[Editor's Note: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Jay Butler is part of a rotating panel of Buccaneer experts who will be providing advice all season to those who have taken the UnitedHealthcare Get Fit! Pledge. In the second of our weekly installments, Butler discusses the importance of setting objectives, devising a specific plan, staying consistent and steadily increasing intensity.]
Last week, my colleague Kevin Luhrs gave you some very good advice about the ways you can alter your diet in order to help you start and, most importantly, stick with a new fitness regimen. This week, I'm going to help you with ways to start the workout portion of that regimen, and I'm going to stress two of the same things that Kevin did:
One, set a specific goal or set of goals before you start any program. Two, start with what you can handle and stick with, and then build steadily from there.
Your number-one objective should be to figure out what your objective is, whether its fat loss or just getting in shape, and then set reasonable goals. Then the second step is to figure out how you're going to accomplish that and then be consistent. What I tell our players is that the intensity and consistency with which you train will ultimately determine what your results are going to be. Fitness doesn't happen by accident, unless your completely genetically gifted, but most of us are not so we have to work at it. And it takes time, it takes a lot of time. You need to understand this at the outset.
Here's an important piece of advice when you're choosing the type or types of workout you're going to do: Generally, you need to enjoy it to be able to stick with it. If you hate running, don't center your program around running, because you'll just find ways to not do it. Find something you do enjoy, or at least enjoy more, whether it's biking or elliptical or swimming.
Now, the biggest thing is to develop a plan, right at the beginning, and it should be a specific plan covering weeks or months. This plan should include your diet, using some of the advice Kevin gave you last week. You definitely need a plan for that, because you can't wait until you're starving to decide what you're going to eat. Plan your meals out for the day, and don't skip them. This way, you won't find yourself hungry and trying to decide what to eat at the end of the day. That's when you convince yourself that one or two slices of pizza won't be too bad, and you end up eating three or four slices. It's easy to justify poor diet choices to yourself when you're very hungry.
If you are going to do strength training as part of your program, which I recommend, you can arrange it several different ways. You can work out each area of your body twice a week, or you can do a full-body program three times a week. You can work just one body part one time a week, but do six different workouts during the week. You just need to schedule time for the parts of your body that you work out to recover. The buildup of muscle actually occurs during this recovery time. During a weight-training program, you are doing damage to your muscles; when you rest, the muscles heal and grow and come back stronger.
As for cardiovascular work, you can either alternate with your strength-training days or do it at the end of each strength workout. It all depends on how much time you want to devote to your program. If you plan to work out for an hour three times a week, then you can do 45 minutes of weight training and 15 minutes of cardio. That would be a realistic goal. You don't want to go so long as to make it unbearable, or you will have trouble sticking to the program.
When you set up your plan, be prepared to step up the program as you go. You can begin with body-weight exercises, where you don't use any external weights, such as squats or lunges. Plan to do a specific total of sets of a particular exercise, maybe 10 or 12 to start, then as you add weight to the exercise you reduce the number of sets. As the program progresses, you then add sets until you are back up to 10 or 12, and then add weight again and reduce the sets again. The important thing is to have a detailed plan, one that doesn't start out too overwhelming, and stick with it. In general, keep the reps high and the weight low, and as you stick with it you'll be able to handle more. That progression of weight and intensity over time is called "periodization."
Finally, make sure that what you're starting out with is safe. Sometimes at a gym, you'll be advised to start with some pretty advanced techniques, and this is not a good idea for a beginner. If you are a complete novice in this area, try to find somebody in your life with more experience in strength training to advise you on whether or not a particular workout is right for you.
As you'll see at any gym, you have the option of working with free weights or with machines. At the Buccaneers, we utilize a free-form multi-joint exercise program and we emphasize the use of free weights. Later in the season, we can discuss in more detail the advantages of both types of training, but it's true that there is a lot lower chance of injury with machines, since the machines stabilize the weight rather than your body stabilizing the weight, as with free weights. Thus, machines can often be the best way for a novice to start a weight-training program.
Oh, and understand that, especially at the beginning, a day or two after your workout, you're going to be pretty sore! Don't worry about that. It's natural. That's called "delayed-onset muscle soreness," also known as DOMS. That's how you know you're working because you're body's rebuilding, as a I mentioned earlier. You come back stronger, and that's what it's all about.
It's a lot to think about, but you can do it if you set a detailed plan, start slowly and progress steadily. I wish you the best of luck. - Buccaneers' Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Jay Butler