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Fitness programs: 6 steps to guide your selection
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Fitness programs can be a great way to get in shape. Combining camaraderie and upbeat music with strength training, aerobic dancing or yoga can make for an enjoyable productive workout. But between step aerobics, Pilates, and other trendy programs, how do you know which fitness program is best for you?

Perhaps you already know that there's no one fitness program that's perfect for everyone. But with so many options available — from aquatic aerobics to strength training to stationary bicycling — you're certain to find a well rounded routine. These simple steps will help you put your program together.

Six steps to a personalized fitness program

1. Determine your fitness goals. Start by thinking about why you want to start a fitness program. For instance, your doctor may have suggested that you start an exercise program to lose weight. Or, if you're already active, you may want to prepare for a 5K race or get ready for the downhill skiing season. A fitness program that compliments your goals will help you stay motivated.

2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you work out on an elliptical trainer at home, but you aren't very flexible, a class that emphasizes flexibility, such as yoga, may be an option. Do you lift weights at home? Then consider signing up for an aerobics class to balance your fitness program. Another thing to consider is your health. Do you have arthritis? Then think about aquatic exercise, which minimizes stress on your joints.

3. Assess your fitness level. One option is to meet with a fitness professional. After your assessment, he or she will work with you to pinpoint areas that need attention. You'll find out what your baseline fitness level is and get recommendations for your personal program. You can also do such an assessment yourself.

4. Consider your likes and dislikes. Think about activities and sports that you've enjoyed in the past. Doing so will help you select a fitness program you'll enjoy. And if you have fun doing the exercises you've selected, you'll keep doing them. For instance, if you've never liked riding a bicycle, then a program centered on a stationary bicycle, such as a spinning class, is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you have a blast on the dance floor, you may find yourself coming back for the aerobics class, which features dance moves such as salsa or hip-hop.

5. Weigh your options. Balance the pros and cons of each possibility. Write them down or talk with a friend about your ideas. For example, one benefit of having a home gym is convenience. The downside is that you'll need a special place for the equipment and the money to pay for it. Similarly, joining a fitness club means you'll have easy access to equipment, you'll work out with other people, and you'll have access to professional trainers. But you'll have to set aside the time to get to the club. For some people, the extra effort can squelch motivation.

6. Go for it. You've thought through your likes and dislikes, the pros and cons, and you've determined what's best for your body. You're ready to make an informed decision, so select your program and go for it. It's time to start achieving your fitness goals.

As you do, you'll be inspired to continue. Once you experience the gains, stay focused and motivated by reassessing your fitness level and setting new goals. The result? A future of improved fitness and better health.

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  • January 12, 2006

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