There are many reasons why a person wants to incorporate more exercise into their daily lives: health, weight, or just something to do. It may be doctor prescribed or self-motivation, but the message is the same when starting out: I need to be more active.
But taking that first step can be the most difficult one. Where do you start? What equipment do you need? Do I need to join a gym? Is this even feasible?
There’s a lot of baggage to starting an exercise routine. Insecurities about how you’ll look as a beginner, how much money or time it might cost, or just how to stay motivated on the down days.
All of this is completely normal. The key is to push through these feelings by keeping the eye on the prize…but what might that be?
Figure out your Goals and Motivation First
I had to sit down and figure out what I wanted most from exercising.
I wanted to get healthier for Jai and supplement my MS treatment in a holistic manner, but I also wanted to have an activity that was goal-based: creating and breaking personal records or getting so many races under my belt.
I am very competitive.
Increasing fitness levels may not be your main goal: it may be to run a special race with a friend, bench press a certain amount of weight, gain greater flexibility, or just give you something to pass the time.
Whatever your goal may be, remember that it is right for you at this moment. You can always adjust your goal as you go along or after you meet your first one. The key is to keep going and pushing yourself a little more when you can.
If it helps, write down the goal in a place where you’re going to see it frequently to remind yourself. My initial goal was to run a second half-marathon in October when I started in August 2017. I made sure to mark it on my calendar so I could always see it when I flipped to October.
Next, I had to figure out my motivation: I paid the entrance fee and I wasn’t about to skip it despite cold weather and bronchitis. This alone was enough to keep me going and the fact I had more energy because I dropped sugar and exercised helped keep me motivated. But losing money was the biggest motivator in addition to my accountability buddy at the time, a wellness nurse.
My reasons may not overlap with your motivation, but sitting down to figure out what keeps you going is the next important step. Is it your end-goal? Is it a reward for working out three times a week for a month? This is something you want to think about when you have a moment where getting out there and being active is at the lowest. It’s what will keep you moving.
What’s your Ability Level
Let’s get this out of the way: if you are thinking about starting a new fitness regimen be sure to check in with your healthcare professional of any possible health concerns. They may be able to direct you towards an appropriate program or service that can help get you on the right track without causing harm.
I used to run before I had Jai, so I already knew I had the ability to run for some distance. I was out of practice and shape. When I went for my runs, I had to account for pushing a running stroller with Jai in it.
We’re talking about 50 extra pounds of weight.
Starting off I had no illusions about my ability level. I would attempt to run for a specific period of time and walk, but if I wasn’t able to complete it, I tried not to feel discouraged. I was out of shape, pushing all this weight, and dealing with Georgia summer heat (even in the mornings).
My ability level was pretty low. So I tailored the workouts to that: run if I could, walk if I couldn’t, just maintain some form of exercise for 30-45 minutes. Next time I would try for longer running periods and keep moving up as I was able.
My mom found a program that would work with our ability levels: the Galloway Method. It would start us off small and then slowly build us up to a faster and longer pace when we were ready. It has the flexibility to drop us back down if we’re having a low-energy run day.
Finding a program in your exercise of choice is important and there are plenty safe and healthy ones available online. Try a few out because the first one you find may not be the right one for you. Ask around for suggestions and see what you can pull together that fits perfectly with your needs.
Remember: Start Small
This all is to say that starting off small is the best policy no matter your fitness level. Even if you are a seasoned runner looking to break a time Personal Record, it isn’t recommended to jump right into training at full-tilt. Slowly building your way up is the best way to reach a goal in a safe manner so there isn’t any long-term damage.
If doing light exercise to start is all that you can do, then embrace it until you are ready to kick it up to moderate exercise.
My mom and I started running at a local park once a week and gradually increased it to three times a week once we drew closer to our half-marathon. I started noticing that this one hill I couldn’t make up while pushing Jai was suddenly surmountable just before the race. It was because we properly paced ourselves in a safe manner that allowed me to get to a point where I could overcome the hill every single time.
I’ve had to take a 2-week break from my running due to the side-effects of my antibiotics, so when I get back out for my morning runs with Jai, I will be starting off slow again. This will keep me safe because a side effect of the medication is joint problems, but it will also keep me from feeling discouraged. I know that I have plenty of time to work myself back up to my previous level and begin to surpass it.
I have a smartwatch that tracks my runs and looking back to where I was in August 2017 and where I am now there is a world of difference. Seeing how much faster I am to run 5 miles is super motivating to push myself harder. I would complete a 5-mile circuit in 1:15:00 but now I am able to finish the same circuit in 1:01:00 (hills and all).
For some people taking selfies is a great way to track progress or watching the weight on a machine climb up. Tracking your progress is a great way to reinforce that what you are doing has made an impact.
If you are finding that your progress isn’t matching up then it may be time to reassess your ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s too high at this point or will not be achievable within the time frame set. Tracking your progress will allow you to make informed decisions about your exercise and make reasonable adjustments to get back on track.
Don’t be discouraged if you have to adjust your goal, it may be a minor setback but it won’t be a long-term setback. There are peaks, valleys, and plateaus when it comes to training. Just gotta push through them all!
Don’t forget to celebrate your victories! Post online about how you did on your race, take yourself out for a celebratory shopping trip, go on a day trip you’ve always wanted to do. Do something fun that won’t interfere with all the work you’ve been doing and allow yourself to enjoy the moment.
When I completed my most recent half-marathon in the time goal I set for myself, I had to jump up and down about it, post my time on social media, and get myself a delicious (but healthy) breakfast to celebrate.
But after the celebration, remember it’s time to readjust that goal so you have another opportunity to celebrate your victories. My new half marathon goal? To finish between 2:15:00 and 2:30:00. Next opportunity is this November.
What are some of your favorite goals and rewards when it comes to exercise? What keeps you motivated when you start a new routine? Comment with your thoughts below.
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Main Image Credit: Michelle Melton Photography