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Jeff Ward: How To Make Your New Year's Workout Resolution Last

It's the time of year when the dreaded New Year's resolutioners infest gyms everywhere!

You barely claw your way through the ever-expanding holiday season by clinging to the promise of Jan. 2, and then it gets worse. Much worse! Because the first month of every year brings out a life form those of us with long-term gym memberships fear even more than Michelle Bachmann.

Yes! We’re talking about the dreaded New Year’s Resolutioner, or as a good friend likes to call ‘em, “the six weekers,” because 90 percent of them will disappear by Valentines Day, never to be heard from again.

Completely clueless and armed with utterly unrealistic expectations, they descend upon Patchland health clubs like locusts with the sole intent of making the rest of our workout lives miserable.

Though they desperately try to hide it, any athlete who can actually point to their quads can pick ‘em out faster than Donald Trump at a Hairclub For Men holiday banquet. What’s worse is, these folks think “Gym Etiquette” is the French guy hosting an aerobics show on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

But sadly, it turns out that New Year’s resolutioners can be a tad sensitive and rather surly bunch. Why, that stodgy crowd completely failed to appreciate my wonderful sense of humor in a previous Beacon-News column describing their interesting proclivities in detail.

So rather than taunt my newbie gym brethren with tales of their endlessly circling cruises through the parking to find the closest spot, racing me in the swimming pool, or standing in the middle of the running track just to gab, I thought it prudent to take a slightly different tack.

Instead of turning to the dark side (even though it’s far funnier), I will endeavor to use my journalistic powers for good. Perhaps, armed with the appropriate information, these out-of-shape, resolution-driven folks might last long enough to, in turn, make fun of next year’s New Year’s resolutioner crop.

So here we go!

1. An active life is a mindset! If you dread going to the gym, it won’t work out, and neither will you. Being active is its own reward, so don’t relegate exercise to the gym. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk the dog twice a day. Park at the far end of the Whole Foods parking lot. Run/walk one mile every other day.

These kinds of small-but-significant steps are more enjoyable, they reinforce your new mindset, and they build the kind of base that leads to greater things. Any therapist will tell you that small changes tend to take hold, while wholesale shifts almost always fall flat.

I’m not saying there aren’t days when I look forward to that last lap, but if you’re not enjoying yourself to some degree, you will never stick with an exercise program.

2. Have a plan! Running five miles the first time out is a recipe for disaster. You’ll either burn out, get injured, or both. This week, an overweight, 40-ish resolutioner was trying to run an eight-minute indoor track mile and I’ll give you 10-to-one he’s gone by Feb. 1.

It’s always judicious to err on the side of caution when considering a new exercise routine. And the best way to develop a reasonable plan is with the expert assistance of a personal trainer. Most gyms provide PTs at very reasonable rates (avoid the drill sergeant types) and even if it’s only an hour or two a month, it will be well worth your while.

If you can’t afford a trainer or a gym, there are a plethora of books with complete exercise plans targeting the novice athlete. Jeff Galloway’s books on running and Chris Carmichael’s treatises on cycling are perfect examples.

3. Recovery! One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was a good workout plan always incorporates rest days. This is especially true for us middle-aged folks. If you don’t take regular breaks, then you will break down.

“No pain no gain” may work for elite athletes, but it’s a really bad idea for the rest of us.

4. Drink! And I don’t mean Irish whiskey.

We’re already a dehydrated culture, and working out makes it worse. Thirsty muscles tend to pull, strain and tear.

Active athletes should drink two-thirds of an ounce of water per pound per day. Thus, my 185-pound frame requires 15 daily 8-ounce glasses of water. I will admit it felt like I was chained to the bathroom at first, but your body quickly adapts, and it will thank you for it.

I always have a water bottle by my side.

5. Don’t diet, but watch what you eat! Studies show that workout novices almost always fall into the “reward trap” and end up gaining weight. They rationalize, “I just worked out, so I’ll have an 18-inch pizza, four beers and half a chocolate cake,” and get discouraged when the scale begs for mercy.

