Well, that’s a lie. It is hard. Its just not complicated.
Let me explain: staying fit basically just involves being active most days of the week, and doing this consistently over time. Couldn’t be simpler! So why is it so hard to do? We all have our excuses – too busy, too tired, there’s a new episode of something on TV, don’t have the right clothes. I’ve heard a lot of excuses. It might take some time to figure out how to fit working out into your schedule.
The take away here is that its not really that important what you do, as long as you’re doing something. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all the rage these days. What if you don’t like that? What if working super hard for 30 minutes a day sounds absolutely dreadful to you? How long do you think you will do something that you find dreadful? Probably not too long.
Maybe a casual bike ride is more your style. That’s still exercise! You may have to ride for longer than someone who goes for a bike ride and rides up and down the steepest hill in town, but its much more important to do something you enjoy. Everyone once in a while you do need to do workouts you may not enjoy. Weight training is one of the most effective ways to increase your lean muscle mass, metabolism, and bone density, among other things, so you should be doing that regularly, especially if your other activities are low/no-impact (weight training is more important for a cyclist or swimmer’s bones than it is for a runner). A little variety is good, though, and working to find that balance is important. HIIT is great if you enjoy it, but don’t buy into the hype that its the only way to get fit. Working hard every so often is good for you, and doing some high intensity exercise is necessary, but 1. You need to work up to it. If you’ve been sedentary for some time, going full bore into high intensity training is just asking for an injury, and 2. Its just one option out of many. In the fitness world, it is so easy to get stuck on a new trend. Circuit training had its day, HIIT is the rage now, and something new will come along in a few years. Just because its working for a lot people does not mean its going to work for you. Figure out what works for you and do that – you’ll be happier and more successful than the guy or gal who jumps from trend to trend, which brings me to my next point.
You also have to stick with it. Doing something that appeals to you helps, but everyone is going to get busy and tired at times and not want to work out. Sometimes you just have to do it. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted going for a run or a bike ride when I felt tired, or going to the gym and getting a quick strength training session in if I’m busy. The trick is having a plan to deal with those days before they happen. If you can squeeze a workout in in a 30-minute block of free time, that’s infinitely better than missing a day because you’re busy. There is all sorts of ways to do it, but figuring out what works for you on days like that should be one of the goals if you are working with a personal trainer.
For example, on days where I have very limited amounts of time, I stop at a gym on my way from task to task. Often, I will have less than an hour (sometimes much less) and have a workout planned for that day. I simply hit the most important exercises and forego the less important ones – that means that while I still get all of my squat sets in, for instance, the calf raises get skipped, and I hit all of my overhead press sets, skipping side raises. Exercise isn’t an all or nothing deal, you can still get benefits from a shortened workout, and those benefits are infinitely better than skipping the workout entirely. It doesn’t mean you can get rid of the ‘less important’ exercises entirely, but if time constraints mean you only have a short amount of time to get something in, hitting the important things might be just the solution. This is also true for those training for endurance events – maybe you only have 3 days to run this week instead of 5. Don’t do the less important, easy run scheduled for Tuesday, and instead do a focused workout scheduled for later in the week that will yield more results.
If you have performance-oriented goals, the less time you have, the more important how you spend that time becomes.
For general fitness goals, the most important thing is consistency. Everything else is just icing on the proverbial fitness cake. Working out super hard may be more effective, but if you don’t do it, its suddenly way less effective than the low-intensity workout that you complete.
I’d like to close this by making an important distinction. There is no one ‘right’ way to workout, but there is most definitely a wrong way to work out. You can very easily injure yourself in a variety of ways, from poor form causing injuries to muscles, tendons, and joints, to overuse injuries and even more serious medical conditions like overtraining syndrome and rhabdomyolysis that can require medical intervention. It is also easy to underdo it and completely miss your goals – while you may be able to get a 30 minute workout in at a high intensity, don’t take my advice as saying that you can do the same 30 minutes at a low intensity and get similar results. Consult a fitness professional if you’re not sure what, or how much, to do, and consult your doctor before beginning any fitness training or diet program.