How to get the most out of every workout
Thinking about a bigger picture when it comes to exercise – and what you want to get out of it – will change your workout philosophy in a wonderful way. It’s OK to want a “hotter body.” It’s also OK to want to get better at (insert your athletic goal here). But you’ll get better results – and achieve those other goals, too – if you adopt a new exercise philosophy. Thinking about that bigger picture will mean fewer skipped workouts, deeper thought about what exercise means as an activity and a life asset, and a more focused mind when it’s time to put on those sneakers.
Exercise is medicine. You can build a body that’s resistant to illness and injury. You can improve and perhaps eliminate conditions you already have. Health and longevity may not be sexy, hot-button subjects, but regular workouts can keep you mobile and smiling well into your later years.
It’s easy to say, “Go forth and work out,” but to get the most out of the prescription, you’re going to need a few extra tips. So here it is – your Exercise Prescription. Use it in good health!
1. Exercise regularly and with purpose
This is the obvious part of the prescription. If you’re not breaking a sweat, you’re not getting your optimal dose of the world’s best medicine. All the benefits, all the goals, all the talk? Empty promises unless you’re exercising.
And when I say “with purpose,” I mean that you should think about what you want out of it. That could be a goal like finishing a race or hitting a new fitness level. It could be about looking good for a class reunion or a new relationship or about fixing a health issue. That’s up to you, and it’s yours alone. But exercising is better when your mind and body are aligned for a single purpose.
2. Remember the big picture
For some, exercise is a means to an end, but for me, it’s meaningful and has no end. Movement is a part of life but also a gift. The more personal meaning you give to exercise – the privilege of movement – the more committed you’ll be to it, and the more you’ll enjoy it. Of all the positives of exercise I’ve already mentioned, here are some I haven’t: Confidence (here are some ways to boost it). Satisfaction. Perspective (use these tips to help gain it). Those who consider the big picture take nothing for granted.
3. Never sacrifice form for volume
HIIT workouts are high volume, high intensity. But proper form is crucial, especially if you’re just starting out. You may be tempted to go faster and skimp on full motion (I see way too many people doing “halfsie” pushups really fast to boost their rep count). Don’t.
When in doubt, slow down and savor the movement. Feel the muscles engage, even during explosive movement. I’d rather you do 5 perfect reps than 15 lousy ones. Ignore form and, at best, your results will suffer. At worst, you’ll hurt yourself.
4. Go hard
You want to be out of breath. You want to drip sweat. You want to feel the burn. You do not want to hurt yourself. You do not want to collapse. You do not want to vomit (you laugh, but some trainers think working so hard that you hurl is a good thing). That said …
5. Keep going
Never be afraid to push your limits.
6. Seek upward
Exercise isn’t just the workout. It can become something more. Talk to fellow exercisers. Look for groups (join a running group). Find a community. Maybe it’s one person, maybe it’s 20, maybe it’s a social network a thousand strong. If you strive to seek the positive, to push to higher levels and bring others with you, all those simple little workouts can become transformative.
7. Be flexible – to a point
Life happens. Life is gravity. People and circumstances pull you in opposing directions. As much as you want your workout time to be nonnegotiable, sometimes you have to bargain. Sacrifice is not the end of the world. But you know what? You can also learn how to use the word no and have no regrets.
8. Stop when it hurts
An acute injury is darn well unmistakable. If you yank a hammie or hurt your knee or roll your ankle, you’ll know it. That’s not what I’m talking about. “The burn” is also obvious. It means you’re challenging your muscles and good things will come of it. I’m not talking about that, either. I’m talking about the “almosts.” The sensation you get when something feels like it’s about to blow: a twinge in your lower back; a tug at the base of your glute; that other kind of burn on the bottom of your foot that’s on the verge of full bloom. Folks, you don’t want any of these things to actually bloom. It’s definitely a subjective feeling, but if you sense anything like this, back off. Push your limits, not your luck.
Think about all the things you can add to your workout that will make it more fun and interesting. Music is a big one for a lot of people. Set up a playlist and change it up once a week. Or try a new radio app or a new music channel on your favourite music site.
Another easy way to fuel the fire: Track your progress. It gives you something to analyze daily, weekly, or monthly. And what about the swag? Fitness trackers, smartwatches, groovy water bottles, shoes, shirts, tank tops, and all manner of cool-looking gear can make you feel like conquering the world one rep at a time. If you’re one of those people who love shopping for stuff, adopting an exercise lifestyle opens up a whole new world of possibilities! This is a different form of shopping – and you have to train to make it happen – but I know many people who collect event T-shirts.
This is the most important part! Bring your positivity, your joy, your grin to every workout. I see far too many people who show up to workouts as if showing up for a daily root canal. Attitude really is everything. Is exercise a challenge? Of course. Does it make you work for it? Definitely.
But let me tell you – from someone who has experienced far too many Mile 22s on the last leg of an Ironman triathlon – even when you’re exhausted, even when it hurts, even when you don’t think you can go one second more, the ability to call upon a smile as a secret weapon is the closest thing humans have to a superpower. Your smile – genuine and contagious to all around you – will be the difference. Today will be better because of your smile. You’ll be back tomorrow because of your smile.
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