Sometimes the biggest hurdle to getting in shape is simply getting started. The task ahead seems so overwhelming that remaining on the sofa seems the safest option.
That’s what happened with one of my clients. When she came to me she had been attending the gym on a regular basis, but was not making progress. She was frustrated. She was putting in the time so why wasn’t anything happening?
Her problem was one so many have – she was busy working on her fitness but she was essentially just punching her workout timecard and going home.
She needed a plan.
Since she had recently started back to college, I made an analogy I thought would be relevant; I compared structuring her weight loss quest in the same manner she went about going back to school.
This analogy immediately clicked with her, and she excitedly told me I should “save this and use it again.” So, I’m sharing it here!
Here is how structuring your fitness quest in the same way you’d think about going back to college might help it make sense:
What degree will you earn?
Unless you have loads of money and extra time, you’d never enroll in college just to “get smarter,” so an end goal of “losing weight” or “getting in shape” is not specific enough. You need to pick the exact field of study and the exact words you want on your diploma. If you don’t know that, you’ll wander around campus aimlessly, never knowing in which classes to enroll or how long you’ll be a student.
Your “degree” might be a dress size or a number on the scale, or perhaps you want to finish a race.
Action: be specific with your end goal and write it down.
How long will it take you to graduate?
Just like academia, the more advanced the degree the longer you’ll need to spend in school. You can’t expect to get your masters in a month, so must you be realistic with your weight loss.
Action: pick an attainable date and mark it on your calendar.
Even with the reasonable expectation of 1lb per week, it can be daunting to look ahead at the 5 months it will take to rid 20lbs. Your best bet is to break it up into shorter training periods – perhaps 6 to 8 weeks at a time, with a short break in between. Every college student looks forward to spring break right? Working hard during the semester knowing you have down-time at the end, is more palatable. (Just don’t spend your spring break the same way most college students do…or it might defeat the purpose!)
So, get out your calendar for the next several months. Find chunks of several weeks at a time, preferably between vacations and big events where you might be tempted to get off track. If you’re really serious, you could schedule your vacation around your semester -it just depends how committed you are to this goal.
Action: take the space on your calendar between now and “graduation” and divide it into shorter training/break periods.
Go through the application process
The dreaded college applications! Don’t worry, yours won’t be so bad. In this case you’ll be completing a baseline assessment. And it will have nothing to do with the number on the scale.
You have to know what your body is physically capable of doing right now, before you start. It’s kind of like figuring out whether you test into the 100 level or 200 level courses in school – being placed in the wrong level will be a waste of your time.
So, how do you know where you belong?
Create a task or series of tasks that test your physical capabilities now. It could be as simple as timing yourself to see how long it takes you to walk a mile, or a much more complex series of drills – as long as they are measurable. For an example of a no-equipment needed assessment, see here.
Action: determine your baseline assessment exercise(s) and complete it. Write down your results.
Select your schedule and select your classes
What “classes” must you take to earn your degree and what days and times are they scheduled? In this situation, “classes” could also mean group exercise classes, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be that. It could be any mode(s) of exercise(s) that helps you earn your diploma.
The most important part is that you are specific about what you’ll do when and where. For example; Mon/Wed – strength class at gym, Tue/Thurs – HIIT DVD at 6am, Fri – yoga class at gym, Saturday – 3 mile run/walk @7am, Sun – rest day. Schedule it as you would your college classes and you’ll be less likely to skip – after all, you only get so many absences before you fail the course!
Action: put your “classes” in your calendar and make necessary arrangements to show up.
Take your quizzes & get your grades
As much fun as they may be (not!) quizzes are necessary to make sure you’re on track. Here’s where the aforementioned “baseline assessment” comes in again. Retake this test half-way through your semester, and then again at the end.
Your first few quizzes will most likely show improvements. Once you get to the point where the results are minimal, you’ll know it’s time to readjust your “class” schedule.
There is nothing wrong with getting on the scale during this process, but make a deal with yourself. You may only weigh yourself on quiz days. This way you’ll be sure to keep the emphasis and focus on improving your strength and endurance. The size of your jeans will just be a bonus.
Action: in the beginning of the semester, select your quiz dates and hold yourself to it.
Check in with the professor
You might need someone to actually hold yourself to it (quizzes – see #5.) Your professor doesn’t necessarily need to remind you to train every day – just needs to monitor your tests. After all, those test scores will speak volumes if you haven’t been gong to class.
Action: think of someone who can hold you accountable. When you complete your baseline assessment, send this person your results. Tell him/her when to expect the follow-up test results and ask to be held accountable for producing them.
Once you hit your goal and earn your degree, you’re not done. You’ll need to earn continuing education credits to stay fresh. Just like before, you’ll want to look at your calendar for the next year and plan your semesters. They don’t all have to be as grueling or intense as your initial diploma-earning “education,” but they should be planned in advance. Most of them will be lighter semesters where you coast, but you’ll want to include at least one intense semester each year. One where you train with purpose, and train for results. If need be, register for an event or race – something that gives you a deadline to train and keeps you from procrastinating.
Action: once you earn your initial degree, plan your entire next year in advance. Learn from your hits and misses during this first experience and apply it to make the next year even better!
What are other analogies that could be made to structuring a fitness plan? Let us know so we can share it with others!