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By Esta Morenikeji I see it all every time at the gym and on the road, one exerciser trying to match the speed and intensity of another exerciser. Consider this common scenario I have seen several times: a lady is running on the road, a guy sights her from a distance behind and for some funny reason the guy thinks he must overtake the lady, even though he may not be as fit as she is. I have witnessed one ugly incident that left a guy almost breathless on the floor for more than 30 minutes just because he tried to outrun a lady. The lady wouldn’t allow him overtake her and a “speed competition” ensued. Well, the fittest of them survived the race. Fitness is not about being competitive, it is about being progressive. You can only push your body as far as your fitness level can allow; anything beyond that is no longer healthy. You cannot jump the gun as far as fitness is concerned; you have to start with what you can do first and then build strength and endurance through continuous training. People start an exercise program today and they want to train at the intensity of the person who has been working out for more than two years. It does not work that way, my friend. You must learn to run your own race at your own pace, and not try to compete with the Janes. Just like a little child, you must be able to walk well first before you can run. You should be able to do a proper squat with your body weight before you start loading up on dumbbells and barbells. If you cannot push or lift your own body weight, why do you want to add extra loads? And please don’t allow any fitness trainer make you feel bad because you can’t perform a certain exercise or can’t lift weights like Ms Jane, you are not lazy; you haven’t just developed enough strength for that workload. It is the duty of the fitness trainer to make you feel successful by giving you another exercise that is within your capacity and help you grow from there. I feel sad anytime I see trainers “encouraging” people to train at an intensity level that is way beyond their fitness capacity. Every exercise can be modified to accommodate different levels of fitness. There is always a way to progress or regress an exercise so that every participant feels successful at the end of the workout. A lot of people compromise proper form for speed and intensity. This is a recipe for pain and injuries. Be kind to yourself; don’t push yourself way beyond what your body can endure. Exercise training is about progression and proper form. There is a correct way to move a muscle or muscle group, if you move a muscle in a way it is not designed to move you might end up with an injury. Start slowly and don’t compromise form. An example of exercise progression Plank is a common exercise many of us love to perform. But did you know that you can progress or regress the exercise to challenge different fitness levels? The image below shows four variations of plank exercises with different intensity levels. Can you guess which of these exercises is the hardest? If you say plank row, you have guessed right! Let’s take a moment to analyze plank row. The base exercise is plank, but an arm row has been added to make the exercise more challenging.


Plank row is an advanced exercise that requires you to carry your whole body weight on one hand (with little support from the toes), while pulling up a dumbbell. The exercise requires strength across the core muscles than standard or full plank. You don’t start your introduction to plank with a plank row, you start with modified plank or standard plank, depending on your core strength, and work your way up to the advanced variations. I have said this several times; an exercise doesn’t have to be hard for it to be effective. Do what you can do now, you will grow strength through constant training and you will be able to progress to more advanced workout. Don’t try to train at the intensity level of Jane the athlete if you don’t possess that amount of fitness. Run your own race at your own pace and maintain your lane! Remember that fitness is not a competition; it is about being progressive in training. Start slowly, train steadily and progress gradually.  

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This article was first published on 25th March 2014

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