Last week, I presented strategies for developing a 12-week exercise program designed to increase caloric expenditure this fall.
I talked about the need to get a baseline assessment before you begin, goal setting and the importance of having a medical checkup. I also presented the framework for setting up the frequency and intensity of the cardiovascular and strength-training components of a 12-week program.
This week, I'll dive into more detail. Plus, I will introduce an exercise that fits perfectly into Weeks 4 to 8 of a three-month program.
Starting an exercise program is easy. It's sticking with it that most people have trouble with. More than 50% of exercisers drop out after six weeks. This is the critical time when the "newness" of the program has lost its luster and the psychological grind begins.
It is so important to re-address the program components around Week 4 or 5. Take stock of the progress you have made over the first month and establish new intensity targets — even if the actual exercises do not change.
Here's a great example of a good midprogram intensity adjustment:
Sally starts her program with walking four days per week for 20 minutes at 3.5 mph on the treadmill at a 1% incline. She also performs a short strength-training session with eight to 12 exercises at 70% intensity two or three days per week.
As the first few weeks go by, Sally becomes stronger in terms of her weight training. She is also able to complete her cardio workouts with greater ease and less soreness. So, this is a perfect time to make an adjustment. I might recommend that Sally increase her treadmill speed to 4.0 for the first five minutes, then back down to 3.5 for the next five minutes. She would continue alternating her intensity settings until she reaches 25 minutes.
I would also increase her resistance level on the weight machines to 75% or 80%, allowing her to continue building strength.
The above example includes two midprogram adjustments that are designed to challenge an exerciser who has successfully performed a few weeks of training. This type of adjustment increases program effectiveness and allows the exerciser to remain engaged in their progress.
The Weeks 4 to 8 mark is a great time to re-evaluate the individual exercises to be sure they have not become too easy.
This week's exercise could be a perfect addition during Weeks 4 to 8, as it requires some core stability and balance to perform correctly. The Single Leg Superman is a great way to strengthen the core and back while simultaneously working the shoulders.
1. Select a pair of very light dumbbells and stand with your feet very close together -- almost touching one another.
2. Lean forward and allow your torso to drop while lifting the left leg off the ground and extending it behind you.
3. The arms should extend downward and the back should be perfectly straight. The ultimate goal is to bend over until it becomes parallel with the ground, but maintaining that straight line is more important.
4. Hold this position for a second, then raise both dumbbells to perform a front raise with the torso facing the ground. This will challenge the lower back and also your balance.
5. Perform 10 repetitions for two sets.
The Single Leg Superman is an excellent option for those who sit at a desk all day, as the position requires constant engagement from the muscles in the upper and lower back. I would recommend incorporating this with no weights or very light dumbbells to start, and never increase beyond 10 pounds. If you aren't able to bend to parallel with the ground at first, go only so far down as you can without bowing your back. Over time, flexibility will improve; meanwhile, maintain control.
Tune in next week for tips on closing out the 12-week program and rolling into the holiday season in the best shape of your life.
Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.