Beginning an Exercise Program

April

25

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Many men have as a goal to begin an exercise program. The reasons for doing so are as varied as the men themselves. Some want to lose weight. Some to improve their appearance. Some hear the ticking clock and realize their youthful fitness is slowly slipping away.  

The benefits of being in shape are many.  Improved endurance both physically and mentally.  Greater confidence. Less fear in public situations. Easier weight control. But going from the first thought about getting in shape and actually doing it is the hardest part. The purpose of what I write here is to be a general guide to get you on the way.  

The benefits of being in shape are many.  Improved endurance both physically and mentally, greater confidence and so much more.

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I know what I'm talking about

Before I begin, what are my qualifications? I am a 73-year competitive tower runner a.k.a. as stair runner. I did the 1 World Trade Centre twice, the Sears Tower twice, the L. A. Bank Tower and many other races over the years, all as an elite competitor. You get to be in the elite class by documented performance in past races. The elites go first in races, usually at 6 a.m., before the stairs get congested with slower racers. I am retired from the Cleveland Clinic where for 26 years I directed the Motor Control Program, a program to help those suffering from physical disability due to strokes or accidents regain function. My working life has been figuring out how muscles work and designing a treatment plan to get the patient back to standing or walking or eating. There’s an over used saying but it is so true: The older I get with more experience the more I realize how much I don’t know. So, if anyone tells you they are an expert in coaching, run away!

Your exercise program is not a luxury

I am going to make an assumption that you have little history in the way of an exercise program. If you need to take the stairs more than one or two floors it is a challenge. Walking fast to catch a plan at an airport you keep looking ahead hoping your gate is not much further. Before you begin, I must tell you somewhere along your journey someone is likely to complain. An exercise program is viewed by many as a luxury, to fit in after all the other duties in one’s life are done. The dog needs to go to the vet, milk is needed for the kids, the taxes due in a week, your wife’s sister is ill and needs a visit. The list is endless. So, you have to make a commitment to yourself to continue your exercise routine, not as a luxury but as an essential part of your life. Is there room for compromise…. of course. Too often the exercise program becomes one more chore. 

Prepare properly

Lots of social media sites make it too complicated. Go see a doc first. Get the appropriate shoes. They strongly suggest joining a club where a “pro” can help you map out a plan. I’m not going to insult your intelligence with that stuff. All it is is getting your heart rate up to a level that is a challenge for your heart…not too much and not too little. So, it’s easy…do the talk test. If you can carry on a conversation albeit labored with another person, you are on target. Not too much, not too little.

Next you want to do it for 30 minutes, be it walking, running, stairs, roller skating, biking. Do it every other day. Yes it's O.K. to take a day off now and then. Do seven days where you really push yourself followed by seven days of an easier pace. It is called "periodization",  allowing the body to be stressed followed by a period to build muscle. Can’t keep up the pace, slow down but never stop. Big rule, never stop. You are training your brain as well as your heart.

Follow the rules!

Rule #1: On a planned exercise day do something.

Can’t run for 30 minutes as planned due to unexpected family matters? Do 10. Planned on doing 3 sets 10 reps of bench presses? Do 2. Do one day of exercise followed by one day of rest.  You are training your brain what to expect. Are you getting the same value physically from an abbreviated workout? No. But you are training your brain that exercise is a regular, predictable, part of your life. 

Rule #2: Never stop. 

If you find you are totally spent 25 minutes into your 30-minute planned walk, slow down, to a crawl if necessary. If you cannot get quite all the way into a sit up, go as far as you can each repetition but do all the reps you are scheduled to do. This then becomes part of your muscle memory and it will pay huge dividends later as you progress. Never, ever, quit.  

Rule #3: Keep a diary of everything about your program: 

the day, the time, what you did, the temperature if outside, how you felt, how your sleep was the night before, your diet, the level of stress due to work or family issues and of course how much exercise you did be it walking, running, weight lifting, etc. You will be surprised how valuable this is in the future.

Rule #4: You are only accountable to you. 

Be honest with yourself. If you begin missing planned workouts, accept the failure and make amends, get back on track. I guarantee you it will happen, unless you’re an android. In the movie The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brenner, one of the farmers asks him why one of the best gunfighters is not interested in a job protecting the farmers. He asks “Is it because not enough money?”. “No” say Brenner. “He doesn’t give a hoot about money. Knife or gun, there is no one better”. “Then who does he compete against?” asks the farmer. “Himself” answers Brenner. You are competing against yourself.

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