New Year, New You, New Deductible – Health is Earned Not Given

Read More About the Author Here: Trevor Stewart-Richlen, PT, DPT, CSCS

It’s that time of year again when resolutions are made, committed to, performed for three weeks and then shelved until next year.  There are a large number of reasons why fitness goals and resolutions have such a high attrition rate. However, for the purposes of this article we will examine only a few.  Sticking to a new workout plan/regimen can be difficult in and of itself, but why is it so difficult? I believe some of the main barriers for program adherence and possible injury are:

  1. Poor goal setting
  2. Not having a plan for obtaining your goal
  3. Jumping right into it without the physical preparation

Most of the injuries I see in the clinic are issues with overuse and overload when coming off a period of inactivity. And with it being the start of a new year, and possibly a new deductible, the last thing you want is your resolution to fail and possibly end up in our office with an injury.

Goal setting is extremely important prior to initiating an exercise program.  Too often people make unrealistic and unattainable goals, and get frustrated when they don’t get anywhere near reaching it.  Part of this failure is poor goal setting, and the other is wanting everything now. Make sure you are honest with yourself and make goals that are realistic, measureable, specific, and time oriented with both long and short term goals.  Don’t just say your goal is to “get into better shape,” or to “lose some weight.” These are horribly vague and do not allow you to measure and assess your progress. Having a competitive goal such as a ½ marathon, 5k, powerlifting meet, etc. will help keep you hungry and going back for more.  If you do decide to embark on a competitive goal, then most of the variables listed above are done for you. However, why stop there? If you make running a ½ marathon your goal, research what average beginner times are for your sex and age group classifications. If you want to lose weight, see if you can get a group of your friends to participate and make it into a friendly competition.  Or, set up short term goals based on health and fitness versus just body weight. We all want that easy button to push and magically get into shape, but unfortunately that is not how our bodies work. These things take time and the first step is ensuring that you have made goals that are challenging enough to keep you motivated but not ridiculous enough to make you frustrated.

Now that we have our goals written out and they’re specific and measurable and great, that means you’re done, right? Wrong! Now is the time to make a plan on how to achieve your goals! You have two routes to take here. One, do a lot of research and come up with your own plan or two, ask/pay for help!  It is always a good idea, especially if you are brand new at this, to seek the help of some form of fitness professional, whether that is a personal trainer, strength coach, running coach, nutritionist, etc. Now be cautious when seeking out your trainer, as not all trainers are created equal. Keep in mind a personal training certificate is a weekend course for a few hundred dollars.  There are some incredible trainers and there are equal amounts, if not more, terrible trainers. A good fitness professional should be able outfit you with enough knowledge to maintain your goals independently in the future.

If you decide to go it alone, make sure you write your plan down!  Whether you write it down in a notebook, fitness app, note app, just make sure you do it!  I know I’m not the only one who has seen people meandering around the gym picking up random weights, or using machines here and there, almost like grocery shopping without a list.  It’s random, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and by the time you get home you have nothing to show for it. Writing it down doesn’t just help you remember what you did yesterday, but it allows you to track and see your progress. But more importantly, it acts as a sort of written agreement.  Write it down, say it out loud, and you are more likely to do it. If I have already written down my workout for the day, it is happening no matter what. I mean it has today’s date on it…I can’t perform this tomorrow; this isn’t the lawless world of Mad Max.

As you begin to exercise, you need to give your body time to adapt to the increased level of stress you’re placing on it.  Because of this, I always suggest a ramp-up period. You want to ease into working out again in order to reduce the risk of overwork injuries such as tendinopathies, muscle strains, and joint sprains.  I would suggest starting 2-3 sessions a week for 30-60 minutes. This highly depends on your baseline fitness level and your training age (training age=number of years you have trained/practiced for the specific activity you are beginning).  

