No matter what your fitness goals are, the key to reaching them is patience. When haste takes over, the risk for injury goes way up whether you’re trying to build stronger muscles, lose weight, or lead a more active lifestyle.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine started a new exercise program. I would call this person an “untrained” individual, as they did not work out regularly and had not performed vigorous physical activity for over nine months. Even before that, they were not what would be considered “active.” Anyways, they asked me for some advice and here’s what I told them:
“Be patient, don’t overdo it, and allow your body to adjust. Go to your class twice per week and try to include more activity into your daily life.” Two weeks later, I got a call from her telling me she’d sprained their ankle. She’d decided to go to the high-intensity class four times a week and sustained the injury. Her body was not ready, and she’d been blinded by her goals and adrenaline.
Would you take your brand-new car on the highway and drive at full speed across the country right out of the dealer’s lot? Of course not. You need to break it in a bit, get used to it, and let the new engine get ready to handle that kind of workload. Your body is no different.
The inherent risk of working out goes way up when an inexperienced or untrained individual attempts to go beyond their limits. And this is even true for experienced exercisers—there is no way I would attempt to do the kind of workouts now that I was doing even two years ago—it’s simply too big of a risk. The key is to take incremental steps, ease in, and progress naturally.
So how would you do this? The first is to recognize adrenaline. When you’re out for a walk, you may have set a 20-minute limit but are feeling really good. That’s completely normal. So, instead of going for 20, you end up going for 60. Do that for a couple of days, though, and you’ll hit a big wall. It could result in a lack of motivation or energy, or even worse, an injury. Instead, set a progressive schedule and stick to it. It might look something like this:
- Week 1: 20-minute walk, 3x per week, leisurely pace.
- Week 2: 20-minute walk, 4x per week, leisurely pace.
- Week 3: 20-minute walk, 4x per week, moderate pace.
- Week 4: 20-minute walk, 5x per week, moderate pace
- Week 5: 25-minute walk, 5x per week, moderate pace
- Week 6: 30-minute walk, 3x per week, vigorous pace
And so on. The key is to play with variables like time/distance, frequency, and intensity to allow for progression. This approach helps tune up your body to new challenges and make adjustments more safely and easily.