7 Ways To Take Exercise Slow To Maximize Your Results

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Whether you're starting a new exercise routine, coming back after an injury or trying to take your workouts to the next level, pacing yourself is critical.

"When you get motivated to kick-start your workouts, it's tempting to try to achieve your goals as quickly as possible," says Jennifer Burnham, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "Unfortunately, demanding too much of yourself straight out of the gate can set you up for failure."

Why Prime Your Body For Exercise?

Many people try to intensify their workouts — or jump into a new routine — without any build-up. Coaxing your body to get up to speed before it's primed can not only lead to bad form and a less effective workout, but it can also increase your risk of injury.

"Exercise is a stressor in its own right," Burnham says. "Your body has to face new demands and adapt accordingly. When you try to go too hard too fast, your system hasn't had a chance to adapt, which can lead to muscle strains, soreness, or even a shock to your cardiovascular system."

Running on all four cylinders straight out of the gate can also lead to burnout and may cause you to dread your workouts or skip them altogether. A better, more effective approach: Focus on the long term and step into exercise gradually. Take time to learn proper form and see how your body responds to new activities.

Pacing Yourself With Exercise

If you want to run a half-marathon, you shouldn't attempt a 13-mile run during your first week of training. "Instead, you need to build up your miles over a period of time that makes sense for your age and fitness level," Burnham says.

Unfortunately, pacing yourself isn't always easy. To make exercise part of your everyday life over the long haul and avoid burnout, try these seven strategies.

  1. Identify your why. Before you dive into an exercise routine, take some time to identify your primary goal. Are you hoping to lose weight and get fit? Or are you looking for a way to relieve stress and improve your mood? Maybe you want to be more active and improve your health so you can play with your kids or grandkids more and watch them grow up. Whatever the reason, keeping your goal in mind will help you ease into your routine and stick with it over time.
  2. Ditch the all-or-nothing attitude. You might feel like you have to run 20 miles each week or spend hours in the gym to get the physical and emotional benefits of exercise. But the truth is, some exercise is better than none. Even just taking a 15-minute stroll at the end of your day can have powerful mental and physical health benefits.
  3. Give yourself grace. Don't beat yourself up if you can't achieve your workout goals according to some pre-set timeline. Instead, give yourself grace and recognize that you're doing your best. You may be surprised to discover that self-compassion is a powerful motivator.
  4. Check your expectations. Your social media feed may make it seem like everyone else is buff and in shape — and that you should be that way, too. But getting fit takes time. Instead of obsessing about your weight or trying to mastermind ways to develop that coveted six-pack, focus on being consistent with your workouts.
  5. Find your community. "Having a community rally around you can help you bring your workouts to the next level," Burnham says. "Even just a single fitness buddy, someone who holds you accountable for exercise, can make it easier for you to stay on track." You might also consider partnering with a personal trainer to help you devise a workout regimen that makes sense.
  6. Make it fun. If you hate running or weightlifting, don't choose those activities because you think that's what you're supposed to do. Opt for things that bring you joy and think outside the box. Maybe Zumba, gardening or HIIT workouts are more your speed. The key is to select activities that suit your lifestyle and interests. "Exercise should be a positive experience," Burnham says. "When you choose workouts and activities you really enjoy, it will be easier for you to stick with the program."
  7. Listen to your body. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is off. It's important to recognize red flags so you know when to step back. If you feel a twinge or need a moment, stop moving, take a brief rest and gently resume your workout, but only if it feels right. "The ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality is a surefire recipe for injury," Burnham says.

How To Stick With An Exercise Program

According to health authorities such as the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy adults should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate activity each week — and you can break up those minutes any way you like.

Not sure how to gauge whether you're working out at a moderate intensity? A general guideline:

  • Low-intensity exercise: You can talk in full sentences, or even sing.
  • Moderate-intensity exercise: You can speak in full sentences, but you may need pauses, and you probably won't be able to sing.
  • Vigorous exercise: You're breathing too heavily to speak in full sentences.

The goal for most people is to choose an activity that makes you breathe more heavily than normal but doesn't make you out of breath. Even if you can't meet your weekly quota of moderate exercise, it's important to remember that doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Not sure how to get started? "Consider meeting with a personal trainer for two or three sessions," Burnham says. "A trainer can guide you through a basic exercise routine that suits your skills, interests and abilities, and help ensure you meet your health and fitness goals."

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To find a doctor or sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Jennifer Burnham is an athletic trainer who sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

Categories: MoveWell