By Jim Tucker
Regaining your fitness is a challenging yet worthwhile experience. You can compare it to taking a long mountainous hike. There will be highs and lows, times when you need to rest and recover, and break-through moments that will energize you and keep you moving forward. If you have never exercised, or have become significantly deconditioned over the years, your journey will require patience and special attention. Not only will your body feel the effects of this new realm of movement, but your mind will be challenged as you struggle to develop new habits and patterns of behavior. The most important thing to keep in mind when beginning an exercise program is: It is your path, your mountain, your journey.
If you are significantly deconditioned and overweight, have health concerns, experience joint pain, or your mobility is limited, you should not begin an exercise program before seeing your Doctor. Once approved by your Doctor, it’s time to get moving again. I recommend starting your exercise program with a Physical Therapist. Your Doctor can prescribe a short course of Physical Therapy to help you get started. Your Therapist can help you regain your mobility and teach you how to manage your pain and physical limitations, so that you can successfully transition to a community-based fitness program. After graduating from Physical Therapy, I recommend seeking guidance from a qualified and experienced Personal Trainer. A good Trainer will work within the exercise parameters established by the Physical Therapist, and provide the necessary guidance and support to safely progress your exercise program. They will teach proper exercise techniques that are functional, age and stage appropriate and tailored to your individual goals. They understand that helping people regaining their physical mobility and stamina will take time and consistent effort and they are trained to give you guidance and direction.
A common mistake that the “Beginning Exerciser” makes when starting a fitness program is to join a traditional gym. These are the low cost, big box gyms that specialize in luring people in by offering seasonal sales and big discounts. These gyms typically cycle through about fifty percent of their members every year and make their money by selling cheap memberships. They are often very crowded and full of exercise machines that rarely fit people properly. These machines are designed for isolated strength training which targets individual muscles rather than promoting healthy functional movement patterns. People sometimes wonder why their knee or back is hurting again; perhaps it was that leg press machine they climbed into or that seated torso-rotation contraption that they tried. Maybe it was the fifty minutes of crunches they did in the Ab-Buster Class? This fitness model does not work for most people as they often they find themselves wandering around the gym, confused, intimidated, injured, and discouraged because they haven’t made any progress, so they quit. Their journey is over before they have even reached the first bend in the trail.
As a Physical therapist I have treated many patients who have injured themselves by starting an exercise program too quickly. Generally, I advise people that it will take six to twelve months to safely regain their fitness and that this process cannot be rushed. I remind them that their bodies are designed to adapt gradually to physical stress; not rapidly. Their muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and connective tissues will become strong and more durable over time. This is the “conditioning affect” and the reason trained athletes are able to perform at such high levels and why deconditioned people are able to gradually get back into shape. A safer option to the traditional gym is to find a personal or small group training center that specializes in functional and sustainable fitness programs. Here you will get the support and attention you need to safely regain your physical capabilities and ultimately improve the quality of your life. Beginning your fitness path is the hardest part and the “mountain” looks so big, but with the right support and a little patience, your journey will get you to the top.