Category: Start Exercising Articles

Exercise Reality Check

Once I was talking to a friend about how Mondays are a huge train wreck for me. I wake up and completely freak out because there’s so much to do and I have no idea where to start. Email? A new article? A blog post? Google the phenomenon known as ‘avocado hand’?

There is simply too much to do!

My response? Jump in and start doing something. That would be fine if I then didn’t spend the entire time wondering if I should be doing that other thing…or what about that other thing?

And what is this ‘avocado hand’ and what if I have it?? (Don’t look this up – seriously it’s when people cut themselves while slicing an avocado. We can all get on with our lives now)

This circular anxiety-ridden process led my friend to compare my approach to working to going on a road without a map. How do you know where you’re going if you don’t plan it out?

Although having a map does not mean that I won’t get lost. (please no comment, husband. I have no sense of direction and never will. Move on.)

With that in mind, we came up with this plan to do a kind of reality check on Mondays. Sit down, lay everything out and make a map of sorts so I have a semi-clue of what I’m doing…

See where this is going? Yep, we’re about to talk about exercise.

Exercise Reality Check.

Like my map-less Mondays, it’s easy to get lost navigating the fitness world.

My question to you today is, where are you and where are you going? Do you have a plan? If so, have you examined your plan lately to figure out if it’s working for you?

Are you doing what you need to do and, if not, how do you figure it out?

The first step is this:


Your next step is to figure out where you are so we can locate you and send in the rescue squad. To continue the map analogy, let’s look at some of the most common places you might be and how you might navigate your way to somewhere new.

Which one do you recognize?

1. Moving Forward

If you’re here, you’re moving along quite nicely. You have a map or even better, GPS. If you’re moving forward, you likely have this exercise thing licked. You’re doing what you need to do and you feel good about it.

If you’re here, do you need to go somewhere else? Not necessarily, but here’s a question: How can you make things even better? My suggestion is to try something new and different. I have some ideas:

Guided Workouts – Streaming Videos and Smartphone Apps

This is my favorite way to gather lots of new workout options. The more choices you have, the more interesting your exercise life will be. You can wake up, pick a new workout and go. Keep in mind, most of these are subscription services. You really do get what you pay for. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Cathe Friedrich On Demand – Cathe is one of my favorite instructors and I’ve done her videos for years. She has hundreds of videos to choose from – Step, strength training, circuit training, HIIT, kickboxing, yoga…it’s all there.
  • Aaptive – This is a smartphone app with a variety of guided workouts for all fitness levels – Treadmill, elliptical, outdoor walks and runs and so forth. What I love is that they use great music, old and new, by the original artists.
  • Fitness Class – I really love this app because there are tons of videos by a huge variety of instructors. You get a lot for your money here.
  • Personalized workouts – And, hey, I’m a personal trainer remember? I do virtual training (skype, facetime, etc), or I can create workouts and programs just for you, focusing on your goals, equipment, what you like/hate and working around any physical issues you may have. I can even make personalized workout videos for you. Holler at me if you’re interested.

2. Treading Water

If you’re here then maybe you’re in some lake in the middle of Toadsuck Ferry, Arkansas and you don’t know how to get out of it.

There’s nothing wrong with Toadsuck Ferry, but there are other lakes to explore. Yes, treading water is frustrating, especially when you want to move forward. But, this phase often sets the stage for doing just that.

You may be here because you’re not exercising at all and you know you should. Or maybe you’re doing the hit-or-miss workout – you’re good for a few days and then you go off the rails.

So, what do you do if you’re not moving forward? First, consider why you’re there.

Are you overwhelmed?

Like my Monday I-have-to-do-everything-right-now mentality, you may feel like you have to do every workout you haven’t been doing right now.

It’s kind of like wanting to make up for lost time. Trust me, even if you could do every workout under the sun today, you would only end up in traction in the hospital.

So, here are some thoughts for moving forward from the oh-my-god-I’ve-fallen-way-behind feeling:

  • Acknowledge – Not to sound cheesy, but sometimes you have to go through some mental exercises before you can get back to physical workouts. Take some time to acknowledge what happened. You stopped working out – There are probably reasons for that. What were they? Think about them or write them down.
  • Understand – Now, think about why you stopped working out. Do your reasons make sense? If a friend came to you and said, “I totally stopped working out because my knee hurt and I couldn’t figure out what exercises to do and then work stressed me out…” Doesn’t that make sense? Don’t your reasons make sense? Wouldn’t you sympathize with your friend? I’m going to go all therapy now and say turn that sympathy around and give it to yourself.
  • Forgive – You’re human. You’re a good person with good intentions. Maybe you don’t always know the answer, but you always keep trying. It’s okay to fall off the wagon. You can always get back on…always, always, always.
  • Give yourself permission to start easy – Now, your mind is probably in a better place, so maybe set a goal to do something really simple every day – something that feels good. And if you need help figuring out where to start, I happen to have some suggestions:
    • START 8-Week Exercise Program – This program figures everything out for you – Videos, a complete workout schedule that gets you started and keeps you moving.
    • Work with me – As I’ve mentioned multiple times, I’m a personal trainer. I do this for a living. I can help.
    • Just go for a walk – That’s as simple as it gets and it’s exercise!

3. Digging a Rut

This is one of my favorite things to do. Give me a routine and I will follow that routine until my eyeballs fall out, roll across the floor and end up behind the refrigerator.

Think about it: You get into a nice comfortable routine (Monday: Running, Tuesday: Weights, Wednesday: Yoga, etc.) and it’s all working like a well-oiled machine until, suddenly, it doesn’t. And then you feel like quitting. So, what do you do?

  • Identify the problem – Boredom is just one reason a program stops working. Are you frustrated with lack of results? Don’t like some of the activities you’ve been doing? Not sure if what you’re doing is right for your goals?
  • Solve the problem – Unlike most things in life, this is a solvable problem. For example, boredom is almost always a contributor to any well-dug rut. Some thoughts:
    • Make your own workout – Turn on some music, put on some shoes and do stuff. Dance around, march in place, do some knee lifts…just move around and don’t worry about it.
    • Throw the rules out the window – Instead of worrying about reps and sets or heart rate and intensity, just do a workout with no rules. Go out and run as far as you feel like it and then walk for as long as you feel like it. Pick up some weights and do as many squats or biceps curls as you can. See how many pushups you can do. Make an entire workout using a deck of cards – Draw one and do an exercise for the number on the card. Take your usual workout and do it backward, from the end to the beginning.
    • Do something fun – Throw a frisbee, play paddle ball, walk the dog and let him sniff all he wants, go for a walk and count how many trees you pass. Toss a ball in the yard. Just forget it’s exercise. Just move.

We all get caught up in the ‘rules’ of exercise, but that can make things feel stale and boring. Maybe you need to break those rules to remember why moving your body doesn’t have to feel like a chore.

4. Moving Backward

If you’re not doing anything and you don’t know how to stop doing nothing, it may feel like you’re moving backward. Not a pleasant feeling, I know.

So, how do you get out of it? How do you get yourself motivated to do something, anything?

Here’s the answer: Just Start.

Pick something and do it every single day. No matter what. It can be the smallest thing…doesn’t matter.

  • Do one stretch first thing in the morning: Try this one.
  • Every day before lunch, take a 5-minute walk.
  • While you’re brushing your teeth, do squats.
  • The moment you turn on your TV, lie down and do 15 reps of this exercise. Better yet, do this entire workout while watching TV.

Just pick one or all and do it every day. Same time, same exercise….every day. There.

You’re moving forward now.

Got a comment? I’d love to hear where you are and how you’re navigating things.

Learn How to Think Like an Exerciser

If you’re trying to lose weight or stick to a consistent exercise program, you could probably list any number of obstacles that stand in your way. How are you supposed to exercise when you have to work, travel, run the kids to the dentist, cut the grass, watch your favorite TV show and take out the trash? What you may not realize is that fitting in exercise is a matter of how you think and not what’s on your schedule.

