January 24, 2011 / 11:04 AM / in 7 years

For fitness success, stick to a plan

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Before January’s determination to shape up in 2011 fades into February’s remorse, fitness experts warn about the most common mistakes than can impede success.

<p>Guests workout in the gym including (C) Heather Murray pointing to her hip during a "mountain" class at the Biggest Loser Resort in Ivins, Utah September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Wilking</p>

Without a plan, they say, many a New Year’s fitness resolution is lost.

“It’s bigger than saying ‘every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I‘m going to work out,’ ” said Kerri O‘Brien of Life Fitness, the Illinois-based exercise equipment company.

Without an overarching strategy, O‘Brien contends, good intentions won’t go far.

“There’s no plan for the goals, there’s no plan for the schedule, there’s no plan for the nutrition, there’s no plan for the reward system,” she said. “And there’s no plan for when you fall off the wagon.”

A personal trainer can help you create and adhere to a program, according to O‘Brien, so can websites and books.

“Accountability is a big umbrella,” she said.

Success is a matter of selecting one thing, sticking to it and not overdoing it.

Joy Bauer, a New York-based nutritionist and creator of the Slimdown Workout DVD, thinks too many beginners bite off more fitness than they can comfortably chew.

“Especially during New Year’s resolution season, I see people jump into a rigorous, intense fitness program from the get-go,” she said. “If the workouts are so challenging that you start to dread them like the plague, you’ll probably jump ship.”

O‘Brien said Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), a common side effect of plunging into a new workout, can sidetrack a beginner’s routine for days. Warm-up exercises can help avoid, or ease, the aches.

“DOMS is a good thing. It means you have broken down some muscles,” she said. “But you have to give yourself enough rest time to repair it.”

Another common mistake, she said, is thinking that if you can’t give fitness the full hour that many guidelines recommend, it’s no use working out at all.

”We’ll take 20 minutes,“ O‘Brien said. ”Twenty minutes of high-intensity training will help you lose weight and impact your heart muscle.

She said some research has shown that 20 minutes at high intensity could be even better than a steady hour-long run.

Perhaps the cruelest side-effect of exercising is the increased appetite experienced afterwards. O‘Brien says many a calorie-burning workout is undone by post-exercise overindulgence.

“We do tend to overeat after we exercise,” O‘Brien said. “Your body says ‘she burned a lot of calories, I need to replace them.'”

And hectic schedules notwithstanding, don’t steal workout time from sleep time.

“We need to repair the body with a normal sleep cycle,” O‘Brien said. “If the body hasn’t gotten enough sleep it sends signals to eat more because it’s in stress.”

Bauer believes if your effort is half-hearted, your resolve is fated to melt with the winter snow.

“If you’re not truly ready to make a full-time commitment, chances of long-term success are pretty slim. You must get your head in the game.”

O‘Brien said there are many ways to keep from falling off the wagon.

“If you choose a personal trainer, or group exercise, you may go a bit longer,” she said. “On your own you might not be that successful.”

But take heart. It’s nearly February.

“We know from the health club side of things that the second workout is the hardest,” O‘Brien said.

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