With all the mild weather in New Jersey, I've seen a lot of people out there pounding the pavement the last few days. Looks like folks are getting a little bit of a head start on their New Year's Resolutions.
But let's set that aside for the moment. If you're a Resolutionary, you don't need me lecturing you on how it's such a bad approach and you're setting yourself up for failure. What the hell good is that doing anyone? Let's work on the premise that you've made the commitment to taking positive steps to better your health.
So can we have a conversation about making those Resolutions stick? Because that's really just a Conversation About Keeping Fit and Living Your Life.
Set real-life goals: Yeah, I do mean that you should set realistic, achievable goals, but that's not what I'm really getting at here. What I mean is that, at least for me, gratification comes from something tangible. A few years ago, before I'd started getting fit, a friend and I were dealing with a train commute from hell the night before Christmas break. There was a lot of running up and down stairs in Newark Penn Station. I had my work bag and was carrying a six-pack -- and I was completely winded. Being able to deal with that was a much bigger deal for me than doing a 5k or losing X number of pounds. And I have to say, when I did start slimming down, I got a lot more satisfaction from counting belt loops and eventually having to buy new jeans than from any particular number on the scale.
Yeah, it's hard: We all know there's no magic bullets, no miracle pill, no easy way to be fit. I'm not even going to make that argument because, well, if you're reading this, I'm preaching to the choir. Losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit. And unless you're going on a very non-Regular Guy restrictive diet, that means getting your heart rate up. This is science. But the trick is to figure out what works for you -- what your hard is. Try the talk test: At least some of your exercise should be rigorous enough that you'd have a hard time speaking a full sentence. Don't worry about the speed or incline on the treadmill, the resistance level on the elliptical, the time on your stopwatch. Get that heart rate up a couple times a week, and keep it up for 20 to 30 minutes. This article on endurance-race pacing might help. Don't worry about the race strategy, but focus on the yellow-orange-red guidelines. If you're looking for more specifics, do some Google research on V02 max, But ultimately, you simply need to get that ticker pumping if you are serious about creating a calorie deficit.
Screw perfection: Three months of 80 percent is better than one week of 100 percent. What does that mean? If 80 percent of the time, you eat the "right" foods and exercise portion control, and you're able to sustain that, it'll make a difference. If you beat yourself up over every cookie, you're going to be miserable. Same goes for exercise: Let's say you want to work out five days a week. You know what? If you get to it four days a week, on average, you're going to see results. And maybe that extra day of sleeping in is what gives you the energy to keep it going over the long term. This is probably the very core of the Regular Guy lifestyle.
Save your money (for now): If you're just starting out, don't spend a ton of money on equipment or fancy workout clothes. Everyone is different, and first you need to figure out what works for you. By that, I mean that you need to find the kind of exercise that you'll keep doing. You don't really need much more than a T-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and gym shoes that offer you some support. There are plenty of body-weight exercises you can try. Or maybe you'll go for race-walking. Or even drop $20 a month on a decent, local gym -- that's still a bargain compared to hundreds or even thousands on a piece of equipment at home. When you find whatever it is that suits you -- the thing that gets your heart rate up and that you'll do regularly -- then start thinking about the kind of gear you'll need to make a bigger commitment.
Talk about it: I'm going to be honest here. Most of your friends aren't interested and some may even get annoyed. I know someone who quit Facebook because he'd tired of reading about people's fitness updates. Don't be that guy whose entire life revolves around his bench press number or biking mileage. But you'll also find that you do have a ready-made support structure out there. I sure did. There were plenty of friends who'd experienced the same challenges and were willing to offer support or a bit of advice. There are lots of online groups, too -- like this one! I think putting it out there for the world is a great way to learn, and a great way to keep yourself accountable.
Remember, results don't come instantly, and setting unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster. Don't worry about the guy doing crazy intervals on the treadmill next to yours. Don't compare yourself to the photos in Muscle and Fitness. And most importantly, don't get discouraged!