5 Keys to Help Unlock Your Fitness Potential

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5 Keys to unlock your fitness potentialI’m exactly the same as you. I have my days that are full of energy and positive thinking. I wake up early and hit the gym and do a really good workout and feel good for the rest of the day.

Then I have those – other days.

You know the ones I mean. I have days where I just can’t get motivated. Or, my work is so busy I skip going to the gym. Soon I start to feel lethargic and, inevitably, a little down.

I have devised some helpful hints to help you start your regime, or keep it going. Unfortunately I don’t have a magic wand, like Harry Potter, to help you. But I do have five magic keys.

1. Take it easy

One of the most important things about starting a new lifestyle and exercise regime is that you have to start slow. It is better to get off to an easy start with just half an hour of exercise with little resistance/weight and build up as you grow stronger, rather than start at the high end and give up after the first few times because it’s too hard.

You should build up your workouts gradually until you reach your optimum level of performance. This doesn’t necessarily mean increasing your dumb-bell weight or speed on a CV machine every time you work out. You have to do it extra slowly and only increase the level or weight once you find it easy to do the workout.

Remember the Tortoise in the old fable. He beat the Hare through a slow and steady approach. Now let’s apply that to the gym.

Another common mistake is comparing yourself to others or trying to match what someone else is doing.  Do not get intimidated by a person next to you running on a treadmill for an hour, and do not try to imitate them. Everybody is different, and everyone is at a different level of fitness. What one person can do doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. I’ve seen too many people who start off at the gym, look around at the “veterans” who lift heavy weights, and feel that’s what they need to do too in order to look like them. After the first session, they’re in so much pain they give up. So do it at your own pace without comparing yourself to anyone else, and eventually you will reach the level you desire.

For CV exercise I’d suggest not to start running right away. Instead, start with a fast-paced walk on a small incline, and increase the speed gradually each time, until you can do a light jog for a few minutes. Once you are comfortable with that, gradually extend the time you jog.

The same goes for weights. You shouldn’t be in so much pain that you can’t get out of bed the next morning, or can’t walk down the stairs without flinching in pain. Your muscles should feel a little bit sore when you stretch them; that’s how you know it’s working. My suggestion for beginners is to start off with a low weight, one that makes it challenging to do 15 reps, and stick with it for a few weeks, or until it becomes easy to finish the set. Only then should you increase to the next level.

2. Get in the groove

Imagine pushing a large rock over a hill. The first push is the hardest … the next one is a bit easier … the following ones get easier still, until it finally gives and goes over the edge on its own.

Building momentum means once you start the ball rolling, it gets easier and easier as you go along. The hardest part is getting started, but once you do, and it becomes part of your new lifestyle, it’s much easier to keep it up. The key here is to overcome the first hurdle, and get yourself to the gym the first few months. Your willpower has to come into play here, and you consciously have to push yourself to go forward. As you keep getting stronger with each workout and you see all the benefits that exercise gives you, it will be harder to stop and go back to the old ways.

When you see that your clothes fit better, your stomach is flatter, your energy level is up, and even your mood is elevated, as every week goes by, your motivation is fueled. It powers you up to keep going no matter what, and not to give up. That’s how you build momentum.

After a few months, you won’t have to consciously force yourself to go to the gym anymore. It will become natural and part of your routine. You wake up, you get dressed, you have breakfast, you go to the gym. Or you finish work, you go to the gym, you go home, you have dinner. It’s all a matter of doing something over and over again until it becomes inherent and effortless. It becomes your habit. Read about forming good Habits.

3. Make it fun

There’s a much greater chance of success in staying on track if you actually enjoy your workout. If it feels like a chore every time you go to the gym, then eventually you will give up no matter how strong your willpower may be.

Exercise is something that you should do for yourself in your spare time because you want to, and because it makes you feel good.

What are your hobbies? Let’s say you like to read for fun. Why do you do it? Because it relaxes you, it’s something you do to get away from the daily stress of work, it makes you more knowledgeable as you learn new things, and you simply enjoy it. Well, exercise has to become another hobby of yours. It’s got to be something that you do to take a break, relax, get in touch with your body/mind, and have fun. It should not be work; it should be a break from work, and something that you look forward to doing every day.

