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Monday, February 4, 2013

A New Year, A New Direction

First steps into a new venture are always fraught with anxiety, which is to be expected when one goes into the unknown. But I went into it head-on, and so far, this year is turning out to be a great one with the new direction I am now headed.

Sharing with you all my article that appears in the January-February 2013 issue of Asian Dragon magazine.

"Finding Your Place In The (Fitness) Sun"

A surge of optimism. Renewed strength to sustain what has been achieved. Giddiness at trying to explore new things, places, activities and whatever else may come our way.

Yes, the new year is upon us.

Every year, we come upon the list: enumerating things - both achievable and the sometimes-farfetched - that we see as "goals for the year". I suppose you can include me in the other column - I firmly believe you don't have to wait for the start of a new year, your birthday, or whatever marker you deem necessary, in order for you to start doing things you have been putting off. (And which keep resurfacing on every list you have ever made.) As a popular shoe company says it succinctly in their slogan, Just Do It.

But then, it cannot be denied that mentally, there seems to be an image of barriers tumbling down whenever the new year approaches, and if that is what it takes to get on with the things you've wanted to achieve so far, then more power to you.

Having been a professional in the fitness industry for more than a decade, I already know what will await me when I enter my place of work on January 2012: throngs of new clients, saying to themselves that "this is the year I will achieve my fitness goals". (New) Membership numbers always spike at the start of the year, but we also know that by the middle of the first half of 2012, the number that is retained out of the initial onslaught will taper off. (I like to think of them as "fitness excitement dropouts".)

Here are a few things I have learned, both from fitness certification bodies like ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and ACE (American Council on Exercise), and from being "on the ground" - talking to clients personally and in groups, and personal experiences with them. While this list is not exhaustive, I think it will help people adhere to a fitness regimen - it's good to take advantage of the "start of the year" adrenalin and find ways to prolong that excitement.

Talk to your doctor. Whether you decide to enroll in one of the larger fitness chains, or want to "wing it" on your own at the neighborhood park or even your own garage, it is imperative and essential that you talk to your doctor about your intent to start a new fitness regimen (or restart one, if you have been away from physical activities for quite some time). S/he will be in a better, more qualified position to know about your current health status, health history, family background, and many more other variables, and can make an objective assessment of what you can, should and should not do.

Many "new" clients tend to over-exert themselves - to the point of exhaustion. Which is really a recipe for disaster - a.k.a. an excuse to discontinue a fitness program. ("I get so tired, I can't get anything else done.") Avoid this trap by mapping and planning out your initial regimen clearly and taking into account your personal health.

Decide what to do on the basis of who you are. It's so much easier these days for people to "get into" some type of fitness program - there's a plethora to choose from. (Back in the old days, you only had 2 or 3 types of group exercise classes in gyms.)

You may find yourself uncoordinated, or have trouble keeping up with a musical beat. (Colloquially - and dersively, unfortunately - labeled as "having no rhythm".) That's OK. You don't need to "be on the beat" in a spinning class. Nor does jogging require you be "in step" with whatever's playing on your earphones. Even in a gym setting, you can climb the treadmill, set up your own circuit station, attend a yoga class, or focus on split training - all activities that don't require music.

You should also think about how you are motivated with regards to social interactions. Are you the type of person who gets your best work done when you have no one else to consider but your own thoughts and ideas? Or are you a social creature, one that thrives when part of a group with similar interests? Perhaps you need a coach to "see you though" - and find yourself slipping on your goals without someone breathing behind your neck. Answering these questions and assessing them could lead you into either an individual sport, a group class or a personal training scenario. Whatever scenario you choose, it has to be suited with who you are and how you live and interact. (The goal of most fitness professionals and programs is to make exercise a part of your life, not just a "lifestyle" or a fad.)

Make time for fitness. This is one of the stumbling blocks we face as professionals - when clients use the "time" card. I have a meeting. I have to pick up the kids. I need to be at this dinner. The dog ate my rubber shoes. There's no end to rationalizing the time factor - we can all come up with a thousand excuses. It has to be a conscious decision to make time for it. Just like all things in life that are worth achieving, time is an essential component. We all have to work out our goals with time.

And here's some good news for those who think that if they don't work out continuously, they would rather not work out: ACSM has recently changed its position on the duration of exercise. (Previously it was recommended by ACSM that you needed to do at least 30 minutes of continuous exercise to gain health benefits.) They now revised it, and you can achieve this number in a discontinuous manner: (You can do 15 minutes of activity in the morning, and another 15 minutes in the afternoon or evening.) This certainly cuts into those who insist of saying "there's just not enough time". Surely everyone can spare 15 minutes?

Don't do something just because it's "in". Another infamous trap for stopping an exercise program.

We all know of running marathons happening all over the country. You can't get past a weekend in Metro Manila without seeing some type of marathon. Kiddie marathons, full marathons, night marathons, we've done all of those. It doesn't mean you should join one or train for one also. As I've mentioned previously, you need to take into account who you are.

(Running is a phenomenon of sorts because by nature, it is a solitary act - you can run on your own anytime - but has somehow, as a sport, evolved into a social club, where you see officemates trying a short one, or a barkada attempting to finish a full marathon.)

 Do what interests and suits you. You may have physical limitations to consider. Or an activity just "doesn't feel right". Fitness is great in that no one size fits all - if jumping rope is what excites you, then by all means, do it! Move, and move in a way that makes you want to keep moving. I've been in the industry long enough to know that there are trends, and people who got into fitness purely on the basis of trends. It used to be step aerobics (thanks to Gin Miller and Reebok); then Billy Blanks and his branded Tae-Bo punched its way through; Johnny G  developed the Spinning program with Schwinn; nowadays, thanks to the guy affectionately called "Beto", the Zumba craze is sweeping Manila. (Although technically, Zumba started around the year 2000, it is only now catching on here.)

Whatever trend "hooks" you, do it because you want to, not because everyone else is doing it.

Be good to yourself. Don't starve yourself. Don't exercise to the point that you can't get up the next morning. Don't do too much too soon. If you find yourself in an unhealthy state, it didn't happen overnight - it happened little by little, until it became days, months and years; it may take that much time to reverse it (sometimes even more, for others it will be a lifelong journey), but what's important is to do something.

One thing I've learned from yoga is to appreciate your body from the standpoint of the journey and not the destination. There are poses that I find difficult, almost near impossible to do, but what matters is I'm trying. And the same goes for everyone, whatever program they choose to get into. Recognize that your body may have limitations, and work with or around them, not against them.

(Side note: I recently attended a class where the teacher said "you may experience pain, that is alright, that is normal, it will pass." I was immediately looking for the exit. Exercise may be discomforting, especially if you haven't done it for so long, but it should never be painful. Always remember that.)

Have a great year ahead, and may you continue achieving your goals, and find your place in the sun. Fitness and otherwise.

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