Again, don’t go crazy. Diets don’t work, but you’ll find, as you continue to work out, your body won’t tolerate junk food nearly as well. Again, small steps lead to bigger things.

6. The competition is with yourself. Don’t compare yourself to other athletes. Unless you’re sprinter Usain Bolt or marathoner Meb Keflezighi (even they lose races!), there will always be someone who’s better or faster than you. The question is, can you get the most out of what you’ve been given?

Again, the resolutioners who are the first to fail are the ones who insist on racing me on the indoor running track. I just love to kick in the afterburners and watch ‘em suck air in a corner. Stick to your pace and your plan!

7. Find a workout companion! The best ways to beat the motivation blues is to join a group like the Fox River Trail Runners, take a spinning class, or get a friend to workout with you. Contrary to my first few paragraphs, most experienced athletes are happy to field your questions, especially if you make any effort to adhere to gym etiquette.

I know what you’re thinking, but just because I was a bit nicer this round doesn’t mean I’ve changed my ways—far from it. I’m sure this column is nothing more than a temporary lapse, and you can look forward to a swift return to my surly and sarcastic form next week.

Happy freakin’ New Year!

Beth Bales January 06, 2012 at 02:44 PM
As I surveyed Sunset on Jan. 2, noting the many, many people in there (although I was there a lot later than I normally am because it was a holiday kind of day), I spoke firmly to myself to remind myself that ALL fitness center members were once new. So I appreciate your positive effort this time around! I would only reiterate your point on not standing in the middle of the track to talk and would add -- don't have so many people in your group that you take up all three lanes! Come on, people. Be considerate. And for speedy types like yourself, Jeff, I would add, be considerate of those who are walking, and not running. We don't appreciate having to dodge runners on the curves; we have as much right to be there as the faster folks. Hmmmm, kind of like the newbies ... And finally, with regard to exercise ... you are right about the mindset. You don't have to like it. You just have to do it.
Anthony Trendl January 06, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Your best column yet. I restarted running December 9 with one very slow mile on my treadmill. I have been a runner for years, and have in the last few years been on/off. I have learned the hard way the foolishness of too much too soon. My initial plan is to run every other day (at most), slowly edging up my mileage. Consistency is my goal. The weight loss (I would like to drop 10-15 pounds) , the fitness, all of the rest will follow if I am consistent.
Ray January 06, 2012 at 03:54 PM
The walkers don't have to dodge runners, it's usually the other way around, when the walkers insist on walking in the fast lane. Treat the outside lane of an indoor track like the left express lane of a highway. Great article Jeff!
Beth Bales January 06, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Ray -- I do indeed walk on right or in the middle (if I'm in speedy mode). Just think there needs to be awareness on the part of everyone, and consideration as well, particularly when the track is crowded.
John Anderson January 06, 2012 at 04:55 PM
This is exactly the attitude that keeps people from coming back to the gym...the know-it-all sarcastic jerks who judge every new member. What are you? Seventh-graders? Unless I miss my guess, you don't own the gym. People join for a variety of reasons, and for most it took a lot of courage to walk in the first day...only to be laughed at by you and your little buddies. Most folks have real jobs that limit their workout time, so keep your snide remarks to yourself.
Anthony Trendl January 06, 2012 at 05:28 PM
The rule on all tracks is that walkers walk on the outside lane. Naturally, if the track is empty, pick whichever looks interesting. I know the Wheaton Park District (indoor) and Wheaton College (outdoor) definitely have signs about this. It is a courtesy. A similar courtesy is to say, "Passing on your left/right" when passing a slower athlete. In fact, that's more than courtesy, but safety. If the quicker runner comes by, and the slower athlete changes lanes unexpectedly, injuries can happen pulled muscles, strains, sprains, twisted ankles, etc. Other etiquette includes: 1) Don't wear perfume or cologne. 2) Avoid using a cell phone when on the treadmill. 3) Keep headphone volume such that they runner on the treadmill next to you is not disturbed (and do not get snooty if he asks you to turn it down). I love New Year’s resolutioners. One once gave me $942.50 towards an almost new treadmill. I wanted to quit my gym to save money and time, and was shopping for exercise equipment. Expensive! My treadmill was $1,082.50 new (including sales tax). I bought it barely used for $140 at a garage sale from a woman who intended well, but fundamentally liked the idea of being in shape more than doing the work to get there. Empathetically, I relieved of her expensive clothing hanger and the related sense of guilt whenever she saw it. My savings? $942.50.