To make a workout fun, it has to be enjoyable, so try a few different workouts before you find one that suits you. Some people like to do class workouts, while others prefer to do it alone. Some like to be guided by a personal trainer, and others even enjoy being outdoors on a nature hike. Whatever your preference, you have to like it in order to stick with it.

What is your passion? What is your motivation?  Is it music?  Then put your favorite tracks on your iPod and enjoy listening to them as you stride to the beat on a treadmill. If you love nature or being outdoors, then find a great spot with nice scenery where you can jog. If you love dancing, take an aerobics class and dance away as you burn calories. Or if you have a dog, take him out for a long brisk walk – enjoyable for both you and your pet.

Personally, I love dance and Latin music. It moves me (literally) and fuels me with energy.  Any music with a lively beat will get me going, whether it’s pop, house, or techno. I love getting on a Stairmaster or elliptical machine and just going to the beat of the music. It gives me much pleasure and satisfaction to be able to do that, and afterwards I feel fulfilled and relaxed. Any day I’m feeling down, having a great workout gets rid of the blues and elevates my mood instantly. As a matter of fact, I sometimes can’t wait to get to the gym, so I can get into the rhythm of my favorite tunes.

So find your passion, and love every minute of it! Isn’t that what passion is all about?

4. Mix it up

To keep the workouts fun, so they don’t get repetitive and boring, you should mix things up. Switch the order of your exercises or try new ones from time to time.  That will not only keep you interested, but will also avoid hitting a plateau.

You can hit a workout plateau when your muscles get used to the same routine and regime. After a period of time they don’t respond as well to the same exercise. When you hit a plateau you find that you’re not seeing the same level of results as you did at first, because your muscles have adapted to the same routine.

To avoid this, always find new ways to surprise your muscles with new exercises.

You should have a database of several different exercises for each of the muscle groups that you can switch to. If you see a new machine in the gym that you’ve never tired before, find out from a professional trainer how to use it and what muscles it works. Then try it and see if you like it. Incorporate it into your new routine.  Or if you see someone at the gym doing a new exercise, ask them to show you or consult a trainer.

To keep my database of exercises growing, I always look for new ways to train my muscles. I keep my eyes open at the gym to see what other people are doing; I regularly read fitness magazines that always come up with new creative ways to tone muscles; and sometimes I even hire a personal trainer because they’re the gurus of exercise and can give helpful tips and teach me new things. They also keep me motivated on those days I find it hard to get out of bed!

5. Don’t give up

If you experience a setback in your workout routine, don’t be discouraged and whatever you do, don’t give up!

If on any day you feel low on energy, or a little under the weather, cut your workout in half. Don’t push yourself too hard. Do only half of your normal workout, or at half the intensity. Going to the gym and doing a light workout routine will instantly revive you and give you energy for the rest of the day. Although you won’t burn as many calories as you normally would, at least it will not break your momentum. No matter how hard it may seem to get up off the couch and get yourself to the gym when you’re already not feeling well, once you start your usual routine you’ll see that it’s not as hard as you thought it would be. Believe me, you’ll feel so much better afterwards, and will be proud of yourself knowing that you haven’t missed your session.

PMS has a big effect on your energy levels. Once in a while, I have days when I’m so fatigued that it’s difficult to do normal day-to-day activities, let alone work out. Instead of letting it get to me, I consciously make the effort to change into my gym clothes and do some exercise.  Even if it’s just some light exercise or flexibility training at home, getting some physical body movement and a slight increase in your heart rate works magic! When you are finished, you’ll have enough energy to get through the rest of the day.

There will be times however when it’s next to impossible to stick to your regime.

Let’s say you went through a rough period at work or with your personal life. As a result you missed a few days or a a few weeks at the gym, and now you feel that you’ve failed. You’ve decided to stop going completely. The important thing to remember is that, although you will go through hard times in life, those hard times will always pass, and you can resume your routine as though nothing happened when things get better. It is almost impossible to stick with your routine at full capacity regularly for the rest of your life. And it’s okay to miss a few days or a week (even three weeks in extreme cases), if you pick it up again once your schedule eases up a bit. A couple of days off from the gym will not change too much. And missing a week will not do as much damage as you think. So don’t worry if you’ve experienced a setback; don’t think of it as failure. Just regroup yourself and get right back on track.


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