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  • Writer's pictureAsh Radford

The problem with exercise programs

Never before have we had so much information and understanding about fitness. Yet we've never had such high levels of inactivity and obesity. Walking, running and cycling are the most popular types of exercise. It's no co-incidence they're also the simplest. All 3 are essentially a repetitive action. Studies (1,2) into adherence to rehabilitation programs show a similar trend. People given 2 exercises to do at home are much more likely to actually do them than those given 8. No surprise really- simple is simply better when it comes to getting exercise done regularly.

Personal trainer instructing fit man doing push ups
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Just keep it simple?

There's wisdom in looking for the best way to get and stay fit. No one wants to waste precious time and effort on something which doesn't get results. However look on the internet or even consult a professional and you'll find not only infinite options but complexity within those options. We're also discovering the many wide ranging benefits of strength training. While strength training is certainly great (& now part of the World Health Organisation's physical activity guidelines), it is by nature complicated. Your body has many muscles and moves in a multitude of ways. There's no 1 strength exercise that does it all. It takes more than a couple of exercises to make strength training effective. There's good reason why you probably don't know many people who strength train in a structured, consistent way. Not only does a greater number of exercise mean more thinking and typically more equipment but also more potential for overwhelm. Not an encouraging combination for beginning any new activity. In effect you're coupling the often dreaded physical discomfort from exercise with the psychological discomfort of feeling incompetent. No wonder most attempts at getting fit don't last 5 weeks. Keeping it simple is wise but it's even better to follow Albert Einstein's advice: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

The balance between simple and effective

There are 2 major considerations when looking for that balance. Firstly your goal matters. If you want to get stronger and reap all the benefits associated with strength training it'll take some complexity as already explained. On the other hand, if you've been advised that walking is an appropriate way to get your blood pressure down, well it doesn't get much simpler than that. Generally the greater your goal, the more complex the program will need to become. This is not just true for strength training. Seek to excel at Ironman Triathlon and you'll have to step into a world of great detail around variables such as heart rate, speed, rest and training duration. Cardiovascular exercise programs can get incredibly detailed and specific. Secondly the amount of complexity you personally can cope with matters. I mean the level of complexity you can realistically sustain over months. Think about how difficult a form of exercise is to get to, and get started on, as well as the level of detail within the program. Given family, work and other demands on your time what you can do and do often is important. Here's a post featuring some practical examples of simple and effective ways to exercise: Overwhelmed by the task of getting fit? You're not alone, here's 3 simple solutions

When complexity becomes essential

Injuries and other physical limitations can also be cause for some complexity. A standard program usually won't do. It may take more or specialised equipment to get safe, effective exercise done. Plus individually tailored exercises could be needed. In which case consulting an experienced Personal Trainer can be wise.

Start simple, add complexity later

Ultimately it's getting dozens of workouts done over months and years that matters most. Even mediocre exercise done often is a whole lot better than brilliant exercise done occasionally. Generally an approach where you start simple and add complexity once you've formed the habit works best. Give your body and mind a chance to get used to exercising before looking to do something overly technical and you'll enhance your chances of building a habit that lasts years.


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