How to battle the bulge in 2012

The first wealth is health.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Special to the Coastal Point •  Marie Cook: The early morning crew and gym-goers at World Gym in Ocean View.Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook
The early morning crew and gym-goers at World Gym in Ocean View.

B.J. Pietryak is a personal trainer and fitness director at World Gym in Ocean View, as well as at World Gyms in Ocean City and Salisbury, Md. We agreed to team up to provide a fitness article at the beginning of 2012, because losing weight and exercising is annually one of the top five New Year’s resolutions.

As each new year begins, B.J. knows that many of us have the same thoughts: (1) This will be the year I’ll finally lose those pesky 10 to 15 pounds; (2) This will be the year that I’ll cut out fast foods and really begin to eat more healthfully; (3) This is the year that I’ll buy a gym membership and actually go to the gym.

But, according to B.J., “The reality is that out of 10 people who start the new year at a gym, only one or two people actually stick with it; those who bail are known as three-week wonders.”

Excuses are predictable. People want immediate results. They say they are too fat and are embarrassed to go to the gym. They say that working out is too difficult. They say that working out doesn’t make their body look any different.

“As a personal trainer, I’ve heard it all,” said B.J.

He suggests setting reasonable goals.

“The first thing to remember,” he said, “is that you didn’t get out of shape overnight. The weight will come off the same way it went on – a little at a time.”

He offers the following suggestions to prevent you from being a three-week wonder.

Pick the right gym. Make sure the gym is well-staffed and has proper equipment. The gym should also provide classes to help you meet your goals, with personal trainers to assist you. Most gyms offer a free walk-through with a trainer to show you how to properly use the equipment; if the gym you’ve chosen doesn’t offer that service, find another gym. The walk-through should include body measurements, assessment of body type and how to address problem areas, and explain which machines you should use to achieve results.

When doing your walk-through, ask questions: How do I use this machine? Why do I want to use this machine? How many sets and how many repetitions should I do? This may also be the time to decide to hire a personal trainer to keep you on track and prevent you from being a drop-out. Personal trainers will keep you motivated and help you set realistic goals. They can also offer advice on diet and nutrition.

Tape measurements are vitally important to get a true assessment of body change, so get over your reluctance to undergo this procedure. For most sedentary people, the body size will change during the first three months, but your weight will remain fairly steady, so if you put in adequate effort, the tape will show results. A good personal trainer will review your measurements every few weeks to show you the progress and/or lack of progress in specific areas. If your trainer doesn’t offer this service, again, hire a different trainer.

If you decide to work out on your own – without a personal trainer – for most people, three days a week is more than enough to start. If you’re going to lift weights and work on machines, start with a dynamic warm up; i.e., walking on a treadmill while moving your arms and twisting the body to get blood circulating to all parts (approximately five to 10 minutes is adequate).

You’ll also want to lift weights. Start slowly with light weights and high repetitions, doing two exercises per body part. As you begin your workout, your moves should be slow and controlled, two to four seconds for each repetition. Please ignore those speed-demons who move quickly through their repetitions. Slow and steady wins this race – not fast and furious.

Going too fast may also cause poor form, leading to soreness or injury. It’s OK to push yourself, but don’t overdo it. If you can’t lift your arms the next day, or it pains you to go up and down stairs, you overworked the body. A little soreness is fine, but acute pain is telling you that you did too much.

Be aware of body posture when doing the exercises. Ask yourself: Am I feeling the right muscles working? Is this pain-free? Do I feel the muscles tighten? Using a mix of machines and free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells, kettle bells and bands, will build the most overall body strength and muscle.

The weight training regimen should take about 35 to 45 minutes. Most people underestimate the need for strength training, but strength training produces more muscle, thereby burning more fat on a regular basis. Strength training also helps prevent many health issues, such as osteoporosis, cardiac disease and many types of cancer.

