Exercise Basics

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Anyone can exercise. Everyone should exercise. Do it for yourself, for your life. We only get one. It doesn’t matter if you do five minutes on a bike at home or body-build for hours straight at the gym. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

If you’re like I was prior to my degree, you want to go to a gym, but you don’t want to go in looking or feeling out of place. So here’s a few tips to help you gain an understanding of what it takes.

I’ve worked with stroke patients and people recovering from surgeries, to those wanting to build up muscle purely for the aesthetic appeal. I do recommend checking in with your doctor prior to starting a routine so they can confirm an appropriate activity level, especially if you are on any medications, particularly Beta Blockers.

Personal Trainers are your best friend. They can help you fine tune your work out so it is custom fit to you, and can work with doctors and therapists to ensure you’re headed the direction you want. If you’re uneasy about where to begin, read this article, and find a personal trainer at a local gym. At least you won’t be going in empty handed.

1.       Timing

Exercise at least three days a week (to make progress), no more than six. Your heart and your muscles need a day to rest. And I’m sure you want one! It is best to spread those days out, say: Monday/Wednesday/Friday, to give yourself a day of rest in between, rather than clumping them together. But if going three days in a row is your only option, it’s still better than nothing.

2.       Food

If you’re trying to burn calories and lose weight, don’t increase the food you’re consuming when you increase your activity level, even if you’re hungry. What you should do is change the proportions of what you’re eating: cut back on the fats and oils, and increase your protein intake (and water to help you digest them). Protein and water are best friends.

Spread your meals out into smaller groupings of snacks to five or six small meals a day so you always get a little kick to keep you going. If it’s easier, think of it this way: eat what you can fit on one hand every 2-3 hours. For me that’s one of the following: 25-30 almonds, a protein bar, 2TBSPs of peanut butter, an avocado, two eggs, a chicken breast, 2/3 cup granola+milk/yogurt, an 8oz. protein shake, or any number of other protein sources. If you have trouble switching to this, that’s okay. Remember, you only have to wait 2 hours to eat again.

If you’re trying to gain weight: add protein, carbs and fats. It’s going to be tough, because you won’t feel like you have a place to put it all. Protein shakes and things like nuts, avocados, eggs and meat will help you put on healthy weight. I had to do protein supplements like crazy, because I needed the concentration and the ease of digestion. Meat proteins are important, and if you’re vegetarian, you are going to have to watch you Iron levels closely. There are other sources for acquiring Iron, but you ought to talk to a doctor if you plan to significantly change you activity level.

If you can find a good multi-vitamin, I recommend one of those a day. A great resource is labdoor.com. You can sign up with your email. They send products out for third-party health/safety/efficacy assessments and put the reports online.

3.       Kinetic Components

Flexibility. Balance. Strength. Endurance. These four, when done in combination, will help you achieve the absolute best physical shape for living a long, prosperous, and capable life. There are many sports and activities available that are a great way to fit in all of these components, and won’t require you to do a structured workout, permitting the sports occur on a regular basis. If you’re like me: shy, introverted, self-conscious, nervous or hesitant to try new things, what I’m giving you can help you take care of yourself without the necessity of a gym.

A note, before we begin:

If you are currently sedentary, and wish to work out at home so you feel more capable going in, start out slow. Do not jump in and do an hour of strength training and an hour of cardio. You’re going to fall on your face the next day. Be reasonable. Try a little bit of everything: a few strength exercises, maybe a 15 minute walk, balancing for a few minutes, and some stretches. A small change to your life can jumpstart a big one.

And the most important phrase you will ever learn: if you don’t use it, you will lose it.

If you don’t use it, you will lose it.


It isn’t just Yoga or bendy people. It is in its most essential elements, the ability to reach things, to move through a joint’s range of motion, to touch your toes and the sky so-to-say. Stretches are crucial for maintaining that range. If you don’t do them (even if you don’t exercise) over time your muscles and joints will stiffen and often that stiffness can cause pain.


Children have good balance because they play, they put their bodies through training every day. Spinning on tire-swings, walking on curbs, playing hop-scotch. When was the last time you did anything like this? Yeah me neither. As we get older (and I might be only 30, but I am not doing flips on balance beams anymore) our sensitivity dwindles. In a safe location with a solid railing to grab and a friend close by: practice standing on soft surfaces like thick rugs or on moveable surfaces like balance boards, practice standing with your eyes closed, try raising up on your toes or standing on one foot, doing simple tricks like hopscotch jumps, and playing. Yes playing! It’s good for your inner ear and it’s good for your soul.


