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Are you thinking about taking on a new fitness challenge? Here's how to get from the couch to the finish line

YOU LOOKED FABULOUS for your wedding. You got bikini-ready before going to Hawaii. You even shed a few pounds last summer for family portrait day. But if nothing's on the horizon keeping you motivated to stay in shape, you may find yourself slipping out of your healthy routine and back into your "fat jeans."

Weight-loss goals don't need to be forced upon you-you can make up your own by signing up for a fitness event you've always wanted to try. Whether it's a half-marathon, tennis league or bicycle tour de [wherever!], you'll have a goal to set your sights on and something to work toward for the next few months.

Get Ready

The first step toward your fitness goal doesn't actually involve any steps at all. Before you even think about hitting the pavement or picking up a racquet, take some time to think.

"The very first step is to assess why you want to do this," says Gregory Florez, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. "It should be for yourself and no one else." You'll be more likely to stick with it when training becomes difficult.

Next, take stock of your fitness level. "Take a realistic look in the mirror, and assess your current state of health against your goal," Florez says. "Realistically determine how long it will take you to get there."

Lastly, break out your schedule. "Figure out if you have time to do it or if you have to make the time," suggests Mike Bracko, Ed.D., a fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine. "When are you going to train? Are you going to wake up early or train after work? What time of day is best?"

Enter your training schedule into your calendar, and stick to it just as you would any other appointment.

Get Set

Now that you've done your homework, it's time to hit the track, field or court. But don't go it alone.

"Engage a professional to get you started," Florez suggests. "Get some professional assistance, even if just in the beginning to get you started and build a training program for you."

Bracko agrees. "A personal trainer will help you train properly," he says. "Hire one for a few sessions in the beginning, or check in every couple of weeks throughout your program."

A professional can help not only with your goals but also with reaching them safely.

"A lot of people just get too anxious and think they have to train hard," Bracko says. "Train at various durations and intensities. Don't ever do long, hard workouts all the time."

And don't skip the flexibility and strength training either. "Studies show people who run and weight train have lower risk of injury," Bracko says. "In tennis, you'll be able to hit the ball harder. And if a muscle is stronger, it's less likely to get injured."

Another way to prevent injury is to have the proper equipment. "Don't skimp on gear," Florez recommends. "Make an investment in a good pair of shoes, clothing that's breathable and other equipment that's germane to your sport."

Go!

You've trained, and now the big day is right around the corner. What to do?

"Ask other people who've done the event what to expect," Bracko suggests. "A day or two before the event is a good time to get a sports massage. You might want to schedule one for about 24 hours after as well."

On the day of, have your clothes and equipment laid out and ready to go. And don't try anything new, Florez emphasizes. Instead, visualize your performance and think positively.

"Understand that you've done all the training and prepared yourself as well as you can," Bracko says. "You will be successful in the participation of that event. You might not win, but you've prepared and you'll do the best you can."

-By Shelley Flannery

ME Magazine Summer 2011

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Stay Motivated

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Going the Distance

Having trouble sticking with your fitness routine? There are a variety of methods to help you stay on track, but thinking about what stimulates or inspires you to action is a great place to start. Here are some ideas to get those wheels turning:

  • Hire a personal trainer.It may be more affordable than you think-especially if you join a small-group training program or start your own with friends. A trainer will typically work with five to 10 people per session, which makes it more cost-effective than one-on-one training.
  • Remember your routine.To make fitness work, it's got to be as much a part of your daily ritual as brushing your teeth. Embed exercise into your routine by scheduling it on your calendar as you would any other appointment, and posting reminders and motivational notes anywhere you'll be sure to see them.
  • Reward yourself along the way. Your end goal may be a ways off, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't celebrate smaller milestones. Reward yourself with a new pair of shoes or a new workout DVD or soothe your body with a massage.

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