Jeff Ward January 06, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Beth, Most walkers are predictable and not a problem. Unless they're walking in the outside line where they're not supposed to be, I would rather have them stay the course on curves and I'll stay out of their way. It's the folks walking two abreast passing folks walking two abreast that are the real problem. Jeff
Jeff Ward January 06, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Anthony, Thanks! Send me an email and I'll reply with my column on 3 points to proper running form. That's another thing that kills newbies, a running form that will inevitably lead to injury. Jeff
Jeff Ward January 06, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Tony, Did you mean walkers walk on the inside lane? Of the two indoor tracks I've used (Geneva Persinger Center being the current) the fast folks are supposed to move to the outside. The rest is dead on though! Jeff
Ray January 06, 2012 at 05:42 PM
While you post some important and valid things, I disagree with your first sentence. Walkers stay to the inside. Faster runners need a less tight turn. For walkers, the inside lane does not subject them to any increased stress on the knees and ankles. A runner needs a longer lane to run on if it's available. If an indoor track is, say, 1/12 of a mile and that's the middle of three lanes, then a fast runner would need to run more laps to complete his/her intended distance. The faster speed plus the tighter turn, combined with more laps, is a bad combination for runners. For walkers, it's no big deal. Yes, some tracks have the unreasonable "runners inside" rule but most I've seen tell the walkers to stay on the inside tigher, smaller lane. As it should be. It's not the same as on an outdoor track, where you know the inside lane is a quarter mile. Don't make me run 50 laps instead of 46 laps to get in a 4-mile run. It encourages injury.
Jeff Ward January 06, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Beth, I agree - and I know I'm going to get in trouble for this - but it's the old folks who get gabbing with each other and completely ignore everyone else that are the real problem. One walked right into me a couple of weeks again. Sheavon Lambillotte (park district head ) and I have been discussing solutions for this. On Jan 2, the Persinger Center track was the busiest I've ever seen it, but it was amazing how everyone worked together to make it work for everyone. It can happen! Jeff
Ray January 06, 2012 at 06:02 PM
C'mon, he just started out with a little humor and then went right to some helpful pointers. He never discouraged people from going to the gym!
Ray January 06, 2012 at 06:34 PM
You hit the nail on the head, I think the "too much too soon" thing drives a lot of people out of the gym, off the roads, off their bikes, etc.. When you join a gym and someone does an "analysis" of your condition - especially after a long layoff, it's too easy to panic and try to get ones self up to speed/strength (or down in size!) too quickly.
Jamie Martin January 06, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Good article! I always want to know how these newbies can sustain the workouts over the long haul. What lifestyle change will they make so that gym time fits in regularly? What will they take away from their busy schedule to go to the gym? This is why most fail, they don't have that plan. They just get excited and make a resolution and then, we know form experience, the enthusiasm lasts 6 weeks and real life interferes and they're gone!
Mark Wituk January 06, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Jeff' I'm not putting down walking, jogging or running; but I would really like you to come down and try our cardio-kickboxing class or even the Zumba; although I must admit on that one I'm still tripping over my feet. You're going to get a great aerobic and anerobic workout while working inside, no weather issues; and working up a heck of a sweat while having fun, too! This class will challenge you!
Jeff Ward January 06, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Mark, Though I certainly appreciate the invite, and I'm sure it would be a challenge, running is my true love, with road biking coming in a close second! Jeff
Jack Kellenberger January 07, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Jeff, when do we get the Irish whiskey
Jeff Ward January 07, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Jack, Tell you what! One good week of reasonable exercise every other day and you get a shot of Bushmills as a reward! Jeff

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