06/27/2012 10:25 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2012

When You Go to Exercise, Do It on Your Terms

Almost never do I go to the gym and do the workout I plan to do. I used to. Years ago I did. I had a plan and I followed it to the letter. Warm up on the treadmill at 3 mph, 0 percent elevation. then run at 7 mph for 30 minutes, then warm down at 3.5 mph for five minutes. After no more than a three-minute break, it was over to the stationary bike for 20 minutes at 20 mph, and so on, and so on.

On many of those days I was not particularly excited or looking forward to going to the gym. I knew how those workouts could hurt and quite frankly, on many days I didn't really feel like hurting. On most days, I would go ahead and get it done, but often, put it off until the end of the day. Back then, way back then, I was a competitive athlete and needed to train daily to get better for my competition. In order to train my body the best I could, I needed to work hard when I trained, which usually translates to the workout being uncomfortable. Remember the old saying, no pain, no gain? For competitive athletes that may be true, however, for the other 99 percent of the world that is not competitive, it simply is not true and following that advice is very rarely if ever a good idea.

What I do now and have done for years, is go to the gym with only a rough idea of what I want to accomplish with no formulated plan as to what I will be doing. I fly by the seat of my pants, I am spontaneous, I exercise in the moment (no, that's going a bit too far). And you know what? I look forward to going to the gym again. I have had some really good workouts the last several years with some good results. The big difference for me is that there is no pressure to run at a prescribed speed or for a predetermined amount of time. I run, or walk, or jog or a combination of all three as I feel the urge.

Or maybe I would ride the stationary bike, then walk on the treadmill for a while, then get back on the stationary bike and then lift some weights.

As an example of this, I get on the treadmill with little motivation. "I think I will just walk for a while (I will watch the news on the video screen)." Three minutes later, " I think this is too slow, I have only walked .2 miles. I guess I will speed it up a bit. I think I will give myself a little elevation too, say 5 percent at 4 mph." I start to break a slight sweat. "This is too easy, I think I would feel better going a little faster but not at 5 percent elevation. I will speed it up to a fast jog at 7 mph at 1 percent elevation." I may be happy here for three to four minutes. Then I slow it down to a fast walk at 4 mph and raise the elevation to 10 percent until I get bored with it or tired, whichever comes first. By now I have worked up a good sweat, I am warmed up and have a pretty good workout going. Oftentimes by now the mood strikes me to run fast for a while so I may speed up to 8 mph. Then once I am starting to get more tired than I want to, I will slow down long enough to catch my breath. Then, if not too tired, I will go lift weights for a while. If the chest press machine is busy I will go lift barbells or dumbbells etc. Then when I get tired of doing that I go home. Great workout, no pressure, little mental stress -- what could be better?

If the treadmill is just not doing it for me today, no big deal, I will find some exercise that I feel like doing.

Perhaps you have heard of "fartlek" training. I am told fartlek means "speedplay." This is where you have no set plan for a run, you simply speed up and slow down, when you get the urge. It is known to be very effective and is a form of interval training. In my eyes I have simply taken this concept and applied it to the entire workout.

In summary, I have gone from a far more rigid type of workout to one that allows for more flexibility, and it works for me. Why don't you give it a try. It might be just what you need to spice up your workout.

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