Picking an Exercise Program...

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out what sort of exercise routine best works for me. These days, options are so varied and abundant that picking one or two routines to stick with can be overwhelming. 

I took some time to think about the most important questions to ask yourself when starting an exercise routine and have listed them here.

What fitness activities do I love?

I love to swim. Living in Chicago means finding a gym or park district with a swimming pool which at times does not satisfy some of my other needs such as schedule and convenience, however, because I love it, I am that much more motivated to work around these other issues. Ideally, though, you’ll want to find an activity that you both love and that works for your schedule and budget you will be much more successful in your endeavor.

What is my starting point?

It’s great if you are gung-ho about beginning a new exercise program, but it’s important to know where you are starting from and what your capabilities are. If you are not a natural athlete or haven’t done more than walk to your car in years, consider an exercise plan that is: a. approved by your doctor and b. one that gradually builds as you gain strength and endurance. There is no shame in starting slow or avoiding certain activities in order to prevent injuries.

Do I prefer solitary or group activities?

For some, solitary exercising if far too boring, isolating and can be far from motivational. For others, working out alone is refreshing and relaxing. Sometimes, a routine that encompasses both is best. If possible, try both and make a promise to stick to whatever motivates you.

Home vs. gym?

I know myself well enough to know that there is no chance in hell that I can ever hope to get much exercising done at home. Although Netflix and Youtube have a ton of exercise programs, for me TV time means hitting the couch and going hard on the snacks. For others, that is simply not the case. Don’t try to be what you’re not. If working out at home is too distracting or provides little motivation, by all means get out of the house, even if that means going for a walk. Which brings me to my next point.

How can I get exercise in the activities that I am already doing?

Living in Chicago without a car often means a decent amount of “hidden” exercise.  Walking everywhere and climbing stairs to the “L”, for example, are both examples of this. You are on your feet and moving without any expectations of exercise, but you’re still moving! Or for example, if you are a nurse, a construction worker or any other profession that is up and on your feet, you’re probably burning calories more than you realize. Even activities like sweeping and mopping burn calories! This is a great first start to finding fitness in your life, but should be augmented with additional sweat producing activities.

What is my budget?

Do I need cheap/free activities or is budget of little concern? Our budgets are as varied as the exercise you can do to match them. Having less money to spend on classes, premium gym membership or a brand new exercise device does not preclude you from exercising. From walking or running with a buddy, doing yoga on YouTube or even getting a cheap gym pass (there are some out there for as low as $10 a month (think 2-3 lattes per month), many cheap or free solutions exist. Find a solution that will match your budget. You’ll be much more likely to stick with it if it isn’t breaking the bank.

Is convenience important to me? Do I need to find a gym or class on my way home from work or school?

I commute long hours to work and back, so for me, convenience is key. For others with similar problems, or children to take care of, or any other millions of reasons, finding an exercise routine that fits into your schedule should be paramount. If you don’t have time for it or if it’s not on your route from work or school to home, guess what? It’s probably not going to happen. Do not buy a membership for that premier gym if it’s 20 miles from your house and you have one hour to commit to a workout.

What time of the day is best for my schedule and lifestyle?

If you are a morning person, perhaps a 6am routine is best for you, but also consider that for you night owls an early routine might give you the wakeup you need to start your day. Or maybe someone who falls asleep on the way home from work, could use that evening pick-me-up before heading home. Either way, choose a time that you can stick to and of course, if it doesn’t work, always feel free to make adjustments to best suit your needs and your body.

If you’re not sure how to answer these questions just yet, all is not hopeless. Try as many options as you can.  Trial and error is inevitable until you find that sweet spot.  Just make sure to not put down a credit card for a year’s membership without first trying something on a temporary basis to see if it’s a good fit!

Good luck!