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How to get fit

How to get fit: Image shows man doing press up on a bench
(Image credit: Getty)

Knowing exactly how to get fit doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply put, getting fit requires movement. Running, cycling, dancing, walking, weightlifting and stretching are all fantastic forms of movement that get the heart pumping, blow away the cobwebs, and help with simple tasks like carrying the shopping or climbing a flight of stairs when the elevator is out of service. 

At the other end of the spectrum, being fit can also help you climb a mountain, run a marathon or win gold at the Olympics - so getting fit can have a different meaning for everyone.

Here, personal trainer and gym instructor, Joanna Ebsworth will be explaining exactly what it means to be fit, and how you can successfully start and maintain a home fitness routine so you can enjoy the physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come from doing regular exercise.

How to start to get fit

So, you’ve decided you want to get fit. But what exactly does that mean? After all, there are many different definitions of fitness - aerobic fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility, to name a few. Each type of fitness works the body through a different training approach, and each has a very different effect on the body through dedicated training.

Cardiovascular fitness, or aerobic fitness as it’s sometimes called, is a measure of how well the heart and lungs can provide enough oxygen-rich blood to the muscles so the body can perform aerobic activities such as a longer session on a rowing machine or running on one of the best treadmills.

Aerobic fitness relates to your ability to perform quick, powerful bursts of activity (think running for the bus or lifting a heavy object), and it can be improved through sprinting, weightlifting, plyometrics (also known as jump training), and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which requires you to alternate bursts of movement with short rest periods.

Muscular strength measures the amount of force you can exert to lift a heavy weight, while muscular endurance measures the number of times you can lift a weight before getting tired. Often called weight-bearing exercise, it can have several positive benefits on the body, including a reduced risk of osteoporosis and an increased metabolism at rest.

Flexibility measures the range of movement in your joints and muscles so you can perform bending, twisting, and reaching movements. While we often think of flexible people as bendy contortionists or yoga devotees who can put their feet behind their heads, a decent level of flexibility also means being able to do simple tasks such as tying your shoelaces.

A balanced workout program mixes all of the above approaches - even long-distance runners need to train for strength and flexibility to aid their cardiovascular performance and help keep injuries at bay. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that professional CrossFit athletes are hailed as the ‘fittest on earth’ when they must sprint fast, run long distances, lift heavy weights and perform gymnastics-style movements like handstand walking.

Treat your workouts like unmissable work or doctor appointments, and schedule them into your diary so you don’t double-book yourself and cancel.

Of course, when you’re thinking about how to get fit, a lot depends on what you personally want to get out of being fitter. Do you dream of running a marathon to tick it off your bucket list? Or do you simply wish to get fitter so you can keep up with your kids?

This is the point where you need to set your fitness goal, because, without one, you may lack the direction, focus, and motivation needed to achieve it, regardless of whether you’re a total beginner or a seasoned athlete. For a long time, setting goals the ‘SMART’ way (breaking them down so they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-constrained, such as ‘I will lose 6 lbs /2.72 kg in four weeks’) has been deemed an effective motivational tool. However, as well as focusing on the long-term destination goal, such as ‘I want to run a marathon in eight months’ time’, you will also need to make short-term ‘process’ goals along the way, such as ‘I will run four times each week’ or ‘I will add two minutes on to my run today’.

If you’re going to dedicate your time, energy, and money into getting fit, it’s worth spending 30 minutes each week thinking about your short- and long-term goals, what you want to achieve and how you’ll go about it. Also, treat your workouts like unmissable work or doctor appointments, and schedule them into your diary so you don’t double-book yourself and cancel.  

How to get fit: Image shows woman working out

(Image credit: Getty)

How to get fit at home

  • Invest in some equipment
  • Try HIIT workouts
  • Create your own circuits routine

New figures from the IHRSA have revealed that 22% of US fitness facilities have already closed permanently up to June 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many others are still in danger - a possible indication that former gym-goers are reluctant to return to the gym and are happy to stick to home workouts instead.

Of course, if you’re short on space, or you can’t afford to buy an at-home treadmill, there are plenty of bodyweight workouts you can do at home that will get fit and require little or no equipment at all, so long as you have some room on the floor that’s big enough to lie down on.

