Every exercise plan will slip; all active people have to learn how to start again

Heather Doherty demonstrates the Sumo Squat With Upright Row exercise for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Heather Doherty demonstrates the Sumo Squat With Upright Row exercise for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

Most adults over the age of 25 have tried to start an exercise routine at some point. Some may have been athletes getting back into training, while others undertook a more traditional beginning workout program. Getting started is an experience that almost anyone has gone through.

How one goes from inactivity to maintaining a regular workout program can be seen as a cycle, the workout cycle, with predictable stages.

First, a decision has to be made. A person makes up his or her mind to start working out. That moment is the genesis of a wonderful behavior-change pattern that has life-changing potential. It starts as an idea but morphs into what behavior-change scientists call "intention."

According to some behavior-change theories, intention is the single most important factor in the cycle. Without it, there's no fuel to push through the rest of the process.

Once intention is present, the person starts to weigh the decision. Do they have time in their schedule? Do they have access to physical activity resources? What will their friends and family think? What are their personal beliefs about health and wellness? Such questions percolate as the individual works up the inspiration to take action.

If, and only if, those questions are answered satisfactorily, beginners act. They jog down the street or walk into a gym, try that first workout. This is an exciting step. For some, a fear response occurs. Fear of being judged, fear of failure and a general feeling of low self-efficacy are very common. The good news is that most people push through that fear for the first few weeks. They learn where their favorite machines are, become friendly with the gym staff and become somewhat regular exercisers.

After a month or two, usually, a serious obstacle arises. It could be a physical setback, like a strained muscle. It could also be a life event such as a vacation or illness; but something happens that breaks the individual's established routine. This is a critical time as exercise adherence is often tied to an established cadence or rhythm.

As a former personal trainer, I remember fielding thousands of session cancellation calls, emails and texts around this time. "Life is crazy right now, I'll let you know when things settle down."

Everyone has experienced these inflection points. The key is making that next workout happen. Even if it's just a 20-minute elliptical session, that first workout after a break in the routine is the catalyst that restarts the entire process of behavior change.

It's called a cycle because it has to start again.

Social support is critical in those moments, as the encouragement from others is sometimes enough to get back on the horse.

But after another obstacle crops up and is overcome, and then another, and another, the workout process is much easier to restart. Confidence carries through, self-efficacy grows and people inspire themselves with their ability to persevere. This is the stage of behavior change we all strive for — maintenance.

This week's exercise is perfect for those getting back into a new routine. The Sumo Squat With Upright Row is a combination movement that is efficient for a short, effective workout.

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1. Select a medium-weight dumbbell and balance it on one end on the floor.

2. Stand over the end facing up with each foot equidistant from the center.

3. Grasp the dumbbell underneath the weights and squat down.

4. Stand back up and lift the dumbbell with your arms outstretched toward the floor.

5. Once you reach the full standing position, lift the dumbbell with your arms until it reaches chest level.

6. Pause for a second, then slowly lower the dumbbell with your arms.

7. Once they are fully outstretched, squat back down.

8. Go right into the next rep once the dumbbell touches the floor.

9. Perform two sets of 12.

Whether the behavior-change cycle is in the contemplation stage or the maintenance stage, every active person goes through it. Everyone starts over. As we approach the New Year, let's embrace the process and join together to encourage our friends or family — and ourselves — to make it happen. Time to work!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column Jan. 6, 2003, at Little Rock. He loves to hear from readers. Write to him at:

[email protected]

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