Spring has a wonder way of breathing new verve and motivation into our lives. We respond by ripping into housecleaning and yard tasks that make our homesteads shine. Spring-cleaning is a noble and time-honored tradition, to be sure, but what if we were to channel at least a little of that energy into a new tradition – and invest some of that cleanup commitment into our fitness routines, too?
Spring is a perfect time to do a reality check on the fitness goals you set at the beginning of the year. It’s also an ideal time to address any obstacles or weak links that have come to the fore. Whether you’re dealing with a loss of motivation, a lack of time, a weight-loss plateau, or the overtraining blues, job No.1 is noticing that there’s a problem. Job No. 2 is deciding it’s nothing a little attention and elbow grease can’t fix.
Here are just a few of the most common areas that tend to trip us up:
Mental Messes – Lacking a well-thought-out plan and goals, losing your sense of motivation, or underestimating the role nutrition plays in your fitness success.
Arbitrary Efforts– Not basing your activities on objective fitness-status data, working out at the wrong intensity for your current fitness status and goals, settling for less-than-terrific form.
Overlooked Essentials – Underemphasizing variety, ignoring key workout details, forgetting to ask for help and support when you need it.
The fact is, most of us have one or several of these little messy areas operating at any given time. Fortunately, and as with most spring-cleaning tasks, by taking them on one by one, it’s possible to make amazing headway in a very short time.
To help you identify and clean up any compromises in your current fitness routine, we’ve compiled a handy reference library of previously published Experience Life articles. We’ve also made every story easily accessible in our archives – so once you’ve seen a problem area for what it is, you can grab the info you need, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.
1. Mental Messes
The best way to begin you fitness cleanup is by simply reconnecting with your most essential priorities – and with the values that motivated you to set them in the first place. Are you clear about what you’re trying to accomplish and why? Do you have a solid, realistic plan in place? Taking the time now to identify what you really want to achieve will empower you to tackle problem areas, like the following, head on.
Spring-Clean Challenge #1A: Foggy Goals
To create a successful fitness plan, it helps to have a goal, or goals, in mind. An honest and achievable fitness goal should incorporate your deeper values and fit comfortably into your life. Give yourself time to contemplate where you would like your fitness journey to lead. Recognize the importance of honoring each step, and set an overall goal with periodic checkpoints that will allow you to succeed more frequently – thus keeping your motivation and sense of progress fully engaged.
1.”Resolutions Workshop ’07″(January/February 2007): Addresses key areas of personal development, such as awareness, self-compassion, organization and discipline. Also suggests helpful tips for handling unexpected setbacks and challenges (like setting boundaries) with grace.
2. “Active Planning” (Jan./Feb. 2006): Provides a practical approach to developing a successful fitness program. Focuses on identifying and neutralizing potential problem areas, and includes a seven-point troubleshooting list.
See also: “Plan For Success”(Jan./Feb. 2007); “No-Fail Fitness”(Jan./Feb. 2005); “Real-Results Fitness” (April 2004); “Look Before You Leap” (Jan./Feb. 2003).
Spring-Clean Challenge #1B: Ho-Hum Motivation
Are you excited to hit the gym? Apathetic at best? Or do you downright dread your workouts? Reframing your perspectives about physical activity, reviving your internal motivation and identifying activities that you enjoy can help you vanquish inertia and come out the stronger for it.
1.”Feeling Groovy”(July/August 2005): Examines specific factors that lead to fitness satisfaction, such as convenience, social support and feedback. Offers tips for incorporating these things into your own plan.
2. “Making Exercise Fun” (November/December 2002): Suggests ideas for upping your enjoyment (and success!) – from getting support to pacing yourself. Sidebars on overcoming excuses, picking the right exercise class and adjusting your attitude.
3. “Ready, Set, Go!” (November 2006): A four-phase approach to workout motivation, from “getting there” and “getting started” to “getting through” and “finishing strong.”
See also: “Are We Having Fun Yet?” (March 2007); “Overcoming Gym Jitters” (July/August 2005); “Momentum Busters” (April 2004).
