Fitness 101: The Basics

Congratulations! It’s a new year and you have made the resolution to finally get into or back into shape. You have your new workout clothes, joined a gym, and are motivated to eat better. You’ve checked with your physician and she says that there is no reason why you should not exercise more and, in fact, encourages you to do so. In other words, you are ready to go!

Now what?

Here are a few quick tips to help you get off to a great start and be successful in your new quest.

The Workout

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Start slowly: the biggest mistake most people make when starting out is being too ambitious. No one walks into a gym never having lifted weights before and starts pumping out reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press. It is best to start out slow with a lower weight than you think you can handle. You need to learn to feel the movement and get used to using the equipment.

Stay Consistent: the secret to getting into shape is basic. Find a routine and stick to it. Make working out a regular part of your day and you’ll succeed in the long run. This means working out when you feel like it and even when you don’t – which is the tough part.

Don’t Get Discouraged: it takes time to see and feel results. You didn’t get out of shape overnight and you won’t get into shape overnight either. Don’t expect to notice change for several weeks. The good news is that progress is addicting. Once you notice the positive benefits of exercise you’ll find that you want more and it will get easier.

Move everyday: I’m willing to bet that you spend too much time sitting around. Learn to move more. Even if it’s just walking a few extra steps by parking farther away at the store, work, whatever. Being able to move is a gift and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Today’s walk around the block might lead to next year’s marathon!

Fitness trackers: I’m a big believer in them. If nothing else they help you to better understand how you move through the day. 10,000 steps may just be a number but most people don’t get half of that. I say again – move more!

The Gym

There will be crowds: gyms are most crowded this time of year with all sorts of people who have made New Year’s resolutions. Sadly, most will be gone within the month. You don’t want to be one of them.

Gym Etiquette: just a few basics. Check your gym’s rules for details.

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  • Rack the weights when you are done using them. This especially important as you get stronger – what might be light for you in a few months will still be heavy to someone else.
  • Wipe the benches and equipment off when you’re done – we all sweat.
  • Keep your stuff with you, don’t leave it on an empty bench while you workout across the gym – gyms have lockers for a reason by the way.
  • Mirrors are for checking your form. If you have to flex do it quickly – and in this age of “fitness influencers” and Instagram “models” everyone has to flex.
  • Speaking of influencers – some gyms forbid the use of recording equipment. If you are keeping a video log or whatever be sure to check.
  • Don’t hang around the equipment talking with your new gym buddies. Socializing is fine, just don’t hog stuff other people may need to use while you’re doing it.
  • Don’t be a creep – eyes on your own form guys and focus on your workout. Gym attire by it’s very nature is tight and often revealing. But that doesn’t mean the lovely lady on the treadmill wants you to stare at her for the entire workout.

Don’t be intimidated: everyone starts somewhere. Even the biggest, baddest dude in the gym was once a scrawny kid struggling to pick up a 2 pound weight to curl for the first time and the most bodacious booty started out as a flat or shapeless blob. Plus, these folks are focusing on their own workout. No one is paying much attention to you and most are applauding you for starting your fitness journey. And if they aren’t well who needs them? You are doing this for you and no one else.

Personal Trainers: do you need a personal trainer to get fit? Of course not, but many people find the extra accountability motivating. Plus, if you’ve never worked out in a gym before a trainer can really help you understand how exercises work together and the proper form to avoid injury. They also help get over some of that initial self-consciousness. I have a personal trainer who I meet with once a week and am still learning from him. If your budget allows it, I would recommend you try to work with one. If you can’t afford a trainer another option is to find a friend who already works out. See if he/she is willing to help you get started. Chances are they’ll be flattered you asked.

How Not To Diet

You just have to glance at me to realize that diet and nutrition are not my fortes. I’m pretty good at lifting heavy stuff but not at watching what goes into my mouth which is unfortunate because any bodybuilder will tell you that changing your shape is about 20% gym work and 80% nutrition. So, here are my top errors. Don’t emulate them:

Don’t clean out your refrigerator and cupboards by eating all the “bad” stuff first.
Don’t think you can lose weight and still eat fast food every day (or twice a day, or three times a day for that matter).
Don’t starve yourself in an effort to lose weight. You’ll only binge later.

Now for me, a lot of the usual tricks about eating don’t work and I’ve reached the point where I know why I overeat, when I overeat, and what I should not be eating. I’ve accepted that fat loss is in my hands (or mouth) and don’t feel guilt or remorse anymore when I miss goals. That’s why I’m still too fat. But, c’est la vie. Enough about my problems. I know that you can do better.

