We all like to think that we are getting the most out of our efforts- and this is probably as true in relation to physical activity and exercise as to any other aspect of our lives...perhaps even more so.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to fall into the trap of working hard in our training without necessarily getting the benefits. So here are a few tips to ensure you are getting the most out of your exercise and not wasting all that effort!
Choosing the right activity for you
This might be the most important decision you make in relation to exercise or sport; the activity (or activities!) that you actually decide to take up.
The advice here is very simple.
Pick an activity you think you will enjoy, and that you can see yourself doing for a long time.
It sounds obvious, but for many people embarking on a new training regime, whether or not they will have fun seems to be remarkably low on their list of priorities. This should not be the case! Apart from anything else, experience shows us that we will last longer doing things we enjoy than things we don’t.
A classic beginners mistake is to choose activites based on criteria like “what burns more calories”. You might have seen an impressive-looking graphic on instagram comparing the energy cost of 10 different kinds of physical activity that proves Zumba burns more calories than running (or whatever!) but more often than not these differences tend to be minimal in the greater scheme of things, and you’ll burn a lot more calories overall by sticking with something you like rather than doing something for the wrong reasons and giving it up after a month.
Another very important aspect to consider when taking up a new sport/activity is pretty mundane-sounding. The “logistical” aspect. Is it reasonably near? Can it be done at times that work for you?
There is no point beginning, say, kickboxing classes at a club that is too far away and whose times clash with your work, or picking the kids up from school, etc. It might seem like a great idea in theory but it’s important to keep the realities of life in mind when considering new commitments. I am often asked by people to recommend one gym over another and my answer is usually “which is easiest for you to get to?” because that is probably going to be the biggest factor in how often you go and how long you will keep it up.
Having a plan
This is huge. No matter what you are doing for exercise, it always, always pays to go into it with some sort of plan ahead of time. If you are training in a sport this will be taken care for you by the coach, which is a big point in favour of this kind of activity. The same goes for group exercise classes, etc. You don’t have to think, you simply turn up and get told what to do and how long to do it.
When you are training off your own bat (in a gym, at home, at a local park or on the roads) you will usually need to have some sort of structured plan or programme in place to make sure you are making the most of your efforts. While there are some decent generic programmes available online for practically every physical activity, knowing which ones to choose can be a minefield, particularly for beginners. Getting a qualified coach or trainer to guide you is an excellent idea if your budget permits it. This is just my own opinion but I am not a fan of beginners learning complex new physical skills by watching youtube videos or the like (particularly the type of skills that could potentially be dangerous if performed incorrectly). There is no substitute for the eye of an experienced, qualified coach and you won’t get that from watching a video.
Even if you are just going for a run, perhaps have a specific target in mind before beginning (e.g. to complete 3km, or to run/jog/walk for a minute at a time for half an hour, etc).
In my experience, having some sort of structured plan is one of the biggest factors in the success of an exercise programme.
Training with a partner or a group
Whether or not someone is the sort of person who is able to motivate themselves on a long-term basis without the company, support and encouragement of like-minded people is very much down to the individual in question. For some people , training is a rare opportunity to clear the head and spend some time alone.
But for many others, exercising with a training partner, or in a group, is a fantastic way to stay motivated. It can also mean that they are more likely to turn up! It can be tempting to skip training if we are only accountable to ourselves, but we are less likely to renege on a commitment to another person, or a group. If you are the sort of person who can struggle with motivation, I would definitely recommend a training partner.
Being sensible with your time is a very important aspect of longevity in training. This is one of the ways that having a training plan makes a big difference, and how much of your time is eaten up by exercise can be another big factor that determines whether or not you keep it up.
It is far too easy, particularly as a beginner, to wander around a gym with no real structure to what you’re doing, only to find 2 hours have passed and you’ve accomplished very little. I am of the opinion that unless you are an endurance athlete such as a marathon runner, most training sessions shouldn’t last much more than an hour. Most of the gym sessions I see that take more than an hour tend to contain a large amount of timewasting. Depending on what you are training for and how experienced you are, you can have an extremely effective exercise session in just 30 or 40 minutes.
In relation to planning ahead, I recommend to busy people that they set aside specific slots in their diaries for training and treat them like any other appointment. If you find yourself sometimes skipping training and then regretting it afterward, this is a really effective way of keeping on track.
Eating in a way that complements your training
One of the most common reasons people give for quitting an exercise regime is that results did not come as fast as they would have liked.
Eating correctly is a sure-fire way to make the most of your hard work in the gym.
It is easier to motivate yourself to make better choices about what you eat when you realise that you don’t want to waste the effort you’re putting into your training. Why would you put all that work into getting a PR on a 5k run...only to ruin it by getting a takeaway a few hours later?
(Avoid the common pitfall of over-estimating how much extra food, if any, is needed because of exercise. If you run 3km and then come home and eat a muffin “because you earned it”, you could well have negated any weight-loss benefit from your run!)
So we’ll finish on this note; take some positivity from your training. When you exercise you are working to make yourself better- so continue this by giving your body the healthy fuel it needs. The results of combining exercise and healthy eating... are so much greater than doing just one of these things on their own.
Personal Trainer & Fitness Coaching
Conor has worked in the field of strength and fitness coaching full time for 8 years, and has single-handedly coached over 8,000 sessions (both group sessions, and one-on-one).
Read more about Connor Kennedy