Is getting in shape your goal for the new year? Then get ready to work out like a true athlete.
Frances Stephenson, a strength and conditioning coach at New Mexico State University, says if you want to keep your resolution, you’ve got to start slow and be consistent. She showed us how you can get in a super effective workout right at home and offered up her best advice for getting in tip top shape.
Which teams do you work with at NMSU?
I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach for four and a half years now. For the women’s basketball team, I’m in charge of everything that happens in the weight room, and working on conditioning, speed, and agility. I also work with men’s and women’s tennis, the diving and swim teams, the equestrian team, and it’s all hands on deck for football, so I help out there as needed.
What tips do you have for someone who wants to start an exercise routine?
The biggest thing is consistency. Lifestyle changes are difficult, so set small, attainable goals and keep up with them. Start with one or two things that you can realistically stick to. Once you’ve mastered those, move on to bigger goals.
Also, you can’t train out a bad diet, so nutrition is super important. Approach it the same way. You don’t have to cut out everything at once, but start making small changes to your diet. Make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein and that your calories are in line with what you should be eating. Talk to a professional nutritionist so you know what you need based on your age and activity level. With our athletes, we usually start with protein when we’re trying to fix diet issues. If they aren’t eating the right amount of protein, they are probably getting their calories from other, less healthy sources.
Finally, have a plan. You can’t drive from here to Florida without a map or directions. Knowing where you want to go and how you’re going to get there is important. That includes figuring out a meal plan. How many calories are you going to take in and where are you going to get them from? That way you’re not going through the fast food drive thru eating something you don’t need. Pre-planning is probably the hardest part of fitness, but also the most important.
How important is cardio?
Cardio is super important, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. With athletes, we start with endurance. Start with a light load and concentrate on going a longer period of time, then build from that foundation. We say, start getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
A good place to start if you’re not accustomed to exercise is walking. Don’t think you need to start running 3k today. That may be more than your body is ready for. Start aiming for 20 minutes, 3 times per week then bump up the number of days or the length of time. Start walking at different speeds or find a hill. It all comes back to consistency, so make small changes so you don’t get overwhelmed and want to quit.
How do you feel about sports drinks?
Water is much more important to stay hydrated. If you’re dehydrated your muscles don’t contract the way they’re supposed to and you get lightheaded and dizzy. Plus, drinking enough water will make you feel healthier overall and give you better skin and hair. If water is too plain for you, try tea or try adding fruit to your water to change it up. Make sure you have water with you all day, every day.
Sports drinks can be beneficial, but be conscious that they have calories and many have sugar. Athletes will use them after conditioning because if they just did a two and half hour, hardcore workout, they are going to need to put those sugars back in the body. Just make sure when drinking sports drinks that you’re looking at calories in versus calories burned.
What is a common misconception when it comes to fitness?
Something that I hear a lot, especially in gyms, is “no pain no gain.” That’s not always true. Work at a level to get the results you want, but if you’re too sore, that can hurt your progress. If a really tough workout is keeping you out of the gym for three to four days every time, dial it back until you’ve set that foundation.
What are some exercises anyone can do at home?
When setting up for a squat, feet should be shoulder width apart, toes pointed forward. Set your hips back first. The biggest mistake I see is moving your knees first. The first joint to move is going to do 80 percent of the work. Keep your chest tall and stand up maintaining the same form. Start with 3 sets of 5 squats and do them slowly.
Set up with your hands right under your shoulders. Think of your fingers as a cliff. You want to keep your head and chin over that cliff. Keep your back flat and elbows pulled in to your body. Move your whole body as a unit—hips and shoulders should rise and fall at the same time. My girls go down until their chest touches the ground. If you’re a beginner, start out with a modified version on your knees, but make sure you still maintain proper form everywhere else. The next step up is starting with your knees off the ground. Go down as slow as you can, then drop your knees to push up.
Start with 3 sets of 5 reps and play with the tempo to make it more difficult.
The Dead Bug
This is one of my favorite core exercises. The biggest thing when working your core is to protect your spine. You always want to have a neutral spine. Having too much of an arch in the back is a common mistake. The core muscles hold the spine in the right position, so if you’re doing core exercises incorrectly, you’re training your body to hold your body in the incorrect position. Lay flat on the ground, making sure your low back stays in contact with the ground the entire time. Raise your feet and hands up. Drop one hand and the opposite foot, then alternate to the other side. Start with 10 on each side to really get your core going.