“One size fits all” is an erroneous premise, be it with hats, socks, or fitness. As a fitness professional, I get leery of statements that “everyone can do this workout.” Sure, everyone can, but does everyone want to?
Let’s be honest, what motivates you isn’t going to motivate the next person. And you’re more likely to stick with a program if you find it motivating. So how do you figure that out? My suggestion is that you break it down by the five W’s of fitness.
The five W’s can be traced back to Aristotle. They’re an investigative device that have been used by journalists, police, and authors, to name a few. In Aristotle’s case, he was examining ethics and determining voluntary versus involuntary action.(1) If an action is voluntary, these 5 questions should have answers:
And in the case of choosing of workout that’s right for you, it’s very much a voluntary endeavour. So let’s dive in and examine each component.
“Why” appears last on this list. But the past decade has seen the order and prevalence of the five W’s flipped, thanks in large part to Simon Sinek’s 2009 book, Start with Why.(2) Beginning with the end — why — will help to answer the other W’s in the case of fitness too.
Why exercise? For the fun of it. I’m not being facetious, I truly mean that. Think about it: if you enjoy your workout regimen, you’re more likely to stick with it. But there are many other reasons you may choose to begin a new exercise program, and equally solid reasons for why you will stick with your current workout.
I’ll help you begin your thought process by sharing my “why.” For me, I want to live a long and healthy life. So I exercise for life. And disease prevention, because exercise IS medicine. That was easy, now it’s your turn. Is it because you want to go for a walk with your spouse? Do you want to have the energy to play with your grandchildren? Do you like the feeling of strength from lifting heavy weights? There is no wrong answer here.
The first “who” is of course you. But that can be the beginning or the end of it. If you feel motivated to exercise on your own, or if you prefer the solitary aspect of solo workouts, there’s no need to include others. This is your fitness journey and yours alone. I get it if you want to opt for solo workouts. When I’m teaching group fitness classes or training private clients, I’m working on their fitness goals. So when it comes time to do my own workout, I prefer being with my own thoughts and going at my own pace.
But that may not appeal to you. Perhaps you want the company of a friend or loved one, the anonymity of strangers in a group class, or the motivation of a personal trainer. If external accountability is important to you, you’ll probably want to recruit someone else to propel you forward in your fitness journey.
At a broad level, fitness can be divided into four main components: cardiovascular or aerobic, strength, flexibility, and balance. But that only scratches the surface of what, exactly, you can do in terms of exercise. Different things will appeal to different people. And at different times in your life, the “what” of exercise will also change.
Take me, for example. In my twenties, my go-to workout was cardio via running, including training for and competing in road races. I did it all: 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon. In my thirties, I discovered flexibility training with Essentrics. In my forties, I started picking up dumbbells and barbells to incorporate strength training into my life. And as I get ready to enter my fifties, I do all the same balance exercises that I teach to my senior clients. I do a little bit of everything in the “what" category, but in different proportions than in the past.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you prefer to exercise in the middle of the day? When you choose to get physically active will also dictate whether you’ll stick with your program. Although I get up early, I’m not a fan of early morning exercise. For me, early mornings are all about easing into the day. I once tried to teach an early morning Essentrics class. My body was there, but my brain and vocal cords preferred to stay at home. I was a babbling idiot, trying to string together coherent sentences. And I failed miserably. So, learn from my missteps: understand your motivation levels at different times of the day. It’s another key factor in sticking with it.
I’m not just referring to time of day, but also number of times per week. Your body needs and craves movement every single day. If you think “getting it over with” in one monster session will get you through the week, think again. You may be overdoing it with too much exercise at once, and risk an injury as your body and mind tire and lose focus on proper form. Remember, I want you to exercise for life. As in, a daily habit that you’ll maintain for the long term.
There are so many options for where to workout. Weather permitting, outside is one of my favourite locations for exercise. You can also join a gym, but you don’t have to. Lots of people opt for exercising at home, which is why I go to my clients in their homes. I want to them to feel confident about exercising anywhere, including their own living room.
And if you don’t want to hire a personal trainer, you can always use workout videos, streaming services, or YouTube to find a workout that’s right for you. That’s what I do when I don’t feel like heading outside or to the gym — I head to my living room instead. And often, I’ll work out in my pjs, because, why not?!
So there you have it — the five W’s of fitness. I hope this list will help you make choices in your own fitness journey. And remember, one size doesn’t fit all.
Epilogue: How Much
You may be wondering why I haven’t addressed “how much” you should workout. While this is an important topic, the answer is likely not going to motivate you to get moving. And frankly, it’s the same for everyone; the guidelines apply to all and thus fit in the realm of “one size fits all.” Be that as it may, I’ll share the “how much” with you now. Perhaps it will encourage you to get moving.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week to maintain optimal health.(3) Although some health and fitness professionals recommend five bouts of 30 minutes each, it’s really up to you how accumulate your activity. Indeed, the guidelines highlight that the bouts be 10 minutes or more.* And we’re talking here about aerobic physical activity — hence the emphasis on “moderate to vigorous.” The point is to get your heart rate up. They also recommend two days to four days per week of strength training activities and four to seven days per week of flexibility and balance training. (4)
*The US Physical Activity Guidelines were updated late last year, and they dispensed with the “10 minutes or more” guidance, in favour of physical activity in any amount.(5) This shift emphasizes the cumulative effect of physical activity throughout the day.
Amanda Sterczyk is an international author, Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor.