commitment and enthusiasm overcome that all too common hurdle and help them to reach their fitness goal of having the body they've always wanted and share with others how they did it.
Fall – The best time to start a new fitness program
So, I said to my neighbor, "That's a fantastic question and if you have a few minutes right now I can answer it, can you do that?" And, literally, within a nanosecond he emphatically answered, "Yes, as I'm starting my program today and don't want to blow it again, it's that important to me."
So, with that, I began by telling him that if there was ever a time to ask that question perhaps now is that time as the fall, in my opinion, is one of the best times of the year to begin a new fitness program for two reasons:
- Summer's over – With Summer over most schedules return to normal with kids back in school and vacations over which creates more predictable time to start and maintain a fitness program and when mixed with commitment are the elements for a successful, long-term fitness program.
- Getting a jump on the Holiday season – When a new fitness program is begun before the holidays it makes it easier to maintain the program throughout the holidays while maintaining a healthy body weight and to begin the new year with fitness momentum rather than having to generate it all over again.
Start Slow To Finish Strong – the secret sauce to create a successful fitness program
With my neighbor listening intensely to my every word, I said to him that the single most important thing he needs to do for the first month of his new program is to start the new program slowly because going slow is the only way to give himself the chance to make fitness a regular part of his life to achieve the fitness gains and body he'd always wanted.
I also explained to him that trying to get fit too fast inevitably leads to excess muscle soreness and fatigue which dramatically increases the risk of needless injury or illness that has caused so many people to unfortunately abandon their fitness programs that, if given the right chance and pacing, could have resulted in the fitness gains they had hoped for.
He expressed his thanks to me for my sharing that perspective with him and confided that with the previous fitness programs he has done he had always done too much too quick and became discouraged at the lack of results and abandoned the programs as the result of his misjudgment, and now realized that his too much, too fast perspective had backfired and it wasn't because he couldn't get fit, but it was because his program was based on the wrong premise that sounded so good but, yet, was so wrong.
I explained to him that his lack of results weren't because of his commitment or ability but 100% because his intensity wasn't sustainable and I reminded him that his ambition and intent was honorable and goal achievable but ultimately was doomed to failure, as too much too fast typically ends in premature physical and mental burnout, injury or illness making it impossible to follow through with a program.
Making "Slow" Stick
To reinforce the importance of "going slow" I told my neighbor that perhaps the greatest battle he would have fight to get fit and reach his goal was with himself to keep his "going slow" truly "slow" and not "half-fast" until it was time to increase his workout pace and intensity in one or two months when he was ready to increase it safely without risk of injury or illness.
Again, he profusely thanked me for explaining to him why in the past given enough time with any of his workouts he'd either get burned out, injured, or became ill and eventually quit the program.
To help him keep his "Slow" this time around to succeed with his new fitness program and achieve his fitness goals, I told him to implement the following proven recommendations used by those who know how to create a sustainable fitness program:
- Make it easy to do your workouts – Try to conserve as much time as possible doing your workouts. If you can save time by doing them at home, then do them at home, rather than go to the gym. But, if you need the structure and companionship of the gym to get the workout done then go to the gym.
- Never rush to complete your workouts – Always give yourself enough time to do your workouts and if you run out of time or find yourself not having enough time on a particular day to do your complete workout then reduce the reps and sets for each exercise of your workout to make you do all the workout exercises as its better to do all the exercises with few reps than a few exercises with all the reps.
- Keep your pace – Always keep your rest periods between sets the same during a workout so your workouts a finish on time with the proper effort to rest ratio.
- Be able to do more reps, but don't – At the end of each exercise set, have enough energy to do more repetitions as this will insure you that you'll have the energy to complete your workout.
- Have realistic expectations – The first goal when starting a new fitness program is to make sure you can do it over the long term and the best way to achieve that is to make sure the workout isn't too difficult that it creates excessive muscle soreness or fatigue preventing you from doing your next workout on schedule. When workouts are completed on schedule one after another week after week, the fitness and body contouring come most quickly.
- A little soreness is OK – Anytime anybody starts a new fitness program there will be some level of muscle soreness. However, if the soreness prevents you from doing your next workout then the workout was way too hard. When in doubt, do less.
- Dress comfortably – Comfortable dress allows all exercises to be done with complete ranges of motion and keep body temperature with normal ranges, otherwise increased body temperature can add stress to the body and promote unwanted fatigue.
- Do it in the morning – Morning exercise insures that the workout gets done. Though not always possible, morning working are a great insurance policy to promote workout compliance, too get endorphins flowing and set the tone for your day
- Be regular – Doing regular workouts best insures that fitness programs have the best of chance of becoming a part of the person's daily fabric and create long term health, fitness, body confidence, and pride of body ownership.
- Goals – The goal of your fitness program should be to do your exercises with correct form and complete each workout on time. When this is done the results will come. Focusing too much on results rather than the completing the workout often leads to unnecessary frustration.
Indicators confirming your "Start Slow, Finish Strong" strategy is working
It is always important to have objective criteria that tell you your strategy is working that confirms the time, effort, and faith you have put into your endeavor. This is particularly true with actions that do not provide immediate feedback such as with the "Start Slow, Finish Strong" strategy. The following indicators confirm that your pacing and intensity beginning a workout program are spot on include:
- Better sleep
- Increased energy
- Better life optimism
Looking back to move forward
For many people beginning a new fitness program there's often an overwhelming "rush" to achieve results too fast that's propelled by their enthusiasm to cram years of fitness change into only a few weeks. This will often overload the body leading to excess soreness, illness or injury that typically leads to bandoning the program and all too tragically believing that getting and staying fit is impossible. This, of course, isn't true, it's just that sometimes enthusiasm exceeded the reality of what it takes to achieve fitness goals.
The "Start slow, finish strong" mantra has proven itself to produce superior fitness results when diligently applied.
Oh, by the way, my neighbor stopped by and couldn't have been more proud to show me that he now had to tighten his belt another two holes to accommodate his new waist size, not to mention his ear to ear smile.
About the Author
Dr. Jeff Spencer, Olympian, ICA "Sports Chiropractor of the Year", and author is one of America's top builder of champions.
"Dr. Magic", as Dr. Spencer's often referred to, has been directly involved in 40+ World, Olympic, National and Tour de France championships. He has worked with NASCAR champion Bobby LaBonte, World Series MVP Troy Glaus, rock legend U2, and most known for helping Lance Armstrong win all 7 of his Tour de France victories on site. Dr. Spencer has also worked his "magic" with PGA, WTA, and Supercross champions, ultra-successful entrepreneurs and business standouts, NFL, MLB athletes, as well as Motocross and Formula 1 drivers.
Spencer received his master's in physical education and his undergraduate degree from University of Southern California and his doctor of chiropractic degree summa cum laude from Cleveland Chiropractic College in Los Angeles. He has taught post-graduate sports rehabilitation courses and frequently lectures on health, fitness, and wellness.
Dr. Spencer is the author of the acclaimed book, Turn It Up! How To Perform At Your Highest Level For A Lifetime and audio program "The Top 10 Tactics From The Champions Playbook".
"Jeff is part doctor, part guru, part medicine man… we believed Jeff could fix all of our problems… while he fixed us physically, he also fixed us mentally… If you judged the most important man on the team by the foot traffic in and out of his door, then it was Jeff. Without him, we know we'd never make it to Paris."
-Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts