First step toward fitness can be toughest to take

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2010

Editor's note: "Focus on Fitness" is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Many people tell me the hardest part of getting fit is taking that first step.

Just ask Will Morrow. You might know him as an editor at the Clarion or as a busy husband and dad. I first met him when luck landed him a spot in the Phat to Fit challenge last fall -- and he was oh so fortunate be put onto my team!

But luck is simply luck. He still had to make the decision to enter, and that my friends, is an example of taking the first step. So what is a person seeking to become physically fit to do?

You could be lucky like Will and enter to win a spot in the next Phat to Fit challenge. Or you could make that first step and start something now, anything. Get out for a walk during lunch, wake up early and hit the pool, hire a trainer, take a class at the gym, go big and sign up for a boot camp, throw out some junk food, get rid of the candy jar -- all these little first steps add up to big fitness rewards and they are simple to do.

As a trainer and coach (and mom, wife, sister, etc.) I get to hear how difficult getting fit can be. I have heard a lot of reasons why people failed in the past, as well as the refreshing stories of success.

As for the excuses why someone can't exercise or can't lay off the soda, chips or ice cream, well, I've heard them all. And I smile when someone is telling on themselves because I know they know they are just excuses.

For the most part, I think people have good intentions about getting fit and berating them for their excuses is pointless. I see many eager exercisers misguided by mainstream advertising tactics promising quick fixes and surrounded by confusing information. If it really were as easy as taking a pill, or a shot, or doing a certain type of workout, wouldn't everyone be oh so sexy?

Here is the underlying truth: we as human beings intuitively know that getting physically fit involves a life change. Making the decision to change your life is the first step.

I should be clear about what I mean by fitness. Physical fitness is defined as "a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity" (USDHHS, 1996). There are five main components of fitness:

* Cardiorespiratory endurance;

* Muscular strength;

* Muscular endurance;

* Body composition;

* Flexibility.

Of course there are different levels of fitness, and ideally we should strive for a nice balance of all five components. Much of the focus tends to be on weight loss, or body composition improvements (less fat, more lean muscle). This is a great goal and motivational tool, except many people fixate on pounds lost and lose sight of the rest of the four components. I encourage my clients to "focus on gaining fitness rather than losing fatness." This does two things: 1.) it encourages a balance between all five components; and 2.) it brings weight "loss" into a positive light. The phrase "losing weight" conjures up negative feelings for most people, so turning it into a positive statement can be very empowering.

So what ever happened to Will? Well, I would love to tell you that he has continued with his fitness goals, but OK, that's exactly what he's doing!

He's taken another first step y'all. He is now training for a triathlon. His first steps are taking him somewhere.

Angie Brennan is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who trains herself and other crazy Alaskans on the Kenai Peninsula. Contact her at 953-6299 for personal training and athletic programming, coaching, and public speaking.

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