Thinking like an exerciser can increase your odds of success and put you in the right frame of mind for making the choice to exercise.

Read more

Lounging in the grass

Breaking the Rules of Exercise

When I first started personal training, I was hung up on following the rules I learned in my certification courses: A certain amount of cardio at a specific training zone along with the standard, recommended strength exercises.

I quickly learned that human beings don’t always conform to the rules of exercise and that trying to force them into it was like trying to get my cat to, well, do just about anything other than drape himself over the back of the couch for a nine-hour nap.

I’m reminded of one client who came to me because her doctor recommended a strength program to manage some bone loss. The problem? She hated everything we tried.

After some trial and error, I created a workout for her that wasn’t even close to the “rules” – It was a short, light workout that barely taxed her muscles. Maybe this seemed like a waste of time but guess what? Because the workouts felt good to her, she started doing them on her own and it wasn’t long before she actually requested heavier weights and harder workouts.

Maybe this seemed like a waste of time but guess what? Because the workouts felt good to her, she started doing them on her own and it wasn’t long before she actually requested heavier weights and harder workouts.

Too often, we force ourselves to follow the “rules” for weight loss and exercise, even if they don’t work in our lives.

The truth is, rules don’t matter if we aren’t following them in the first place. If that’s the case, we may be better off making our own rules.

Do We Know Too Much?

One reason it’s so hard to figure out this weight loss/exercise thing is because of the wealth of information available. There’s nothing wrong with searching for information, but it’s possible to take things too far.

Sometimes, searching for the perfect answer takes the place of actually doing something and we often take the word of experts over what our own bodies and minds are telling us.

With exercise, as with all things in life, knowing when to bend or break the rules is essential for finding success.

Breaking All the Rules

There are plenty of rules for exercise that we follow because they make sense and they keep us healthy and safe.

We have heart rate zones to guide us so we don’t hurt our hearts.

We have strength training rules that keep us from lifting too frequently and that help us do the moves safely.

But, there are other rules of exercise, more like guidelines, that can often keep us from following through with exercise if they don’t fit in with our lives, needs, and goals.

For example, I got an email recently from a woman desperate to lose weight. She mentioned she’d been trying for years to get up early and exercise and she’d never managed to do it.

When I suggested that morning exercise wasn’t right for her, she was surprised. She mentioned reading that people who exercise in the morning are more successful at weight loss.

My question to her was: If you’re not exercising in the morning now, how much weight are you losing anyway? She wrote back, thrilled to know that she could workout anytime and still get results.

We’re all influenced by what we read or hear.

Think of how you approach exercise and what’s worked for you in the past and what hasn’t. If something isn’t working, are you more likely to change what you’re doing to make it work or give up because, if you can’t follow the “rules,” why should you even bother?

Sometimes, paying too much attention to what other people say, even experts, robs you of the satisfying experience of figuring out what works for you. And you may find that what works for you is nothing close to the “rules” of exercise.

New Rules for Exercise

When it comes to weight loss, we want answers right now. But, it takes time to find a program that fits your needs. The following ideas may help you figure out what will work for you.

1. Everything counts

For many of us, exercise just isn’t worth it unless it “counts.” That often means that it has to last for a certain length of time, be at a certain intensity and we have to do it a certain number of times a week.

The problem is that we don’t always have the time or energy for workouts that “count,” and, when that happens, we tend to skip exercise rather than “waste time” with shorter or easier workouts.

Consistency is the real key to exercise success and that often means being flexible. If you don’t have the time or energy for your usual workout, give yourself permission to do something, even if it’s just a few minutes of walking or strength exercises. Expand your definition of what “counts” and you may find you move more than before.

2. Do what you can

I often get questions from people who wonder what to do if they can’t handle the amount of exercise they’re supposed to do to lose weight. My answer? Do what you can.

Too often, people decide not to workout at all if they don’t have the endurance or strength for challenging workouts. But, what we forget is that exercise is like anything else: It takes time and practice and we aren’t going to be good at it the first time we do it.

