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Op-Ed: Get Back To The Basics In Fitness Training

September 01, 2016

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Too many times I encounter folks in the gym who get discouraged too easily and quit because they set their expectations way too high.  I’m talking about those folks who come in and train like mad for an hour and expect to lose 10 lbs right on the spot and have the cut abs to show for it.  That’s not realistic and yet that’s pretty much the mindset of those who are just not willing to put in the day-to-day hard work for months at a time in order to see substantial results.  These are the folks who quit because the work it takes to achieve a fit body is just that – work.   

Instant gratification seems to plague every aspect of our lives except when it comes to real fitness goals; a person will not get “instant gratification” in the form of losing 10 lbs in a one hour training session with the cut abs to show for it, but will instead, get the “instant gratification” that he or she has made it through another day of training and keeps on trying into the next day.  My trainer, Stephanie Sharpe, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer at Granite Fitness  (she is a NASE Speed and Explosion Specialist, has an M.S. in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and has competed in several amateur National Physique Committee (NPC) / International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) sanctioned competitions) and I have had this discussion many times and we thought the best way to tackle this was to go back to basics in fitness and strength training.   

Even the most seasoned fitness veteran sometimes needs a reminder here and there about the basics, even if it’s along the lines of making small changes to the nutrition aspect or training routine; the information we are providing here is just basic guidelines to help those stay on track with their fitness goals.  

1) Proper nutrition – your body is a lot like a car, put crappy gasoline in the tank, and it doesn’t run so well.  When you put foods in your body that are preservative-laden, you can surely expect to feel the effects of that sooner rather than later.  You don’t want your diet to consist of Twinkies and beer if your aim is to get in shape – it’s like oil and water, they just don’t mix.  While we’re on the nutrition topic, your body needs pre-workout fuel before you decide you want to hammer out a 30 to 60 minute session in the gym, that means you need to eat something that will give your body the fuel it needs to power through a workout.

2) Hydration – this is not just something you pay attention to while you’re at the gym training. You must hydrate all day every day and that’s due in part to the body being comprised of 80% water.  Water hydration in the body helps regulate your internal temperature, aids digestion, and more importantly, assists muscles in growth and recovery.  Additionally, proper hydration will keep your skin softer and keep all your internal organs running smoothly.  

3) Have a plan – so you decided to get back into fitness and immediately get overwhelmed by all the different machines and types of exercises there are; this of course leads to frustration, which leads to giving up.  Having a plan will alleviate this problem from the get go and that plan must be designed around your fitness level, this is the primary reason why I stress the importance of hiring a personal trainer (a majority of your local fitness centers have certified fitness trainers who can help design a specific fitness training regimen with your fitness goals in mind and according to ability level).  The farther up I went in my training, the more of a demand for intermediate level fitness/weight training exercises I needed and Stephanie has designed just such a program for me so that I won’t plateau out or rely on muscle memory exercises (every week we are doing something new).

4) Set small, attainable goals – this is # 3’s (having a plan) partner, when you have a plan, you are envisioning a goal.  The same holds true in fitness goals but the caveat here is that you cannot set the goal so high that it cannot be achieved.  This is another problem that adds to the frustration and leads to quitting.  Trying to compare your fitness goals with another who is at a different fitness level is not conducive to your own goals; remember, the only person you should be in competition with is the person you were yesterday!  

5) Getting the proper rest – this one is a tough for those who work and have families, but trust me, it can be done!  Most of the time the biggest problem is staying caffeinated way too long during the day to the point the body can’t wind itself down to rest.  The best way to combat this is to try and create a routine of sorts, which is easier said than done, I know!  Getting proper rest not only means sleep, it also means muscle recovery too; you cannot go hard five days a week without it catching up to you in some form or fashion.  For instance, I will typically do hard workouts (30+ min of cardio at 95% max of my training heart rate (THR), 1 hour session of training – weight training or exercises – that’s comprised of 70% core workout with the remaining 30% for upper/lower body) three times a week and alternating days with a light workout three times a week, and end it with one day of complete rest and no exercising.  

6) Post-workout nutrition – this is so important! After working out, your body needs protein to build muscle and carbohydrates for fuel (glycogen) and if you’re trying to slim down, it’s important to pay close attention what it is that you’re putting your body.  80% of getting fit starts in the kitchen – loading up on refined sugars, salty snacks, highly processed foods will derail all your efforts, which leads to frustration and becomes such a discouragement, you might even quit working out because you’re not seeing the slightest progress.  I can honestly say I was guilty of this until I started writing down what I was eating – I love brown sugar on an orange but it didn’t love me and as a result, my hard work was for nothing until I cut out that sweet treat of brown sugar on my orange and noticed a big difference in a few weeks!

7) Be consistent – this means following your plan to achieve your goals by means of behavior modification.  It takes about 20 days of a consistent behavior change for it to take total effect (meaning you no longer think about it, it becomes automatic).  I can state with certainty that I am a full-fledged gym addict now and finally at the point where even missing one day of fitness training really bothers me when it was just a few years ago I would be hard pressed to get off the couch.  

8) Reward yourself – this is the most important one, in my opinion.  You’ve managed to reach the goals you’ve set and now comes the best part – the reward!  Rewards can be whatever you want them to be so long as they don’t derail or detract from the hard-earned progress you’ve made.  Some like to buy new workout attire, some will treat themselves to a massage, get their nails done, buy music, etc – you get the idea, but more importantly, it’s recognizing that working hard means being rewarded two ways – by getting fit and treating yourself to a little treat.  

The last thing I want to highlight is the power of positive thinking and surrounding yourself with those who will consistently encourage you to do your best.  Every session I have with Stephanie, I get that from her – she pushes me hard but also encourages me to do my best and to get just one more rep in because she knows I have it in me to do just one more!  Working out and getting fit is so much better when you’re using the buddy system – get a family member or a friend in the gym with you and watch your progress flourish. Some personal trainers will even let two (or more) people train together and nothing beats having a healthy rivalry between friends in order to push each other – Stephanie and I see this a lot at the gym and it’s great!  

In closing, going back to the basics of fitness training is not just for beginners, but for a lot of us who tend to forget them from time to time, I being one of those.  

*Disclaimer: the fitness guidelines in this article are strictly for information purposes only and are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness, disease, and/or injury.  Always consult your primary care physician first before you start any fitness routine.*


Theresa Giarratano is a retired US Army NCO studying Middle Eastern affairs with special emphasis on global terrorism. Her current status is assisting the Kurdish people by disseminating information regarding the fight against ISIS via social media platforms.