The fact that someone is starting their journey through health and fitness itself is a step in the right direction. It can be scary, yet rewarding at the same time. The old saying “if it were easy, everyone would do it” applies to the situation. If becoming strong and healthy were easy or came in a pill, the US wouldn’t be flooded with a population that is overweight and obese. Starting a workout program can be overwhelming and confusing. More times than not, the same feelings of uncertainty come across beginners who are in a quest to better themselves. They are diving into the dark ocean unsure of what lies ahead and where to start. For this reason, many mistakes are made. But fear not, what you’re about to read will help keep you from the pitfalls that many find themselves in when starting out.
1) MORE is NOT better.
Many beginners have it set in their mind that more of everything in life is better. Unfortunately, with exercise this isn’t the case. More sets, more cardio, and more time spent in the gym all might sound like things that will help you reach your fitness goals, but that’s not necessarily the case. There’s actually a thing called overtraining. This can lead to injuries that can set you back in your health and fitness goals by keeping you on the sideline while you heal up and recover. When you’re just starting out, your body will respond to just about any stimulus you put it through, even though it might take some time for your body to understand what you’re trying to make it do (more on this in another section). Don’t spend more than 45 minutes in the gym per session. Your goal is to get in, do your workout, and leave. First thing you need to do is check with your doctor to ensure it is safe for you to begin an exercise program. After the doctor gives you the thumbs up, it’s time to get to work. Begin with 1-2 exercises per body part and do 10-12 reps for each exercise. To start out stick with 1-2 sets per body part and work your way up as you get stronger. For cardio, start at whatever fitness level you’re currently at. So if you can only do 10 minutes of cardio that’s fine. Start there and slowly add minutes as you feel comfortable in challenging yourself, but don’t overdo it.
2) Don’t focus solely on cardio, weight training is necessary.
Many beginners have the mindset that if they need to lose weight cardio is the way to go. Sure, cardio is important, but we can’t negate the fact that muscle burns calories. Don’t worry ladies, weight training won’t make you look like Arnold, but it will make you look toned and lean. Cardio burns calories and so does weight training. More times than not (depending on that kind of cardio you’re doing and the duration), cardio generally burns more calories than weight training. So by doing cardio and weight training you get the best of both worlds during your training session. You’ll find that the combination of weight training and cardio will help you do normal daily activities much easier than before you began exercising. While a pound of muscle and a pound of fat are equally one pound, putting each respectively next to each other you’ll find that muscle is much more compact and dense when compared to fat causing it to appear to be smaller in size.
3) Not seeing results? Don’t throw in the towel.
Giving up exercise due to not seeing results quick enough is fairly common. What many people don’t understand is that it could take up to 2-3 months for your body to understand what you’re trying to do and accomplish. Many people end up giving up around the 4-6 week mark if they aren’t seeing any changes in their body. The fact is your body wants to stay in equilibrium and not change. To put it blunt, it’s stubborn. It wants to stay in its current form and when you try and lose weight it doesn’t want to. Going into a caloric deficit causes your body to think that you’re in starvation mode so to protect and preserve itself, it holds on to just about every calorie you put in your body. Eventually your body will get the memo and respond to what you’re doing in the gym once it understands it can live with what you are putting it through. Your body is a high-tech computer, but sometimes it just takes some new software and a little patience to make it run better.
4) Don’t worry about what the scale says.
We’ve all been there at some point in our life where you hop on the scale only to be disappointed that after hours in the gym, multiple times a week, for several weeks has left you at the same number displayed from when you started. The thought of throwing the scale through the closest window comes to mind. Don’t worry about that number. After all, it’s just a number. There are several factors that come into play with your overall weight—lean muscle mass, water weight, body fat, etc. After a month you could have dropped body fat and gained a little lean mass making the number on the scale a wash but you wouldn’t know that without getting your body fat tested. An easy way to determine if you’re in the right direction is by looking in the mirror and by noticing how your clothing fits. Maybe it’s a little looser saying you lost some body fat, or maybe you notice the sleeves on your shirt getting tighter showing you’re adding some muscle to your arms. Overall, the scale is a terrible gauge for measuring your progress.
