The Number #1 Rule for Working Out
The number #1 rule for working out I tell all my clients is DON’T HURT YOURSELF. It sounds silly and very simple, but it is where most people fail in their workout routines.
Most adults that you know who regularly workout will have some injury, whether it is an old or new injury.
Most of the studies on fitness and long-term health indicate that it is not extreme fitness and exercise that statistically produces the long-term health benefits it is a moderate exercise that is done consistently that creates the most positive outcomes. Consistency of exercise is the most important factor in improving your health.
Consistency in exercise in adulthood and especially as we age comes down to staying healthy and not injuring yourself. The most common way people get derailed from a fitness routine is because they get injured and are forced to rest. Once the injury has healed, you have lost the momentum and never return to your routines. Also, most people don’t put in the time and effort it takes to properly heal from and injury, so they never heal 100%, effecting their workouts indefinitely.
How most people injure themselves during working out is improper form. The two most common reasons why people engage in the improper form: is that they never learned proper form in the first place and they are doing something that is too difficult for them, whether it is the exercise itself that is inappropriate or too heavy of a weight.
Because of these reasons my advice is to learn proper form and do appropriate exercises for your fitness level. Unless you have worked one-on-one with a trainer you have probably never learned proper exercise form. In order to really master proper form, you need an educated person specifically looking at your form and making adjustments and hearing your feedback. A lot of times what makes a form proper vs. wrong is very nuanced and needs a trained eye as well as your feedback. Sometimes to the eye, even of a trained professional, you can’t see if something is off, you only know by how it feels. This is why you cannot learn proper form from the internet or from a group fitness class where there is one instructor for 30 students.
Once you learned proper form, then the most important thing becomes doing appropriate exercises and appropriate intensities. An appropriate exercise is an exercise that can be done in proper form. If you cannot complete an exercise with proper form than it is not a good exercise for you. A good example of this is a push-up, if you cannot complete a proper push up on your toes then you should not be doing them. There are many different push-up variations you can use that will be appropriate for any fitness level. Finding the right push-up variation for you will help you progress until you are able to do a proper push-up on your toes.
Finding the right workout intensity when it comes to resistance training is simple once you know proper form. The intensity of a resistance training exercise can be manipulated using weight, tempo, balance, reps/sets, etc. With weights, for example, the proper intensity, i.e. weight is the one you can use and still upkeep proper lifting form. When doing bicep curls if I move up to a 15lb weight and begin swinging my arms and arching my back to complete my reps then this intensity/weight is too difficult for me and I should move back down to the 12lbs until I have developed more strength.
Cardio workout intensity is a little trickier. It easier to notice when your squat form breaks down, on the other hand, it is much harder to know when your running form is breaking down. This is why for cardio and HIIT exercises I recommend a 6-8 intensity. I am using a 1-10 scale with 1 being no intensity laying on the couch and 10 being you are about to pass out. For an exerciser who just wants to be healthy, there is no reason to ever workout at a 9-10, the risk of injury skyrockets at these intensities. For most people, an intensity of 6-8 is enough to get the desired outcome without increasing your risk of injury.
Intensity is measured individually. Meaning a 7 intensity for one person is very different than it could be for another person. Take running a mile, for a very conditioned person running a mile could be at an intensity of a 4, but for an unconditioned person, that same mile could be a 10+.
This doesn’t mean you should never push yourself to go to the next level, instead, you should find a safe and effective way to challenge yourself. When trying to increase your triceps pulldown weight. The wrong way would be to set the machine to the heaviest weight and struggle through your reps until you can make it happen. The appropriate way to challenge yourself would be to pick a weight where you can do a proper triceps pulldown form. Stay on that weight varying the sets, reps, tempos until you are able to increase to the next weight with proper form.
The following is how to challenge yourself safely with cardio using sprinting on a treadmill. When you sprint at a 10.0 mph speed you feel out of control and our praying you don’t fall on your face. But when you sprint a 9.0 it feels very doable and you don’t get the desired intensity results. The wrong way to would be to just jump to the 10.0 mph and hope you don’t fly off the back of the treadmill. The appropriate way to move from 9.0 mph to 10.0 mph would be to systematically do it over time by slowly increasing time, interval, or speed, i.e. 9.1 mph. If you work the system then by the time you get to 10.0 mph it will feel safe and challenging.
Consistency trumps everything when it comes to reaping the benefits of working out. I would much rather my client’s workout every day at a 3-4 intensity then once a week at a 7-8 intensity.
Even for people with specific goals such as a marathon these rules still apply. If you hurt yourself during your training program and are forced to take time off of running, you will hinder your results more than playing it safe.
This is why the number #1 rule of working out is to not hurt yourself. So, go and have a safe and effective workout!