Avid gym members resent crowded environments come the New Year. They get frustrated that their favorite spot in Spinning class is taken by a newbie and that the free weight section is impossible to navigate without fear of tripping or getting a black eye from flying dumbbells as people enthusiastically show off their moves. Polite gym members hide their impatience because they know that this rapid influx of people will die down within about 4-6 weeks. Does this scene sound familiar?
This year, you won’t be one of those individuals who burns out or who asks for an abrupt time out from exercise come February or March. It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie feigning familiarity with mysterious looking exercise equipment or a “seasoned pro” who freely offers fitness tips to friends because this year, you can each establish a successful gym routine. In this article, you will learn a few fundamentals that will help you plan your exercise schedule and see results! Not a bad deal, I must say!
The two concepts we are going to discuss are traditionally applied to running. These concepts are easy to grasp and can apply to any exercise setting or schedule. The first is called the “10% Rule.” This rule states that one should only increase their exercise intensity by 10% week-to-week. For example, if a woman is running 10 miles total on Week One then she should only run 11 miles the next week. Simple math. Non-runners, I haven’t forgotten you!
There are plenty of ways to apply the 10% Rule to your workout routine. For example: Sarah enjoys working out on the elliptical 3x/week for 30 minutes and lifts weights 2x/week for 20 minutes. Her total exercise time is therefore 170 minutes. Sarah can apply the 10% Rule to see more results week-to-week. She may choose to increase one of several factors for Week Two: 1) the intensity of a cardio workout, 2) the amount of resistance during her weight training, 3) the time spent doing cardio, or 4) the time spent weight training. In scenario three and four, Sarah will either add 15-20 minutes to one of her current workouts or she may add an extra, short exercise session on another day of the week.
This gradual progression gives the body proper time for recovery, allowing it to become stronger and more resilient. It also ensures that you avoid burning out. A tough exercise routine can backfire. Big time. (Remember I mentioned the January gym mob? It lessens by February because many people hit the gym too hard. Their intensity wasn’t sustainable.) Exercising too hard and too quick can lead to injury or overtraining. A few symptoms of overtraining include increased resting heart rate, sleep disturbances, irritability, depression, change in appetite, decreased sex drive, and more. No fun. Lastly, the 10% Rule helps you PLAN. A haphazard exercise routine is better than none but most people will find they’re on their way to feeling great if they have a road map.
Quick Tip: Map out your exercise plan and put a copy of the schedule on your fridge. Keep a highlighter handy and color over the days you have completed. This will help you stay on track and will offer a visual for your progress. It’s a good idea to include rest days on the chart – give yourself credit for those too!
For those of you who are not currently in an exercise routine, no worries, I’ve got you covered. A general suggestion I like to give new clients is to try to commit to 2-3x/week for working out. I suggest allowing for at least one recovery day in between each exercise day. This is a great start and will ensure that your body can safely adapt. You will also feel GREAT once you’ve completed your workouts, proving to yourself that you can manage exercise after all. After a month of completing this routine then you can start to follow the 10% Rule.
For those of you who are already crazy about fitness, I will give you permission to err slightly from the 10% Rule; however, be wary. Sometimes being mentally stubborn and pushing your body to an unhealthy extreme can give you “negative results” – and that’s not what you want, is it?! I don’t want that for you either.
The second concept that many runners abide by is the “negative split” to improve their race times. This means that a runner intentionally runs the first half of a road race or training run at a slightly slower pace so that they have energy to shift gears and run fast for the second half. Think about it: the runner actually improves their time by running a little slower in the beginning. In a road race this is because of lactic acid and other limiting factors of the body’s energy systems. Applying this concept to a regular weekly exercise routine can also provide many benefits.
Not every workout in the beginning of a routine has to be slow or easy but in general, your body wants to build up to the hardest moves and the most intense stresses rather than start with them. For example, on Day One would you attempt to max out on shoulder press, do cardio for 3 hours, or take multiple new exercise classes back-to-back? I should think not! Although some unfortunate souls try anyways. In other words, take a deep breath and think wisely about how you approach your goals this new year. You need not hit a road bump. You need not doubt yourself.
Plan your routine. Prepare your body. Pace the journey.
(And ask me questions!)
Yours in health and wellness,