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Training Routine for the Totally Out of Shape
(Initial Training Routine; Spring to Fall 2002)

Part One

By Gary F. Zeolla

During the fall and winter of 2001-2002 I had gone through my worst time health-wise. I had first been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and then with stiff person syndrome. The former caused incredible fatigue and pain throughout my body while the latter left me virtually paralyzed 24/7. I even began having episodes where I was totally paralyzed, head to toe, for hours or even days at a time. But I began seeing some improvements by the spring of 2002. I also began to meticulously watch my diet. I found that given my sensitivities to chemicals, it was imperative that I consume only organic, natural foods.

But still, by the spring of 2002 I was in probably the worst shape of my life. I had lost a considerable amount of strength and bodyweight due to the health problems, and I was still very stiff throughout my body. And I had virtually no endurance whatsoever. During this time period, I had tried to continue to do some walking when I felt up to it. But even on my good days, the best I could manage was to walk half a mile in 15-20 minutes. That's a pace of only 1.5 - 2.0 miles/hour.

Moreover, my blood pressure had always been rather low, but now it had reached a high of 135/90. That wasn't high enough to be put on medication, but given that both of my parents and my brother were on high blood pressure medication, and that my mom and brother had suffered strokes, it was high enough to be worrisome. In addition, again after always being rather low, my resting heart rate was up to over 80 beats per minute (bpm). This was above what is considered the normal range of 60-80 bpm. And considering that my resting heart rate had usually been below the normal range, this was rather high for me.

I mention the above so that the reader understands that at that time I was as totally out of shape as a person could be. But I knew for me to recover my health more fully, including recovering the strength, bodyweight, flexibility, and endurance I had lost and to get my blood pressure and resting heart rate back down, would required a more focused exercise program. So in the spring of 2002 I began to seriously work on getting back in shape. And the program I used is the type of program that anyone who is totally out of shape for whatever reason can use to get back into shape. So in this two-part article I will present in detail the initial training routine I used to get back into shape.

Keys Points to Remember

The first and most important point to remember is that it takes time to get back into shape. You need to start very slowly and then very gradually increase the intensity. If you try to do too much too quickly, you'll probably just end up excessively sore, overtrained, discouraged, or even injured.

The second most important point is you need to be consistent in your chosen activity. The only way you can gradually increase is if you are exercising almost every day. That way, each day you can slightly increase the intensity. And with being consistent about it, you'll be surprised how even small improvements add up over time.

Third, remember the adage "use it or loose it." When I decided to start exercising, between the continuing stiffness from the stiff person syndrome and the fatigue and pain from the fibromyalgia, it was very difficult and painful. But I knew that I had to get moving. The weight I had lost was due to the loss of muscle. And If I didn't get moving, I would continue to lose even more muscle, and my bones would also begin to deteriorate. So very quickly I could have gotten to the point where I was permanently unable to move or take care of myself. And this is an important point.

It is very easy as one ages or develops health problems to just give up trying to stay in shape. But if you do, you very well could get to the point where you can barely walk or take care of yourself. This is exactly what has happened to someone very close to me. And it is a very sad and disheartening to watch someone you love slowly deteriorate to the point of immobility. So all I can say is, if you are in such a situation, you must start moving or things will only get worse. Of course, you need to get your doctor's approval before undertaking any exercise program, but if your doctor says it is okay for you to exercise, then do so no matter how difficult it might be.

Start with Walking

I began by simply walking. This is the simplest and easiest exercise activity there is, and one that almost everyone can do regardless of their health condition. It can be done just about anywhere and requires no special equipment. If the weather is inclement, then there are various places one can walk inside, such as at shopping malls. So consistency should not be a problem. Walking also lends itself very well to gradually increasing the intensity.

As stated above, I had been trying to do some walking, so I started with that half-mile walk. Basically, I just walked around the block. But I concentrated on trying to keep my pace up enough so that I could cover the distance in 15 minutes. This would give me a 2.0 mph pace. Slow, but at least it gave me a good starting point.

From there I began to very gradually add distance to my walk. To do so meant I couldn't walk in a circle, around the block like I had been. Instead, I began walking more in a straight line out from my home, stopping a certain point, turning around, and coming back. But I would make a mental note of where I had walked to by noting some landmark, usually a telephone pole. This way, the next time I could very easily add a short distance to my walk.

Specifically, each day I would add a quarter to half of the distance between telephone poles to my walk. So I would only walk a few yards longer each time. So this was a very small increase. But the important point is, I was walking six days a week, taking only Sundays off. So I would be adding several yards each week to my walk. But I was still walking at the same pace. I figured I would work up to a half hour walk and then work on increasing my speed.

