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On September 11, 2001, the senseless terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed all of our lives forever. For me, the changes were more immediate than for most. I live and work about half a block away from the World Trade Center site in New York City and was in the epicenter of this terrible, tragic event as it unfolded.
Although my home was uninhabitable for a period of time and my livelihood was significantly affected, I consider myself one of the lucky ones: I narrowly escaped with my life as the towers collapsed around me, ultimately walking out of the destruction without so much as a scratch. Everyone I love and care about who was also in the area (including my husband) is alive and well.
I know this seems like a funny way to start a chapter on getting motivated to exercise, but this experience opened my eyes about what it means to lack the motivation to move. I want to share what I've learned with you so that you know you're not alone if you sometimes have trouble getting started. Almost everyone at some point or another needs a push to get going.
To tell you the truth, I never really understood why it is so hard for people to get into exercise. For me, working out has always been as natural as breathing. I mean, why sit on the couch watching Simpsons reruns and eating Doritos when you could be out exploring a new running route, scrambling up rocks, or pumping iron in the gym with a couple of friends?
But after September 11, for the first time in my life I was too sad and depressed to move a muscle. I could barely walk my dog around the block, let alone lift a weight or run a step. I knew from experience and education (and from telling other people to do it) that getting some exercise would make me feel better, but I just couldn't bring myself to begin.
After a couple of weeks of complete inactivity, I had a long talk with myself. I agreed to do a little something every day, even if it was just to go for a quick walk or do a few moments of stretching. In the past, I'd always exercised to keep my weight under control, to shape my body, or for competition, but now I needed exercise to give me the strength to deal with everything I was going through.
I didn't dive back into my usual routine, which is probably hard-core by most people's standards, but I didn't let myself completely off the hook, either. I gave myself permission to ease into a scaled-down version of what I typically do, just to get myself back in the game. And you know what? It did help me cope. It helped me a lot. The more I did, the better I felt, so the more I was able to do. After a few weeks I was back to my old exercising self.
This experience taught me a couple of important lessons. First of all, sometimes pushing yourself to work out is really hard. I know this is probably an obvious conclusion to the more than 80 percent of Americans who don't work out on a regular basis, but it wasn't to me. This revelation has helped me relate much better to my clients and readers.
Second of all, there are many different reasons why people aren't motivated to exercise. You have to address each of these reasons head-on in order to overcome them. That's what I'd like to do in this chapter.
Being in the business of getting people into shape for as long as I have, I've noticed that most people have roughly the same excuses for not exercising. I'm not saying these "exer-scuses" aren't valid or that they're always easily dispensed with--but you can conquer them. I'd like to address the most common antiexercise objections with you now and give you some solid strategies for getting your butt in gear.
Excuse #1: I Don't Have Enough Time
Between carpooling the kids, dropping off the dry cleaning, and staying late at work to finish up a project, it seems as if there are never enough hours in the day for everything you need to do, let alone exercise. And in fact, most people claim they don't exercise due to a poverty of time. A recent Ladies' Home Journal poll found that more than 35 percent of women cite lack of time as their number one reason for not exercising or eating well, and a recent Fitness Products Council poll found that nearly 75 percent of Americans age thirty to forty-four would like to work out more often but can't find the time. I could tick off similar results from dozens of other polls, surveys, and studies, but I think the point is made.
Time management is a problem for all of us, but I often find that the busiest people are the ones who are avid exercisers. So how do these sweat-loving high achievers fit fitness into their lives?
* Prioritize. "I couldn't find the time until I found the time, if you know what I mean," says Jan, a thirty-two-year-old executive assistant. I think that's true. If you've ever gone through a period where you did exercise consistently, you probably weren't any busier than you are right now. "If getting into shape is truly something you feel you have to do, then you somehow find a way to get it done. I can't explain how it works, but it's as if time suddenly appears in your day," Jan theorizes. Jan also admits she struggles to get to the gym when she goes through extremely busy periods in her life. When that happens she shortens her workouts rather than skipping them altogether. "Frequently, the only difference between when you exercise regularly and when you don't is that you've made it one of your priorities," she says.
* Schedule. Violet Zaki, one of my favorite exercise video stars, once told me that when it comes to working out, she does what she says she's going to do, not just what she feels like doing. That comment has always stuck with me. I think about it every time I feel like skipping a workout I have planned.
Write down your workout appointment or zap it into your Palm Pilot. Then when the time comes, keep that appointment with yourself as if you are the most important client in the world. (You are.) Bottom-line it for yourself. If you decide that it's important to you to achieve the body of your dreams, exercise becomes a can't-miss proposition.
* Seize opportunities. I always tell my clients to keep spare workout gear on hand in case the opportunity presents itself to exercise. Sometimes a meeting is canceled or your mom pops in and offers some impromptu baby-sitting--what a waste to have a block of time if you don't have your walking shoes! Keep your gear in your briefcase, your pocketbook, the backseat of your car, or any other place that's usually accessible--you might catch a lucky break.
* Work out smarter, not longer. Unless you're training for the Olympics or a marathon, you don't need to dedicate your entire life to working out. When it comes to exercise, the more-is-better mentality really doesn't apply. The trick is to figure out what your goals are and then do just enough to achieve them. That's what the workouts in this book are designed to do. Most can be done in under an hour; some take far less time than that.
