TeleWellnessMD Blog

Finding the right workout program

Posted by Molly Hunsinger on Sep 28, 2015 1:16:16 PM


Yoga, Pilates, boot camp…so many things to try, so little time! Whether you’ve exercised regularly your entire life or you’re just starting out, if you create a routine that you don’t enjoy, can’t afford, or can’t squeeze in, chances are good that you won’t stick with it. Here are our top tips for finding the right workout program for you.

Covering the bases: the components of a complete routine

First things first…getting regular exercise is not optional for optimal good health. Ideally you need a mix of both cardio, strength training and stretching in addition to a balanced diet.

A common misconception for people who are just starting a routine is to focus only on cardio. But in that case, your body burns the energy stored in your muscles first and burns fat only as a last resort—it’s a frustrating arrangement! So, a body transformation occurs most efficiently by simultaneously gaining muscle through strength training and losing fat through aerobics and diet.

Keep these facts in mind:

  • Aerobic training: Activities like walking, swimming, and biking are all good for the lungs and heart.
  • Strength training: This is the only activity that slows muscle and bone loss while it promotes weight loss.

Your body needs energy to sustain muscle mass because muscle cells are metabolically demanding (high-maintenance); for every pound of muscle you add, your body burns 30 to 50 more calories a day even at rest. And those burned calories are more likely to come from fat reserves, which is really the whole point if your goal is to lose body fat.

If you’re just beginning your strength training routine or are a novice we recommend strength training 20 to 30 minutes two to three days a week. If you’re an old pro, you’re most likely strength training 30 to 60 minutes four to five days a week, so keep it up! Don’t forget to incorporate five to ten minutes of flexibility training to stretch your muscle groups before and after your strength training.

People over 60 who want to reduce their risk of falls and injury should start by strengthening legs, arms, and core muscles with two to three days of weight training a week for three to four weeks before walking long distances or engaging in aerobic exercise.

  • Flexibility training: To maintain good muscle health and reduce injury, we urge you to incorporate flexibility training through stretching, yoga and Pilates. These activities not only feel good but also increase the range of motion of your joints.

Aerobic exercise with weight training using lighter weights and more repetitions is better than weight training alone using heavy, bulking-type weights and exercises.

In order for your routine to work and be effective, it has to be something you want to do and take full responsibility for.

You need to decide:

  • What kind of workout you want: activities for both weight training and aerobics
  • Where you’re going to get it: at the gym, outdoors, at home
  • Which days of the week to devote to which activity: for example, Monday: gym, Wednesday: rollerblade in the park, Thursday: swimming etc.

Personalize and work with your routine until it’s comfortable. One trick to help you stay on track is to write down your plan or put it in your calendar on a Sunday night before you start your week. That way, you’re more likely to stick to it!

Then of course, you start working out. Many people are wonderful at putting plans together—and terrible at implementing them! The best exercise plan in the world won’t do a thing for you unless you actually do it.

Been a long time since you exercised?

People who have been sedentary for long periods (at least 6 to 12 months) may be at a higher risk for injury because muscle tone is weak, flexibility is limited, and balance is shaky. If you haven’t had much experience in the gym, start with some basic training. Many fitness centers offer circuit training, which consists of multiple machines with instructions and displays of the muscle groups that they target. You cycle through the machines, targeting all the muscle groups. You can increase the intensity as you go and concentrate on specific weak areas as you see fit. Aerobic activity can be worked into the schedule or you can alternate days between aerobic and strength training.