Spring-Clean Challenge #1C: Ignored Nutrition
In our rush to get in shape, it’s easy to overlook nutrition as a cornerstone to fitness success. But lackluster nutrition can lead to energy shortfalls, stalled weight loss and dramatically impeded fitness progress. So stop and ask yourself: Are your current nutritional choices supporting your greater fitness goals – or undermining them?
1. “Weight-Loss Rules to Rethink”(October 2006): An “old rule, new rule” comparison that debunks nutritional myths and provides tips on successful and sustainable weight loss – the kind that syncs with and supports your fitness activities. Includes books and Web resources on nutritional planning.
2. “Role Reversals” (October 2006):Offers tips on building in more healthy and fitness-smart fruits and vegetables (without totally changing the way you eat).
See also: “The Virtues of Variety” (October 2006); “Weight Loss 101” (January/February 2004); “Delving Into Diets” (January/February 2005); “Energy Crisis” (December 2004); “Too Much of a Good Thing?” (April 2004).
2. Arbitrary Efforts
Are you working out haphazardly, going through the motions without clear tactics, or doing just one kind of workout over and over again? You could be inadvertently wasting your time with workouts that don’t do much good, stunting your metabolic potential – and even setting yourself up for injury. Your best bet is to execute a customized plan that meets you where you are and then evolves as your fitness progresses.
Spring-Clean Challenge #2A: Mystery Fitness Status
Unless you know how fit you are now, it’s tough to know how hard you should be working – or whether you’re making progress. By identifying where you stand (your current cardiovascular capacity, strength, body composition, and so on), you can put your focus and efforts where they do the most good.
1. “Putting Your Fitness to the Test” (October 2005): An overview of fitness-testing options, such as body-fat composition, metabolic testing (e.g., VO2max), biomechanics and strength analysis. Describes the most common tests, including price estimates and a difficulty-level evaluation.
2. “Maximize Your Metabolism” (May 2006): Explains both nutritional and fitness-oriented methods of jump-starting your metabolism. Includes both “metabolism builders” and “metabolism busters,” plus comprehensive information on measuring and monitoring metabolic rates.
See also: “Fitness Testing 1, 2, 3: Strength in Numbers” (April 2006); “Fitness Testing 1, 2, 3: Cardio Capacity” (May 2006); “Fitness Testing 1, 2, 3: Be Flexible” (June 2006).
Spring-Clean Challenge #2B: Zoned-Out Training
Exercising outside of the heart-rate zones appropriate to your fitness goals is one of the most commonly made mistakes – even among experienced exercisers. Adding a heart-rate monitor to your workout is a simple way to gain insight into your body’s response to exercise and to moderate your exertion levels accordingly. Once you know your numbers, you can determine when you’re burning the most fat and when you’re stimulating the fastest fitness improvements. Monitoring your heart rate throughout the day and during exercise will allow you to more accurately measure how your body responds to all kinds of stress and activity – and how quickly it recovers (a key fitness indicator).
1. “A Better Way to Burn Fat” (Jan./Feb. 2007): Covers the basics of heart-rate training for weight loss. Clears up confusion about “fat-burning zones.” Characterizes the five main heart-rate zones and explains how each zone intensity level supports fat loss, fitness gains and health improvements.
2. “The A.T. Factor” (May 2005): A user-friendly explanation of the anaerobic threshold, or AT, the point at which your body shifts from burning fats to burning stored sugars. Provides helpful guidance on pinpointing your own AT.
See also: “Master Your Monitor” (Oct. 2005); “By the Numbers” (Nov. 2004); “A Measure of Success” (Oct. 2004).
Spring-Clean Challenge #2C: Form Foibles
No matter what activities you choose to do, there are probably some areas where your form could benefit from a little tweaking. Whether you correct your running style or eradicate some ingrained workout cheats, refining your form will help you upgrade your results.