After a couple of months, I had worked up to where I was walking a full mile in half an hour. So I was still walking at a 2.0 mph pace. But at this point I stared lifting weights. I'll get into details on that in Part Two of this article. But here, this meant that I cut back to walking only three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday), while lifting on the other three days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). But again, I was consistent; being sure I did walk all three days.

I also changed my walking program in that it was now time to work on increasing my speed. So my plan changed some. Instead of walking out to a certain point and turning around, I began to walk for 15 minutes and then turning around. This would ensure that I walked for 30 minutes.

But I would still note where I had turned around, so that the next time I could make it my goal to walk a little bit further. Again, I tried adding about a quarter to half the distance between telephone poles each time, but I tried to still only take 15 minutes to get there. So my goal was to increase my distance while keeping the time the same. This would of course require gradually increasing my pace with each walk.

But an important point to note, when I had gotten to the point of increasing my pace, for the first couple of minutes I would warm-up by still only walking at my initial 2.0 mph pace. Then after a couple of minutes I would gradually increase my pace. And near the end of my walk I would slow down for the last couple of minutes for a cool-down.

It took about four months, but by the fall of 2002 I had worked up to where I was walking a full two miles in 30 minutes. That's a 4.0 mph pace. So basically, in about six months time, I had gone from walking mile in 15 minutes (a 2.0 mph pace) to walking 2 miles in thirty minutes (a 4.0 mph pace). So I had doubled the time and speed at which I was walking, and I had quadrupled the distance! Like I said, if you are consistent, small increases will add up over time.

Moreover, over this time period, my blood pressure and resting heart rate began to gradually drop. And once I started lifting weights again, even more so. Now today, my blood pressure is usually well below 120/80. I've even had readings as low as 101/63. And my resting heart rate is generally in the low 50s; I've even measured it as low as 47 bpm.


At the same time I started my walking program, I started stretching after my walks. Some would suggest stretching before walking, but I think it is best to only stretch when one is already warmed-up from exercising. Stretching really does not warm-up the body for exercise. The best way to do that is to engage in the exercise activity but at a lesser intensity. Hence, my walking practice as detailed above of starting slow and gradually increasing the pace after the first couple of minutes.

Also, stretching while one is "cold" increases the risk of pulling a muscle while stretching. But if you are warmed up and stretch properly, then the risk is minimal. Stretching properly means slowly stretching to the point where some tension is felt, stopping and holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then slowly relaxing. Absolutely no bouncing of any kind should be engaged in. If you really concentrate, you should notice that after about ten seconds your muscles will relax some, and you can then stretch out a little bit further. Do so, then hold the new position for another ten seconds. This little extra can really add to the effectiveness of the stretching routine.

While I was walking six times a week, I would stretch after each walk, hence six times a week. But after while this seemed to be too much. I was beginning to feel a little sore. So when I started lifting weights and thus cut back to walking only three times a week, I continued to stretch only after my walks, hence only three times a week. Later I would change to only stretching after my weightlifting workouts.

But either way, the important point was I was consistent about stretching. Now remember, at one time I was virtually paralyzed 24/7. And when I began my exercise program I was still very stiff. My flexibility was virtually non-existent. This was basically my worst area of concern at this time. So I spent more time on stretching then would be necessary for the average person.

Specifically, I would stretch for half an hour. I would do stretches for every body part I could think of as I was tight everywhere. But the average person could easily get in a good stretching routine in about fifteen minutes. In fact, now when I stretch after my workouts that is about how long it takes me.

Space prohibits giving descriptions here on specific stretches to do, but many books are available that describe and even picture a wide variety worthwhile stretches. I would suggest doing a search on "stretching" on Amazon.

In any case, gradually over a period of several months I slowly regained my flexibility. The weightlifting helped in this regard as well, as I'll discuss in Part Two of this article. But the important point is that now today I am about as flexible as I was before the above mentioned health problems began.

Conclusion for Part One

If you are someone who is totally out a shape, now is the time to begin to get into shape by following the walking and stretching program outlined above. If I can do it despite continuing problems, so can you.

As indicated above, about two months after I started my walking/ stretching program I began lifting weights. I will detail how I went about doing so in Part Two of this article.

Training Routine for the Totally Out of Shape (Initial Training Routine; Spring to Fall 2002). Copyright 2005 By Gary F. Zeolla.

Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting:
A Comprehensive Guide to the World’s Strongest Sport

350 page book by Gary F. Zeolla

The above article first appeared in the free FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site May 4, 2005.

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