* Break it up. Still don't think you have enough time? It's not necessary to do all your exercise at once. Studies show it's just as effective to do a little here, a little there. For instance, doing a ten-minute walk in the morning, a ten-minute walk at lunch, and a ten-minute walk in the evening will give you the same results as one half-hour walk. To create the time you need for this particular workout, you might get up ten minutes earlier, go to bed ten minutes later, and shorten your lunch break by ten minutes.
Excuse #2: It's Too Hard
I once heard a comedian say that he'd tried lifting weights but they were too heavy. I think many people have that same impression, that exercise is very, very hard. This is partially the fault of those of us in the fitness business. We push too many workouts that are beyond what someone just starting out is capable of doing; we cater to the 20 percent of people who are already in good shape and leave everyone else out in the cold.
That's not to say that you won't have to put in the work or that exercise doesn't sometimes cause discomfort. I would be doing you a disservice if I withheld the truth about that. But exercise does not have to be an awful, painful, miserable experience. I promise you, it can be quite enjoyable, especially when you get past the first few weeks, the period of time where you're most likely to struggle and experience some aches and pains. In the workout chapters I give you tips and tactics for starting out at the appropriate level and gradually progressing into a more challenging routine. Here are some other commonsense guidelines to help you avoid most of the discomfort.
* orkout. This is one of the most common mistakes new exercisers make. If you do a ninety-minute, all-out barn burner of a workout your first time out, guess what? It's going to be hard. You're going to wake up the next day so sore that lifting your coffee cup to your lips will be a challenge. You won't exactly be inspired to continue. Take it slow to start. If you're unable to complete one of the workouts, no worries. Do what you can and build from there.
* Listen to your body. It really does know best. If it's telling you you're exercising too hard, then you're exercising too hard. You're more likely to hurt yourself if you push past your comfort zone. Besides, going full tilt won't necessarily give you better results. Did you know you burn about 100 calories a mile whether you walk it or run it? So if a leisurely stroll is all you can handle without huffing and puffing, by all means slow things down a bit.
* Gauge your intensity. Everyone, but especially beginning exercisers, can benefit from gauging exercise intensity. Knowing when to push harder and when to back off can be somewhat of an acquired skill; having some tangible method of measuring intensity helps you accurately determine how your body is responding to exercise. These are the three most common ways to measure workout intensity.
* Heart rate. How fast your heart beats corresponds directly with how hard you're exercising. The more intense the exercise, the faster your heart beats.
You're not looking to hit an exact heart rate each time you work out, but rather somewhere within a range. This range is called your target heart zone. Your target heart zone is the range of heart rates within which your heart should be beating for a given intensity of exercise. It is based on your maximum heart rate, or the fastest your heart is able to beat under any circumstances. Estimate your maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220. Then multiply this number by .5 and .9 to come up with your target heart zone. Beginners should do the majority of their workouts toward the lower end of the range. This will help avoid soreness and injury. After a few weeks you can begin to explore the upper regions of your target heart rate zone.
During your workout, you can take your heart rate, or pulse, at your wrist or your neck. To do so, place your index and middle fingers lightly on the vein located at the base of your thumb or at the groove at the side of your neck; count the number of beats you feel in fifteen seconds, then multiply by 4. If you're no mathematician, count the beats you feel in ten seconds and add a zero. Check your heart rate after you've been working out for at least five minutes.
If all this poking, prodding, and multiplying is too complicated for you, consider purchasing a heart rate monitor. This device comes with a strap that wraps around the bottom of your chest; it transmits an accurate heart rate to a large wristwatch or to the display on most cardio machines found in the gym. I like Polar heart rate monitors the best; they're reliable and, at around $50 to start, reasonably priced.
* RPE. Rated perceived exertion (RPE) is a 1-10 scale that helps you measure how hard you're exercising. It saves you the trouble of taking your pulse in the middle of a workout. Simply pay attention to how your muscles feel, how much you're sweating, the sound of your breathing, and anything else that contributes to your feeling of exertion, then assign a number corresponding to your total overall effort. On this scale, 1 is very, very easy and 10 is a near all-out effort.
* Talk test. Here's how the talk test works: During your workout you should be able to carry on a breathless conversation. If you can trip along singing "The Thong Song" at the top of your lungs, you need to speed up. If you can't form the words "Sweet fancy Moses, this is hard work," then you need to slow things down.
Excuse #3: It's Boring
You may have the idea that exercise is boring, but when you actually do it you may discover that that isn't the case. Repetitive activities such as walking and jogging don't require much concentration and may help you into a more relaxed, calmer mental state similar to that found in traditional meditation, a state of mind that many experts feel is ideal for creative thinking, problem solving, and easing stress.
On the other hand, you may find that exercise is as stimulating as, say, watching paint dry. If so, you've probably asked yourself more than once, "Isn't there any way to make this stuff more exciting?" Yes, there is.
* Cross-train. Doing the same exercise routine day after day is like eating the same thing for every meal, points out Cynthia Kereluk, star of Lifetime cable's Everyday Workout. "That would get pretty monotonous after a while and make it almost impossible to get all the nutrients you need." Exercise isn't much different. Alternating several fitness activities is a practice known as cross training. You might consider doing different workouts in this book to help prevent boredom and overemphasizing one aspect of training over another.
From the Trade Paperback edition.