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!