Oh, and by the way, I’m sorry to inform every nutritionist out there but if you really think that a bagel is a substitute for a doughnut you are missing the point. Granted they are both round and have holes but the similarity is only superficial!

So, Get Started Already

You have the basics – don’t be too ambitious, find a routine you can stick to, watch your diet. But the most important thing is just to get started!

Happy New Year and let me know how your fitness quest progresses through the year!

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All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Should old acquaintance be forgot…A Year in Review

It is customary, it seems, at this time of year to take some time to reflect on the previous year and to make plans for the next. And though it may seem cliche I do have to say what a difference a year makes.

2014 started out without much hope or promise. Yes, my family and I tried to celebrate as best we could that New Year’s Eve but the reality was we were going through the motions since the day before we had just buried Dad. Our lives, like anyone else who has suffered major loss, will never be the same. Then the weather seemed to go crazy on us and the snow just kept falling. I work at a college and for the first time since I had started there we had multiple snow days – there was not one week in January were we worked the full week in fact. Though we all like an occasional snow day, it was getting ridiculous and creating more stress knowing that nothing was getting done (and still being held responsible for this by our customers even though they too could not get out any more than we could).

Spring brought hope and some relief. It was my niece’s final season with the University of Michigan Softball Team. Though they played well and fought their way to another Big 10 championship the NCAA crown eluded them. Still a great season by any measure, but a little heartbreaking as well as we knew that we would never get to cheer Caitlin on to a Women’s World Series Championship (which, come to think of it, most families never do get to do for their players).

I lost a close election in my theatre group and for the first time in well over a decade I found myself not on the board (I was off the board for a year by choice during this time though). I was okay with this, because that’s how elections go, and I had plenty of other things to keep me busy (the Community Theatre Association of Michigan board of directors, Masons, Church) and frankly could use the free time. Still, it felt odd.

The summer was okay, but nothing special until July when I attended a play writing workshop offered by CTAM and conducted by playwright Jim Henry . This was the creative spark that I needed to get writing again. I was enthused about my off stage work again and currently gave two plays which I’m working on with the goal of getting paid to have at least one play produced this year (a rather ambitious goal actually, but I’m going for it).

The summer was unusual in that I didn’t even get on a roller coaster – and I love roller coasters – until the fall this year. The good news however,  was that my Crohn’s was pretty much inactive (yes, there was the occasional flare-up but nothing out of the ordinary).

Then in the late fall my world began to shift. Things weren’t going so well at work (declining enrollment at the college among other issues), but things were going well with my professional association, acting, playwriting, and other aspects of my life. I left the CTAM board (term limits you know) and even more time became available to me. Then I went to see a new doctor and he said, “I’m not sure you have Crohn’s.” You can read more about this in earlier blogs but the effect of suddenly not having the thing which, for better or for worse, had defined me for nearly thirty years was surprising. I felt liberated and then happy. For the better part of November when someone asked me how I was doing I would respond with “I’m unreasonably happy.” I can only attribute my good mood to the idea that I might not have Crohn’s. I was no longer a slave to a daily pill. Of course, I knew that there was still something wrong but I think I actually had hope that something could be done and I might get better.

Of course, there have been tests and now the doctor is 95% sure I have Crohn’s but we need yet another test to get a biopsy. And he seems to be hinting, strongly, that surgery is probably in my near future – if they can actually find the fistula and Crohn’s which the CT Scan indicates is there. But, again, I’m not upset by this. I’m actually still hopeful that something can be done.

So, I’m ending this year I think on a high note. My faith in God has been restored. I like blogging and finding a new community of fellow “Chronies” as well as a new audience. . My Facebook “Get Fit and Healthy” group seems to be thriving with new members who are embracing the idea that we are all more successful together and put up with some of my random posts which do not interest them (but of course, interest me). I’m committed to getting healthier than I’ve been for several years in terms of weight and muscle tone. Things are getting better at work, because I have very supportive bosses and staff, and I’m developing other avenues to explore which may allow me at some point to be less dependent on a “regular” job in the future or at the very least provide a few extra dollars (the threat of layoff is very real this coming year). And most importantly, in many ways I’m closer to my family, including cousins, than I’ve ever been even if we are separated by miles.

Loss is always painful and some losses we never recover from. But, even in loss there is something to be gained, even if it takes a while.

And I think that this is the lesson for me from 2014.

May you all have a Happy and Prosperous New Year – onward to 2015!