Right about now many of us start making plans for a healthier, fitter lifestyle in the coming year. After the excesses of Christmas, and some well-earned downtime, we often start to take stock of ourselves and realise that we’re not as fit as we used to be. And it’s that realisation that drives the popular New Year’s resolution to kick off a fitness regime in January.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that the majority of them don’t last past January, if they even last that long. So what can you do to ensure that your decision to get fit and healthy in 2014 isn’t just a blip in your otherwise sedentary existence?
When you decide to get fit, the biggest mistake you can make is to set yourself unrealistic targets and goals. It’s all too easy to think about what you used to be able to do, rather than what you’re actually capable of now, and expect more from your body than it’s able to give.
If you’ve been relatively inactive for a long time, throwing yourself into a high intensity fitness regime could leave you feeling sore at best, or nursing a serious injury at worst. And it’s those aches and pains, or even just the inability to reach the lofty targets you’ve set yourself that can be demoralising and derail your whole journey.
By setting yourself achievable targets that you can ramp up over time, you’ll save yourself physical and mental injury. It’s vital that you introduce regular exercise at a steady pace, and even though it might feel like you’re not doing enough, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your body will respond to being active again.
And let’s not forget that while you’re body is getting stronger and used to your new regime, your confidence will also begin to grow, building your desire keep pushing.
Getting yourself fit doesn’t happen overnight. Obviously it depends on the shape you’re in to begin with, but in most cases you’ll be looking at a good few months of hard work, and during those months you want to keep track of everything.
There’s no shortage of activity trackers on the market today – Nike+ FuelBand SE, Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP, Withings Pulse etc. – and it’s well worth investing in one. Not only will an activity tracker allow you to log how active you’ve been each day, but it can also help encourage you to keep going for the long haul.
Most activity trackers come with supporting web portals and apps, which will reward you with badges and trophies when you hit key milestones. They also allow you to compare your progress with others and even compete with friends.
You’ll be surprised how effective an activity tracker can be at keeping you going on days when you just want to veg out on the sofa and eat popcorn. Realising that you’ll lose that streak, or that your best friend will overtake you in the ranking table is often enough to get you up on your feet.
But it’s not just your activity that you should be tracking; you also need to track what you’re eating. Some of the supporting apps for activity trackers allow you to log your food intake too, but there are many free apps for logging food. By logging your food and your activity, you’ll get a rough idea of how many calories are going into your body and how many you’re burning off.
If you’re looking to lose weight as well as get fitter, the equation is simple – burn more calories than you consume.
Keeping track of what you’re eating and how active you are generally is a good start, but if you really want to get fit you’ll need a training plan. Whether you favour running, cycling, swimming or any other kind of cardiovascular training, you need to get your heart pumping and your muscles working
One of the reasons that many New Year’s fitness resolutions fail is the time of year – it’s much harder to be motivated to exercise in winter. Working up the enthusiasm to go for a run when it’s cold and dark is much harder than when it’s bright and warm. Even making the effort to hit the gym regularly in winter isn’t easy, but no one said that getting fit would be easy.
You need to factor in regular training sessions to build up your body and respiratory system. It will probably be very hard at first, and as already mentioned, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard to start with, but the more you train, the more your body will respond.
Even if you just force yourself to go for a brisk walk a few times a week, it’ll be a good start. You can then start to jog for sections of those walks and slowly build up your pace until you’re running. Likewise, you can dust of your bicycle and start taking leisurely rides a few times a week and build up your pace and distance over time.
Listen to your heart
If you want to get the most out of your training sessions, you need to be gathering as much data as possible from them. That means logging how long you’re training for, how much distance you’re covering and most importantly, analysing your heart rate.
A heart rate monitor is a great investment when you want to take your training to the next level and better understand how you’re progressing. Devices like the TomTom MultiSport or Polar RC3 GPS, will allow you to track your heart rate, speed and distance during a number of activities, while syncing all that data to online portals post training.
By monitoring your heart rate over time, you can see how your fitness is progressing. Ideally you should see a drop in maximum heart rate while running or cycling the same route. Of course if you’re pushing your pace higher over time, your maximum heart rate may not drop as significantly, but that’s why you should always judge your progress via multiple metrics.
Once you start using a heart rate monitor, you should also regularly measure your resting pulse. Your resting pulse should drop as you become fitter and your heart grows stronger – just don’t expect a 28bpm resting pulse like the legendary Miguel Indurain.
Go for a goal
The best way to ensure that you remain committed to your fitness regime is to set yourself an unmovable goal. Whether that be signing up for your first 5km run in the summer, or entering the London-to-Brighton bike ride, having a set challenge on the horizon will keep you training.
And even if you keep on track and see a fitter, healthier you in the mirror this time next year, setting yourself a new goal to shoot for will keep you on track. Me? I’ve signed up for my first half marathon in March, so I really need to finish writing this post and get running…