Back to gym school

The best thing about a New Year’s resolution is that it usually involves improving your health and subsequently your life in some way, shape or form. No more cigarettes, cutting back on the booze, and working out generally top the list of ambitions. Health club memberships escalate, as a new year brings a new focus on health and longevity.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to make the gym experience a little more palatable for you and your workout neighbors. Consider this gym school for gym cool.

Your first class is called Motivation 101. Although ambition is an admirable trait, try to channel this newfound drive into consistency. Smaller, condensed workouts over the course of many days, as opposed to trying to get in shape all in one day, will give you a much better chance at making a definitive lifestyle change. Thirty minutes a day, three to five days a week for many weeks is a starting point. As your fitness threshold improves, you can increase either the duration of each workout or the frequency of those workouts. I’ll let you in on a big secret here: you do not need to be in the gym for hours each day in order to dramatically impact your health. In fact, the single greatest factor in the reduction of heart disease is exercising once or more per week, as seen in the sedentary demographic group. The lesson here is that the least active among us are the most positively affected by exercise.

Grab your books and head down the hall to talk more specifically about those workouts. Welcome to Variety 101. Variety is the key to muscular change, cardiovascular health and overall joint stability. Alter the load you place on the joints by mixing up the machines; try out the treadmill today and the elliptical tomorrow. The Step mill provides a unique challenge, and a spin class is a fun way to burn lots of calories. Set your own pace, add resistance after warming up, and give yourself a break mentally by realizing that today the only thing you can control is the effort. Given a concentrated effort, the outcome or changes that you want will happen gradually, over time.

The bell is ringing for Measurements 101. Stay off the scale, as it is one of the least effective measurements of health that we have seen. There are plenty of ‘soft,’ de-conditioned 120-pound people and other ‘rock-hard,’ 150-pound athletes. Checking in daily to see if you have lost a pound can drive you crazy. Instead, write down your first day’s efforts in the gym and a little notation about how you felt. Let’s say you spent 25 minutes on the treadmill at a brisk walking pace. Note your heart rate and level of fatigue. Put those notes in a safe place, and after a month take a look at them. If you have been consistent, you will be astonished at how much more you can accomplish in a given workout. The changes that you want are on a delayed timer, so just be patient and keep increasing the exertion levels. In a few weeks, your body will begin to look and feel a whole lot better. Everyone is physiologically unique, as is everyone’s timer. The key is sticking with it.

It is time to hustle off to Hygiene 101. It seems that the number one complaint from members about other members is that their clothes smell less than fresh. The days when one outfit barely made it through one week of middle school P.E. are long gone. If you work out, you should sweat. If you sweat, body oils and bacteria will be trapped between the fibers of your clothing. Even the new micro-fibers, which excel at wicking moisture away from the skin, are notorious for letting water through but trapping odorous oils in the fibers. There are special sports detergents and products endorsed by the U.S. Olympic Team that are effective at cleaning out the lingering aromas, but they are fairly expensive. Wash your stuff early and often to prolong it, but there will come a day when you will have to part ways. Buy a couple of different outfits, alternate them, and wash them as quickly as possible after your workout. Consider it a sign of good health that you have used them up. One other note: do not donate the old stuff to charity. Those clothes will begin to smell again the minute they are heated up and the oils begin to circulate.

Last class: Let’s hit Nutrition 101. This is a tough class, but essentially what you will need to know for the mid-term exam boils down to this. Eat less, but more often. If you can find a way to trim 50 calories a day, that equates to roughly five pounds per year. There are many different strategies to get there, as we have recommended everything from leaving a few bites behind each meal to ordering in-home meals delivered by companies such as The Zone to get you acquainted with portion control. Frequency, combined with a proper balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, will buy you three to four hours of healthy energy and keep stoking the fire that burns inside each of us during the day. It is a fundamental change from what has become the classic American diet of little or no breakfast, a mid-sized lunch and a gargantuan dinner. This lifestyle is a perfect recipe for long-term fat storage and quite literally needs to be dumped on its head.

Start with baby steps. Do your homework and, most importantly, keep showing up for class. Long-term motivation leads to sustained, healthy change. Avoid the temptation of short-term gains promised by any radical diet or magical fat-burning pill, and put your time and energy into exertion-based goals. Strength is quantifiable. Endurance is quantifiable. The rest will take care of itself. You can do it; just don’t over-think it. Now, let’s get some rest, and we will see you tomorrow, the day after … and the day after that.

Bryan Welch is the co-owner of Club Emerald on the Island.

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