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Note: I am revising and expanding my book Creationist Diet. The Second Edition will be much longer and will no longer have room for the two chapters on exercise, so I am posting those chapters on this website.
Starting an Exercise Program
by Gary F. Zeolla
Exercise has become a craze in the USA. Millions are walking, running, cycling, and swimming themselves into shape, and for good reasons. Exercise reduces blood pressure, heart rate, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and tension, with a resultant decrease in the risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. Exercise, combined with proper dietary changes, is the only truly successful way to lose and maintain body fat losses. It also improves physical appearance, self-esteem, mental and intellectual awareness, and general well being.
So You Decide to Start
Knowing the above, you decide that it’s time to jump on the fitness bandwagon. Having been a decent runner in high school, you decide to start running again. You dig out an old pair of tennis shoes—“Who needs those fancy running shoes? These will do.”
After downing a good dinner, you take off out the door and down the street. After about two minutes, your side is in pain, and you’re puffing like crazy. You were in excellent shape a few years ago and can’t understand what is wrong. But you know this is good for you, so you continue. 10 minutes later, your back’s aching, your legs are cramping, and you cannot take another step. After crawling back home, you plop yourself down in your easy chair feeling satisfied that you’ve done something good for your body.
Next morning, you’re sore all over and can barely drag yourself out of bed. “But, hey, I’m A RUNNER now, I can handle it.”
Your run that evening goes about the same, but you figure that in a few days you’ll be back in shape, so you keep pushing. By the fifth day, you’ve got blisters on your feet, shin splints, an aching back, and sore knees. But you remember the old slogan “NO PAIN, NO GAIN,” so you set off again. With about half a mile left, you feel a stabbing pain in your hamstring (back thigh muscle), but you’re tough, you can finish.
When you get home, you put a heating pad on your thigh. Next morning, your thigh’s swelled to twice its size, and you’re limping all day long. Finally, you pitch your “running“ shoes in the garbage and decide the exercise craze is nothing but a bunch of hype.
Of course, the above description is a perfect example of how NOT to start an exercise program. I will go through each mistake and misconception that was made and explain the proper steps that should have been taken.
Note: The following is directed towards running; however, the same general principles apply to swimming, bicycling, or various other fitness activities.
1) Physical Exam: The first thing you should do when you decide to start a running program is to get a physical. This is especially true if you have not exercised for several years and/ or are over thirty. The exam should include a stress ECG. This is a test of how your heart functions while exercising. Only after being given a clean bill of health by your doctor should your start your program. If any problems are discovered, proceed only under a doctor’s care.
2) Shoes: I know it sounds like an advertiser’s scam, but there is a difference between tennis shoes and running shoes. Tennis shoes (sneakers) give support side-to-side; running shoes are reinforced front-to-back. Also, worn-out or incorrectly fitting shoes can lead to ankle, knee, or back problems, and blisters. Don’t be afraid to spend a few extra bucks; it will be worth it in the long run (no pun intended).
3) Reversibility: No matter how good of shape you were in before, that has nothing to do with your level of fitness today. Atrophy (reduction in size and strength) of muscle tissue begins after about 96 hours of inactivity. After 2-3 weeks, a significant drop in strength and endurance levels will be noticed. After several years, or even months, any previous conditioning will be totally lost.
4) Eating: Your pre-run meal should contain an adequate amount of carbohydrates and should be eaten at least one hour before you begin running. Trying to exercise while your body is diverting blood to the stomach can lead to “stitches“ (the pain in your side), stomach cramps, and losing your dinner on the run.
5) Warming Up: Always take time to warm-up before doing your main workout. The best way to warm-up is to do whatever activity you’ll be doing but at a reduced intensity. So for running you would walk or jog slowly for as couple of minutes, then slowly increase your pace over the next few minutes.
6) Conditioning: You cannot get in shape in a few days. It takes weeks or months to develop a reasonable level of fitness. Top-level athletes have been training for their sports for years to reach their current performance levels.
When beginning a running program, start slowly and build up gradually. Actually, to begin your program you should start by walking. The first day should simply be a walk around the block. The next day slightly increase the distance. Continue walking at a slow pace several times a week, increasing the distance each time. When you reach two miles, begin increasing the pace rather than distance.
