May 13, 2008 2:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I go from out-of-shape to a baseline level of fitness in a relatively short time without giving myself a heart attack or a stroke?

So a coworker is rustling up people for a recreational soccer league. I love soccer, but I'm 36, about 50 pounds out of shape and haven't played since 1986. Despite this, my coworker persists in believing that I'll have fun doing this, and I have to say that he's probably right.

I just need to undo, er, about 22 years of bad habits.

What I think I want to do is improve my cardiovascular fitness in a relatively short period of time (say 3 months or 12 weeks) without injuring myself in so doing. I want to be able to run the field, for instance, without getting excessively winded or seeing spots.

I'm not looking for quick fixes: I realize that there's no easy way to achieve fitness. What I'm looking for is a realistic training/nutrition plan (I have 5-day-a-week gym access) that will build a good foundation for continuing improvement. Something that will give me a solid base that I can improve on year after year.

So what's the quickest safe way to tune up your cardio without injury?
posted by scrump to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A run-walk program like Couch-to-5K is a great way to ease into cardiovascular fitness.
posted by dersins at 2:57 PM on May 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I would definitely work on some running get that CV up. The guide below would be a great start.

When I followed this by week 6 i could run 30 mins non stop

Week 1 Run one min, walk 90 seconds. Repeat eight times. Do three times a week.
Week 2 Run two mins, walk one min. Repeat seven times. Do three times a week.
Week 3 Run three mins walk one mins. Repeat six times. Do three times a week.
Week 4 Run five mins, walk two mins. Repeat four times. Do three times a week.
Week 5 Run eight mins, walk two mins. Repeat three times. Do three times a week.
Week 6 Run 12 mins, walk one min. Repeat three times. Do three times a week.
Week 7 Run 15 mins, walk one min, Run fifteen mins. Do three times a week
Week 8 Run 30 mins continuously.
posted by moochoo at 2:57 PM on May 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that "couch to 5k" is the generally accepted internet standard plan.

That being said, access to a gym is fine, but a few sessions with a real trainer - preferably someone who knows what they are doing w/r/t free weights and has academic training, if you can find one - are worth their weight in gold.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Doe what Jared did and start walkin' . . .

Walk as much as you can and as fast as you can. After some number of weeks of this, you will find your pace fast enough to break into a trot. Keep trotting, then you will find your pace fast enough to begin to jog. Keep jogging.

If you want to lose weight, don't eat so much all day, instead eat a balanced diet of proteins, fat, and carbs . . . essentially treat food as fuel and not entertainment.

Expect to lose at a pace of 2lbs/week if you combine 10+ hours of exercise a week with a regimented eating plan.

It's not really what you eat that matters, but whether you eat TOO MUCH to cover your daily caloric needs. Avoid junk calories, massive overeating.

50lbs was very easy for me to lose (the first time). 3 months of exercise and sensible eating will get you halfway there.
posted by tachikaze at 3:03 PM on May 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do you have hiking/bike trails where you live?

If there are, try mountain biking, choose a pretty easy incline and put in the lowest gear, that's what I do. It's pretty fun too.

Biking is fun and beats walking too me..
posted by 0217174 at 3:57 PM on May 13, 2008

If you feel that a heart attack or stroke is a distinct possiblity, talk to a doctor before you start in on any of these plans. For most people who are 36 and 50 pounds overweight, this isn't going to be very likely -- but perhaps you have some other health issues or family history to consider? You don't say why you are so worried about a heart attack or stroke, and if you feel that you have some sort of special risk of this happening, you should probably be seeing a doctor whether or not you are starting an exercise program.
posted by yohko at 4:57 PM on May 13, 2008

Have you thought about Body-For-Life? It's a 12 week program that mixes cardio, weights, and diet for some pretty impressive results.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:05 PM on May 13, 2008

Best answer: I'm not looking for quick fixes: I realize that there's no easy way to achieve fitness.

Actually, you're in luck! Cardiovascular fitness is the one aspect of fitness that you can improve quickly and easily. You can't lose 50 pounds in 3 months, you can't have six pack abs in 3 months, you can't get killer biceps in 3 months, but you can train yourself to run several miles without dying in 3 months, no problem.

Unless you have major health problems I would think you could get to the point of jogging steadily without getting winded after a month. In three months you could be in pretty good cardiovascular shape. You don't really need to do anything especially strenuous, either; just get out there are hit the pavement a few times a week, get your lungs working, get your heart rate up, and sweat a bit. The most immediate obstacle to running is shortness of breath, and that very quickly improves.

You also don't need to change your diet at all to do this.

It's crazy. There is in fact a quick and easy road to success in this one particular case.

