I am 54, desperately unfit and quite overweight. I have just bought a treadmill so I can exercise at least four times a week, along with a healthy diet. Could you give me some guidelines on how to progress and whether I should be jogging after a specific length of time, and if so, for how long?
You say you are “desperately” unfit, so you should make haste slowly. You might also want to check out your underlying health with your GP before you get too intense with the exercise, especially if you have any existing medical conditions. Ask for blood pressure and cholesterol checks if you’ve not had these for a while. Having invested in the treadmill, ensure you avoid injuries by also investing in well-fitting, supportive training shoes.
If walking for 20 minutes at 4.6mph doesn’t leave you gasping, that’s probably a good starting point. Spend the first couple of weeks walking at this speed, concentrating on technique: walk upright without holding on to the sides, head balanced, chin parallel to the ground, shoulders back and relaxed, a slight pulling in of your lower stomach and a “heel-toe” walking action: hit the ground with the heel and walk through your foot, pushing off gently with your toes. Rather than exhaust yourself at this stage, do your workout every day, not just four times a week — it still adds up to more work and more calories burnt.
From there, build up gradually. First, add in a small incline of about 2 per cent. Next, increase your walk time, by one to two minutes each week, until you reach 30 minutes.
When that is comfortable, start to push up the speed (by, for instance 0.2mph each fortnight) – very soon you will be forced to change your walking style to a power walk: bent elbows, long strides and a really strong pick-up on your toes so you can roll through your feet efficiently.
Power walking is energetic: a very effective heart and lung workout. You can burn as many calories as you would jogging, but with a far less punishing impact on your back, hips, knees and ankles. Make the walk even more intensive by going uphill (but avoid this if you have low back problems). Gradually increase the incline to 5 per cent, then try some “intervals”, playing around with speed and incline to create short bursts of harder work followed by easier “recovery” sections.
A very reliable way to test if you are working at the right level is to ask yourself: “How hard am I working right now?” and give an answer from 0 (asleep in bed) to 10 (as hard as I can imagine). Aim to work at levels of 4 (“somewhat heavy”) to 7 (“very heavy”) out of 10. But always start the treadmill slowly, taking 2 to 3 minutes to creep up the values to the target level for that day’s workout. Reverse the process at the end so your heart rate can gradually return to normal. Drink plenty of water before and after.