Cardio training is also important to body sculpting. Start with a slow-paced style, say 15 to 20 minutes on a bicycle or elliptical machine; these machines also provide support to knees and back.

Remember that you are not alone on this journey. Don’t be shy. Talk to others at the gym and ask for advice. Make realistic goals. Go slow and try to have some fun. And most of all – stick with it. You’ll be so glad that you did.

“The results and the feel of a healthier body are worth the effort,” said B.J. “Good luck on your quest for a better, healthier body, and feel free to call me if you have questions or for help if you need it.”

B.J. can be reached by calling his cell phone at (410) 903-8315.

I drew up a short questionnaire, which B.J. and I handed out to gym regulars, seeking advice for newbies or for those who have not been able to stick to an exercise regime in the past. Most respondents agreed that working out three days each week is adequate to meet their goals; and the majority agreed that mixing up the routine not only works all the muscle groups, it also keeps you from getting bored – one of the key reasons people drop out.

For example, Pat Finlayson works out three days each week and uses the elliptical machine and exercise bike, does planks (a great core exercise) and crunches, and uses the weight machines, free weights and the big ball for exercises. “You definitely need to mix things up,” she said.

Many of the questionnaires suggested adding other forms of exercise, including walking outdoors, playing golf and/or tennis, sailing, swimming and gardening to keep boredom from thwarting their goals.

Motivation appears in many forms. My artist friend, Jeanne Mueller, is known for her honesty and great sense of humor.

“I’ll tell you what motivates me to exercise on a regular basis,” she wrote. “My tight clothes and looking in the mirror. ‘Yikes,’ I say. ‘Where did that person with grandmother arms, saggy boobs and a muffin top come from?’”

My husband, Jim Waehler, said that he joined the gym, “because my wife made me do it.” It’s true. It took two years of nagging, but he now goes six days a week and is much stronger and has more energy.

Jeanne’s husband, Lou Mueller, works out five days each week. “As my age has advanced, I realize the importance of working out on a daily basis. This helps in the health of both mind and body,” he said.

Along with Lou Mueller, Steve Morgan is one of many who recommend working with a personal trainer. “I trained with B.J. for two months,” he said. “He provided the proper techniques and designed a workout focusing on the core. He also provided a base that I use in my workout now. One of the key things I liked was that he made me focus and pushed my limits.”

Lew Killmer’s motivation was the result of medical test results.

“About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with mild hypertension and Type II diabetes,” he said. “My doctor suggested that, with weight loss and regular exercise, I should be able to both eliminate the use of medication, as well as return to a better state of health.”

Lew met B.J. at a health fair and, for the first time, he joined a gym.

“I now have more energy and have achieved a sense of personal accomplishment,” he added, “by losing 28 pounds and going from a 38-inch waistline to a 34-inch waistline. In high school, I had a 32-inch waistline, and that is my new goal – to see if a 65-year-old man can at least turn back the hands of time to achieve something that age alone can’t deny me!”

Jack Lundergan’s motivator is similar to Lew Killmer’s. “A heart attack is a great motivator,” he said.

One of my favorite gym guys (who prefers anonymity) is motivated by arthritis. “Arthritis requires activity,” he said. “Plus, I’ve had two hip replacements, three back surgeries, and I am the only male on my mother’s side of the family to live past the age of 60! I am 68!”

Leah Gardner speaks honestly about her motivation factors. “I’m a runner and I also love peanut butter,” she said. “I try to eat lots of fresh greens and vegetables, but peanut butter is a major weakness.”

Regina Ashcraft and Leah Gardner have similar motivations. “I like to eat!” Regina said. She has a personal trainer and works out four to five times a week. “I have two days of personal training, take yoga and spinning classes, and I walk. Working out with a personal trainer has changed the shape of my body,” she added.

Paul Denault owns a property management company and is constantly up and down stairs. After bilateral knee replacements over three years ago, he began working out with B.J. to strengthen his knees and decided to continue working out with him three days each week. “B.J. does all the mixing for me. I’m in much better shape now than I’ve been in for many years, both in strength and flexibility.”