Now, that said, if there's more at stake than just not dying when you run across a soccer field—say, your health, or your vanity—then you should look at making longer term, more serious changes, like taking up weightlifting or improving your diet. But that's for another day...
posted by Khalad at 5:33 PM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not necessarily quick, but will help in the long-term:

A good part of losing weight is eating better. I used to sit down and eat an entire box of Oreos or crackers in one sitting. I would always order the worst foods to eat at the restaurant. I would always drink the non-diet sodas.

Then I started trying to eat better. I've converted to water every time I eat out (saves money). I started eating oatmeal in the mornings (low in calories and leaves you full for awhile). I try to make better choices for meals at restaurants (chicken & vegetables instead of the burrito). When I can, I try to cook at home and bake chicken, cook a steak, make a salad, something I can make. For snacks, instead of ice cream or a bag of chips, have a cup of pudding, a Popsicle, or a piece of fruit.

Making better food decisions will not happen all at once. If you try to go all at once, you will fail miserably. Try to change one thing at a time, and maybe give yourself a day to eat your favorite foods again so you do not binge eat.
posted by toaster at 7:16 PM on May 13, 2008

I started (but didn't finish) the couch-to-5k program myself after I quit smoking, and I liked it a lot. The idea of it is that you go very gradually and don't try to run super fast or hard at first, which minimizes your chance of injury (I'd imagine). You can do it at the gym or outside running around and all you need are a pair of running shoes. The CoolRunning site has some online tools you can use to track your progress, too, plus an encouraging message board community.

Personally the thing I had the most trouble with was keeping to the schedule; I would tend to deviate a lot, either running too long or skipping nights, and eventually I got to the point where I just ran irregularly at night with no particular goal in mind, which was enjoyable, but then I sort of dropped off of the couch-to-5K thing, and then it was easier to get lax about running in general. (In the meantime I've taken up biking to work, which might be another thing you can try if it's possible with your commute.)
posted by whir at 7:44 PM on May 13, 2008

Get a heart rate monitor and build base for eight of those weeks.
posted by konolia at 8:42 PM on May 13, 2008

All of the the stuff above is good, however, soccer is less about gently jogging around for 30 minutes and more about running pretty quick back and forth, lots of speed bursts and quick turns. For up to 90 minutes.

You might consider supplementing the gentle jogging base with some sprints. I'd do about half your couch to 5 k workout for the day - then do tabata sprints - then finish the couch to 5K workout. A Tabata workout is an interval training cycle of 20 seconds of maximum intensity (sprints) exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest (walk), repeated without pause 8 times for a total of four minutes.

Then maybe some footwork drills. Something to build up quick turns/stops/starts so you don't go out and blow your ankles/knees first match.
posted by jopreacher at 9:06 PM on May 13, 2008

yes, if you really want to improve your wind quickly then interval training is the key. it hurts, but it works.
posted by caddis at 10:06 PM on May 13, 2008

Best answer: I don’t know about 3 months, but I can tell you what has worked for me, in my early 40s. This will echo what others have said, but I think in this case repetition helps.

I started timidly because lifestyle changes are hard. I probably squandered the first three months slowly working up to a plan, but better to do that than set unrealistic short term goals and fail.

In January 2007 I weighed 220 lbs and when I went to a doctor for the first time in years my blood pressure was 220 over 120 and his eyes bugged out. I weigh 168 lbs now and I feel great, and look forward to feeling better.

The most important thing was changing what I eat. I choose my vegetables before any other part of my meal and I avoid processed food and use fresh ingredients. Eating well is about making time. I love good healthy food and I enjoy food amore than when I thought a bacon cheezeburger was a reward (what a ridiculous notion).

Eventually I started exercising more, first with walking then with a stationary bike. When outdoor biking season came along I started biking outdoors. Now I am branching out to other activities.

As important as excercise is I am convinced that eating real food and avoiding crap is the most important step.
posted by KS at 12:47 PM on May 14, 2008

Start by cutting out the fast food. You'll be amazed by the results of that alone.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:02 PM on May 14, 2008

Best answer: Another quick boost to shed pounds; if you take sugar in your coffee cut it out. Similarly, no more sugared drinks. It's amazing the quick difference this makes in your overall calorific consumption, and consequently your weight.

I can second the couch-to-5k, and you might also want to try this:

It's the strength conditioning equivalent of the C25k. Starts with very easy exercises, the workouts only take 20 minutes, focus on core strength, and require almost no equipment so they can be done from home.

I have been using the simplefit method for 6 months now and the results have been amazing. I have pecs for the first time in my life!
posted by HBWonderful at 1:52 AM on May 15, 2008

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