If you’ve adopted April’s (Movement Substitutions & Food Substitutions) and May’s (Go Old School) “One Small Step” suggestions, this is what you’ve managed to achieve: daily reduction of sedentary time; increased total daily step count; controlled portion sizes of proteins, starches and grains while increasing intake of fruits and vegetables; added one day of cardiovascular training per week and significantly bumped up the quality of the food you’re eating. Bravo! You are ready for June’s One Small Step: +1.
Are you ready for the truth? For most women, the closer she gets to middle age and menopause, the more difficult it will become to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight and keep her percentage of body fat from increasing unless she strength trains every week. You cannot run, Zumba, kick box, spin, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or Slim Fast yourself out of it. It is a physiological and evolutionary fact. If you are among the few females who have super metabolism despite not having the muscle mass and accompanying testosterone of a male, thank your lucky stars and your genes because you may be able to avoid the increase on the scale. But that doesn’t protect you from losing lean mass and, as a result, increasing the ratio of fat mass to lean mass which is very unhealthy and puts you at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and osteoporosis.
Therefore, June’s exercise one small step is adding one (+1) strength training workout to your week. There’s no need to have access to a gym or buy equipment. Anyone can get a quality, full body strength workout using nothing but good form and your own body weight as resistance. The great thing about these body weight exercises is that most of them work several muscles at once and often incorporate movements that we use in our everyday lives, making these a functional form of training and superior to weight machines at a gym. Do two sets of 8-10 of these exercises at least one day per week: lunges, squats, side lying leg raises, push ups, ab crunches, bicycle crunches, calf raises, planks, birddog, inchworm, mountain climbers, glute bridges, spider walks. You can see step by step instructions for proper form for all of these exercises plus tips on how to stretch your muscles at the conclusion of your workout by clicking here. The exercises also suggest progressions if they are or become too easy for you.
Many women find strength training tedious and boring. I love the days I do cardio but, I have to admit, my strength training days are a challenge from a motivational standpoint sometimes. To combat this, I recommend doing the exercises while you watch television and workout during the commercials which are usually played in blocks of several at a time. Do one exercise for the full length of a 30 second commercial (or two 15 second commercials). When another commercial comes on, switch to another exercise and so on until the block of commercials is over. Rest during the program. When the next block of commercials comes on, do the same exercises you did for the first block, this will constitute your second set of each of those exercises. Rest again. When a new block of commercials comes on, select different exercises to do and repeat the cycle. When you’ve completed two sets of 8-10 different exercises, stretch all the muscles you’ve worked and you’re done.
When selecting what exercises you’ll do during one block of commercials, try to pick ones that work different parts of the body. For example, better to do lunges, push-ups, crunches and planks in a block than all lower body exercises. Remember, the key to a quality strength workout is form over quantity. You will get much better results doing 10 slow push ups with perfect form than doing 20 fast push ups with poor form.
Worried this approach won’t work for you? If you already belong to a fitness club, select at least one class per week that incorporates full-body strength training. Look for classes with the words pump or sculpt in the title or take a mat Pilates or TRX class. Or you could consider hiring a personal trainer. I have clients who come to me to do their strength training because they know they won’t strength train on their own without external accountability. There are also lots of great strength training DVDs that use minimal or no equipment. My favorites are the Exhale MindBodySpa Core Fusion DVDs.
I realize this month’s exercise small step is a big challenge and represents a pretty large “small step” for many. So, the diet small step this month is easy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get 3 to 4 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. Not surprising most Americans fall short of that amount. This month, add one (+1) serving of fruit or vegetable to your daily diet. This is different from what you’ve been doing with the Food Substitutions recommendation from April’s Small Steps post. In that case, you were reducing some or all of your protein or grain in each meal/snack and replacing it with fruit or vegetable. In this case, you want to add one more serving of fruit or vegetable, a serving that you are not already consuming regularly, somewhere in your day.
The beauty of the One Small Step approach is you’re tackling one manageable change at a time and giving yourself 2-4 weeks to practice it, hone it and incorporate the change into your daily life, essentially making it a new habit, before introducing a new change. No doubt, you’ve had a few slip ups along the way – we all do. Don’t give up, every positive thing you do is one step closer to a fitter, happier you. Don’t sweat the negatives. The only way the negatives overtake the positives is when you stop trying.
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.