Fitness Programs That Fit (cont.)

First step, tune in to your body. "When somebody is starting a new program, whether it's for the first time or if they're returning after a long absence, they need to understand their own fitness level. It's imperative for people to know themselves," Fichera tells WebMD.

Men over age 40, and women over 45, should see a doctor first if they have been inactive, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. If you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes or asthma, be sure your doctors knows. If you're younger, see a trainer who knows about fitness evaluation, says Fichera.

"Exercise heart rate" -- how well your heart responds during exercise -- is the gold standard test in evaluating fitness level, he says. "You may be surprised. A 50-year-old may find out he's healthier than some 20-year-olds."

There's no getting around it: Walking and running keep your heart healthy and burn lots of calories. A few sessions each week remain the cornerstone for any fitness program.

Pedometers are great for charting a walking workout. Heart rate monitors will help you track your exercise intensity and help you improve your fitness program's efficiency. "I highly recommend them, especially if you're out of shape," Fichera tells WebMD. "You'll know when to ease up intensity, especially during hot weather. Like power outages more likely to happen in hot weather, so is heat stroke."

But strength training helps burn fat and build stronger bones, says Fichera. "Aerobics only keeps metabolic rate up during the aerobic activity. Afterward, your metabolic rate immediately starts to plummet. When there is more muscle density on the body, then metabolic rate stays elevated all the time."

Translation: If you have more muscle, your body will burn more calories when you're not exercising -- when you're just sitting at work, for example.

Calisthenics such as push-ups or sit-ups qualify as strength training -- although very difficult for some, he says.


"If you have more muscle, your body will burn more calories when you're not exercising."

Those stretchy "resistance tubes" are "very worthwhile," says Florez. "We use them in all our programs. When we first saw those 10 years ago, we thought it was a new gimmick. But those are now some of the most popular tools -- they're portable, and they take away any excuses. They're great for traveling, very portable."

Handheld weights are also popular. "But you must learn the correct techniques," Fichera tells WebMD. "I've seen people join clubs and waste time doing sets that don't accomplish anything. Learning correct techniques prevents injuries and generates results. It's paramount to getting results."

Also, you need to define your goals -- if you want a fitness program to simply burn fat or sculpt a hot body. To get results of any sort, it's important to understand technique, rather than just do multiple sets, he says. "I start clients with one basic exercise per major muscle group -- chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps -- one set for first week, then two."