Make a new rule that you’ll do what your body can handle and improve on that.

If you can only walk for 5 minutes, do that and go for 6 minutes the next time. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t conform with the “rules.” What matters is that you start where you are and build slowly towards more intense exercise.

3. Do what you like

We aren’t always going to like every aspect of exercise, but it’s important to find things you enjoy.

People often make themselves do things they don’t like because they’ve heard that’s what they should do to see results.

Instead of going by what you should do, find out what feels good to you. If you hate the gym, you don’t have to join one to get a good workout. If you hate running, there’s no reason you have to do it.

There are so many choices for exercise these days, we can all find something whether it’s sports, group fitness, swimming, exercise videos or taking a walk after dinner.

4. Listen to your body

I believe that our bodies know a lot more than our minds do. The problem is, we often go by what we think we should do rather than what our bodies are telling us.

For example, I had one client who hated running because her heart rate soared whenever she ran past a certain pace, a pace she’d decided she was supposed to keep to burn the most calories.

It took some convincing, but when she finally agreed to slow down, she actually started to enjoy running. In fact, she was eventually able to run even faster than before, simply because she took her time and went by how she felt rather than trying to force her body to do something it wasn’t ready for.

When you’re exercising, pay attention to how your body feels. If you’re miserable, that may mean you’re working too hard.

Keep in mind that every day is different. Some days you’ll have tons of energy and work at a higher level, while others you may need to back off. Listening to your body is one way to make exercise more enjoyable.

5. Use your common sense

I once got an email from a person trying to work within a heart rate zone calculated by her personal trainer.

The problem was, the workouts felt too easy and she was reluctant to go faster because her trainer told her to stay in her fat burning zone.

Aside from the fact that the fat burning zone is more myth than truth, the calculations she followed were only estimates.

These formulas aren’t exact and most of us find we have to adjust them according to how we feel. Not only that, this person relied on what her trainer told her instead of how she actually felt.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to experts but never be afraid to question advice if it doesn’t feel right to you.

Many of us try to follow formulas or calculations that don’t match how we feel or what’s happening with our bodies.

Use those numbers as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to adjust them when you need to. No one knows your body better than you.

In the end, what you do is your choice. There really is no right way to do this. Guidelines are great for giving us a framework to follow, but testing the limits of those guidelines is something we all have to do to find out what will really work.

Getting expert advice can be helpful, but remember: at some point you just have to get moving. The more you do it, the more you’ll learn about yourself and the more confident you’ll be about making your own rules for exercise.

How Much Weight Should I Lift?

Choosing the amount of weight you use for strength training is a tricky business, even for experienced exercisers and, if you’re a beginner it’s even harder.

Now, in the sciencey fitness world, where experts do studies and such, they use a one rep max protocol – Meaning, finding out how much weight one can lift for 1 rep and then taking a percentage of that to determine how much weight one would need for, say, 10 reps or 12 reps.

That isn’t easy to do in the real world and, frankly, I would never suggest anyone do that without a professional directing them.  Plus?  It’s miserable to lift that much weight, even just one time.

So, what’s the not-sciencey way to to do this?

You guess.

Yep, that’s how I figure out how much weight I need and it’s how I help my clients figure it out.  And here’s the rub – Every day is different and your body is different from one workout to the next.  That means you may have lifted 10 lbs on Monday but, on Wednesday you’re like – “This feels like twice as heavy.”  What the…?

Knowledge is Power

Experience is your best teacher when it comes to weight.  The next best teacher is me – Well, not me but fitness experts in general.  Here’s just one step by step way to choose your weights.