As your fitness improves, start alternating the walking with short jogs. Eventually, you’ll be jogging the entire distance. If possible, try to continue to decrease the time until you’re covering the two miles in less than 20 minutes. Doing this 3-5 times a week will give you a good level of aerobic conditioning.
7) Over-training: Many sports injuries can be linked to over-training. Trying to do too much too fast or doing too much overall work regardless of condition will predispose you to injury. Running more than four to six hours per week will increase the risk of over-training and is unnecessary to attain an adequate aerobic level and provide the benefits of exercise listed at the beginning of this article. Only if you’re planning on competing should you do more than this.
8) Soreness: A mild level of soreness is to be expected the first week or so when starting a training program. However, by starting slowly and increasing gradually, this should be minimal. If excessive soreness should continue or develop after this, it is a sign that you are increasing too fast and/ or over-training, and appropriate reductions should be made.
9) Cooling-down: You should spend as much time cooling down as you did warming-up. Do not just plop yourself in a chair or jump into the shower when you’re done running. Walk slowly at the end of your run, and then stretch for a few minutes.
Stretching movements should be done in a slow, controlled manner (no bouncing!). Stretch slowly until you feel a tightness in your muscle, but don’t strain. Hold this position for about 10 seconds or until you feel the muscle loosening up a bit. Then stretch even further and hold for another 10-15 seconds. Then slowly relax and proceed to the next movement.
And note, stretching should be done after not before a workout. The older recommendation was for stretching to be done before working out. But studies have shown that stretching before a workout actually increases the risk of injury by weakening the involved muscles. But stretching afterwards does not cause this problem. In fact, it will greatly reduce the risk of injury in future workouts.
Moreover, stretching afterwards will help your body remove built-up lactic acid and other waste products, thus enhancing recovery. This will also help prevent post-workout soreness. And stretching when you’re loose and able to stretch more adequately will best increase flexibility.
10) Running Surface: Concrete and pavement are the worst surfaces to run on. They can be very jarring on the shins, knees, and back. If at all possible, try to run on a running track or some other surface that has some “give” to it.
11) Injuries: Hopefully, by following the preceding guidelines, you will never have to worry about this area. However, if the worst does happen, knowing what to do is vital. If any abnormal or sudden pain develops, stop running. The few minutes after an injury are the most important. Prompt action can drastically decrease the healing time.
Remember one vital word—RICE. This acronym stands for: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Blood flow to the area must be slowed down to prevent swelling and further tissue damage. Apply ice as soon as possible. It is a good idea to keep a frozen ice pack in the freezer at all times, just in case. The blue, soft gel ice packs found in pharmacies and other stores are excellent for this purpose. They remain flexible even when frozen, so they can be wrapped around an injured body-part.
If possible, the area should be compressed by wrapping it in an Ace bandage. Again, be sure to always have one available. Also, elevate the area to further reduce blood flow. However, be sure the blood is not restricted too much, causing the area to turn blue. The ice and wrap should be removed after 20 minutes and the body part lowered. The ice should be re-applied every two hours for the next 48-72 hours. Aspirin should also be taken during this time period, every 3-4 hours.
After a couple of days, the rehabilitation program should begin. This will entail stretching the area to regain range of motion and gradually easing back into the training program. Begin by walking if necessary. Stop before it begins hurting. Heat should be applied before training and ice and aspirin afterwards. The heat and ice should be used for 20 minutes.
It will take 2-3 weeks for a minor muscle pull to heal and/ longer for joint injuries and severe muscle pulls and tears. Remember, it is better to come back from an injury slower than you have to rather than trying to come back too fast and re-injuring it. A re-injury will take much longer, probably months, to heal.
If the pain is excessive or prolonged, see a doctor. After the injury heals, it is a good idea to re-evaluate the training routine you were using to try to determine what caused the injury.
Conclusion on Endurance and Flexibility Training
I hope the preceding part on injuries doesn’t scare anyone out of starting a training program. As mentioned, most injuries can be prevented and are usually due to over-training, lack of flexibility, insufficient warm-up, and/ or improper or worn-out shoes.
Also, do not get discouraged if you cannot proceed past the walking stage. A good fitness level can be developed by brisk walking. And in fact, walking is probably the safest activity available. If you dislike walking and running, swimming, cycling, tennis, racquetball, handball, squash, skating (roller or ice), skiing (snow or water), dance-aerobics, basketball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, rowing, or simply stay at home and jump rope or ride an exercise bike to develop your aerobic fitness base and improve your health.
