Who's the Coach? You Are!

A personal trainer can help you boost your exercise motivation, stick to a regular fitness routine, and push yourself past a plateau. But if you don’t have the time or money to meet with a trainer, just hire yourself to get the job done.

“You can be your own fitness coach if you have a plan,” says Debi Silber, M.S., R.D., president of Lifestyle Fitness Inc., a whole-health coaching company based in Dix Hills, N.Y. “The key is to follow the principles a professional personal trainer would hopefully instill in you.”

But what does it really take to create your own program and inspire yourself to keep at it? Here are Silber’s secrets for exercise success.

Make an exercise appointment

Treat exercise as a scheduled appointment, just as you would a business meeting.

“If you write it in your day planner, you’re much less likely to skip it,” says Silber.

Personalize your goals

If you hired a trainer, one of the first questions you’d be asked is, “What’s your goal?” So, do the same for yourself by formulating a goal that’s specific, realistic, and personal.

Event-driven goals, such as losing 20 pounds for a high school reunion, are motivating for the moment but don’t stick long-term. Instead, Silber suggests setting short-term minigoals based on performance, such as trying to do a little more exercise each week.

“If you worked out for 30 minutes three days last week, this week try to exercise three times for 35 minutes,” she suggests.

Meanwhile, find something that motivates you to reach your daily goals—listening to music when you exercise, taking an exercise class, or teaming up with an exercise buddy, for example.

“Create a program around something you know is going to get the job done,” says Silber.

If you don’t like the idea of formal exercise, try a sport or activity you enjoy, such as swimming or cycling.

Push, but not too hard

To help you avoid injury, a personal trainer would be your guide to ensure you’re using good form and not pushing yourself too hard. To do the same for yourself, learn fitness basics by watching a DVD, taking a gym class, or meeting with a personal trainer once or twice to get some pointers.

And if you’re sore 48 hours after a workout, you’re pushing too hard.

Use the talk test for cardiovascular exercise, such as when using the treadmill, walking, or jogging.

“If you can effortlessly carry on a conversation, it’s too easy. If you can speak only one-word answers, it’s too hard,” says Silber. “But if you can speak in short sentences, you’re in the right place.”

Or, use the rate-of-perceived-exertion test. On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being equivalent to the exertion you’d feel if you were standing still, and 10 the equivalent to running uphill, rate your perceived exertion. The recommended rate of perceived exertion is between 3 and 5, which is like walking at a moderate pace. If you’re in great shape, you should be exercising between 6 and 8.

“You’ll feel the results of your efforts before you see them,” says Silber. “But feeling them keeps you motivated to stick with it, until you actually see results.”

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