Whether you want to get back in shape or you want to get in shape for the very first time, improving your fitness begins by starting where you are, setting reasonable goals, and tracking your progress. In this episode, I will show you how.
I recently received an email from a follower who said something that I think a lot of people can relate to:
I found your podcast and YouTube channel and really appreciate your work. But here’s the problem: I haven’t really exercised since I was in college and I don’t know where to start! Every time I have started a workout program in the past few years, I have ended up injured, frustrated, or both. Can you help?
And you know what? I can help! This is a big reason why I started this podcast in the first place – to answer this question.
I completely understand this listener’s dilemma. It is a refrain I’ve encountered often, both as an endurance coach and from the people who are just starting the Weighless program.
Some people haven’t ever been interested in moving their bodies, but then are suddenly faced with a doctor telling them they need to get in shape – or else. Others were fit years ago (maybe in high school or college) but once they stopped competing in team sports, or left their fit friends behind, they never found a fun and suitable replacement for that physical activity.
The interesting thing is that these are similar but slightly different issues.
- Never being fit (or interested in being fit) can lead to not knowing where to start on their fitness journey.
- Having been previously fit but letting it slide can lead to trying to jump back in where you left off. Which is a recipe for injury and burnout.
The good news is that you can address either of these challenges by adopting the same mindsets.
But before we go any further, I want to remind you, dear reader, that we are all good enough. And at the same time, we’re all works in progress. Being out of shape is not a deficiency or something to be ashamed of. And asking/looking for assistance is a great place to start! Along with changing up the mindsets I am going to share with you. Beginning with…
Start where you are
A functional movement screening test (or FMS), is a test that can identify what areas of fitness you may want to work on first.
Chances are, if you’re reading this article right now, you aren’t a complete couch potato. That means me telling you to simply “move more” isn’t going to help. So these types of tests can give you a good indication of where to start.
But you can also identify your most troublesome movement deficiencies by paying attention through your day and week and writing down what movements are getting harder for you. What movements have become off-limits in your day? And even what movements have become painful? Once you have captured these on paper (or on a computer or phone) you have a great list of where to focus your efforts. Turn those movement weaknesses into fitness strengths! And hint: my YouTube channel is a great place to look for some routines you can do. BrockArmstrong.com/youtube
But even more important than identifying the gaps in your overall physical fitness is to identify the mental gaps in your thinking. You need to ask yourself if you’re telling yourself an unhelpful mental story about what you should or shouldn’t be capable of. Are you “shoulding” yourself into either not doing anything or “shouldn’ting” yourself into doing too much, too soon?
Start where you are—not where you want to be or where you were, but honestly and sincerely where you are.
It doesn’t matter if you used to be able to run a 40-minute 10k or if you could hold the Bird of Paradise yoga pose for 60 seconds. It also doesn’t matter if the workout you downloaded off the internet says that you should do three sets of 10 reps of all of these exercises. What matters is that you respect what your body is capable of doing right now. Let go of the judgment and tell your inner drill sergeant to hit the bricks. Then go for a walk, do some modified chair squats, or again, check out my videos for inspiration.
What matters is that you respect what your body is capable of doing right now.
Do the workout program that suits your, pleases you, and challenges you without leaving you broken and exhausted.
Set process-based goals
I know, I know. We live in a fast-paced world. We want faster cars, faster internet, faster food. But where has all this speed gotten us? According to researcher Ashley Whillans, “while technological advancements allow North Americans now to have more free time than in the 1950s or the 1980s, they feel more pressed for time than ever before.” I propose we stop focusing on the shortest possible path to an outcome and instead set goals that revolve around the ongoing process.
Be able to complete a 10km road race next summer.
Stretch infront of the TV, go for a walk twice a week in the evenings, and do at least one bodyweight strength session per week.
As you can probably guess, the outcome-based goal can easily lead to rushing into an overly ambitious workout program that’s not suitable for where you are in your fitness journey. This could leave you injured, burnt out, or just plain disappointed with how long it takes you to reach your goal.
On the other hand, the process-based goal:
- Gives you a sense of accomplishment every time you don’t break your plan
- Allows you to work at your current fitness level
- Will gradually get you to (and keep you at) your goal of being fit.
When people start on the road to an outcome-based plan, they often forget to ask the question “and then what?” So when they cross the finish line on their goal, they are once again left floundering in their fitness life. And so we are back to where this podcast episode started.
Measure your progress
Similar to the way a process-based goal allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment along the way, not just at the finish line, measuring your progress can do the same.
As I have said before, fitness isn’t something you can just check off your list and call “finished.” It’s not like you can achieve fitness and then rub your hands together and say “OK, done!” I think people who are interested only in getting fit as quickly as possible forget that fitness is a lifestyle and not an end game.
Instead of thinking about how quickly you can get in shape, think about how long you want to be able to move your body through the world in the ways that bring you joy. Instead of focusing on how little time you can get away with dedicating to your fitness improvement, focus on how much you enjoy moving your body in new and exciting ways. This can be helped by measuring your progress with specific challenges or tests.
There are many different ways to test your fitness and measure your improvement. It’s up to you to determine which way makes sense for you. It could be as involved as a CrossFit baseline workout of the day (WOD), or it could be as simple as timing your walk around the block, aiming for a quicker time than you had last month.
Again, it is important to not get hung up on the “shoulds” when you’re testing. The only should I would encourage you to follow is that each day you should strive to move more of your body, more often, in more and more interesting ways.
You are where you are in your fitness journey. Use your testing information as data to inform you of what’s working and what’s not. Don’t use it as a judgment of your self-worth. We are all good enough. And at the same time, we’re all works in progress.