Starting a fitness program

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

After teaching fitness for 20 years, I know the frustration associated with starting and maintaining an exercise program. As we approach 120 days into the new year, research estimate that nearly half those who began an exercise program as a New Year’s resolution will quit within the first six months.

Why is it so hard to adhere to a fitness program? Studies have identified three factors that both contribute to and deter from exercise adherence: personal, program, and environmental.

Examples of program factor are the intensity of an activity and the perceived effort required to perform it. For example, if the intensity is overwhelming or participants perceive it as uncomfortable, they are more likely to cease participation. As a general rule participants who start a fitness program should avoid &uot;too much, too soon.&uot; Trying to put six weeks of training into a single workout can lead to injury, overtraining, and eventually non-adherence. Beginners who exercise five or more days per week for 45 minutes or longer are more prone to injury and exercise adherence.

Email newsletter signup

Another factor affecting compliance is delayed on-set muscle soreness, which typically occurs 24-48 hours post exercise.

Anyone who has trained with weights can relate to that painful stiffness and muscle soreness that follow an intense workout, especially within the first two or three sessions following a long lay-off or those starting a program for the first time. What causes delayed soreness is not known definitively, but research suggests exercise-induced muscle damage followed by an inflammation-induced increase in fluid in the muscle probably causes the muscle discomfort.

Intense exercise especially eccentric (negative phase) muscle action has been shown to induce the most delayed soreness. In addition, such soreness has been observed following long durations of aerobic running, which may impair the ability of the muscle to generate Adenosine Triphosphate (muscle fuel) from oxidative processes for several weeks.

Resistance Training Gui-delines

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends the following guidelines when starting a resistance training program:

n Perform a minimum of one set. Multiple sets may be incorporated once participants adapt to training load.

nMost individuals should complete 8-12 repetitions for each exercise to the point of near fatigue or 10-15 repetitions recommended for frail or elderly individuals.

nSelect 8-10 exercises that condition the major muscle groups (chest, back, and leg muscles)

nExercise two to three days per week. This allows for adequate muscle recovery

Cardiovascular Fitness Gui-delines

Cardiorespiratory programming basically follows the same guidelines as resistance training. In general, for basic health enhancement there’s a slightly lower threshold than for cardiorespiratory fitness.

Individuals who are inactive or deconditioned should start a program at 40 to 50 percent of heart rate reserve

and still see a reduction in health risk (i.e. reduced resting heart rate, blood pressure).

The ACSM recommends the following guidelines for improving cardiorespiratory fitness.

nFrequency- 3 to 5 days per week (if weight loss is the goal, 4-5 days)

nIntensity- 40-50 percent of heart rate reserve for those deconditioned or inactive and 50-85 percent of heart rate reserve for those conditioned

nDuration- 20 to 60 minutes continuous or intermittent aerobic activity

nMode- Any activity that uses large muscle groups

nProgression- Depends on functional capacity, health status, age, and individual goals

nIncorporating 5-10 minutes of static stretching before, during, and after exercise has been shown to help reduce injuries, muscle soreness, increase blood flow, recovery from intense workouts, and range of motion.

nEnvironmental factors that affect exercise adherence include convenience, appearance of the exercise location, family support, and availability of time. Behavioral scientists conclude that many feel awkward, self-conscious, have a perceived lack of fitness knowledge, lack of energy, and doubt exercise can lengthen life expectancy. However, time is the single most common reason people give for not starting an exercise program.

One of the most important things you can do to increase the success of your fitness program is set attainable goals. The importance of setting appropriate training goals cannot be over emphasized. Goals provide purpose, direction toward training program, promotes intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, and a sense of responsibility. Put your goals in writing and place them on the refrigerator, on your office desk, or a place where you will see them everyday.

The next step in the process for a healthier you is contact a gym, fitness center or personal trainer and complete a fitness assessment. An assessment will test cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, upper and lower body strength, blood pressure, body fat, girth measurements, height and weight.

Assessments are ideal for establishing a base line of current fitness, setting goals, and provide proof of progress at later re-evaluations. Incorporating fitness into your schedule is easier than you think. If time is an issue, try getting up an hour early to get a quick 30-minute power walk or jog. Engage in family activities such as biking, playing soccer, or basketball with the kids. You would be amazed at the calories burned or the amount of energy required running around after a six year old. When at work take the stairs verse the elevator, park the car as far away from the office as possible, and keep your exercise shoes in the car.

Many companies now have lunchtime walking or running groups and most private fitness studios offer 30-minute power workouts, which are ideal for busy individuals with time restraints. A large number of companies have added fitness center discounts as part of employment compensation. Train with a partner whenever possible, since research has shown those who train with a partner have higher success rates than those who train alone. These are only a few of the activities you can do to incorporate fitness into your day.

Personal factors include education, values, demographics, beliefs and behaviors. It would seem knowledge of the 50-plus benefits to exercise would promote exercise compliance, but studies show information alone is not sufficient. The Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of daily exercise for the general health, but 60 percent of the American population fall short of the recommended level. If we can understand the determinants of exercise adherence and the barriers associated with participation we can identify high-risk individuals and plan safe effective fitness programs.

One way to ensure success when starting an exercise program is select an activity you enjoy and start with an intensity you are comfortable with before increasing the load (i.e. weight, repetitions, time, mode).

For example, try walking a few weeks before running or participating in a group fitness class. This prepares the body for more aggressive programs such as kickboxing, step aerobics, or mini boot camp classes. Use rubber tubing for resistance training before adding free weights to your program.

Tubing is ideal for resistance training since there is no pressure on the joints, bands are economical ($2-$4 per band), and are available in various resistant levels (light, medium, heavy, very heavy). Participants can workout anywhere, and best of all tubing helps reduce the soreness associated with delayed on-set muscle soreness (DOMS).

An affective fitness program will incorporate activities to increase cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, and skills related to an activity to improve overall fitness.

If individuals are well informed and understand the core principles of starting an exercise program (frequency, intensity, duration, mode, and progression) they are more likely to achieve their goal within the program.

If you are new to exercise, unsure about the mechanics of lifting, training intensities, or how to start a safe program don’t hesitate to get assistance from a certified personal trainer. Most gyms, fitness centers, and personal trainers offer free assessments with the purchase training sessions. Develop a fitness program you can enjoy and find success with.

Zeke Brown, MHR, CPT, owns ZB Fitness

a private fitness studio in Suffolk. He

has helped both individuals and groups reach the next level in their exercise program by overcoming obstacles and achieving their personal best. He can be reached at or at