Tip 1: Start Slow
Don’t just jump right in and start exercising five days a week — that’s a recipe for disaster, says John Higgins, MD, Director of Exercise Physiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. It’s better that you gradually work up to exercising several days per week while you see how your body responds.
“Start low and go slow,” Dr. Higgins said. “The current recommendation is 2-3 days per week, for at least 30 minutes per day. But for someone who is just starting out, we recommend that they start at 1-2 days per week and ramp it up from there.”
Tip 2: Know When to Stretch
Stretching right before a workout may seem like the best thing to do, but you might be putting yourself at risk of injury.
“After you warm up, you should stretch your muscles and hold it for about 15 seconds,” Higgins said. “You are less likely to injure yourself when you’re stretching if your muscles are already a little warmed up.”
Tip 3: Mix it Up
Whether you’re going for weight loss or bulking up, a mixed regimen of aerobic and strength training is the best way to achieve the body you want. But even within those categories, don’t stick to the same exercises every day, Higgins said.
“Don’t go running every day,” he said. “It’ll get boring and you’ll get to a point where you don’t enjoy it anymore. Try biking, or the elliptical or whatever you enjoy most. If you like to play basketball or tennis, do that, because you’re more likely to stick to something you enjoy.”
In addition, move between the four various types of exercise, which are aerobic, resistance (strength) training, flexibility (which includes yoga) and balance, which is especially important for seniors.
Tip 4: Know Your Weight and the Right Way to Use it
Most people are confused the first time they walk into a gym, Higgins said, but are afraid of asking for advice. But if that’s you — get over it.
“If you don’t know ask,” he said. “By law, gyms have to have people who can help show you how to work out on the machine, and it can save you from badly injuring yourself.”
In addition, many gym newbies go for the heaviest weight they can — a rookie mistake.
“Go on a weight machine and, starting at the lowest weight, pull it down and keep adding on from there. Just keep increasing the weight until you reach a point where you can only do one or you can’t do any. That’s too much”
Once you find your maximum weight, two-thirds of that number is where you should start.
“You should be able to do about 12 reps,” Higgins said. “It should be easy, but it shouldn’t be difficult to the point where you’re straining.”
Finally, once you have a weight you’re comfortable with, don’t get too eager to increase it.
“You should not increase it more than 10 percent in a week,” Higgins said. “If you do, your risk of injury increases exponentially.”
Tip 5: Know When to Take a Break
When people start out, they are often overzealous and try to get to the gym every day, Higgins said. However, by not letting your body rest, you can be doing much more harm than good.
“If you don’t give your body time to heal and repair itself, your performance will go down and you’ll get into a vicious cycle where you never fully recover,” he said.
And if you’re sore after a workout, that’s good — unless it hurts too much.
“It is normal to have pain and soreness after exercise,” Higgins said. “Don’t run to take a painkiller, because that can mask pain and cause you to do real damage to your body. Let yourself recover naturally.”