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12 months of fitness

Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

The holiday parties are over, and now many Americans are setting fitness goals for the new year. For many of us, the simple goal of “fitness” might seem a long way off – the average American is 20 to 25 pounds overweight and isn’t physically active, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – but it’s far from unattainable. 

We asked four Washington-area fitness experts how to make incremental changes throughout 2014 with the year-end goal of losing those extra 20 to 25 pounds and becoming stronger physically and mentally with the help of exercise, meditation and nutrition changes. 

This is our “couch-to-fit” calendar for 2014, with guidance from Faith Hunter, a yoga teacher and owner of Embrace yoga studio; Mansur Mendizabal, a personal trainer; Chris Knight, a personal trainer and CrossFit Coach; and Heather Calcote, a dietitian and endurance athlete. 

For additional information and instruction, turn to your doctor or personal trainer; results aren’t guaranteed. It is always advisable to check with your doctor before starting any new fitness routine. 

January

Cardio: Start taking swift walks or light jogs for at least 30 minutes three times per week. This should be light to moderate activity, meaning you should be able to hold a conversation. Stretch for five minutes or more afterward. Start changing up your daily routines: Seek opportunities to choose standing over sitting, walking over driving and stairs instead of the elevator.

Strength: Start with core and balance exercises two times per week. The goal is to create good posture and form; if you want an example of how to do a particular exercise, ask a trainer at your gym or look online for videos. Very little equipment is needed for these bodyweight exercises, but for balance we recommend trying a Bosu ball, which is a half-sphere-shaped training tool that can add extra challenge to standing and sitting exercises.

Mind-body: Take a beginner yoga class at a gym or studio, or at home using a DVD or online class. Try to practice 30 minutes to an hour per week.

Nutrition: Log your food intake at least three days a week. Use a calorie-counting app or Web site to figure out how many calories are recommended for you, and to create a 100- to 200-calorie deficit if you want to lose weight. A few options: MyPlate.gov, MyFitnessPal.com, SparkPeople.com or My-Calorie-Counter.com.

February

Cardio: Keep the intensity and duration the same: low to moderate, at least 30 minutes, three times per week. Alternate walking or jogging with biking and swimming to work different muscle groups and keep things interesting. Remember to stretch to help prevent tightness and soreness.

Strength: Keep up your January routine, paying attention to your form and posture.

Mind-body: Add a two-minute daily meditation. Close your eyes, sit up straight and start observing your breath, breathing deeply through your nose. This can help shift the mind from worry to calm.

Nutrition: Increase water intake and decrease sugary beverages; add one serving of fruits or vegetables per day; continue your food journal for progress and accountability.

March

Cardio: Increase your intensity slightly while keeping the duration the same: Shoot for a moderate levelof activity (you can speak, but holding a conversation is difficult) at least 30 minutes three times per week.

Strength: Keep up the core and balance exercises two or three times per week.

Mind-body: Increase the duration of the daily meditation by a few minutes and continue the weekly yoga class.

Nutrition: Celebrate National Nutrition Month by using MyPlate.gov for meal-planning. Your plate should be half fruits and vegetables, a quarter lean protein and a quarter whole grains or starchy vegetables such as corn and beans.

April

Cardio: Start incorporating intervals into two of your cardio days. At the end of these workouts, do three or four 30-second, high-intensity rounds to get your heart rate up, keeping the total duration the same. Intervals create speed, power and strength. Plus, the harder your work, the more calories you burn.

Strength: In the second quarter, we add exercises that involve big muscle groups and some light weights (optional). If time is tight, you can replace the bodyweight exercises, or alternate. Big-muscle-group training burns calories, adds endurance and is considered functional training because these big-muscle groups are key in everyday activities. Shoot for 15 to 30 minutes per session; if you're running closer to 15 minutes, add a third day of strength training.

Mind-body: Take your yoga outside and try a class in a local park. This will connect you with your community while stretching the body and calming the mind.

Nutrition: It's Alcohol Awareness Month, a good time to think about not only alcohol's dangers but also its empty calories. Consume no more than two drinks in one sitting, alternating with water at social events and meals.

May

Cardio: Keep the intervals two times a week at the end of those workouts. Add a longer cardio workout (30 to 60 minutes) on the non-interval day to start building endurance.

Strength: Continue the bodyweight work and external-weight-bearing weight training.

Mind-body: Keep up your five-minute daily meditations and yoga. Get outside when you can for community, fresh air and sun.