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This doesn’t mean barbells, dumbbells, crazy amounts of weights and sweaty grunting people at the gym. Heck no. You can do it at home, and you can gain muscle at home. Calisthenics: use your body weight for exercise. Or you can do what I do: get some tubing, bands, and a handful of small weights and make a go of it that way.

Proper *form* when lifting is more important than *how much* you are lifting.

Keeping your repetitions (number of lifts) at 8-12. You can go higher, but you will be in a transitional zone called strength-endurance. Lower numbers of reps and you’re in body-building. For now, keep it simple. I usually do 8-10.

The number of sets (groupings of repetitions) is best kept between 2 and 4. One set won’t do you much good. More than four sets places unnecessary stress on your body. Let’s leave those to the professionals.

There are three main zones to work: lower body, upper body, and core. And each zone has multiple muscle groups.

The Breakdown:

Lower Body – Glutes, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves, Shins

Basic exercises: squats, lunges, and toe raises

Core – Lower Back, the Six Pack, and the Obliques (the abdominal ‘V’)

Basic exercises: superman (lying on your stomach), crunches, bicycles

Upper Body – Chest, Upper Back (shoulder blades), Trapezius (Traps), Latissimus Dorsi (Lats), biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

Basic exercises: push-ups (chest and triceps), shoulder shrugs, pull-ups, bicep curls, side raises

Each of those also break down into many smaller groups, so there are a few muscles and tons of exercises I didn’t list, but these are the only ones you need to know for a standard well-rounded workout.


Cardiovascular exercise is one of the more popular forms. Running, walking, biking, hiking, swimming. It’s an easy load on the body, for a long period of time. The best health benefits are seen from an average of an hour a day. Sure a fifteen minute walk is better than no walk, but in the long run (pun intended), it most likely won’t be that effective. Make sure you can still maintain a conversation when you are performing cardio. If you can’t talk, you’re working too hard. If you’re not sweating and you’re chatting up a storm, you’re not working hard enough. Good cardio makes you breathe a little heavy, sweat a little, and feel great a lot… when it’s over!

4.       The Routine:

  1. Always start with a warm up. This means simple cardio for at least five minutes to get your blood pumping readily through your heart and your muscles ready for action.
  2. Next, do your balance training. Trust me, this is hard to do later when your muscles are exhausted.
  3. Third step is to do the strength training.
  4. Fourth is cardio, because it’s easier on the muscles. If you try doing strength training after an hour of cardio, lifting weight will seem like an Atlas challenge because you’ve burned through your energy reserves in the muscles. It’s easy to go for a walk after strength training, or sit on a bike and pedal away, even when your muscles are tired.
  5. Lastly, do your stretches! And don’t forget or pass up this part. This is key to preventing cramps and helping your muscles build themselves stronger. That aching burn you feel after exercise is Lactic acid, a product of your recent awesome workout. I’m sure you’ve heard the term. Stretches and post-workout movement will help massage that out of your system. It’s like water in a sponge. If you squeeze the sponge, the water will drain more readily than if you just set that wet sponge on the counter.

5.       Gear:

The average person doesn’t need a lot. Breathable clothing that isn’t too baggy is best. If you have too much fabric hanging off it can get snagged on equipment and no one wants to see how that ends. A water bottle with a nozzle you don’t have to hand open (because gyms are full of sweaty people) and a set of gloves for protecting your hands are the standard. As you get used to your routine and the rules of the gym, and gain experience, you will learn what else you might need or want.

6.       If you do find yourself at a gym, please do these things:

Wipe down your equipment when you’re done. You don’t want their sweat on you; they don’t want yours on them.

Be mindful of equipment. Put things back where you found them. Loose weights and tools on the floors can cause tripping hazards.

If there’s a machine you want you use, be polite and make sure someone isn’t between sets. I always ask if someone is done with a machine they’re standing beside before hopping in and pulling the pin.

Exercise can be and should be fun. The first two weeks will be the hardest because your body is adapting to the new movements, the new stress, and the muscle it’s building inside. Listen to music or go with a friend. Make a journal of your exercises, your starting weights and repetitions. Push yourself a little each day and in two weeks you will see progress. And progress is a great reward.

FullSizeRender [28228]This is me, with my little gym in our camper trailer. I’ve worked out, and worked in enormous gyms to small hometown facilities. But what matters is the commitment. Even if the only piece of equipment you have is your own body, you can do amazing things.

Best Wishes and Good Luck!


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