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Stick to your principles when it comes to exercise resolutions

Yes, it’s that time again. January 1 is fast approaching and with it a new year and new resolutions. And one of the more common resolutions is to improve our health through exercise and diet.

In practice, I have experienced a common theme with patients. In January, people share their plan to get into the gym and start a new diet as they strive for a healthy lifestyle. By February or March, it is common to see many of the same people in my office with some form of musculoskeletal injury that is related to their exercise plan. For many, this setback will derail their good intentions.

What can you do to avoid this in 2019, and how can you stay on the path to your health goals? Here are some principles that can help you accomplish both.

If you have read my previous posts you might have noticed that I prefer teaching principles over methods. Or in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Methods are many but principles are few.” There are many methods to obtain fitness and health goals for the new year. People who are successful in getting to where they want to go may follow different exercise plans, but they all likely follow similar principles that apply to both the middle-aged soccer mom and the elite athlete.

Whatever your goal — whether it involves weight loss, improved body compositions, running a marathon, getting stronger — it probably has been done by a lot of people. There isn’t a need to reinvent the wheel to reach your goals. You just need to look at what people have done to successfully get there, follow the principles they followed and adopt a reasonable plan to reach your goal.

For this post I sat down with a good friend of mine who possesses more knowledge in this area than myself. Steffen Smith is a Springfield-based competitive powerlifter and coach to many successful powerlifters and strength athletes. He has a wealth of knowledge in sport science, physical training and dietary strategies for the non-athlete.

Steffen knows common principles that people from all walks of life can follow to reach their physical goals. Don’t worry, this post will not encourage you to take up powerlifting or compete in a strongman competition. Steffen understands that those endeavors do not likely appeal to most people. What he does share are the common principles that you can employ to be successful in your New Year’s goal of becoming more fit and healthy.

The first place for someone to start pursuing their fitness goals is to clearly define them. Generalities such as weight loss and improved health are great for long-term achievements, but it is more beneficial to establish objective targets in the short term to reach the desired outcome. An example would be weight loss. Many people want to lose substantial weight, but the task often seems daunting when focusing on the long-term goal. A better approach is to create short-term goals along the way such as losing the first five pounds, then the next five pounds, etc.

The most important place to start with exercise, according to Steffen, is to learn proper movement. Learn how to squat, hip hinge, press and pull horizontally and vertically with good movement and without injuring yourself. A common problem for people starting an exercise or fitness regiment is to perform movements without first understanding how to execute the movements. This is a good way to sustain an injury. The message here is to first learn how to move correctly before you increase the volume of movement or add weight to a poor movement.

Steffen made certain to place importance on consistency with exercise and diet. Consistency over time is more important that trying to be at a maximum intensity every single workout. It is hard to achieve maximum intensity every single time. For many people, this will lead to either injury or burnout, both of which will derail the ability to reach the goal.

Consistency is also important when it comes to eating habits. Eating healthy only 50 percent of the time likely is not going to get you to your fitness goals any time soon. Consistency with eating habits and exercise are keys to making progress on any physical goal.

We also discussed the current popular trend of attending fitness and exercise classes. There are many benefits to attending an exercise class for social support, accountability and encouragement from peers and instructors in the class. However, one of the potential downfalls is that people may feel pressure to do more exercise than they can handle at that moment and also may not be that proficient in the movements, which can lead to injury. Unfortunately, I see and treat many people with injuries from pushing their body beyond its capacity.

Steffen and I both agree that we are not against people attending a class to pursue fitness goals, but it is important that they have the capacity — strength, endurance, balance, etc. — to handle the class. A period of working on fundamental movements and a base of fitness may be required for some people prior to starting an intense fitness class.

It also is important to plan how often and how intense you train in the classes because “more” is not always “better.” More intensity and more volume of exercise are not the fastest or safest ways to achieve your goals and often will lead to injury. So create an exercise plan that is within your abilities and the means to measure your progress. Adjustments to the plan will need to be made along the way, but if you do not have a way to measure progress, you will not know if your plan is working.

I want to thank my good friend, Steffen, for sharing his wealth of knowledge. This post is not an exhaustive list of ideas to help you reach your New Year’s goals, but a primer to help you attain them in a healthy way. Here’s to a Happy and Healthy 2019.

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