If you do not have a large background in exercising or have taken a long layoff, then start easy.  Not only will this reduce the risk of injuries but it will increase the chance of you actually sticking with it.  Start with lighter weights, higher volume with a controlled (somewhat slow) rep speed and progress from there. The first muscles to become inhibited are our stabilizing muscles.  Higher volume with controlled rep velocities will allow you to reduce your muscles’ fatigability. Muscles are our dynamic shock absorbers, so the more endurance they have the longer they can do their job and keep you away from injury. Too often we want everything now, so we go to a gym and take a class or workout 5-6 days a week for 1-2 hours thinking more is better.  I bring this up as it is very common to join gyms that are focused solely on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This is a phenomenal mode of exercise; however you need a base of strength first. If you go to one of these gyms fresh off of 10 years of couch sitting, your risk for injury is increased due to the lack of strength and stability required to stay safe and effective when your body is fatigued.  

A proper warm up is also a good idea in order to prepare your body for workout and prevent injury. But don’t believe everything you see on YouTube or Instagram.  Not everyone needs to spend 30 minutes flopping around on a foam roll or lacrosse ball. Furthermore, those tools don’t warm up your tissues.  What warms-up your tissues?  Movement. So make sure your warm-ups are specific to the activity you are about to perform.  This will help prep your muscles and joints for the workout that is to come, and help prevent injury.

Now we won’t go into too much detail about specific exercise selection as the goal of this article is to provide a basic guideline on how to get healthy, stay motivated, and reduce injury risk upon the inception of an exercise routine.  But if you want more specific ideas on how to tailor an exercise program, read below the article for more information.

So when executing your New Year’s resolution this year, remember to make some goals that are specific, measureable, attainable and time oriented. Write down/record your workouts and plans to help ensure you achieve them. And lastly,  allow for a gradual ramp-up period. Most importantly remember that health is earned not given. It takes a lot of time and hard work, so keep it interesting and have fun!!!

How to Tailor an Exercise Program

Now that we touched on how to start and stay motivated with an exercise program, let’s take a look at what you should be doing within your workout to ensure injury prevention.  For general strength, you should start with lighter loads and higher volumes (3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions).  After 6 weeks of this (strength adaptations typically take 6-8 weeks to manifest) you can begin to increase the number of workouts per week and begin to increase the load and decrease the volume.  When exercising 4+ days a week, make sure you program load and de-load days. Make sure that you do not exercise hard or heavy for the same workout consecutively. For example, if on Mondays you work lower body then you will alternate from a heavy, “load” day, to a lighter “de-load” day the following Monday.  You can apply this no matter what your workout split is. This assures that you do not run the risk of overtraining and the myriad of impairments that can come with it, ending up in our office and your New Year resolution down the tube.

When setting up your exercise schedule, make sure to plan compound multi-joint exercises first, such as squats, dead lifts, overhead press, and their variations, followed by single joint “assistance” exercises, like leg extension/curl, shoulder raises, bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc .  Compound exercises take a lot more muscle coordination, co-contraction, stability and control than single joint exercises, so you want to be fresh, so start with the complex exercises and end with the simple ones.  Single joint exercises should focus on the component parts of your first few compound movements.


Now, for your reading pleasure, and as a bonus for making it through this article, here are a list of exercises I recommend that will improve your strength and fitness, while preventing injury:


Rows- bent or seated (vary your grip and grip width)Lateral Band walks/Monster walksGlute Bridge or Hip Thrusters
Straight Arm Lat Pull downStanding banded hip flexion, abduction and extensionSingle leg glute bridge
Arm at side elbow at 90 degrees shoulder Internal and External rotationStep downs from a 6-8” box (heel taps, lower down slowly)Squat+straight arm latissimus pull down
Shoulder T, I, Y’s (can perform w/ light weights or on TRX)Active/Dynamic quad stretch (can superset this with foam rolling)Plank holds- front, side, front + hip abduction and/or extension
Dead arm hang from pull-up barActive/Dynamic Hamstring stretchPaloff presses
Serratus Punch in supine w/ weight or in push-up positionRomanian Deadlifts for Eccentric Hamstring control- double and single legDead bugs- can add a banded pull down to engage lats
Latissimus Stretch Bulgarian Split SquatsBird dog- w/ and w/o banded resistance