Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A place to start

When working towards change in your life it seems to me that it is important to figure out four basic things first, everything else comes from there and is more adaptable:

1. Where you are.
2. Where you want to be
3. Why you want to make this change.
4. Commitments

Let’s start with the body, with fitness.

1. Where you are:
Many people weigh themselves at the beginning of any diet (usually beginning an exercise routine is part of a diet it seems and I admit it is usually true for myself) but they should be doing so much more than that. For one it has been repeatedly shown that weight is a poor indicator of health, body fat and even size. It is easy and useful as an indicator of change, but there is so much more, and while I hated physical testing back in elementary school (president’s fitness) I find it kinda fun to figure these things out now.

So to start with the simply physical I write down:
-My weight
-My body fat percentage – there are many different methods of determining this, few are completely accurate. Do not beat yourself up about the number, instead pay attention to change over time, if you are using the same method consistently the change will be accurate even if the number itself is not perfect. You can ask your doctor to do a caliper test on you, get a home scale or check to see if your gym will test for you. There are also (quite inaccurate) online programs that will help you get an idea where it might be based on your weight and measurements. With this I also try to figure out how many pounds of lean mass I have, not only do I want to reduce my fat, but I want to build some muscle so I have a better metabolism and tighter figure (plus being able to take care of myself a bit)
-Measurements and clothing size – I write all of these down. This is what I’m usually really paying attention to anyway… and it changes fastest, often with very little change in weight … and it’s most satisfying.

Some people take before pictures… I don’t. Though its useful to note, I don’t think of any of this as before. This is something I do every now and then as a before and middle and ever on.

After taking care of the visible, I move on to figuring out how well my body is working. This is so, so useful, rather than stepping into workouts blind it gives a starting point and it allows me to create goals instead of just plodding away on some machine.

So to test:
Resting heart rate
Aerobic Capacity - VO2 Max
Strength tests
Flexibility tests

a. Your resting heart rate is how hard your heart has to work when you are, well, at rest. The fitter you are, the more efficient your body is and the slower your heart beats all the time. Your RHR is a good indicator of where you are: http://www.topendsports.com/testing/heart-rate.htm
After figuring that out, figure your maximum heart rate:
Maximum heart rate = 220 beats/min – your age in years
And now that you have your resting heart rate (RHR) and maximum heart rate (MHR) figure out your target. This is the range you want want to be in when you are doing cardio, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate#Training_zones

b. Next, test your VO2 Max – that is basically your oxygen consumption, ie. Your aerobic fitness. Improve this so that you don’t have to try to quiet your gasping walking up steps (and a whole host of other benefits). For an explanation of the incredibly simply walkport walk test see: http://www.topendsports.com/testing/tests/rockport.htm and here is a handy-dandy calculator if you don’t want to do the math: http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/Rockport.html Another standard is a 12 minute run/walk. Simply cover as much distance as you can in 12 minutes, record the distance and your heart rate and calculate

c. Now for your muscular endurance – now if you are a girl and think you don’t need to weight train please go read the absolute ton of articles you can google that explain why you should and why you aren’t too likely to get ‘bulky’. I know for myself muscle is very hard to build, but it is extremely satisfying and has a lot of effect on my metabolism. So lets start with:
- Pushups, this is simple. For women you begin with weight on hands and knees and do as many pushups as you can, write down this number.
-Sit ups. Do as many as you can – these are proper sit ups not crunches.
-Squats. Again do as many as you can.
See: http://www.topendsports.com/testing/hometest.htm for instructions on each of these along with a scale so you can see how you compare. And where you want to be.

6. Don’t forget your flexibility. Being flexible will help you be more comfortable, it will help reduce injury… and fuck, its just sexy. You can use these tests: http://www.topendsports.com/testing/flex.htm or have your gym help you out. Me, I just do some stretching and figure out where I’m at. I already know that I have exceptional flexibility in my upper body and waist. My hips could use a little work though, not bad but just on the average to low average side.

Ok, now that that is done, one more thing. I’m going to write down some notes about how I feel. I mean if I’m sleeping ok, if I have enough energy, how am I waking in the morning, am I depressed, how stable is my life (ie. How much flexibility will my changes need to have, or should they be more set in stone), am I motivated, etc.

2. Where you want to be:
Ok, so I just did all these tests, marked down all these details about my body I need to figure out what I want. Its one thing to say ‘to be fitter, slimmer, etc.’ its another to have clear goals to aim for.

So first, the long term goals. Where I want to be (and when I get there, what I will maintain):
Ok, maybe a lot of it is vanity and I’m not looking to be an athlete but I intend to bring myself up to ‘above average’ on all fronts and then see from there. So, I take a look at all those tests and compare them to a scale of what is average (I believe the links I used have them, I also have it in a book but its easy to search for online, these are highly standardized tests). It is easy to find a goal for weight and body fat and I’m pretty reasonable when it comes to clothing size. I also know that not all of these goals will come along in a neat tidy little line, I will have to adjust, but for now it gives me something to aim at. I try to make a point of ensuring that these are achievable and healthy goals.

For long term goals I don’t bother with setting a date to have them done by. It might be good for some but I’d rather have goal dates for the smaller portions and just a vague idea of when.

The next step is to cut this up into easy chunks. Now I know I don’t have the patience to go too long without seeing something concrete. I also know that change takes time so I generally set my first goal date and reevaluation for 4-6 weeks away. In this time I feel comfortable planning 6-9 pounds lost and/or improving my fitness scores by a decent bit. Nothing extreme but noticeable so I pick a date and write down those goals, this ALWAYS includes at least one fitness goal and not just weight or size and I always make these concrete goals, not ‘I will lift more’ rather, ‘I will bench press

So having fitness goals for my body, I need to make sure I’m clear about

3. Why you want to make this change:
It seems obvious, or at least like it would be the first thing you know, but I think it is now, after I know where my body is and have decided on my goals that it’s the right time to actually sit down and write a list of reasons because as I’ve been ruminating on what I want while figuring the rest out. I just list out as many as I can thinks of like:

-So I won’t feel the need to suppress heavy breathing going up stairs, there won’t be any
-Because I don’t want to buy bigger clothes, I’d rather spend the money having fun
-Because I want more energy
4. Commitments
Taking the above into account I can make a few commitments, action based things to get started on like ‘I will exercise xx times this month’, ‘I will walk any place that is less than xx miles away (or less than x subway stops)’, ‘I will …..

Maybe you can’t do all that right now. Doesn’t matter, it’s a motivational step more than anything, do NOT allow yourself to wait until it is convenient to make changes. Skip to step 4 if you need and think of one or two little ways you can start today.

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