In my professional role as an NHS Exercise Practitioner, I’ve had the privilege of helping over 6000 patients one on one in the last 6 years to: improve their general health, lose weight, recover from open-heart surgery, reverse chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes, overcome depression and start walking again from life-threatening morbid obesity – the list goes on and on.
During that time I’ve met people from virtually every walk of life, most of whom wanted to lose weight and improve their health through physical activity.
Here’s some info for you if you are currently unhappy with your health/weight and how you might make that all-important move from being inactive to even moderately active. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments box and I’ll reply asap, otherwise I advise asking your GP about GP Exercise Referral/Prescription services in your area.
First Things First
You need to make sure that your training has elements of aerobic (walking, footy, jogging etc), anaerobic (resistance weight lifting) and stretching. Most people don’t bother with stretching because they don’t see it as being as valuable, but it really is, especially for guys who normally have a thicker musculature. Ladies are generally more flexible than men. It’s good to nail this now as you begin.
For any effective exercising, whether it’s for weight loss, weight gain, general fitness or injury rehab etc, it’s important to follow this principle – if any one of these 4 points are missing then you’ll have less success and could develop/aggravate injury or experience lack of motivation due to reduced gains in health:
F – Frequency of exercise sessions (3 or 4 x per week*)
I – Intensity of exercise (either monitor your heart rate or use an RPE scale in your head**)
T – Time of exercise (45-60 minutes per session)
T – Type of exercise (aerobic, resistance and stretching)
For example, you could nail 3 of the 4 elements but you’d still have problems because you’d be missing the 4th element. i.e. you could have the F and TT in place but not be doing well because your (I)ntensity might be off. That’s the best way of thinking about whether you’re exercising effectively in general terms. If you were to start doing more specific sport training then this could change to accommodate that, but then you would be talking about things like macro/micro cycles and periodisation which is beyond the scope of this blog article!
Doing regular weight training is definitely good for weight loss because it is the increase in lean muscle mass that will jolt your metabolic rate into gear, but you really need to be doing a lot of stretching with that and I don’t mean 5 minutes bouncing on your hammy before you go and ‘bench bro’ – I mean giving at least 15 minutes to it per session. This will really help to look after your muscles and joints. The more flexible your muscles the less pressure there will be on the bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.
This is the best resource I’ve come across, specifically for stretching (linked to injuries). Brad Walker is an Australian Christian dude: http://injuryfix.com/ – He helped me a bit when I did a half marathon in 2007 and I was struggling with injuries then. Have a look at the site as a whole because you’ll pick a load of tips up if you spend some time browsing and a lot of the stuff is free. Try typing any area of injury you are struggling with into the search bar and you’ll find loads of hits come up for relevant info. If you suffer with lower back pain, for example, just look through and find stretching ideas for the lower back. Here’s one example: http://injuryfix.com/archives/lower-back-stretches-video.php
Exercise Session Suggestion
This is what I suggest you start considering for exercise sessions if you’re aiming to move into moderate physical activity in a gradual way:-
1) Easy Aerobic 10 minutes – Light aerobic warm-up, e.g. walking or light jog outside or on a treadmill. Or you could cycle or row – just mix it up. But cycling would be best for lower back problems because it’s a lower impact option.
2) Stretching 10 minutes – Work through a stretching routine where you gently (never with bouncing) hold a muscle to the point of stretch (uncomfortable but never painful). Try and work through your major muscle groups first (ie chest, shoulders, upper back, quads, hamstrings, calf etc – roughly 5-10 mins). You’ll find help knowing how to stretch muscles on the same site I mention above. Remember, I wouldn’t advise stretching muscles cold (before a warm up) but there is more of a risk of over-stretching if your muscles are warmer, so take it easy and don’t over-stretch. (There’s plenty of reading out there about research into pre and post exercise stretching benefits/concerns).
3) Resistance Exercises (1st half) – If you’re doing, say, 8 weights exercises, do 4 at this point (examples – chest press, leg press, bicep curls, tricep dips)
4) Harder Aerobic 15 minutes – Choose an aerobic exercise to push yourself further on. You might prefer a jog or a row – just whatever. This is where your HR/RPE (see bottom of article) will be higher (generally you’ll be more knackered and find it tougher!)
5) Resistance Exercises (2nd half) – Finish off your weights routine (examples – squats, calf raises, ab crunch, travelling press-up)
6) Easy Aerobic 5-10 minutes – Light aerobic cool-down, e.g repeat your warm up or choose something else. Just remember that it will be less intense than the warm-up but enough to keep your HR up for a bit while your circulatory system flushes some of your lactate out that will have accumulated over your work-out. This will reduce muscle pain the next day (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_onset_muscle_soreness).
7) Stretching 10-15 minutes – Work through a similar routine to your warm up but spend longer working through your muscles and especially your lower back stretches, if you have problems in that area. Just remember, you’ll be tempted big time to skip over these stretching parts, but it really will help you to get into a habit of doing it properly. We all do it….we strut into the gym, maybe do a 10 min warm up, jump straight on the heavy weights, leave the gym with a Lucozade in hand and then jump in the car home during which your body is in a shocking posture.
Finally, the other resource I’d like to commend to you as a big help to your exercise-related health, especially if you’re not a fan of gyms, is the following website. Hundreds and hundreds of free home-based exercise routines on video for you to follow and get stuck in! http://www.fitnessblender.com
Do try and enjoy whatever routine you start –
Consistency is the big key
(nutritionally as well as physically) – feel free to ask any questions, especially regarding clinical considerations with exercise, and I will do my best to answer!____________________________________________________________________
* Government exercise recommendations are for 5 x 30 minutes a week but that is a general recommendation and at a lower intensity than more active people would do. Doing 3-4 (preferably 4 after 8 weeks) sessions a week is perfect because you’ll be working at a higher intensity cf. the average member of the public
** HR monitors: You can pick up heart monitors pretty cheaply (less than £30 on amazon but I’d recommend this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Polar-Heart-Monitor-Sports-Watch/dp/B003HT88JQ/ref=sr_1_7?s=sports&ie=UTF8&qid=1368624268&sr=1-7&keywords=heart+rate+monitor) if you wanted to get specific about training zones etc. It’s a much more accurate way of knowing your intensity – you can just look at the watch part of it an know at any moment what HR you are at. If you want to do that I can help you work out your training zones for different kinds of training. Using an RPE scale (below) is another way of trying to attribute an intensity to any part of your session. It’s obviously way less accurate but it has its uses. Don’t be confused by the fact that there’s two kinds (a 10 point and a 20 point scale). Just use this one, it’s the principle in your head that will help you to know essentially whether you’re working at a low, moderate or high level.