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New to Exercise? Things to Think About

Avoid Early Overkill
  -- By Joe Downie, Certified Physical Fitness Instructor

Beginning an exercise program can be very overwhelming-- even painful if you aren’t careful. Warming your body up prior to exercise is very important for your health (and safety) and will also help you enjoy your workouts more. Warming up for 5-10 minutes will raise your body temperature and prepare your cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous systems for the demands of exercise by slowly increasing the blood circulation to and from your heart and muscles.

Warming up helps your connective tissues better handle the stress of exercise, decreasing your chance of injury. Connective tissue is similar to hard plastic; if you don’t warm-up plastic it won’t be flexible, and is much more likely to "break."

Proper warm ups (and cool downs) also help reduce the severity of soreness in the next day or two following your workout. The increased blood flow helps deliver more oxygen to the muscles and gets rid of the waste products that contribute to soreness. Increased blood flow also helps bring more fuel to your body, resulting in better performance.

Warm up with a low-impact exercise at a slower, more comfortable pace than your actual workout. Warm up exercises like biking, an elliptical machine, walking, or rowing allow your body to warm up with limited stress to your joints.

Another reason for soreness is trying to do too much too soon. Don’t try to make up for lost time. Start out with a few exercises and slowly progress. Your body will gradually adapt to the increased stress. If you are starting resistance training for the first time, try picking 1-2 exercises for each area of the body - the upper body, lower body and core. Also take into consideration the anterior (front) and posterior (back) parts of the body. For example, if you pick two core exercises, you might try bicycle crunch for the abdominals (front of the body) and lumbar extension for the lower back (posterior part of the body).

If you are a beginner to aerobic training, start out with something like walking that raises your heart rate a little bit, nothing that will get you too out of breath. Try doing this for 10 minutes the first few times you exercise, slowly progressing the duration of the workout. If you've increased the time to a point where you can handle 30 minutes at that pace, start building a little more intensity. For example, you could attempt 2 or 3 days of 30 minutes each at your initial pace, followed by a 10-minute day at an increased intensity.

Another area of frustration for the beginner is energy level. Most people expect to exercise the first few weeks and experience a shot of energy. In actuality, the opposite often occurs. Your body isn’t used to the added stress, which causes you to feel fatigued and even drained, especially if you overdo it. Don’t get discouraged; it’s natural to feel this way until your body adapts. As your body acclimates itself, your cardiovascular system will become more conditioned, causing you to have more energy and focus throughout the day. Your efforts will pay off.

Overexertion will trigger stiffness and soreness, causing many people to give up on exercise completely. If you do overdo it, there are a few things you can do to feel better. Exercise actually breaks your muscles down – sleep, nutrition, and hydration play a vital role in their recovery. Proper rest, refueling your body with healthy food, and drinking plenty of water will help you recover much more quickly. In the days that follow, doing a low impact exercise at a low to moderate intensity and stretching will deliver more oxygen and blood to help clean out the waste and bring more nutrients to your muscles.

Your body loses a large quantity of water when you work out, so it is very important to drink more water as you exercise. Active people should drink at least 10-12 eight-ounce cups a day, throughout the day, taking extra care to rehydrate during the workout. This will keep your joints moving fluidly and flush out the toxins that might be building up in your muscles. Headaches, stiffness, and cramping are all results of dehydration.