You joined the gym, bought new workout clothes, filled your water bottle, and committed to lose 10 pounds before June. Thoughts of the beach fill your mind when the alarm goes off at 5:30am, this is going to be worth it! You get in the car, drive to the gym, and sleepily make your way to the treadmill.
Ten minutes later, you’re doubled over with stitches and feel like you might actually die. What gives?
It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
Your first session on the treadmill after an exercise hiatus will undoubtedly suck, and maybe even convince you to give up on exercise. Your pulse will rapidly quicken, and you’ll be out of breath, and you might feel like you just climbed Mount Everest after 10 minutes on the machine. Even if you are naturally athletic, the initial shock of a workout after a period of couch potato life will probably make you feel terrible. The chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, Cedric Bryant, says “Generally speaking, when people go about it too aggressively early in the program, they tend not to stick with it over the long haul… What you really want to do is to develop some new habits that you can stick with for a lifetime.”
Most people are surprised at how difficult a seemingly “easy” exercise routine is when they first start out. Start low and slow, and don’t expect to have the same mile time as you did in 10th grade health class. This author could run an 8-minute mile as a teenager, but had to start with 30 second intervals of jogging and walking at 24 years old!
Build Your Muscle
It’s important to stick it out, even when you’re feeling sore or tired. Muscle tissue actually tears during your workout, and the act of repairing itself is what makes your body stronger. The more difficult the workout, the more sore you will feel the next day. Moderate soreness is a sign that you’ve accomplished something! Check out this list of tips for effectively treating soreness at home.
However, be careful with the old adage “No pain, no gain.” There’s a line between soreness and a sharp, searing pain that occurs with injury. Never exercise when you’re injured. If you aren’t sure if you’ve hurt yourself, rest for a few days. It’s always best to check with a health professional.
As your body adjusts to the new challenges, you will adapt and find yourself able to do more in each workout. The seemingly insurmountable 30 minutes of jogging on the treadmill will suddenly become achievable, your interval training uses larger increments, and you can take the stairs two at a time! The biggest hurdle lies in the first several weeks of working out, when initial discomfort can easily overpower your motivation.
One of the most effective ways to build strength without feeling like total crap is through interval training. Many beginners head to the gym and intend to run 30 minutes on the treadmill. Once they’ve hit 6 minutes (or even 2!), they’re sweating, huffing and puffing, and might even feel like falling over.
That’s your cue to walk. It’s surprising how one can keep moving at a slower pace, and actually feel refreshed enough to start running again. By incorporating short bursts of high-intensity activity, you’ll actually burn more fat and be able to sustain a longer workout. The concept can be applied to any cardiovascular exercise; when walking, walk faster for 5 minutes and slower for the next five, or if you’re swimming, take one lap at a sprint and the next 4 at a more leisurely pace.
Stretch It Out
The body needs to warm up before starting a difficult task, so prior to any exercise routine, it’s important to do some light stretching. This doesn’t mean you have to imitate a Russian gymnast, or even touch your toes. Your body’s flexibility is largely genetic, but even the slightest increase in flexibility can have a positive effect on your workout. Check out this slideshow for 10 basic stretches.
Stretching is itself a form of exercise. Many yoga classes use a combination of stretches and poses to build strength without any weights or equipment. If resistance training with dumbbells and weight machines isn’t your style, consider supplementing your cardio with yoga. Specialized classes for runners and other athletes focus on stretching specific muscle groups. If you become a running enthusiast, you may find a yoga video series or class is beneficial to your workout.
Don’t Give Up
Any exercise, however minimal it may seem, is a boost to your health and mental wellness. It’s easy to be turned off when the results aren’t instant, or when the first few sessions leave you feeling like you were hit by a truck. Commit to bettering your health and wellness, and don’t give up!