5) Leave your ego at the door.
You walk into the gym ready to show everyone that you mean business by throwing some heavy weight around to impress everyone. Bad news is you’re throwing your whole body into every repetition just trying to get it up by any means necessary. Little do you know, you’re taking most of the weight off the primary muscle you’re trying to work by engaging several others just to get some momentum to move the weight. Terrible idea! You went to the gym to work a specific body part, right? Check your ego at the door. If you can’t handle a weight with good form, lower it down until you can do your working set with good strict form. Time under tension is key and you really want to feel the muscle working with each repetition. Compete against yourself, not someone else.
6) Set measureable and attainable goals so you can track your progress.
When you go out to reach your goals you need to have a plan in place. That plan must have goals that are measureable and attainable. If you’re out to lose weight, realistically you can lose 1-2 pounds a week (healthily). So use a monthly weight loss goal of 4-8 pounds, with each week being able to check your weight and body fat to ensure you’re on track. Simply saying you want to lose weight isn’t good enough as you have no point of reference. Likewise, if you say you want to lose 20 pounds in a month, that goal is not attainable by going about it in a healthy way and you’re setting yourself up for failure.
7) Changing your nutrition is key, but don’t quit cold turkey.
The easiest way to explain this is an example of a smoker. Most of the time when a smoker quits cold turkey they go through withdrawals and many time end up with a cigarette in their mouth because the cravings are so intense. Same applies with cleaning up your nutrition. Taking out the bad things you are used to eating all at once will have you stalking the fridge like a lion stalking a gazelle. You don’t want that. Take a couple things out of at a time to clean things up. Once you get through a few weeks without those food items, remove another couple bad food choices from what you eat. It’s a gradual process that will help you during the long haul of changing your life and eating habits. After some time, you won’t even miss those foods anymore. Stick with it and you’ll be on your way to hitting your goals.
8) Don’t guess. Learn how to use equipment and free weights.
You’ve all seen it before, the dude at the gym who’s trying to do an exercise but instead looks like he’s doing dance moves from Saturday Night Fever. Don’t be that dude. Make sure you have a good understanding of how to use the machines found in the gym as well as how to perform free weight exercises with proper form. If you aren’t sure if you’re performing an exercise right or have a piece of equipment set up correctly, ask a trainer for help. By not doing an exercise properly or by not having a machine set to your specifications, you could injure yourself. Not sure, ask. It won’t be the first time a trainer has been asked how to do/use something in the gym. Stay safe in the gym not only for yourself, but those around you.
9) Skipping a warm-up/cool-down will have you jumping right into an injury.
It’s negative five degrees outside and you rush out to your car because you’re late for work. You start the engine and take off before even allowing your engine to warm up and to allow the oil to liquefy from the frozen temperatures. You could potentially do some serious damage to your car by doing such a thing. Your body is the same way. You want to warm up your muscles by doing a light warm up on a piece of cardio equipment before each workout otherwise you run the risk of injury. It can be as little as 5-10 minutes, but it’s important to not skip it so that your muscles are ready for the work you’re about to put them through. Likewise, when you are done with your workout, to help flush out the lactic acid that built up during your workout, again do 5-10 minutes of light cardio to flush the lactic acid out of your muscles.
10) Supplements are just that… SUPPLEMENTS. But some are advantageous.
You see the advertisements on television and all those advertisements in the health and fitness magazines that say how great a product is and that the results you get from just that bottle will be life-changing. The only thing that will be changing is the amount of money in your wallet by thinking a bottle alone will whip you into shape. There are a few products that can certainly help beginners and those would be a whey protein as well as a good multivitamin. Whey protein can be used post workout and pretty much any time you need to increase your protein requirements for the day while a multivitamin fills in the gaps in our nutrition to allow us to take in the micronutrients we are missing in our diets. Let’s not forget that whole foods should make up the bulk of your nutritional intake for the day. Supplements are just that—supplements to whole foods, not a replacement. When looking for supplements, use a brand you can trust and is reputable. Don’t be thrown off by outlandish claims and overhyped advertisements promising you everything you ever desired. You’ll only get frustrated and will find your wallet is much lighter.
