If there is one driving force to fitness coach Joe Yager, it’s his passion for helping people. People of every shape, size, age, and fitness level.
Over his 20-year personal coaching career, he’s worked with ball clubs, teams, elite competitors, high school athletes, and seniors, among others. His universal objective for all of them is to see them succeed, whatever their goal.
We caught up with Joe on the road between appointments to get his take on fitness fundamentals that apply to everybody and every body.
According to Joe, these five things lay the foundation for any successful health and fitness program, whether you are just getting started or a seasoned athlete returning to exercise:
1. Start now
You engage in fitness either because
a) you want to (good choice)
b) you have to.
Waiting until you “have to” because of immobility, disease, or health risks is never the best choice but it’s never too late to start.
It just might mean you have to start small and work your way up to a better and fitter you.
While a healthy diet and lifestyle may not guarantee a long life, it can often make the difference of living a pain- and medicine-free life versus one regulated by a pill.
2. Determine what motivates you
Motivation is the magic bullet that will help you stick to your fitness regimen and knowing what makes you tick is crucial for your success.
If you’re motivated by others, doing solo workouts in your basement might be less successful than attending group classes at a gym, working out together with a buddy or joining a group run.
3. Be aware of your physical limitations
Always be mindful of your health and wellbeing and understand your fitness limitations and weaknesses. Do you have an arthritic joint? A bad back? A lopsided gait?
Piling fitness efforts on top of some form of dysfunction (or doing a movement pattern incorrectly) can actually make your condition worse. Doing exercise without some form of assessment is a bit like a doctor prescribing medication without first giving the patient an examination.
So how do you assess your limitations?
If you can afford it, it’s worth the cost to get a professional assessment done. For example, having a professional trainer perform a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) allows the trainer to identify your asymmetries and learn where you need the most improvement.
If a professional assessment isn’t possible, do a self-assessment:
- Check out your resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Do a mental body scan to identify your aches, pains, and weaknesses
- Record your weight, height, crucial body measurements, and BMI
- Evaluate your range of motion in all of your major joints
- Look at your posture: Head pitched forward? Shoulders rounded? Pelvis tilted forward or back?
Even a rudimentary self-assessment provides you with a baseline so you can monitor how you are doing and if things are improving or not as you progress in your fitness plan.
4. Set realistic goals
Start by asking yourself: “How much time do I really have?” And be honest when you answer. Then set goals on your realistic assessment and work within your available time windows.
Whatever your goals (lose weight, be more active, eat healthier), you should start with small, achievable steps. As you progress, you can increase your workout time, distance, or intensity and/or gradually decrease or change your caloric intake and diet.
Rather than just one big goal, it’s important to have short- and mid-term goals on the way.
Even if your ultimate goal is to run a marathon, but you’re new to running, your first goal should be to run around the block, followed by making it up to 2 miles in 3 weeks.
Having those smaller, incremental goals provides you with motivation and victories all along the way.
5. Seek out accountability
Being accountable to someone or something can make the difference between success and failure.
It can be a friend you meet every morning for a run, a gym class you attend regularly, an app you use to track your exercise and nutrition, or an online community of like-minded individuals or friends.
To make accountability tangible, keep a log. Record your workouts and caloric intake every day to monitor your progress and to stay on track.
This also helps you make course corrections on your food intake or exercise without giving up in defeat if you miss a workout or eat too much.
The biggest mistake in starting your fitness program
One of the biggest mistakes beginners, and sometimes seasoned athletes, make is overextending themselves and exceeding their body’s personal work capacity (i.e., what it is in shape for handling). This quickly sets the individual up for injuries.
To avoid this, you should:
- Understand your limitations: Don’t force your body into anything it can’t or shouldn’t be doing.
- Gradually build up your workouts: Doing too much too soon is a recipe for failure.
- Avoid overtraining: More isn’t always better. Gradually build up distance, time, or intensity and always allow adequate recovery between workouts. Joe says a heart rate monitor can be a great tool for logging your workouts and monitoring recovery.
Joe’s fitness story
Joe understands hardship after growing up in a neighborhood that faced many challenges, raised by a mother who suffered from overweight and diabetes and had to work three jobs to support Joe and his brothers. Before Joe was 25, his parents and grandparents had all passed away.
It was a hard, unforgiving life, but it gave him immense capacity to empathize with the challenges – big or small – faced by his clients and an intense desire to improve the lives of others. It was the fodder that drove Joe to better both himself and the lives of others.
Joe’s mother was big on reaching out a helping hand and told him, “I’ve given you all the tools you need to succeed, now go out and use them.”
And so he did. It was hard, but he learned the art of persistence. He made the leap from being a struggling student to graduating with honors from college, where he pursued his lifelong interest in human movement.
Seeing his mom suffer all her life, he wanted to help promote a better way to live. “If you feel good, you can do more emotionally, physically, and spiritually,” he explains.
Joe got rejected from several baseball teams before being recruited by Waubonsee Community College (Greater Chicago, Illinois, USA) as a pitcher.
There he was voted the top male athlete, inducted into their hall of fame, and led the nation in strikeouts with fastballs that topped 90 mph. He went on to play for Upper Iowa University (Northeast Iowa, USA), where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology.
Undaunted by having his baseball dreams crushed, Joe used his education and baseball training to continue his mother’s legacy. He assists others through his work and through his community outreach, helping teens find their way in the world, focused on providing them with the tools they need to succeed in life, not just athletics.
His advice for aspiring athletes has always been, “You’re going to be a human being far longer than an athlete, so you need to learn how to be part of a team rather than how to be your own superstar.”
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.