The popularity of home workouts has increased exponentially with the Covid-19 pandemic – keeping fit and healthy is vital for mental and physical wellbeing, especially at a time when we’re still facing restrictions. But, if you’ve never tried exercising before, or its been a while since you last did physical activity, it can be a daunting prospect.
Our exercise expert, Steve Gardner, shares his top tips for anyone starting to exercise, either for the first time or after a period of inactivity…
Is this something that you want to commit to, and not just a one-off? If your answer is yes, then it’s important to understand WHY you want to start exercising. Without understanding what you can achieve and how it will benefit you, inevitably your commitment could wane pretty quickly.
Start by taking a look at how exercise can support and benefit you specifically. This will be different for every person, so what would be most impactful for you? Perhaps increased mobility levels, increased range of movement, pain relief or easier breathing? Or how about reduced isolation, increased independence or a sense of achievement and structure?
People often focus on the physical benefits of getting moving, where in fact there are intellectual, emotional and social benefits that will have a tremendous impact on your life. Think of exercise as a holistic approach to your all-round wellbeing – understanding why YOU are doing it will support the ability to influence continuity months down the line.
When embarking on your journey of exercise, it’s worth thinking of your options. The best results come primarily from doing things you enjoy – if you’re having fun, it won’t feel as much like hard work and you’ll want to keep doing it! After all, doing something that’s physically active provides benefits mentally, physically and emotionally, but is completely underpinned by enjoyment! This dramatically increases the chances of success and achievement.
Slow and steady wins the race
Once you have decided what you are doing and understand why you are doing it, you need to consider what level of intensity will work best for you. Exercise intensity refers to how hard your body is working during physical activity. Your health and fitness goals, as well as your current level of fitness, will determine your ideal exercise intensity. Typically, exercise intensity is described as low, moderate or vigorous.
If you have had a period of inactivity, then it is advised to start off with low intensity for a short period of time, and then build this up over the months. During this time, you will need to balance intensity and length of session. Set yourself some achievable targets that do not cause pain or discomfort, and aim for slow and steady increases in intensity over a period of months.
Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, a chest press (this is where you have both arms by your chest and push forward) is a compound exercise that works both the chest and arms. Using multiple muscles and joints will not isolate specific parts of the body, which could then cause injury. The amount of times you then complete each movement, combined with the speed of the action, starts to build a structure to your exercise session. But note – going more quickly does not always make it harder! Slowing the movement down to a very controlled pace can intensify the movement and mean that you work harder.
No matter what the physical activity may be, from an exercise session to gardening, if you are starting to become physically active after a period of being sedentary, include a warm up and a cool down! The thought process of “I could do this before and I will be fine now” could lead to injury and put you off continuing with the task at hand.
The reason behind a warm up is to prepare the body and mind for physical activity. A really good way to do this is to think through the movements needed to the activity. Let’s take gardening as an example – a digging motion may be needed, so you can simply start to replicate the same movements and slowly build up the intensity. You are now actively engaging the muscle groups needed for the task at hand – you have started a functional warm up!
Towards the end of your physical activity session, it’s a really good idea to gently reduce the intensity. Think about the muscles and joints you have been using and mobilise these areas to their full range of movement. For example, if you have been using your upper body, reach in front as far as you can, reach to the sky and then give yourself a cuddle. All these movements should be controlled. This is to try and prevent muscular soreness and stiffness the day after; this can restrict movements.
And remember, only do what you are comfortable with!