The preceding discussed two aspects of physical fitness: endurance (aerobics or cardio) and stretching (flexibility) training. But one other factor is also important: strength training.
Strength training is the best type of exercise there is to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. It is also the best type of exercise to increase, or at least prevent, loss of muscular strength. Without strength training, as one grows older, muscles will atrophy, leading to decreased strength and mobility. Strength training of some sort is also necessary for all kinds of athletes to stay competitive.
There are several types of strength training one can utilize. The simplest is doing calisthenics like push-ups and pull-ups. Such exercises are convenient to do, as they require little or no equipment. But they are limited in their effectiveness as they only use your bodyweight for resistance. The only way to increase resistance is to do more repetitions (reps).
But once you start doing more than 15 reps, you are engaging more in aerobic exercise than strength training, while the best reps for beginner weight trainers is 8-12 reps. This reps range provides a good balance of muscular strength, size, and endurance. But to stay in this range requires some form of resistance to be utilized.
The next most convenient way to strength train is to get a barbell set. With such a set, you can do a variety of exercises in your home. But eventually, more equipment would be needed, like a sturdy bench for doing bench presses. And working out alone with barbells when doing exercise like bench presses can be dangerous.
Another possibility is to get some kind of home fitness gym. Depending on the machine, these would provide a wider range of exercises you can safely do alone. However, they tend to be on the expensive side and can take up a lot of room.
Another approach would be to join a barbell club, fitness center, YMCA, or Nautilus center. Any such facility should have free weights and/ or some kind of strength training machines. Depending on the facility, they would probably also provide individual instruction, which can be very important for beginners. They also would provide help and encouragement in exercising that you would not have working out alone. The down side to joining a club would be the membership fee and having to travel back and forth to the club.
Any of these are possibilities. They all have their pros and cons. The important thing is to find some kind of strength training you will continue to do indefinitely. If you try working out alone at home and find it boring, then join a gym. If traveling back and forth to a club is a disincentive to you to work out, then get something set up in your home. But if you are a beginner, it is important to get some instruction from someone who knows what they are doing, and this, as indicated, is something a fitness club could provide.
How often should you work out? For strength training it should be two to three times per week. Less than twice a week would not be effective and more would be over-training. You always need at least one day of rest in-between strength training routines.
One exception to this would be if you do a “split-routine” where the upper body is exercised one day, and the lower body the next. With such a routine, you could work out four to six days per week. But this writer would suggest keeping it to four days as over-training can easily result from training more than that.
As for aerobic exercise, three days a week is the minimum. But aerobic exercise can be done on consecutive days. Flexibility work is similar to strength training. Although some recommend stretching every day, this writer has found two to three days a week to be more effective. A day of rest in-between seems to help the body recover better. But this is something the reader would need to experiment with.
But how many days a week overall should one exercise? For this, we will turn to the same source as for the Creationist Diet, the Bible.
The Bible and Exercise Frequency
The Bible doesn’t mention exercise frequency. However, the Bible does have a thing or two to say about how often one should work. And since work in Biblical time was mainly manual labor, then what the Bible says about work frequency could provide some principles that would apply to exercise frequency.
The most important passage in this regard is the following:
8“Remember the Sabbath day to be keeping it holy. 9Six days you will labor and will do all your work. 10But the seventh day [is the] Sabbath to the LORD your God; you will not do any work in it, you and your son and your daughter and your male bond-servant and your female bond-servant, and your ox and your donkey and any of your livestock, and the stranger, the one living as a stranger among you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the [things] in them [Acts 4:24], He and rested on the seventh day. Because of this, the LORD blessed the seventh day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).
Thus in this passage God clearly says we are to work six days and rest one day each week. Applying this to exercise, it tells us that under no circumstances should you work out seven days a week. This would go for professional athletes as well as the average person just trying to get into shape. The body simply needs at least one day a week of rest. That is how God designed us.
Conversely, this passage would also seem to be saying that a person should exercise the other six days a week. However, the Sabbath is not the only day in which God commands no work is to be done. In the Jewish calendar, there are various “sacred days” in which the same is also commanded.
