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itness & Your Health
Transformation: How To Take Them From Sedentary To Active

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

Those who try a commercial health clubs are likely to be intimidated by better-conditional exercise enthusiasts, who tend to dominate typical fitness centers. This appears true for males and females, young and old. People quickly get the impression they are too unfit to be seen in a fitness facility!

For those reasons, we have tried to develop more homogeneous exercise programs in less threatening exercise environments and attentive exercise instructors. We have found that people who perceive themselves as unfit prefer to train with similar individuals in small, closely supervised classes. Our fitness programs are more likely to fill up when we offer specific classes for specific groups. Examples include exercise programs designed for:

  • preteens
  • teens
  • adults
  • seniors
  • overweight persons
  • golfers
  • skiers
  • runners
We have provided these programs in our large (4,000-square-foot) exercise facility and our small (400-square-foot) research room. Without question, unfit participants feel much more comfortable in the small training center, which is limited to class members. We can run our small, homogeneous exercise classes all day long in the research center.

We take a personal approach with each new exercise group, beginning with an orientation slide show and an informative tour through out fitness testing and training facilities. We then offer individual fitness assessments, followed by careful instruction on the strength and endurance equipment.

After trying various student-teaching ratios, we have settled on six-person classes with two attentive instructors. During the first few training sessions, we try to provide one-to-one instruction. Once the class is comfortable with our exercise environment, we cut back to two instructors for six people.

Each class is scheduled for one hour, with about 20 to 25 minutes of strength exercise and 20 to 25 minutes of endurance exercise. Typically, three individuals strength train while the other three endurance train. Due to the small dimensions of the research center, one instructor can attend sufficiently to each participant without appearing overbearing.

Step Three:

Exercise Achievement
While some people frequent the exercise facility primarily to interact socially, very few formerly inactive adults continue a regular exercise program unless they are achieving their desired results. In general, our program participants want to look, feel and function better. Specifically, they want to improve muscular strength, as evidenced by training with heavier weight loads on the Nautilus machines, and increase cardiovascular endurance, as demonstrated by completing longer exercise bouts on the treadmills and cycles.

We typically see an 8-pound improvement in body composition (three pounds more muscle and 5 pounds less fat) over the two-month training period (Westcott 1993).

We take a two-pronged approach to achieving our participation objectives. The first relates to exercise methods, and the second to teaching methods. Both are of utmost importance when working with unfit individuals.

What To Teach
Now let's review suggested exercise methods for the inactive, including program design for endurance and strength training. The following are recommendations, based on our program, in the areas of exercise type, frequency, intensity and duration.

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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and......more
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