Nutrition: Cook at least three meals per week at home. Make double recipes to create leftovers for lunches and more dinners. Make half of each meal vegetables and aim to have at least two colors in each meal (leafy greens and red peppers, for example).

June

Cardio: Keep up your routine from May. June is a good time to take the workout outside if you haven't yet, perhaps at your neighborhood pool.

Strength: It's time to add weight and reduce the repetitions to between eight and 10. This can be a good time to try a session with a personal trainer to make sure you're using proper form, which is important as the weight increases.

Mind-body: Feeling comfortable in your yoga practice? It might be time to challenge yourself with an intermediate class.

Nutrition: Get grilling! Try fish, lean meats and vegetables in foil or on a kebab. For dessert? Grill some peaches, apricots or grapefruits.

July

Cardio: Increase the duration or the frequency of your workouts, reaching about 150 minutes total of moderate to intense aerobic activity per week. Keep the intervals twice a week.

Strength: In the third quarter, we introduce exercises that include extra weight and resistance bands. They can replace or be added to the exercises you are already doing, depending on the amount of time you have. This type of progression builds your endurance and adds strength. Shoot for 15 to 45 minutes per session.

Mind-body: Check for yoga festivals and conferences during the summer months to deepen your understanding of movement, breathing and meditation.

Nutrition: How do you start your day? If you don't normally eat breakfast, aim to eat something in the morning at least three days per week. Keep breakfast between 300 and 500 calories. Try to include proteins, healthful fats, whole grains and fruits.

August

Cardio: Keep up the good work - even on vacation!

Strength: Try to increase weights slightly.

Mind-body: Try a new style of yoga. Take a mat with you on vacation; studios are practically everywhere these days.

Nutrition: Stay hydrated by drinking at least eight glasses (eight ounces apiece) of water per day, and keep a water bottle with you at all times. Check on calories: Remember to aim for 100 to 200 fewer per day than recommended for your weight in order to create a calorie deficit.

September

Cardio: Shoot for 150 to 180 minutes of cardio, spread throughout the week. Keep the intervals twice a week.

Strength: Keep up the good work and increase weight when you no longer feel challenged.

Mind-body: If you've only ever practiced in a yoga studio, try a DVD or online class at home. It's a good way to increase the frequency of your practice.

Nutrition: Focus on healthful fats: fish, nuts, avocado and healthful oils. Examine your fruit and vegetable consumption, too; aim for five to nine servings per day. One serving is half a whole fruit, a cup of raw vegetables or half a cup dried fruits.

October

Cardio: Keep the intervals twice a week, but consider adding intensity to the intervals while decreasing their duration. This will build power and speed while keeping things interesting.

Strength: In the fourth quarter, we introduce exercises that include heavy weights at fewer repetitions. They can replace or be added to the exercises you are already doing. This is where you start creating power in the body in addition to the strength and endurance you have already established. As the weight goes up, so does the risk of injury. This might be a good time to consider hiring a trainer, even for one session, to ensure proper form. Shoot for 15 to 60 minutes per workout.

Mind-body: Start deepening your understanding of yoga and meditation by reading easily accessible writings on the topic, such as "Yoga Body, Buddha Mind" by Cyndi Lee.

Nutrition: Choose something you often overindulge in and use this month as a detox and reset. Elimination diets often backfire, but taking a step back and decreasing our intake of something for a short period can help calm cravings.

November

Cardio: Keep up your October routine.

Strength: Continue doing strength workouts three days a week.

Mind-body: This is a time when many studios and gyms feature charity classes. It's a good time to reflect on your practice and what you have learned in the past 11 months.

Nutrition:Practice portion control, especially at holiday meals and parties. Calorie guideline: Snacks should be no more than 200 calories, meals no more than 500 calories, desserts no more than 300 calories. Don't forget to include alcohol when you tally up the calories.

December

Cardio: Moving your workouts indoors might mean mixing up running, cycling, treadmill, rowing machine or swimming. Keep the total duration of your cardio workouts about 180 minutes weekly. Keep the intense intervals twice a week. Shoot for a workout frequency of three or four days a week.

Strength: Keep up your November routine.

Mind-body: December's a good time to reflect on your practice and what you have learned in the past 12 months – and where you want to go in the next 12 months, physically and mentally. Consider trying a meditation-focused class at your local yoga studio.

Nutrition: A few smart practices during the holidays:

1. Bring healthful alternatives to the holiday potluck.

2. Skimp on sugars (including drinks).

3.Choose one dessert and have only one serving.

4. If drinking alcohol, stick with low-sugar options such as wine and light beer and alternate with water.

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