One such workout is called High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which is a form of exercise consisting of short bursts of intense exercise, followed by a period of rest. Entire HIIT workouts can be as short as 15-20 minutes, and research suggests that HIIT workouts may burn more calories than equal periods of steadier forms of exercise.

The number of equipment-free exercises you can use for HIIT workouts is almost endless, and includes moves like burpees, jogging on the spot, jumping jacks, lunges, mountain climbers, shadow boxing, and walking planks. Try some new exercises each workout to keep boredom at bay and keep your body guessing.

Additionally, you can create your own circuit training workouts: set up stations for different exercises and perform each move for the same amount of time before moving quickly onto the next station with little to no rest so your heart rate doesn’t drop. Depending on your fitness level and the time you have available to train, you can complete the circuit once or several times, but try to alternate upper body moves such as press-ups with lower body exercises like squats, and mix in cardio moves such as burpees to work different areas of the body. You can even use your sofa to perform tricep dips or run up and down your staircase to raise your heart rate - the possibilities are endless, so get creative and have fun.

That said, one thing you must seriously consider when wondering how to get fit is the type of activity you’ll be doing because you’ll need a workout that will help you reach your goals and suit your personality and lifestyle. 

Exercise should enhance your life and be pleasurable. If it’s not, and you hate every second of your workout, you’ll soon lack the motivation to train, and you won’t get the results you’re after. Take some time to think about the things you enjoy in life and are naturally good at, but don’t rule out an entire sport based on bad memories from school. You may have hated cross-country back then, but with a fresh approach, the right kit, and a good training plan, you might discover a passion for running you never thought possible.

How to get fit: Image shows person rolling yoga mat

(Image credit: Getty)

How long will it take to get fit?

The time it will take you to get fit depends on a variety of factors, including your starting level of fitness and the frequency and duration of your training sessions. Personally, I’ve noticed it can take me weeks, even months, to notice the effects of a new training program. On other occasions, like on a week-long fitness bootcamp, I’ve noticed a big improvement in my fitness in seven days (as measured by the dreaded bleep test at the start and end of the holiday) because I was exercising for up to eight hours a day, every day. But that level of training, without proper rest and recovery, can be unsustainable in the long term, even for professional athletes. And if your workout program isn’t sustainable, it’ll be harder to stick to it.

Many fitness public figures, including Danyele Wilson, agree that it can take at least six to eight weeks to start seeing results from a new training regime, and up to 12 weeks for measurable fitness gains. Routines that claim you can drop a dress size in two weeks can be dangerous, so for real fitness success, patience and dedication are essential.

The time it will take you to get fit depends on a variety of factors, including your starting level of fitness.

If one of your fitness goals is related to weight loss, try to avoid weighing yourself more than once a month. The reason? Put simply, muscle is more dense than fat, and while a pound of muscle weighs exactly the same as a pound of fat, this means the scales can indicate that you are staying at the same weight or even putting weight on when you start exercising with weights, even though you’re actually getting fitter, burning away fat, and losing inches.

Instead, it’s a good idea to gauge your fitness before you start training with a few simple tests to establish your existing cardio, strength, and flexibility levels. This way, you’ll have a starting point from which to improve, and you can select a workout plan that fits with your beginner, intermediate or advanced level of fitness because following a 10k running plan - when you should be starting out with a 5k plan instead – could lead to feelings of inadequacy, a lack in motivation, and even possible injury.

These tests can be as simple as seeing how far you can run in one minute, or how many burpees, sit-ups, or press-ups you can do in sixty seconds, although regular exercisers may want to measure themselves against the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), which determines your fitness score based on criteria such as age and gender. Whatever you choose, the key is to record your results. Retake them every four weeks to measure your progress and give yourself a motivational boost when you start to see improvements in your numbers.

Getting fitter and achieving the results you’re after might take longer than you initially hoped. But if you do your research, commit to a training plan, and, most importantly, have fun, you’ll soon be on your way to getting fit.

Joanna Ebsworth is a London-based freelance health and fitness journalist. Since graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism, Film & Broadcasting, she has spent the last 15 years writing for many of the UK’s most respected publications. As a fitness fanatic and fully qualified Level 3 personal trainer, gym instructor and Exercise to Music coach, she is also the author of several published fitness guides.