Resolutioneer’s Guide To Not Burning Out (original post date 12/21/2012)

They’re coming. The Resolutioneers.

Every year, they show up in droves to the gym to get in shape. And they take no prisoners. They’ll go from machine to machine, throw weights around and run so much that they consider selling their car. And in the space of about 2 months, between 50 and 80 percent of those people will stop exercising…at least until next January

A lot of unnecessary worry, anxiety and poor fitness habits are created during the holiday season. It starts with eating the leftover Halloween candy and finally ends with whatever is ingested on New Year’s Eve. Guilt accompanies every meal as people become acutely aware of every ounce of food they eat. You ate an entire apple pie by yourself, half a turkey in record time and your pants only fit if you hold your breath like a world-class abalone diver. That’s when you swear you’ll never eat another Toblerone again. It’s a new year and you’re going to change everything! No pressure at all right?

It’s actually a lot of pressure. Without knowing what can be expected realistically, many people rush off to the gym on January 2nd hoping to lose 15 pounds in 2 hours. Short of amputation, there is no real way to lose that much weight in that time frame. But invariably I’ll still see people hop off the treadmill to get on the scale, shake their head in disgust and then get back on the treadmill. I actually feel bad for these people because the dedication is there, but due to a lack of knowledge of how the body works, they are squandering their efforts.

Water Weight

Yes, you can sweat out a couple pounds by running in a rubber suit. If you need to weigh in for a wrestling match, this is a perfectly logical solution. For any normal purpose however, this only serves to dehydrate you faster. As soon as the person drinks enough water to replenish what they sweated out, they’ll be back to their old weight. Hence the whole “I can’t believe I just gained it all back!” outburst that follows these types of workouts. I know you’ve heard of “water weight”, and this is a perfect example. Your body is a living, fluid based machine. Your weight fluctuates throughout the day. Even your height varies from hour to hour (you’re taller when you’re asleep as your spine can decompress slightly). So expecting to be exactly 132.7 pounds all the time is about as realistic as expecting a unicorn to be your workout partner. Give yourself a range, say from 130 to 135 pounds, so that normal variances with eating food, drinking fluids and getting rid of the byproducts can be accounted for without causing you to go into a rage when the scale says 133.5.

Time

Sure you can exercise for 4 hours a day. It helps if you are in college full-time where your real world responsibilities are at a minimum, or a professional bodybuilder where sponsors pay you to workout and drink shakes. Regular adults with jobs, spouses, kids, and other grown-up accessories tend to have far less free time for themselves. Truth be told, only 15-30 minutes a day is enough to get started into an exercise program. In fact I highly recommend doing very short workouts in the beginning for a few reasons:

  1. You don’t have to set aside hours each day and won’t be tempted to quit because you can’t find time.
  2. It allows you to ease into a routine gently. Nobody goes from driver’s ed to Rockingham Speedway in one week and nobody goes from sedentary to RGIII in a week either.
  3. The less time you spend working out means less chance of getting injured. Exercise is very safe, but only as safe as you make it. Not reading the instructions on machines (I still do after 16 years of using gyms), copying what some other person is doing, or putting too much strain on your body are all common mistakes that are made in the New Year craze.
  4. When muscle soreness sets in at its worst, usually 48 hours after a particular group is worked, people who are not used to that feeling may assume they injured themselves and give up. And if they made the mistake of working the same parts over and over, being able to move at all will be a miracle.

Gyms

There is nothing wrong with joining a gym but just make sure you are realistic in what you think you’ll be able to sustain. Everyone swears when they sign on the dotted line that they’ll go 5 or 6 days a week and that signing a contract for 2 years at a reduced monthly rate makes sense. But there’s a reason gyms like to get you to sign up for multiple years all at once. If you workout for a week and never step foot in the facility again, they already have your money. It’s up to you to make the most out of your membership. Most gyms offer a variety of services from free classes, to free consults with a nutritionist or trainer, to childcare service. But you have to actually go to the gym in order to take advantage of these perks.

Diets

Diets are for the most part, a temporary change to one’s eating habits. And most are unsustainable. I’ve heard some good ones over the years. “I only eat strawberries and grilled chicken breasts.” or “I drink a weight loss shake with my alfalfa sprout salads”. Seriously, take a look at some of these diets they promote in magazines and tell me how long you can go eating only steamed vegetables, long grain rice and albacore tuna before you go Nicky Santoro on someone? Only education about what calories do once they get in your body and why it’s good to have fat, sodium and even carbohydrates in your daily meals will help eliminate this issue. Contact a local nutritionist to help you understand what advertisements aren’t telling you (food isn’t evil although some ingredients are).

Home Workout Videos

Home workout programs are great to get people motivated, provided they are motivated enough to actually press play. A huge advantage of going to a gym is that you are basically forced to workout. At home, your intentions may be good but there are too many distractions. Your phone rings…the kids stop up the toilet with toys…you start rummaging through the fridge…you decide to take a short break. By the time an hour has gone by you’ve done a grand total of 15 minutes of movement. While the home workouts are a good assist, or a welcome change of pace, you have to meet them halfway. Simply watching other people won’t give you any results.

A happy workout is a productive workout. Eating without vilifying your food not only makes you feel better but reduces stress levels. Do yourself a favor and ease into working out slowly. Get educated in your own body and why what’s recommended is probably not going to work for you without some modifications. Hire a trainer and or a nutritionist to assist you. They don’t like to see people give up after 2 months and will be happy to help make real changes that will last and that you can live with.

There is nothing wrong with turning over a new leaf. Just don’t try to chop down the whole tree at once!

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