  1. Figure out the exercise you’re doing and how many reps you’ll do. For general strength and fitness, that’s usually 12 to 16 reps.  If you’re doing my workouts, I’ll tell you how many reps you’re doing.
  2. Pick a weight that feels reasonable for that exercise – Here are some tips:
    • Small muscles, smaller weights.  Big muscles, bigger weights.
      • Lower Body – These are big muscles so you can usually go heavier.  For example, for squats you might start with 8-10 lbs if you’re a woman, 10-20 lbs if you’re a man, and work your way up to 20 or more lbs.
      • Chest  – Big muscles.  For example, if you’re doing a chest press, start with about 5-10 lbs for women, 8-15 lbs for men.
      • Back – Big muscles.  For example, if you’re doing a dumbbell row, start with about 8-15 lbs for women, 10-25 lbs for men.
      • Shoulders – The shoulders tend to be smaller muscles and you’ll typically start with light weight, especially for overhead movements.  For example, if you’re doing an overhead press, start with 5-10 lbs for women and 8-15 lbs for men.
      • Triceps – Smaller muscles and these muscles are involved in other exercises like pushups, chest presses and other chest and shoulder exercises.  That means, they may already be fatigued by the time you get to them and you’ll need lighter weights.  An example:  For kickbacks, you might start with 3-5 lbs for women and 5-10 lbs for men.
      • Biceps – These are also smaller muscles and, like the triceps, they’re involved in other exercises, especially moves for the back like rows.  For that reason, you may use a different weight if you do biceps first as opposed to towards the end (where we usually put smaller muscle groups).  If you’re doing a biceps curl, for example, start with 8-15 lbs for women and 12-20 lbs for men.
  3. Check Your Intensity – If you felt like you could do way more reps, you went too light.  Make a note of that for your next workout or, if you’re doing another set, go up to the next increment in your weights and see how that feels.  If you couldn’t finish the reps, you went too heavy.  Again, make a note of that or reduce your weights for the next set.
  4. Keep a Workout Log – If you really want to make progress and figure out a good weight range for each exercise, it pays to keep a workout log.
  5. In your next workout, start with the weight you ended with from the previous workout. Go through the process again, increasing or decreasing the weight and keeping notes about each exercise.

And remember, building muscle and getting stronger is all about progressive overload, so as you get stronger, you’ll need to lift heavier weights.  Which will make you feel awesome.

Reader Question: How do I get my head motivated?!!?

Dear Paige –   I’ve been reading your articles for years and using your workouts and advice….here’s my question….I pretty much know HOW to exercise….BUT how do you get your head motivated??!  I’ve worked out all my life in some form or fashion, even taught aerobics back in the day, but in the last 3 years, I can’t get it in gear.  I read articles, buy tapes/DVD, have the clothes, think I’m going to do it and I don’t.  My health is beginning to suffer. How do I get over this hurdle and make fitness a part of my life? how do I figure out what I’m afraid of?  I’m open to any and all suggestions, please??  Help, please!

I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about and you might be surprised to know you aren’t alone.

It sounds like you’ve got a little insight into your situation…you’re afraid of something.

I know that, when I avoid something, it’s usually because I’m afraid of failing at it.  Let me give you my take, just with the little info you’ve given me.  You used to workout regularly and, life changed and threw you off your workouts and you’ve been struggling ever since.  Did you ever figure out why you stopped exercise?  Was it just there a lot of stress?  What’s happened in your life that exercise dropped off your priority list?  Maybe you could go back to that and just think about what happened there. Our lives don’t stand still, they just don’t.

Next, I would think about what’s stopping you from exercise NOW.  What are you afraid of?  Are you afraid you’ll fail?  Afraid to face a different body, a different fitness level than what you had before?  There’s a fear in there and I think if you can name it, you can probably overcome it.  Your body is different and you won’t be able to do what you did before – And that’s okay. You just have to work up to it and give yourself permission to be where you are.

Here’s an idea…why not give yourself permission to just TRY something…anything!  Forget complicated workouts or DVDs – maybe those workouts are just too intimidating for you right now.  Maybe you need to start with something simple – something you KNOW you can do.   I’m talking the simplest thing – like one of my really quick core workouts.  What if you said, “This is my workout today and I’m going to do it.”  You don’t even have to change clothes for it!  Once you do it, you can say, “I did it!  I started working out again.”

Really, I think if you can just start somewhere, you’ll find some momentum and that’s a big part of exercise.  You’ve gotten into the habit of not exercising – now you have to get back to it.