As summer begins, those of us who have been double-fisting pints of Ben and Jerry's all spring are starting to regret our choice of hibernation snack. The weather is warming up and it's getting harder and harder to justify hiding ourselves underneath oversized sweaters. This was supposed to be the summer of toned arms and flat stomachs, of huge biceps and rippling pectorals... unfortunately, this year's New Year's resolution, like every years', fell apart somewhere between MLK day and Valentine's. Don't worry though! The summer is long. The puffy, pale, distended body you see in the mirror on Memorial Day can be turned into something passable by August. By Labor Day, you might even be (glances wistfully at the thought bubble forming above own head) hot. Whether you want to start rocking your old two-piece or you just want the confidence to take your shirt off in the pool, here are some fitness tips to help you out on your journey.
Make working out habitual
If you genuinely want to get in shape, it's generally recommended that you to workout at least 3 to 4 times per week. If you're trying to get in shape quickly, 5 to 6 times is probably more appropriate. Most people who don't regularly exercise have a well-worn list of excuses, but the biggest one is: "I don't have the time." This excuse is bullshit. It's predicated on the idea that someone can't find 35 to 45 minutes in his or her day to go for a run or lift some weights. The real problem is, for the first few weeks of working out, exercise doesn't feel like a daily habit yet. When just starting out, I recommend exercising at a very specific time of day so that it can become a ritualized part of your routine. Once you've turned it into a habit, exercise won't feel like such a chore. It'll take on a role similar to eating lunch or brushing your teeth.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when getting into shape is your diet. The fact of the matter is, exercise doesn't burn that many calories. For example, running a 10k (6.25 miles) usually only burns between 700 to 1,000 calories. That's less than a Chipotle burrito. The rule of thumb when losing weight is: 80% diet, 20% exercise. For those heavy eaters out there, I know barbecue is delicious and it's nearing the 4th of July, but no one needs to eat four bratwursts in one sitting. That's at least two meals. Moderation is key.
On the flip side, don't stop eating altogether. Besides being extremely unhealthy and detrimental to your ability to build muscle, cutting calories to below 2,000 a day for men and 1,500 a day for women can change your metabolism. Yes you can lose weight quickly by heavily reducing your calorie intake but 1.) You'll feel extremely weak, and 2.) As soon as you start to eat like a regular person again, the weight will come right back.Diet doesn't have to be as complicated as you think. Cut beer in exchange liquor. Cut soft drinks in exchange for water. Don't eat anything deep-fried. That still leaves every major food group intact and if you exercise regularly, it's okay to give yourself a cheat day every once in awhile.
This is perhaps the biggest cliché on the list, but it's true. When you workout, set goals for yourself. They shouldn't be goals centered on your physical appearance. I know that's the reason you started working out in the first place and this all seems very counterintuitive, but trust me. Your goals should be different physical feats that you can build up to. For example, a good 6-week goal for a newbie is being able to complete a 5k (3.12 miles) in under 30 minutes. Other good goals might be lifting a certain amount of weight, holding a plank for a certain period of time or doing a certain amount of push-ups.
The reasoning behind this is simple. If you constantly look at yourself in the mirror and try to spot fix your flabby arms or bloated stomach, you're going to feel miserable. If you set tangible goals to hit, there are two effects. First, you will get a sense of achievement that will help propel you to your next objective. Next, if you keep at it, your goals will eventually be pretty difficult and it's tough to look out of shape when you can do 50 pushups or run 5 miles in under 40 minutes. Setting goals will give your workout a sense of purpose, the feeling that you're building something. In a sense you are.
Don't do classes (at least not all the time)
I'm going to catch a lot of flak for this one, but hear me out. The typical class is run by a professional and goes at a particular speed. If you're exercising for the first time in a while, you may have quite a difficult time in a class setting. This not only limits your ability to participate, but it can also be a self-esteem killer.
The other issue with classes is that while a group setting can help motivate some people to workout, group fitness can become a bit of a crutch. If you can only exercise when surrounded by other class-goers, what happens when there are no classes available or you decide to tighten your budget? It's easy to push yourself for 8 to 12 weeks, but it's much harder to develop the mentality and dedication required to stay in shape over a long period of time.
This isn't to say never take classes. Cycling classes can be some of the most challenging cardio workouts around and a lot of group fitness routines provide a fun change of pace; just don't forget to do some of the work on your own. Working out alone may seem ascetic in comparison to the cool fads out there, but don't be fooled: classes are meant to supplement your workout routine; they aren't enough on their own.
Don't push yourself too hard
There is nothing wrong with training hard. In fact, if you want to see results, it's more or less a necessity. That being said, the last thing you want to do is overexert yourself and end up knocked out of commission. Rome wasn't built in a day. You aren't going to be able to run 10 miles after a week of cardio training. Especially for the first 4 weeks of exercise, it's important to take it slow and listen to your body. Chances are, you'll be doing movements that you don't do regularly. Doing too much too fast significantly increases your chance of serious injury. If you're worried about this or have preexisting injuries, it may be worth investing in a personal trainer for your first few workouts.
All in all, working out should be fun. Find a buddy with similar goals and set up a friendly contest or track your progress on your own and compete with yourself. Getting in shape takes a bit of effort for the first few months, but if you can follow these relatively easy steps, you'll definitely start to feel healthier and slowly but surely, start to look better too. Everyone's an athlete. You just have to take that first step off the couch. So get out there!