How To Get Started With Exercise

I received this message this morning from a former fellow National Guardsman regarding exercise and getting back into a successful regimen:

Hey so I know you’ve posted about it before, but I was curious about your exercise routine? I’ve been out of the Guard for a year and a half now and it shows haha. I’m mainly just looking for some pointers on getting started again with exercising.

I started with push-ups and walking. Don’t do the push-ups until you can’t. Do them until you start to feel like it’s getting hard and stop, even if it’s less than 10. Then, every other day, just do them until it gets hard. In 3 months, I went from doing 8 to doing 100. Same with walking/jogging/running. Go for 30 minutes. Start with fast walking (like ruck march pace) for 30 minutes. Then, take a day off. Then, walk again. Eventually, your body will feel like walking is too slow, and you will start jogging, and then, running. Doing this does two things. First, it lets you get back into shape without pain, and second, the rest days ensure you actually make improvements faster than exercising daily which wears your body down under fatigue.

After 3 months, I added Stronglifts 5×5 which is super-easy weightlifting that builds functional strength. If you have access to free weights, it’s an excellent way to get strong without the muscle fatigue and pain.

Awesome! I definitely have been going until exhaustion recently haha, but taking time and doing it at my own pace sounds way smarter lol. I don’t have access to weights yet but hopefully I will soon.

I’ll be honest; the weightlifting isn’t as important, but it does help you get stronger which makes your joints safer as you get older (I know you’re not old like me, but you’ll be in better shape when you get to be my age if you start doing some functional strength training now).

My famous pink Converse shoes. These are great for weightlifting.

Getting back into good physical fitness doesn’t have to be horrible. In the past, we were taught to exercise “Until it hurts,” but it turns out that that’s not the best way to exercise. Special Forces Operators and elite Soldiers and Marines have found that the 80% workout is far more successful in improving strength while maintaining readiness.

As I understand it, some of these elite forces found themselves unable to perform to 100% of their capabilities when called out on a mission after a workout session, and they realized something had to change. They needed to maintain their top conditioning while also being able to respond immediately when called upon, even after a workout. The 80% workout turned out to be a huge success, and the Soldiers and Marines found that not only did these workouts allow them to remain ready for the call, but they made improvements faster than when they used to train to failure.

The reasons for this appear to be the way in which the muscles respond to load and recovery time. When you “Work it ’til it hurts,” you are creating a large amount of micro-tears in the muscle. These not only take time to heal, but are painful. When you work to 80% of your load, you don’t create as many tears (which are necessary for muscle to grow). The rest time between workouts allows the body to bulk the muscles to get ready for the next workout.

I’ve been doing StrongLifts 5×5 for over a year now, and while I’ve had to stop a few times due to non-exercise related injuries, I find myself in less pain daily and better able to lift things in my day-to-day life. Just yesterday, lifting a 20 lbs bag of smoke pellets for my smoker seemed so easy I questioned whether the bag I picked up was full. More importantly, being stronger helps your back and joints stay straight, issues that are compounded as you get older.

One last thing to consider about fitness: it’s not a race. There’s no need to try to make progress too quickly. Do your exercise for a day, and then take a rest. Repeat. Keep this up. Before you know it, your run times will improve, your number of push-ups will increase, and if you added weight training, you will see those plates start to add up on the bar.

I started exercising at age 49. I’m 53 now, and I’m in much better shape and in much less pain than I was five years ago. The greatest improvement in my quality of life has come from adding exercise to my weekly regimen. I don’t spend hours in the gym daily sweating. I spend an easy hour and a half every other day in the gym followed by a run. I make it a priority in my schedule because the benefits of that exercise far outweigh any benefit I would receive from doing anything else during that time.

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