1. “Don’t Wimp Out” (March 2004): Outlines seven of the most common gym cheats, including leaning on cardio equipment and using momentum during resistance training, along with advice for how to “beat the cheat.” Plus, a sidebar listing do’s and don’ts.
2. “Lean Into It” (Oct. 2006): Describes the “ChiRunning” technique, which is often credited with improving endurance and speed while reducing injuries and chronic pain for runners. Includes detailed technique and posture tips for making your runs better (and more rewarding) than ever.
See also: “Back to Basics” (April 2007); “Ever-Ready Abs” (May/June 2003).
3. Overlooked Essentials
Once you’ve got the foundation of your fitness routine nailed down, you may still have some loose ends to tie up. Examine your regimen for other weak spots, such as skimping on variety and recovery, skipping out on warm-ups and cooldowns, or simply failing to seek support that could help you take your fitness to the next level. Even experienced fitness enthusiasts have an opportunity to raise their fitness game by finessing the little things that can make a big difference.
Spring-Clean Challenge #3A: Variety Deficit
A good fitness routine is a varied fitness routine – one that offers your body challenge, a balance of activities and constant evolution. When you’re always throwing new things your body’s way, it never gets a chance to become complacent – and you never have a chance to get burned out.
1. “Indoor-Outdoor Fitness” (June 2006): Promotes the benefits of balancing indoor and outdoor activities, so you can avoid boredom, fitness plateaus and overuse injuries. Includes a list of factors to consider when planning a varied program.
2. “Break It Up” (November/December 2002): Delves into how the body adapts to overly repetitious exercise routines, and offers up ideas for busting out of fitness ruts.
See also: “Mind-Body Synergy” and “A Balanced Approach” (November 2006); “What I Did Last Winter” (December 2004).
Spring-Clean Challenge #3B: Downplayed Details
Are you compromising your outcomes (or making your efforts tougher) by not bothering to warm up? Or by forgetting about the role recovery plays in making you stronger? Or by failing to notice and celebrate the places you’re making real strides? Making time and space for finer points like these can make a huge difference in how your fitness activities feel, and in how they pay off.
1. “Gradual is Good” (Mar. 2007): Explains the physiological benefits of warm-ups and cool-downs. Lists do’s and don’ts for easing in and out of exercise.
2. “Give It A Rest” (May 2004): Describes the critical importance of building rest and recovery into your workout routine; examines the pitfalls of overtraining and suggests ways of working downtime into your plan.
See also: “Celebrate Your Success” (December 2004); “Active Recovery” (October 2004).
Spring-Clean Challenge #3C: Insufficient Support
Is your “go it alone” approach actually getting you where you want to go? No matter how dedicated you are to fit- ness, there are times when a little camaraderie, wisdom or inspiration can make all the difference. Reaching out for support – from friends, family members, qualified professionals and other resources – can make your fitness program easier, more effective and more fun.
1. “Learning the Easy Way” (January/February 2006): Explains the vital role that personal trainers can play in developing fitness programs. Includes a detailed description of degrees and certifications available, and what each one means, so you can choose the right trainer for yourself.
2. “Buddy System” (May 2004): Describes the pros and cons of training with a workout buddy. Lists five rules to keep your relationship healthy.
See also: “Taking It to the Next Level” (Dec. 2006); “On the Spot” (September 2004); “Fit to Be Tied: A Couples’ Survival Guide” (May/June 2002).
Clearly, there’s no shortage of ways to polish up your current fitness routine – and no end to your opportunities for adjusting and experimenting as you go. But it’s rarely wise to try to fix everything at once. With fitness, as with most things, slow and steady wins the race.
So, rather than trying to achieve some form of “fitness perfection” in the way you approach being active, focus on continuous learning instead. Notice how your body is responding to what you’re doing now, and what you’re called to change or improve about your routine at any given time. One season, you might focus on motivation, the next nutrition, and so on.
The point is, there’s no one “right way.” It’s really about finding the best way for you. And by keeping this spirit of spring-cleaning alive from one season to the next, you’ll have no trouble keeping the fitness cobwebs at bay.