The fitness landscape is littered with half truths and all out lies. And charlatans. And phonies. And fakes. And jerks. Anyway, back on topic. There are no shortcuts but if you follow these not so easy steps you will be well on your way towards being strong and probably better looking.
Step #1: Study up. Learn how to train. Do a simple internet search here. If you followed the jump you should be good and confused by now. Fear not and proceed.
Step #2: Assess yourself. Take a long look into the mirror and ask yourself if you are the best version of yourself. Are you weak or strong? Are you stable or unstable? Can you run, jump, and crawl? Are your muscles tight or loose? Any injuries or other health concerns? The answers to the above questions will inform your training plan.
Now get some baseline numbers. Measure your waist, arms, legs, chest, and neck. Weigh and measure yourself to get your Body Mass Index (BMI). Get your resting heart rate. Write everything down in a log and date it. This is your baseline self-assessment.
Step #3: Get a second opinion. Go to a trusted professional with a background in health and sports. Make sure that person is up-to-date in their information. Professionals assess hundreds if not thousands of people over the many years of their careers and they are likely to have better information than you or the muscle magazines. Ignore everything you read in Men's Health, Maxim, or The Yoga Journal.
Start by going to see a medical doctor. Get a physical exam to make sure you are cleared for exercise and diet.
Stick to the basics. Exercise, rest, ingest minimal sugar and alcohol (ahem). Avoid stress. Experts currently advocate Mediterranean-style cuisine as the most balanced and healthful diet.
Step #4: Get tested. Accurate biological and physical data requires testing. Five basic things may be assessed. They include your general health (including blood work and EKG/stress test), flexibility and function of your joints and muscles, body composition, resting metabolic rate (RMR), and maximal oxygen uptake (VO2). A simple blood test analyzed by a medical doctor can reveal many things from a simple vitamin deficiency to life threatening disorders. By doctor I mean one that has a certified medical degree. A doctor who's practice is rooted in science. Your psychic nutritionist/chiropractor is not qualified to analyze a blood panel.
Okay, back to the numbers. Knowing these values provides information against which to compare future testing. This builds a longitudinal record of your training. Testing over a period of months can reveal if you are improving. These numbers should inform a science-based training plan, one designed by a experienced coach. Yes, many coaches disagree on what the data means and how to use it. That's why the benchmarks are important.
Step #5: Set goals. Work on your own or with your coach to assess attainable short term and long term goals. Build muscle, lose weight, get toned, increase skills, improve your vert jump. Whatever, but you should have a goal. A plan is a plan because it has definable goals. In other words, your training is pointing towards a finish.
Pro tip: WRITE YOUR PLAN DOWN IN A LOG AND DATE IT.
Step #6: Go shopping. This is part two of Step #1. Start with Robert Forster’s book Healthy Running Step by Step to acquire a basic understanding of body mechanics, injury prevention, strength and stability training, interval training, and training structure. Buy it in GOODS or in the gym's pro shop. From there you may want to check out online resources like Training Peaks. Buy a heart rate monitor strap or watch/strap combo. The least expensive route to go is to use a free app on your smart phone coupled with a Bluetooth-supported heart rate strap. We have the Scosche RHYTHM+ online and in the store. Buy a bike, some sweet shorts, new Sabas boxing gloves, boxing/wrestling or weightlifting shoes. You need the tools of the trade. Using ratty old equipment provides little incentive to train. New equipment will give you wings. Trust me on this one.
Step #7: Make a plan. You should build a program to achieve your goals, no matter how modest or lofty, with or without a coach. The simplest plans are just a combination of ideas. Maybe it's to train 30 minutes a day or take three classes a week. Maybe add nutritional and weight loss ideas like eliminating sugar and alcohol from your diet. A general rule of thumb is that frequency trumps all. Working out daily (including active rest like stretching, foam rolling, walking, etc.) is the most important first step. Get your diet right. Doing something physical every day is much better than killing yourself on Saturday by taking four back-to-back classes.
If you want to get more specific, an experienced and sensible coach and concrete data will go a long way to making your training plan usable, progressive, and effective. Our coaches start by dividing your year into units of time and work using a framework called Periodization. Using this framework, each three to four month period is divided into weeks and days with specific activities called out to help you move forward. Your plan should develop in the following areas and in specific order, from endurance to strength to power to speed.
The structure works like this. Each three week period of work is followed by one week of rest, and each of period is greater (in duration or workload) than the period before it until you begin to taper and peak. Then there's a period of rest before you start it all over again, but scaled slightly higher as your baseline fitness grows. Older athletes or those with limited time or mobility will have to make adjustments.
Sounds complicated? It is complicated. That’s why you use a coach or other resource to help develop your plan.
Step #8: Stick to the plan. Sounds intimidating? Complicated? Well, simple goals are good as well. Changing your diet or increasing the frequency of training can be the plan. The important part is to not do too much too soon. Just build better habits.
Step #9: Rest. I know we dealt with this earlier, but rest is so important it deserves it's own section. Rest is just as important, if not more important than hard work. Rest occurs weekly, between periods, and sometimes in what athletes refer to the "off season," a time when the athlete takes a physical and mental break from training. What constitutes rest? In some cases it's the elimination of any intensity. In others it's a simple reduction in overall volume.
Pro Tip: Over-training is the leading cause of injury and burn out. We have a saying, “It’s better to suck from under-training than over-training."
Step #11: Reassess. Retest, run through the listed steps and repeat.
Okay, so you're off to the races. Let us know if you need help with this. Coaches standing by.