For instance, in regards to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), God commands, “And this will be a perpetual statute for you*; in the seventh month, on the tenth [day] of the month, you* will humble your* souls, and will do no work at all, the native and the stranger abiding among you*” (Lev 16:29).
In addition to the Day of Atonement, other Jewish scared days are: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deut 16:1-8), Firstfruits (Lev 23:9-14), Weeks (or, Pentecost; Deut 16:9-12), Trumpets (or, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; Lev 23:35,36), and the first and last days of the weeklong Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:35,36).
That is a total of seven sacred days. For most of these the Bible specifically says no work is to be done. But even for the ones in which this command is not specifically stated, given they are “feast days,” if any work was done it would have been mainly to prepare for the feast. Later, Purim was added as a two-day span of feasting and resting (Esther 9:17-18).
That gives a total of nine sacred days spread throughout the year. What bearing this has on exercise frequency is that in addition to the seventh day of rest, God seems to be saying there should occasionally be another day or two of rest. What this means is, it’s okay to miss a workout once in a while! In fact, the exerciser should probably “plan” on skipping an occasional workout.
In addition, since the Israelites were to told “Seven days you* will dwell in tents” for the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:42), it is possible this was to be a full week of rest. If this were the case, then God would be saying a week of rest once a year would be ideal.
Taking an “extra” day or two off occasionally, and maybe one week once a year, will help the body to “catch up” and recovery from a vigorous six day a week program. The conclusion is, the ideal exercise pattern could be to exercise six days a week, but about every month or so, take an extra day or two off, and maybe once a year, take a week off.
However, if exercise is not the only physical activity you do, then that needs to be taken into account as well. Yard work, house work, and other such labor could be done instead of exercise on a day or two each week. The key is to be active to some degree on most days.
And you should “listen” to your own body. If you feel you are overdoing it with a six-day a week program, even with the occasional extra day off, then switch to four or five days a week. It is better to reduce the number of days you workout to give your body more time to recover than to end up getting injured.
Conversely, if you just can’t seem to take that “extra” day off occasionally or to reduce your exercise frequency even though your body is telling you that you are overdoing it, then maybe exercise has become too important in your life. It is possible to become “addicted” to exercise. If this is the case, you need to re-evaluate the place of exercise in your life.
Paul wrote, “For bodily exercise is beneficial for a few [things], but godliness is beneficial for all [things], having promise of the present life and of the coming [life]” (1Tim 4:8). So the Bible does teach exercise is beneficial, but it is only for “a few things” in relationship to spiritual matters. This perspective needs to be kept in mind.
One point to note, some try to point to this verse as “evidence” that exercise is not important at all. But it should be noted, the apostle Paul walked or rode on horseback most everywhere he went. And he traveled throughout the Roman Empire at least three times on missionary trips. And when he arrived at his destinations, he would engage in the manual labor of tent-making (Acts 18:3; 2Thes 3:8).
As such, Paul did not need to do any exercise in addition to such activates. But most people today do not travel by foot or horseback and engage in manual labor. Thus purposely engaging in exercise becomes imperative.
Summary on Exercise Frequency
One possible routine would be to exercise six days a week, while taking an occasional extra day or two off, and possibly a week off once a year. But if this proves to be too much, then four or five days a week could suffice. In addition, strength training should be done two to three days a week, aerobics three to six times a week, and stretching two to six days a week.
So how to design a program? There are many variations possible. You could, for instance, strength train three times a week and do aerobics on the opposite three days, with stretching after one of the other of workouts. Or you could strength train twice a week, and do aerobics three or four days, with again, stretching after workouts. This writer works out four days a week and does other physical activities on two other days. I do cardio in the mornings and lift weights, stretching afterwards, in the late afternoons. But the idea is to experiment and see what works best for you.
All Scripture references are from the Analytical–Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. Copyright © 1999-2016 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).
Cooper, Dr. Kenneth H. Faith-Based Fitness. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995. (Note: This is the paperback edition. The hardback version is titled, It’s Better to Believe).
Starting an Exercise Program. Copyright © 1999, 2003, 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla. The above article was excerpted from the book Creationist Diet by Gary F. Zeolla.
The first part of the above article was first posted on this Web site July 17, 2003.
The first part was revised and the second part added February 1, 2017.
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