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Instructors share fitness advice for new year

Nicole Michels | Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Every January, enthusiastic masses flood gyms to put their new resolutions to the test – and often abandon those workout goals before swimsuit season even begins.  To avoid this mid-winter funk, physical education and wellness instructor Stephanie Gaal said students should take the time to develop realistic goals.

“Every student’s goals are going to be different. … Every person’s body is different and so everyone’s goals are as well,” Gaal said.  “The biggest mistake people make is to start off too strong and they end up injured or burned out. Be progressive.”

Before starting any workout program, students need to do the research to structure their workouts properly, she said.

“For students who are beginners, a lot of times I see them doing things they don’t know how to do or trying to start a program that they have no idea how to start,” Gaal said.  “They can’t be afraid to go in and do the research.  Knowing what you’re doing is really important, you have to be mindful of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”

Students can search for sources online but should consider potential reliability issues, Gaal said.  The instructors in the Physical Education and Wellness Department are also available to help students develop a fitness or diet plan, she said.

To increase their chance at sticking to a regimen, Gaal said students should choose workouts that can keep their interest.

“It’s easier to stay motivated if you are enjoying yourself,” Gaal said.  “Think outside the box.  Try something new. Variety keeps the body guessing and adapting. … It’s a matter of experimenting: not everyone likes squats, not everyone likes lunges. Often students only want to do cardio, but they don’t realize how good strength training can be for the body,” she said.

Gaal said she cautions students against cutting corners in their workouts.

“If you think long term, it would be wise to incorporate as many parts of a solid workout as possible: Warm up, conditioning, flexibility and balance work, cooling down and stretching,” she said. “Recover properly: Your body reaps the benefits of your exercise regime when you give it rest and sleep well.  Hydrate, eat properly.”

Joshua Scott, physical education and wellness instructor, said students should also evaluate their own time management abilities before beginning a fitness program.  

“How many hours do students want to dedicate to whatever their goal is?” he said. “Understanding what their priorities are and how they currently spend their time will give them a much better idea of how to put that [plan] into their daily lives.”

Knowing potential barriers to success is key to attaining that success, he said.

“If it were going to be something easy to change, you would have done it already,” Scott said. “Trying to understand and develop a plan of action for getting past those barriers … especially developing a support system … will help students.  Sharing what you’re doing with your close friends might inspire them to do the same, or they can help you with [your goals].”

Planning ahead is crucial, he said.

“For example, if you want to eat better and you’re eating regularly in the dining hall, you have the ability to look ahead for the next month and plan what you want to eat so you can make healthy, informed decisions,” Scott said.  

Notre Dame has an abundance of resources to help students devise plans, Scott said.  

“Online there are many great resources – and many horrible resources,” Scott said. “Meeting with someone here at Notre Dame can help students successfully make a fitness and wellness plan. The Physical Education Department, Rec Sports, dieticians and counselors are all able to help students with a wide range of goals: nutrition, fitness, time management or more interpersonal goals.”

Scott said students should try more than one approach to fitness.

“Everyone is so drastically different in how they make changes in their lives; there is a sequence of things that seem to work for a lot of people but within that there are so many different things that seem to work – it’s more of a problem solving activity,” Scott said.

The key to achieving long-term fitness goals and resolutions is to stay motivated, Scott said.

“Even the most dedicated people are going to go through the ebb and flow of being super motivated and a little more unmotivated. … The longer you’re involved you’re just going to realize that’s reality.”

Contact Nicole Michels at nmichels@nd.edu