Working Out with What You’ve Got

When I lived in Wyoming I was spoiled fitness-wise. Sure, it could get cold in the winter – especially with the wind – but it was sunny most days, I could shovel the snow with a broom, and there were lots of wide open spaces for hikes with the dog.

The recreation centre also had a $30 monthly pass that got you unlimited use of the equipment, pool and classes. And they were good classes: yoga, spinning, kickboxing, circuit training and pump n’ flex with solid instructors who knew how to push you. Eventually I hired one of them to be my personal trainer to snap me out of my ruts and bust through my plateaus.

In a country known for obesity and sedentary living I ran my first 5km, started doing pushups on my toes, and was in the best damn shape of my life. Then I moved to Edmonton.

I was still active but frequent travels and home reno projects got in the way. Then I went to Dawson, Yukon for the Berton House Retreat and my scheduled exercise slipped further in the freezing cold and dark. I didn’t exactly gain the ‘Dawson Dozen’ but when I got home I was ready to regain my former self. Problem was, I didn’t want to lock into a 2-year contract, pay high dues, or deal with schmarmy gym-goers checking out their biceps in the mirror. The local rec centre and I didn’t gel either, especially for about $60/month. It was time to work out with what I had and become my own personal trainer.

Here are some tips on designing your own low-cost weight-loss/training plan:

1. Assess your starting point and goals. The Mayo Clinic has a good Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator and has a lot of free tools for tracking fitness, food, and progress. Prevention and Fitness magazines often have sane one-month plans for kick-starting your new regime. If you do some research and put in a few minutes a day, you can be your own coach.

2. Do inventory on your equipment. Do you have a treadmill hiding under a pile of ironing? Or fitness DVDs? Or a sidewalk clear of snow? There’s your cardio. (I would recommend a heart-rate monitor to make sure you’re pushing yourself hard enough!). Do you have a resistance band? Free weights? A floor? Then you can do strength training.

3. Make a 28-day plan. Studies show for a habit to take hold, 28 days can be the magic number. I have a whiteboard where I write down my plan for the month and then cross off the days. It’s a great way to schedule your fitness, stay accountable, and track your progress.

4. Once those 28 days are done, though, switch it up so your body doesn’t have a chance to get complacent. February I was doing a circuit using a fitness ball. March it was freeweights. Now I’m using a resistance band (check out the March 2011 issue of Chatelaine for a great workout). When something starts to get easy, increase the weight, reps, or sets.

5. Find your motivators and reward yourself often. I get to watch t.v. when I’m on the bike – and have full-length, live-streaming episodes of dozens of shows for free. I just hook my laptop up to the tv with an HDMI cable, and I’m good to go!

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