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10 tips to making exercise routine and effective

weight training

You don’t have to pump iron, but it helps

In a previous post, we talked about 10 things to do in the kitchen to start that New Year’s Resolution for a healthier you off right. Today, we pull on the sweats and head to the gym (or the garage, or the whatever open space you can find between the kids’ toys in the basement).

The truth is, many of us don’t really understand what constitutes effective exercise or healthy nutrition.

This isn’t surprising, given that we’re bombarded with so many conflicting messages about nutrition and weight loss products that make big promises, but usually fail to deliver.

Based on our personal experiences, here are some keys to success:

1) The most effective exercise routine combines cardio and weights.

Cardio is important. It’s good for your heart and lungs, and helps condition your body for more intense forms of exercise, such as weight training, to reduce risk of injury.

But cardio alone does not build lean muscle mass. Weight training does.

Why does this matter? Muscles need energy. If you have more lean muscle mass, you burn more fat. Weight training also strengthens your bones, which is important for anyone at risk of conditions such as osteoporosis.

Men and women both begin to lose muscle mass and function as they approach 40. This is a natural process that affects even active people. Sufficient protein and caloric intake, as well as weight training, is your best defence.

2) What you eat is even more important than exercise.

You have to change how you eat. Period. Like we said in a previous post, any amount of exercise can be undone by poor nutrition. This doesn’t mean you starve yourself. Depending on your habits to date, it may in fact mean you have to increase your food intake, but with different choices.

There is no short cut for this. No “Get out of jail” free card. And no magic pill will help – in fact, most products promising weight loss without changes in your diet are more likely to do more harm than good.

3) Be in it for the long haul.

This isn’t a short-term effort. It has to be a sustainable lifestyle change in how you live. Otherwise, you will just go back to your old habits, and the old you will return.

4) Find a coach or fitness buddy.

This will help to keep you on track and accountable, until this change of habit becomes your new normal. They can also help ensure you’re exercising safely, to prevent injury.

5) Be consistent.

Obviously, the more often you go to the gym, the faster you will see results, but few of us have the time or the inclination to go every day. Three times a week is fair.

6) But don’t kill yourself.

Longer workouts are not necessarily better. Aside from warm up and cool down stretches and the like, a full workout shouldn’t run more than 45 minutes.

Studies have shown that regularly engaging in intense physical training for longer than 45 minutes at a time can elevate your body’s cortisol levels, causing breakdown of muscle mass and increasing fat gain.

So remember, work hard, but don’t go overboard. Shorter workouts more often are far more effective than marathon workouts once in a while.

7) Cardio comes in many forms.

Cardio, at its most basic, is simply keeping your heart rate elevated (but to a safe level), for an extended period, or cycling through short periods of intense then light activity (interval training). It doesn’t matter if it’s running, rowing, stepping, plyometrics (jump training), or just walking fast. The stronger your cardiovascular health, the more oxygen is delivered to your muscles when they’re active, which means they’ll burn more energy and/or fat.

8) You don’t have to pump iron to weight train.

Weight training can be mysterious and daunting for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. All you’re trying to do is make your muscles work under some kind of resistance.

This resistance can come from traditional free weights, but depending on your fitness level and goals, you can also build lean muscle mass and strength with the resistance machines common to any gym. There are also resistance bands – essentially giant rubber bands that come in a variety of sizes. These are good for working out at home or even while travelling.

With either machines or bands, there is less risk of injury and need for a helping hand than there is with some of the exercises that can be done with free weights.

And don’t forget the most basic form of weight training – body weight training that doesn’t involve any weights. This includes push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, ab crunches, and the like.

9) But pumping iron does have some real added benefits.

The classic “pumping iron” with free weights is beneficial because it simulates the kind of lifting you have to do in real life. It encourages stabilization of your whole body – when you lift, other muscles beyond the ones that are the focus of a given exercise are also activated.

10) Technique and posture matter.

Regardless of whether you are using machines, bands, or free weights, you must always be mindful of proper technique and posture. This isn’t only to prevent injury, it’s to get the most benefit from a given exercise, so that you are actually working the muscles you mean to.

The need for proper technique and posture is doubly important when carrying out big compound exercises with free weights, like squats or deadlifts, to avoid a back or other injury.
It may also be best to train with a buddy who can spot you and lend a hand if muscle fatigue gets the best of you.

On a final note…

We recommend seeking the services of a personal trainer, at least to get you started, so that you understand what to do and how to do it. This is a great time of year to take advantage of introductory specials at local gyms, to get some professional help at a modest cost.

A certified and experienced trainer can determine if you have any muscle imbalances, provide you with a proper program based on your goals (i.e. how many days a week you should work out, how many reps and sets you should do, what should be your tempo, etc.). They can also modify your program on an ongoing basis to keep it fresh and effective. Most importantly, they can teach you proper technique.

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