Building a Great Exercise Program

I’ve had a number of people ask me about building an exercise program that will work so here are my thoughts, enumerated in five main points:

First, get ready to workout. From my experience running Division I NCAA track and cross country, the hardest part of the morning runs we did at 6:30 am was getting up and tying my running shoes. Once I was out and moving, the mental aversion disappeared. When you think about it, once you put on your exercise gear, you are basically committed. You are not going to sit there ready to exercise and then not follow through. So, put on those shorts, tie your shoes, get to the gym, and the mental obstacle to exercise will be destroyed!

Second, a consistent program is a successful program. All you need is a 30-45 minute time commitment per day. Think about how much time you waste every day and carve out less than an hour of this time for exercise. You must develop a fitness plan and stick to it for the most part. You can be flexible, however – if things come up, you can adjust your schedule from time to time, but try to make those adjustments few and far between. If you become lazy and prematurely terminate the program, you will fall right back to where you started. As an incentive to not blow off an exercise session for TV, it takes a fraction of the time to lose the shape you worked so hard to achieve. Note: if you get injured or sense an injury coming, it is best to lay off until the pain disappears and/or the injury resolved. Further exercise on an injury can prolong recovery time significantly. Once committed to a plan, it’s difficult to take a day off, but one day missed early on is better than a week later.

Third, make it enjoyable (or as enjoyable as possible) to stay motivated. To that end, don’t go out and kill yourself one day and then take the next three days off. It’s better to take it easier and exercise everyday than train so hard you need three days to recover. Moreover, much of the recovery from an overly hard workout is mental. You want to finish your exercise session thinking “Yes, I feel good and I want to come out tomorrow and exercise again.” If you over exert yourself every time you train, you will be mentally burned out and training consistently will become a chore. Additionally, the longer you stay with the program, the harder you will be able to push without causing injury or mental fatigue. If possible, exercising with a partner is a great way to make it enjoyable and increase motivation.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, is diet. Eat everything in moderation, but make sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet. You don’t need to become a health nut, but there are some foods that are simply incompatible with an exercise program. Stay away from fast-food, greasy pizza, bacon, and other foods loaded in saturated fat. An occasional ice cream or pizza will not ruin the program, but don’t get in the habit of eating these foods frequently. You can exercise all you want, but if your diet consists of greasy, fatty foods, it’s going to be difficult to trim down. Next time you eat these foods just think about how much exercise you have to put in to burn off the fat and you will realize it’s just not worth it. Also, try to avoid eating just before you go to bed because your metabolism slows down while you are asleep. Finally, to the dismay of many people, I suggest limiting beer consumption. Beer is loaded with empty calories and you can get more than a meal’s worth of calories by drinking beers if you are not careful. I will write about the specific details of diet in a later post, so stay tuned.

Fifth, be patient. Do not expect to see a transformation in one week. There is no magical one-week fitness program. In fact, for most people it takes several months. However, you will see improvements early on and those will hopefully spur you to continue with the program. Once you get in the routine, it will be hard to not exercise.

This list is not exhaustive as there are many other factors that go into a successful exercise program, but with consistency, patience, proper diet, and motivation, you are well on your way to achieving your goals!

For the ever popular list of 10 great ab exercises see my earlier post here.

Feel free to drop me a line and I’ll try to answer any questions.

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2 thoughts on “Building a Great Exercise Program

  1. Pingback: Ten Suggestions for Efficient Workouts « Life at Stanford Law

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