It’s the same story every year: After weeks of indulging in cookies, cake, giant meals and more drinks than you can remember, the holidays have ended and you feel like a beached whale. Hence, one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions: Get in shape.
But just because you start the year strong doesn’t mean it stays that way. Work, family, money and life in general tend to get in the way as the cycle repeats itself. Just as it is the most common resolution, the “get in shape” mantra is usually broken.
This year, instead of falling prey to the usual routine, we asked some expert fitness trainers to share their tips and thoughts on how to first, get back to the gym, and second, stay there once you do.
The experts all said three basic things: If you haven’t been working out, start slow and build up; bring a like-minded buddy to help motivate you; and, if you can, get a trainer. They also said that part of getting fit is taking care of yourself. “It’s not just what you do in the gym, you have to sleep, eat well and cut out stress,” said Matthew Cole, director of Sculpt New York. “You need to maintain the health of all your faculties.”
What to do when you get there
There are a few approaches to getting in shape. The first is to take classes. Antonio Sini, owner of Nimble Fitness, recommends starting with Pilates, a dance class like salsa or tango and low impact yoga. “Learning some basic yoga moves is a great way to also take some exercise home,” he said.
For David Barton, owner of David Barton Gym, the key for newbies is to start weight lifting slowly. “Strength training gives you the most results whether you have a little or a lot of time,” he said. “If time is limited, concentrate on the major muscle groups and do as many big compound movements as you can.” He added that 20 to 30 minutes of proper movement can be highly effective. Just make sure to not overtax yourself; just because you can manage to lift the heavy weights doesn’t mean you should.
The first step in choosing a trainer is making sure they are right for you, your workout speed and your goals. “Most people don’t see the results they want and that’s why they quit,” said Barton. “A trainer will vary your workout at just the right time to outsmart your body’s natural flab-harboring tendencies so you can achieve your dream body.” Cole said that if you can’t afford a personal trainer, make sure to bring a friend to help motivate you to go to the gym and to work harder.
“Food is a huge part of exercise and how it can benefit you,” said Sini. “It’s super important that people understand nutrition.” The first thing to understand is your body—are you trying to lose fat, gain muscle, tone or just feel more in shape? “You don’t want to work out on a completely empty stomach, so have an apple or breakfast bar an hour before,” said Sini. “But you don’t want to eat within 45 minutes of exercise, since the blood leaves your stomach and goes to your muscles.” The best approach: munch on a piece of fruit or plain yogurt an hour before working out, drink water during and have a light meal 45 minutes afterward.
“After you work out, your body wants to absorb nutrients and it’s one of the best times to eat,” said Sini. But, he added, “It has to be the best food, like something high in protein light in carbs and low in fat.”
One piece of advice the experts agreed on appears odd, but makes sense when you think about it. Don’t tell your out-of-shape couch potato friends your goal. “Surround yourself with like-minded people,” said Sini. Often, he said, someone who is unmotivated will bash your goal, making it hard to push yourself.
Another way to motivate yourself, he said, is to figure out what will make you happy. “First, look at yourself in the mirror and decide if your goal is to look and feel better physically—if that is going to make you happy, then do it.” He also said it’s easier to keep a more general goal, like fitting into a pair of pants, rather than losing 20 pounds.
Cole also added, “Don’t think about supermodels or what you consider normal; think about you and your own body.” He suggests writing down your life for a day to see what you actually do and how you can incorporate more exercise into a daily routine.
And for those who think of exercise as real work, try Barton’s theory on going to the gym: “For that one hour of my day, that time is all mine. The gym, it’s like my sanctuary.”
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