Now that the new year is upon us, are you thinking about getting back in shape by taking up an activity … that you won’t give up soon after you start? To help you choose the one that will stand the test of time and keep you motivated, Brian Jalbert, a kinesiologist and personal trainer, suggests that you ask yourself these questions before getting started:
1. Why do I want to exercise?
The question may seem trivial, but it will help you set specific goals, achieve them and stay motivated. “People often say, ‘I want to get back in shape.’ But what does that mean? Some people want to regain their self-esteem, lose weight, change their appearance, or be able to climb the stairs at work. What do you really want to accomplish? You need to know why you want to do an activity if you want to keep doing it over time,” says the trainer.
2. How fit am I?
Before getting started, it’s important to know your fitness level. The trainer suggests talking to the staff at your local gym or, if you’re 45 or older or have any health problems, asking your family doctor for a checkup. “Beginning at that age, there’s a greater risk of cardiovascular disease,” he explains. “Muscular injuries are important to consider, but they’re not dangerous. However, someone with a heart condition who starts doing cardio too quickly may have consequences that are more severe.”
It goes without saying that fitness tests available online are often inaccurate and difficult to interpret without the advice of a professional.
Ideally, an assessment should measure cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and body composition (i.e. the percentage of fat). “People often mention the BMI (body mass index), but it doesn’t work well for muscular people, who tend to be categorized as overweight even though their percentage of body fat is very low. There are other comparative measurements and more accurate tests to determine this,” says Brian.
Kinesiologists and coaches are trained to administer the skinfold test using an adipometer, an instrument that measures the thickness of a skin area and determines the percentage of body fat with greater precision.
3. How will I get started?
“Often, people start out like a lion, only to finish like a lamb,” says the trainer. He cites the example of a person over the age of 40 who hasn’t played any sports in years and decides to go for a half-hour run outdoors – without proper shoes or any technique to speak of – and then asks himself why his whole body’s sore the next day. “Some activities or sports take a physical toll on the body. In such cases, you need to start slow,” he says.
He also stresses the importance of consulting competent people, whether they’re trainers or coaches. “If you’re taking up golf for the first time, it’s a very good idea to take lessons. The same applies to all forms of physical activity: it’s really important to start out with some supervision.”
Lastly, the supervision should be done by the right professional. “For people with health problems (muscular or cardiovascular), a kinesiologist would be appropriate. People who don’t have these types of problems could be followed by a coach who is certified, either through the NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program) or something similar.”
4. What activity (really) matches my temperament and lifestyle?
Not surprisingly, choosing an activity that interests you is the basis for staying motivated. “You have to want to do it; it can’t be a chore,” says the specialist. This means that taking a course on the latest craze – popular as it may be – should absolutely be avoided if it doesn’t “grab” you in any way.
Your temperament is also a factor when choosing an activity. “You need to ask yourself whether your motivation comes from being part of a team and engaging with others, or whether you prefer to be alone, just focused on yourself.” In the former case, this could lead to a team sport or group course, and in the latter, an individual sport or activity.
The schedule and types of encounters associated with the activity will also have an impact. “If you like to do things when it suits you but you have to meet a group of people at a specific time, you’ll probably find it difficult,” says the kinesiologist.
Another important consideration: the distance you need to travel for your activity. “It has to be as short as possible. Today, people have a hard time finding even half an hour to work out, so if you add in another hour of transportation, it’s not going to work.”
Finally, you need to consider your physical constraints, particularly those identified during your checkup. “For example, if you already have knee problems and you start jogging, it could lead to more problems. People with injuries should lean more toward low-impact exercises, such as skating, cross-country skiing or swimming. Conversely, someone who is perfectly fit can play basketball, tennis or badminton.”
5. Do I have a game plan to stay motivated?
Motivation is crucial to persevere in any activity. The strategies people use to maintain it are varied. Brian Jalbert lists a few: “It could be having one or more friends train with you, meeting with a trainer, taking a group class or setting new goals to surpass your previous limits. It’s difficult to train without having a goal.” Hence the importance of having a game plan before starting.
Being in an environment where you feel good about yourself will also help you stay motivated. “A gym where everyone looks like a bodybuilder won’t really be attractive to someone who just wants to use the treadmill and lift the occasional weights.”
This also applies to the choice of trainer, with whom you should click. “If people see that it’s not going well with a certain trainer, they should change right away. It should never seem difficult to engage in an activity,” he says.