Factoring in your personality and lifestyle

When starting an exercise routine, you need to first evaluate your personality and lifestyle. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What motivates me? Motivation (or lack of it) has the power to start and stop a routine as fast as you can spit the word out. Many people simply don’t enjoy aerobic activities like running or biking, but may play volleyball or tennis for hours. Sports are a great source of exercise and joining a league locks you into a schedule. Paying for a membership gets some people to commit to the gym because they want to get their money’s worth. Make a bet or a deal with a colleague, friend, or partner that involves exercise or weight-loss goals. You can get motivated, but sometimes you have to be creative.
  • Can I stick to my guns all on my own, or do I need the support of a group class, support group, planned weight-loss program, workout partner, or personal trainer? Some people wake up one morning, make a decision to stop living life in an overweight or simply sedentary body, and change their habits instantly. Others have a bit more trouble following through. Maybe they need to socialize and engage with others who have the same goals to continue toward successfully achieving those goals.
  • What type of programs meet my health needs and interest me? Carefully consider what keeps you coming back for more. For some people, various classes at the gym are helpful; for others, the commitment to an upcoming 5K or a mini-triathlon piques their interest. Some people train for the next Iron Man competition, and others with limiting health conditions may set a goal to maintain their current health.
  • What resources are available to me, and how much money am I willing to spend? You can find an exercise program for any budget. Remember that allocating funds for your health is an investment that can reduce medical visits, medications, and time off work. It could be the best money you spend!
  • What time of day is best for me to work out? There’s really no perfect time of day that maximizes your workouts. Some researchers have tried to designate a particular workout time based on hormones and body rhythms, but no solid data is available. Some environmental restrictions, such as heat, cold, or rain, may make certain times of the day safer (and make you less likely to cancel). The best time of the day is the time that’s consistently available to you with the least interruptions. If you’re one of those people who says they don’t have time for exercise, start telling yourself you need to make time. Substitute that glass of wine or television time at night for work out time. You may have to set that alarm clock back an hour or work out during lunch a few days out of the week, while fitting in a quick meal before or after. You can even involve your family or partner to make sure that you get your exercise in.

When searching for time to work out, you’re really talking about priorities. Everybody can find two and a half to three hours per week to exercise.

People who work away from the home statistically cancel workouts more often if they go home before heading to the gym. After you hit the couch, forget about it. You need to plan your exercising before your go home—if you don’t, plan on every excuse in the book entering your mind after you walk through your front door.

Getting the goods

You don’t need to purchase expensive gym equipment to get a good workout. Sporting goods stores as well as major discount department stores have all sorts of products for at-home users or people who want companion pieces for their exercise classes. Many manufacturers feature products that run the gamut—from inexpensive starter kits to complete home gym systems with all the bells and whistles. Of course you do the workout, but what could be easier? Here’s a list of some basic equipment to get you started:

  • Handheld weights: Hand weights (also known as dumbbells) are a must-have for any do-it-yourselfer. The most popular variety is vinyl-coated for comfort and easy grip and color-coded by weight. They range in increments from 1 to 10 pounds, and the go up to 12 and 15 pounds.
  • Resistance bands: These bands are easy to use at any age or fitness level and offer your muscles a full range-of-motion workout. Resistance bands are long tubes that look like rubber jump ropes with handles. (Shorter versions come without handles, but we recommend the longer ones—the most popular and versatile variety—because you can always shorten them up for working out your arms.) Resistance bands are color-coded to indicate their strength (thickness).
  • Exercise stability balls: Who would’ve thought that sitting on a big, round ball would be a workout? Seems like a mere child’s play until you try to balance yourself and realize that your body is using micro muscles you forgot you had! These balls offer numerous exercises and activities that activate and strengthen those hard-to-reach core muscles often over-looked during normal training. The balls come in a variety of sizes according to your height. The most common are 55 cm (for people who are 5’1” to 5’7”) and 65 cm (for people who are 5’8” to 6’1”), although we’ve seen them as small as 30 cm and as large as 85 cm.
  • Floor mat: A closed-cell (nonabsorbent to wick away moisture foam mat that’s at least 5/8 of an inch thick is great to avoid slipping, and to provide comfort and support.
  • Workout videos: You can find an endless variety of workouts for every age, lifestyle, and fitness level. Try one from YouTube or Netflix tonight!
  • Good quality shoes: A comfortable and supportive pair of sneakers is essential. You don’t have to spend a fortune on the latest in technology trainers either. Make sure that your shoes have rubber soles and good arch support. More than anything, they should be comfortable. You any want to break them in before you wear them for your workout to avoid blisters. Good shoes are also important if you want to avoid knee pain. Many shoe manufacturers make cross trainers and other shoes for particular types of exercise. They need to be comfortably snug and have proper arch support and cushion to absorb the shocks of training. The wrong shoes can mean blisters, knee and back pain, and inflammation in the feet.

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*Agin, Brent, and Sharon Perkins. Healthy Aging for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub., 2008. Print.

Topics: Women's Health, Healthy Tips, Fitness

Molly Hunsinger

Written by Molly Hunsinger

Molly Hunsinger is a communications professional and certified group exercise instructor and fitness trainer. Her medical, health and fitness industry background spans nearly three decades. As a media professional, she has developed and launched award-winning allied marketing and advertising campaigns for high profile brands. Molly holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida with a concentration in journalism and digital media studies.

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