Liz Hobler, who is past age 70, works out regularly with Lisa Velasco of Custom Fitness Studio in Bethany Beach, which can be reached by calling (410) 491-7311.

“Personal training has been a real lifesaver for me, because Lisa not only keeps me stimulated but also assures that my form and performance are correct. She is also very careful to address the physical limitations that come with aging by designing strengthening and stretching exercises that enhance performance despite the physical limitations.”

Faith Denault also works out with Lisa Velasco. “I work out twice a week and do yoga once a week. Lisa is a great motivator and keeps workouts fresh and fun. She really wants you to succeed and goes out of her way to accommodate you.”

My friend Robert Kauffman shows up at World Gym at 6 a.m. six days a week. Robert is a big guy – 6 feet, 4 inches tall – and wears the same huge, baggy sweat jacket every day.

“I’ve dropped over 100 pounds,” he said, “but I continue to wear this jacket as a reminder of what I looked like when I first began to work out. Back then, there was no extra room in this jacket; I don’t want to forget that,” he added.

This year, Neva O’Hara celebrated her 90th birthday. She is World Gym’s honorary mascot. She works out three days a week, walking for 30 to 40 minutes on the treadmill, uses various strength-training equipment and does some mat work. “I’m never bored,” she said. “I get lots of energy from exercise. What good is quantity of life without quality? I want an active life as years go on.”

Most of the people who responded to my questions agreed that their eating and drinking habits changed after they began a disciplined workout regimen. Many have increased their consumption of vegetables, fresh fruit, leaner meats (or eating no meat at all), fish, whole grains, water, water and more water.

They also recognized the importance of reducing their consumption of alcohol, soft drinks, fast foods and packaged/preserved foods. And, remember, exercise isn’t everything. In fact, the experts will tell you that weight loss is 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. So, changing your eating and drinking habits is crucial to losing weight.

We all know, and Lou Mueller stated it on his questionnaire, that, “You cannot make a person do what they will not,” but my fitness friends still offer great advice for those of you who just can’t seem to pull the trigger and commit to working out on a regular basis:

Pat Finlayson: “Get off your duff and exercise if only for 15 or 30 minutes once or twice a week. You’ll find that you’ll have more energy during the day and definitely feel better.”

Kate Jackson: “You will feel younger!”

Jack Lundergan and Robert Kauffman: “Use the gym as a social meeting place. Find someone to work out with; motivate each other. In just a short time, it will become a way of life. And an anonymous responder suggests scheduling treadmill time around a favorite television show.”

Paul Denault: “Once you start, your body will crave the exercise. It is all a mindset.”

Leah Gardner: “Treat it like a job. You wouldn’t just not show up to work, would you?”

Lew Killmer wrote that our financial advisors tell us to plan for retirement income to last until we are in our 80s or even our 90s. “Do you want to give your acquired nest egg to an assisted living facility or a nursing home,” he asked, “or do you want to really enjoy and share your hard-earned financial resources? If the answer is the latter, join a gym, hire a personal trainer, start slow and watch your mental and physical being begin to improve with each passing week.”

Diane Kondraschow: “Start slowly by walking just 20 minutes a day or with a fun exercise class. It will get you hooked.”

If you are tired of negative self-talk and depressed over weight gain and tight-fitting clothes, I can tell you that I’ve walked many a mile in your shoes. And you can see from the people who responded to my questionnaire that they, too, know how you feel. So many of my gym friends have had knee replacements (me included), hip replacements, foot surgeries, back surgeries, arthritis, heart attacks, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, large middles, thighs and butts. So, what they’re saying is – no more excuses. If we can do it, so can you! We’re a friendly group at World Gym. Won’t you join us in 2012?

I’ll end with 90-year-old Neva O’Hara’s words of wisdom: “Start slowly and enjoy being with others with your same purpose for being there. You will be proud of yourself!”