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How to Start a Fitness Program

So you want to start a fitness program? Congratulations on completing the difficult first step of your goal: Making the decision to get active. Now that you’re committed, what do you expect from a new fitness program? Be honest.

Are you going to get fit, even if it kills you? Or do you just want a little more energy to keep up with the kids? Do you intend to work out every day, perhaps twice a day, until you’re climbing mountains, swimming oceans, and running with gazelles? Or are you looking for 30 minutes a day, three or four days a week, so your doctor will quit giving you dirty looks at your annual checkup?

In that case, I have a plan for you! Yes, both of you.

This plan is designed to convert someone who can’t run down the block into a lean, mean, 3-mile running machine in exactly nine weeks. Conveniently, it takes about 30 minutes to run three miles. Since the program only includes three days per week of training to achieve its goal, it’s an excellent basic fitness program.

Following this plan, you can base your training sessions on time rather than mileage, making it incredibly flexible. If you’re not interested in running or have been advised to avoid running, you can easily translate this plan to the elliptical machine, pool, rowing machine, upper body cardio machine, or cycling.

And it’s free!

If it sounds too good to be true, then you know it was created by a software developer. 😉

Yes, the beloved, infamous, oft-invoked Couch to 5K Program was created by Josh Clark, a programmer and designer who writes content management systems and books on iPhone app development.

My philosophy in designing C25K overlaps neatly with my philosophy of software design:

  1. Eliminate pain.
    If it hurts to do it, people will give up.
  2. Welcome newcomers.
    Friendly language and reasonable expectations are crucial in early experiences with a program.
  3. Deliver early victories.
    If you feel like you’re kicking ass from the start, you’ll be eager to continue. Otherwise, you’ll decide that you suck, the program sucks, or both. See #1 above.
  4. Make it easy and rewarding.
    We are creatures of inertia; we need carrots to get moving.
  5. Not everyone wants to be a power user.
    Some people will be content to master the basics and stop there; others will want to continue to develop and explore. The program should accommodate both paths.

Josh Clark

The plan involves no more than 20 to 30 minutes a day, three days a week, for nine weeks, and is structured around jog/walk intervals. After warming up, you start the plan by jogging for a minute, then walking for a minute and a half, until 20 minutes have elapsed. In a few weeks, you’re jogging for a minute and a half and walking for a minute and a half. Then you find yourself jogging for five minutes at a time with three-minute walking breaks, and a total of 30 minutes of exercise. By week nine, you don’t need no stinkin’ walking breaks! Go sign up for a 5K; you’re a superstar!

Have I convinced you yet? Are you already imagining crossing the finish line at your local Turkey Trot, getting a high-five, a finisher’s medal and some Gatorade?

Awesome! Here’s the Couch to 5K plan. And here’s the plan’s fan site, where they lovingly refer to it as C25K and link to metric conversions, iPhone apps, podcasts, inspirational essays, and support forums.

If you’re still here, let me recommend following up your C25K with 15 minutes of yoga. It’s amazing! You can download free yoga videos, 5 to 50 minutes each, on iTunes. Search the podcasts for Yoga Today (full website with a free class every week here).

And if you’re a veteran exerciser returning to fitness after injury or time off, don’t rush the program! The last thing you want to do is burn yourself out. The key to starting over from scratch is to always leave yourself wanting more.

So how about it? When are you starting your fitness program?

2 thoughts on “How to Start a Fitness Program

  1. A 10-min mile is pretty fast, but maybe with motivational music it could be done. At my peak, I was running a 12-min mile which I worked VERY hard to achieve.

    This sounds like a great couch2 5k program. I’ve done others and they were very motivating — and anything that gets you out the door is excellent imho…

    No more running for me, unfortunately. But I can still walk and that’s good enough.

    1. That’s true, Natasha. I certainly don’t run a 10-minute mile! And I think my 5K PR is closer to 32 minutes. The important part is getting at least 30 minutes in on a regular basis.

      And you’re totally right, walking is incredibly important. I’ve seen some really amazing health changes in people who simply started walking two miles a day and stretching a little bit.

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