Re-establishing an exercise routine

I recently went to the doctor for a full physical for the first time in three years. I waited so long because I always had something “more important” to do: busy with a new job, Bubelah was pregnant, Little Buddy had arrived. If you have a newborn at home, you feel like you’re at the doctor far too much. Between shots and colds and the other hazards of infanthood, a visit to the pediatrician on a weekly basis seems normal. So after visiting the doctor and finding out that nothing was wrong other than a cholesterol level higher than ideal (but still within normal ranges) and the fact that I was overweight, I realized I have to get started exercising regularly again. I’ve been exercising but intermittently, and a bad weightlifting episode a few weeks ago really set me back. These tips are almost ‘live’ for me, since I am applying them right now to try to get back in a routine.

Any exercise is better than none. I have always enjoyed running and lifting weights (although a very specific method to build core strength, not muscle mass) and not much else. Running, when you are doing it well, gives you a ‘high’. I have been trying to motivate myself to do push ups or more ‘muscle building’ weightlifting, and I have a lot of trouble with these exercises. I realized that I need to focus on exercise I enjoy, because even if it’s not as effective for my goals, they will work much better than a planned and skipped targeted exercise.

Take it easy. I made a huge mistake trying to ‘lift to failure’ a few weeks ago. Lifting to failure means that you lift the heaviest possible weights you can, for as long as you can maintain good form. The most common sort of weight training is set training, where you lift a moderate weight eight times, then pause, then repeat for as many sets as you are able (usually expected to be 2-4 sets). When I lifted to failure, I was sore for days and didn’t feel like exercising again for almost a week. Before you write that off as a mistake, understand that my intention was to start building muscle mass, and lifting to failure is a good way to do that. After one session I felt some noticeable improvement in my biceps. But the damage done to my workout program from skipping a week makes it a bad idea.

Set public goals. Setting public goals is an idea proposed by many self-improvement gurus. Leo at Zen Habits is a particular proponent of this idea. Make sure people know you are planning on running the next day. Often a mild embarrassment at missing your run and feeling a need to sheepishly defend your decision to skip is enough to make you pull yourself on out the door.

Get ready beforehand. Little Buddy is a light sleeper, and his nursery is right next to the study where I keep my running gear. If I don’t get the gear out the night before, I have to tiptoe with an insane amount of effort into the study to retrieve my socks and running shorts and shirts without waking him. Fear of waking him early, which means a long cranky day for him and for Bubelah, means that I might skip a workout if I forgot and left my gear in the study. So getting everything out and taking it downstairs to the living room the night before makes a big difference! Eat. I have made the mistake before of launching a diet and an exercise program at the same time. For me, at least, this is a bad idea. Weightlifting in particular requires fairly substantial food intake. I try not to alter my eating patterns and my exercise patterns at the same time.

Enjoy. Too often people view exercise as a chore, but every time I work out I feel better afterwards. Even in the ‘lift to failure’ episode above I had a great adrenaline rush afterwards. Try to look forward to working out instead of dreading it. I think these basic tips make it easy to get restarted after a layoff. There are other things that make it easier. For example, right now it’s hot and muggy in New Jersey, which makes my 5:30 AM runs very pleasant. The sun is just coming up, it’s not dry, which helps the lungs, and it’s warm, so light running gear is plenty. When it’s February and freezing I feel much less motivated to run. The weather is always a big motivator, even if you go to a gym. Who wants to drive to the gym in ice and snow, even if the gym is heated? So wish me luck in reestablishing my training program in running and weightlifting (running first, then weightlifting). My goal is to get back in competitive race shape. I haven’t run a competitive race in more than a year now, so I want to get back to that rather than the halfhearted jogging I’ve been doing lately. There’s my public goalsetting!