Military Muscle: Highway to health — 7 tips for starting the year off right

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The New Year is here, and there’s one thing you can be absolutely sure of: A huge number of folks are going to promise themselves as well as many other people that they will be turning up their fat-burning engine to the max and that there will be no more Mr./Ms. “Softy,” “Couch Potato,” or “Always Have An Excuse.”

Yes, everyone will be shocked to see the new you.

Let me offer some lessons learned from watching New Year’s commandos crash and burn more often than not. If you follow these tips in your quest, you’ll boost your chances of success.

1. Set your mind for the long term.

If you’re the type to make New Year’s fitness resolutions to begin with, that usually means your fitness level is not at the top of the chart. So know this: You cannot — cannot — safely reach your goals in mere days — or even weeks.

2. Seek out a professional.

Come to grips with the fact that you probably need to consult with a fitness trainer or someone with the background to design a program that fits your goals and abilities (as they are today — not several years ago when you might have been slim and trim).

Ask around about the people others work with. Just because someone has a certificate on their wall doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. The money you may spend up front will be well worth it in the long run. Learning correct technique, even in basic body weight exercises, can mean extra pounds lost and more muscle and shaping developed in all the right places.

Good news for the many people who read these columns: The trainer fees at military establishments are usually zero, but check with your gym personnel because different branches may have different setups.

3. Set a definite goal for yourself at about the May/June time frame.

“Getting in better shape” does not quite cut it. Without something concrete to work toward, you’ll get sidetracked. Shoot for a 5K or other race in a specific time or even a trip. I had a couple come in last New Year’s, headed for a three-week canoe trip on the boundary waters of the Canada/U.S. border. If it’s the standard weight loss you’re aiming for, aim for a specific dress or trouser size. I had a female client who had just gotten a gig as a wedding dress model, and she really wanted some high-profile shoulders, arms and upper back.

4. Be accountable to someone.

You need someone to answer to should you become “missing in action.” This could be your trainer, or better yet, get a workout partner. I always see better results when two people are working toward the same goals.

5. Chart some times for review.

To get to your final destination, you need to take account of where you are along the fitness highway — always as it relates to your stated goal. Let things get stabilized and wait 30 to 45 days prior to your first review as to where you are vs. your goals; then do assessments every month, especially if gaining strength is one of your goals. A client here just began with a goal of improving dead lifts, benches and squats. We will be checking the max lift only once a month. Training, technique correction and improving support muscle are done during the regular sessions.

6. Understand that you’ll probably take some steps back.

This is another place a professional or partner can help you, especially after the first few weeks of burning enthusiasm starts to cool. Sit down and examine your goals. Are they still achievable? How do you get back on track if you’ve fallen off? Examine the gains, even small ones, that you have made.

7. Look for fun events to use as measuring sticks.

Color Run 5Ks, mud runs with a group of friends, “volksmarches,” kayaking or canoeing, adventure races: Many are “for any fitness level.” The best ones are always group events.

I plan to give you a great year in 2014. A year of ideas, workouts, the newest gear, what some of the top fitness gurus are preaching and other topics. Got any ideas for a column or simply a question? My email is below. I want to hear from you.’


Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas has been our Military Muscle columnist since 2007. He’s the director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. He’s his base’s lead trainer, a wounded warrior program facilitator and the Navy nutrition counselor there. His special emphasis is on fitness for the military retired population. Find his Military Muscle columns here.