11) Just because Mr. Olympia does it doesn’t make it right.
Fitness and bodybuilding magazines are great, but they can also be deceiving. Many of them feature professional bodybuilders who give their tips and workouts to help you achieve your goals. Unfortunately, some of the workouts you’ll read aren’t what you should be following. 25 sets of chest for one workout and 20 sets for biceps simply aren’t for a beginner, or even wise for a notice fitness enthusiast. Many of the workouts are filled with an abundance of sets when the volume needed for a beginner is much less in order to see good results. It’s great to utilize some of the exercises you see in the magazines to freshen things up and change up exercises/movements but don’t take what you see in many of those workouts as gospel on what you need to be doing in order to reach your fitness goals.
12) Not asking for help will only set you up for disappointment.
On top of learning how to use the equipment in the gym and using proper form, you’re only wasting your time if you have no idea where to start. Going through the motions without a purpose is just that, going through the motions. Don’t do that to yourself. If you need help and don’t know where to start or even how to break through a plateau, ask or hire a trainer. Use their expertise to help you gain the knowledge you need to take your health and fitness to the next level. You don’t have to work with a trainer all the time unless you want to be pushed by someone and have someone lead your through workouts, but in the same sense it’s great to learn and gain knowledge so you can apply it to your workouts in the gym. Pick up a book and start reading about exercise, muscles, how they work, nutrition, etc. and you will be fascinated at how amazing your body is and what it is capable of. You’ll gain a greater appreciation to the time you put in at the gym once you have a better understanding of how the body works and what you should be seeing/feeling with each repetition. If you simply don’t care about learning, that’s your decision, but it is wise to still ask for help if you aren’t sure about something in the gym not only for your safety, but also those around you.
13) Change your routine like you change your underwear.
Many beginners go through the same workouts week after week because it’s all they know how to do. They were shown a certain number of exercises when they signed up at the gym and from there they are left on their own unless they hire a trainer to change up their workout if they themselves don’t have the knowledge of how to create workout programs to fit their needs. The last thing you want to do is turn your workouts into a scene from the movie Groundhogs Day. Every week you do the same workouts religiously as if they are a part of your weekly chores. Quit boring yourself. Change it up and keep it fresh. Change up the days you work certain body parts, change up the exercises you do for body parts, maybe even change up what gym you go to every once in a while for a change of scenery. Bottom line is, don’t get too comfortable doing the same things all the time. Change it up, keep it fresh, and keep your muscle guessing on what you’re going to put it through. Not only with a fresh workout help you mentally in the gym by creating some excitement, but it will also create better results from each workout.
14) Post workout nutrition is just as important as what you just did in the gym.
Each day in the gym you go through workouts that break down muscle fibers. To help build those fibers back up not only do you need to rest them to help them recover, but you also need the right post workout nutrition to help kick start the recovery process. Many beginners don’t understand this process so they don’t think of what needs to take place when their workouts are over. Many leave the gym and go on with their daily activities. Post workout nutrition should not be neglected. While a whole food meal should also take precedence to a supplement, having a protein shake post workout is ideal. Your body can break down and utilize a liquid protein source much faster than it can break down a whole food source such as chicken or steak. For that reason, a protein powder fits the bill. Whey protein is an inexpensive protein source that is of high quality to help your body get the nutrients it needs to recover and build the lean muscle mass you desire. Make sure you drink a protein shake within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. There is a window of opportunity where your body can quickly absorb and utilize the nutrients and flood the muscles to help the recovery process.
Author: Matt Weik
Follow Matt on Twitter @weikfitness
If you'd like to start your fitness journey but need some guidance, please email Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org