As we welcome spring, join me in cleaning up old habits and reinvigorating routines with this three part series to help you renew your fitness, nutrition and wellness routines this season.
Part I Refreshing Fitness Routines
Are your workouts challenging enough?
Longer days filled with sunshine often motivate us to start exercising or to renew a fitness routine that no longer feels challenging.
This is a great time to ask yourself if your fitness routine is working for you. Like most habits, we often fall into the same routine when it doesn’t take much thought or energy. For example, getting on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walking at the same pace you have been for the last two years, or doing Pilates three days a week every week, will lead to a “plateau” in training. This occurs when our bodies adapt to the exercise load and we are no longer challenged. If you have been doing the same exercises at the same level of pace for a long period of time, it’s time to increase the intensity or to add new exercises (or both) to complement what you are already doing.
It is common for our cardio routines (i.e., walking, running, cycling) to become less challenging over time, and at some point, we feel as if we are not exerting much energy. The best way to know if you are working hard enough is to determine what your target heart rate is, along with observing how winded you are when your workout is complete. The easiest way to adjust for any workout that might feel too “comfortable” is to increase the intensity. In terms of cardio, this means either to run faster or further, to pedal harder, etc. However, if you’re not keen on working at a higher level the whole time you’re exercising, you can consider decreasing the time of one activity and adding a different exercise (also cardio driven) for the remaining time. One way to do this is to move from one machine to another (i.e., from the treadmill to the elliptical machine or Peloton). Another way is to do body weight exercises, such as squats, lunges or pushups, in between. This is an efficient way to keep your heartrate up and add resistance training at the same time. Choose the method that works for you to make sure you keep yourself challenged and get the full benefit of your workout.
Are Your Workouts Well-Balanced?
Well-balanced workouts are the key to optimal fitness. A well-rounded regimen includes a mix of cardio, strength, core balance and stretching every week. Time constraints are the most common reason people usually include only one or two exercise components in their daily or weekly routine.
When time is limited, I use the pie method to get a well-rounded workout: just envision dividing the time you have to exercise inside the pie. Then, think about how much time you can reasonably spend on each exercise component that day, or week. For example, if you have 45 minutes to exercise on a given day, you may choose to devote 25 minutes to cardio, 10 minutes to resistance, and the last 10 minutes to stretching. Alternatively, the “opposite day” method breaks up the type of workout by the day. In this case, if you exercise 5 days a week, you can devote 3 days to cardio and 2 days to resistance training. Or, if you attend yoga class 2 or 3 times a week, you can add a cardio day on one of the days in between.
However you choose to break it down, a balanced fitness routine will increase muscle mass, improve endurance, and help you to avoid injury.
Is Your Exercise Routine Aligned With Your Goals?
Besides aiming for a well-rounded and challenging workout, we should ask ourselves, “Why are we exercising in the first place?” We all know exercise provides many benefits to our health, but it should also be tailored to our specific goals. Do you want to build muscle, or lose weight? Are you training for a long distance run? Maybe you don’t have any specific goal in mind, but simply enjoy how you feel when you work out!
That said, if you are devoting time to exercising regularly, it makes sense to align your workouts with your overall fitness goals. For instance, if your physician prescribes exercise to lower your blood pressure, and you choose to spend your exercise time only lifting weights: over time, you will build muscle mass, but weight training alone may not impact your blood pressure. Your time would be better spent doing aerobic exercise, i.e., walking, jogging, or swimming – or any continuous movement that keeps your heart rate elevated. On the other hand, if your goal is to build stronger bones, lifting weights and/or resistance training will serve you better than walking or cycling.
Physical goals are not always the reason we decide to exercise; many of us work out as a way to relieve stress. Running or high intensity interval training is a great way to decompress; however, some prefer a gentle activity like yoga or stretching to lower stress levels.
Whatever your exercise preferences are, make sure your routine is working for you. Spring is a great time to reassess routines and decide if the time you spend working out is most beneficial for you. Adjusting the frequency, duration, intensity, or type of exercise can make a major difference to your long term fitness goals. If you are not sure how to reassess your routine, or if you can use help with the fine tuning, consider working with a fitness trainer. A skilled trainer can access your fitness level and goals against your current routine and design a program tailored to your individual needs – the ideal way to spring clean your routine!
 Marni J. Armstrong, Sheri R. Goldberg and Ronald J. Sigal, Moving Beyond Cardio: The Value of Resistance Training, Balance Training, and Other Forms of Exercise in the Management of Diabetes,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, January 28, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334083/