Fools Rush In – The Smart Way to Get Physically Fit

Funny retro nerd flexing his muscle over blue backgroundIn my recent post about flourishing, I announced I’m ready to *finally* give a serious boost to my fitness. My fitness levels have risen steadily for a couple of years, but my progress has been so slow it’s like watching grass grow. Boring. No challenge.

I was very excited immediately after I made my decision. Then, after a couple of days I began thinking more carefully about my decision. How am I going to approach my project this time around? How can make sure that I will be successful in my quest for getting physically fit?

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My first instinct was what it always is: to start doing more (much more) of what I already do, even though part of me knows that’s an approach that will lead nowhere. I call it the “try harder” approach.

After thinking for a while I decided I need to be able to answer some questions before I rush into anything.

I believe that answering the following three questions is important to anyone who wants to give a serious boost to improving their fitness – and it’s especially important to anyone who is in their forties.

If you take time to answer these questions before you start, you will be less likely to abandon your project prematurely.

Question #1: What is your focus?

If you’re in bad shape, you are actually in a happy place because almost anything you do is going to increase your fitness.

Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to ask yourself what are you going to concentrate on. Do you want to increase your aerobic fitness or get stronger? Or both? How you answer the question determines pretty much what you’re going to do.

I know what I want. I want to become stronger and it’s not that important to increase my cardiovascular fitness at this point. So it pretty self-evident I will concentrate on strength training and not running. And I’m not going to overdo even that –  three intense strength training sessions per week is enough. I intend to take some walks during the week, but strength training is my number one priority.

It’s not necessary to concentrate on all aspects of physical fitness at the same time. Choosing one focus area may also free some of your time.

Question #2: Do you have physical limitations you need to take into account?

If you’re in your forties like I am, you’re probably already suffering from the consequences of years – or even decades – of neglecting your body. Your joints creak and your thoracic spine is as flexible as a piece of hardwood after all years of stooping in front of your computer.  Or you may have old injuries that limit what you can do.

This was perhaps the most important question for me to answer.

Like I’ve told many times, I tend to accumulate muscle tensions in my upper back, shoulders and neck. I even had to abandon my military push up challenge last spring just because training my upper body aggravated my migraines. There is no way I’m going to succeed in my project if it means I have to spend days on end feeling nauseous and unwell or suffering from migraines.

I’m pretty sure you can’t get away with this either. I bet that if you adopted the try harder approach, you’d be able to see new overtraining injuries pop up like mushrooms in fall. 🙂

So this time I’m going to be smarter. 🙂 My plan is to give at least as much attention to solving the underlying issues than doing the training program.

I consulted an experienced personal trainer about my problem. He told me that people who suffer from chronic muscle tensions in their upper body usually have muscle imbalances in the trapezius muscle (upper and middle traps are too strong while the low trap is too weak) and their thoracic spine is stiff. He also told me that it usually takes 1-3 months of work to ease the problem, after which you can start doing exercises that put high load on your upper body.

First I’m going to work with these issues. In my case it means that besides strengthening my lower traps, I’m going do more Feldenkrais (4 lessons a week) to mobilize my thoracic spine. I will also put more effort into recovering from exercise which means I’m going to use my foam roller more religiously.

Question #3: Do you need to change your priorities?

If you want to get physically fit, the fact is that you may need to change your priorities to get what you want.  Though if you’re smart about what you do, it probably means you don’t need to get from two hours of exercise to 10 hours per week!

My biggest problem is that it’s easy for me to skip my strength training sessions. I may start with training three hours per week, but it’s easy to me to slip from  three weekly strength workouts to two, sometimes even less. It’s a slippery slope.

To make sure that this won’t be a problem, I decided that I’m going to begin training in the morning. That way my strength training is less likely to take second place to something else that feels important.

There’s actually been an unexpected bonus to this decision – I feel super good and energetic in the mornings I  do my strength training first!

Ask yourself if you need to make any arrangements or shift priorities to succeed in getting physically fit? Are you willing to make them?

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Like the title says, only fools rush in. Don’t be a fool, take a smart approach to getting physically fit!

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