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Improve your Health Today

Begin your journey of one thousand miles



John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-B | | Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lao Tzu's famous quote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," inspired this article. When I checked the wording on the Internet, I found one interpretation that made it even more pertinent: "Even the longest journey must begin where you stand."

In my opinion, this translation directly correlates to the excuses we all come up with to delay beginning an exercise program. The excuse I hear the most is, "I'm going to concentrate on my diet to lose a few pounds first, and then I'll start exercising."

This article will touch on everything I’ve covered in previous articles in order to develop a comprehensive fitness program that you can start—where you stand—today. Considering approximately 75% of all Americans are either completely sedentary or inadequately active, (not getting more than two days per week of physical activity), we’ll start with some lower intensity programs.(1) These are programs I’ve actually prescribed to individuals who just didn't know where to start. Remember, you should be aiming for about an hour of moderate-to-intense (and balanced) physical activity every day.

A beginner's program is appropriate for someone who hasn't exercised in more than a year and needs time for their body to adapt to a regular regimen of physical activity. Believe it or not, many EMTs fall into this category. The guidelines for improving health and fitness are general enough to allow for more than one approach to improving fitness. Some experts believe that gently strategizing the exercises sessions is effective, which means scheduling four exercise sessions a week. "Program A" is an example of a beginner’s exercise program of four sessions.

Program A
Mondays and Thursdays

  • Warm up for 10 minutes
  • Cardio training for 20 minutes
  • Strength training

Your strength training session should include these exercises: leg press, leg extension, leg curl, lat pull down, dumbbell bench press, bent-knee sit-ups and hyper extensions (i.e., "hypers").

Tuesdays and Fridays

  • Warm up for 10 minutes
  • Cardio training for 30 minutes
  • Cool down and stretch

Specific Guidelines
To begin each of the sessions listed above, it’s a good idea to warm up; don't dismiss it. You can walk, jog, or do jumping jacks. Warm-up activities include anything that increases body temperature for 10 minutes. To read more about the warm-up, click here.

Remember, it's important to cool down. End each and every session with a cool down followed by stretching. The intensity of the cardio session should be monitored by palpating heart rate. Keep your heart rate in the range we determined for you previously.

When you begin your strength training session, perform one set of each exercise. During the first week, take the time to really learn the movements. Do not complete each set to fatigue until the second or third week when the movements begin to feel more comfortable. However, beyond the third week, each set should be to muscular fatigue, or failure—until you can't continue the movement and complete these exercises in good form. Do eight to fifteen repetitions for each exercise, except for the sit-ups and the hyperextensions. Complete up to 30 repetitions for each of these. When 30 sit-ups can be done, hold a weight on your chest to increase intensity. When 30 "hypers" can be done, add weight in the same fashion. However, realize that the weight used for hypers will be significantly less than for sit-ups. When 15 reps can be completed for the other exercises, then increase the weight for the next workout.

When you're doing repetitions, remember you must be strict. A good repetition should take three seconds to raise the weight, two seconds to pause and four seconds to lower the weight. Also, you should increase resistance to the reps you complete on a regular basis. If you're not able to do so, let me know because this means it's time for a change. Finally, record your sessions' weight and reps in a journal so you can track your progress and make appropriate goals for your next session.

This program requires a commitment of four days a week. Some people, however, are more compliant with a six-days-per-week commitment. You may be more able to maintain the schedule every day during the work week and have time to exercise once during the weekend. Program B modifies the above program for three days a week of cardio and three days a week of strength training. This modification ensures an almost daily commitment to your program. The training schedule would look like this:

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays

  • Warm up for 10 minutes
  • Cardio for 20 minutes
  • Strength training

Your strength training session should include all of these exercises mentioned previously: leg press, leg extension, leg curl, lat pull down, dumbbell bench press, bent-knee sit-ups and hyper extensions (i.e., hypers). As always, don’t forget to cool down and stretch.

Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

  • Warm up for 10 minutes
  • Cardio for 30 minutes
  • Cool down and stretch

If your journey of 1,000 miles hasn't started yet, then begin today with one of these programs!

1. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. Baltimore, M.D. 2009.

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Related Topics: Health And Safety, Provider Wellness and Safety


John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-Bis a professor of Applied Health Science at Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte. He’s an EMT with A-1 Ambulance in Butte, an ACSM certified preventive and rehabilitative exercise specialist and an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. Contact him at


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