Top 3 Things For Fitness Newbies To Remember

We all know that fitness newbies arrive in droves at the gym in January, eager to try out new fitness routines in order to finally get into shape. This is the year. This is always the year.

But then like clockwork, unfortunately many of these people don’t stick with their new plans beyond the first month or two.

Why does this happen? Why does everyone disappear from the gym in February when they were all so gung-ho on the healthy train just a few weeks ago?

There are many reasons why this might happen, but often it’s because of the simple fact that sticking with a new fitness routine is hard, and without the right support and expectations it can be a heck of a lot easier to just not do anything at all. However, if gym-newbies try to remember a few key things, staying consistent with their new healthy routine might be that much easier.

Heck, if everyone remembers these three important things, the gym might just be a happier and healthier place overall.

1. Everyone Started Somewhere. This is the most important thing to remember when first starting out at a gym. Everyone, even the fitness freak doing handstand pushups in the corner, and the gym-bro bench pressing 350 pounds. Yes, there was a time when he bench pressed for his very first time, and guess what, his numbers probably weren’t that impressive. The girl with the six pack abs, full make up and perfectly done hair? Well, she was also the new girl at one point, and she probably had her fair share of sweaty, red-faced days in which she didn’t look quite so perfect or effortless. (Let’s save the full makeup/hair debate for another post).

It can be really easy to get intimidated by people at the gym who look like they think they know everything about fitness (they don’t), or look like they’ve been working out every day for years. It can be really intimidating to see people who know the personal training staff all by name, and who seem to be the “cool kids” at the gym. But honestly, there are no cool kids. Everyone is there working toward their own goals, and if someone goes out of their way to make you feel like you’re not a cool kid, then you have full permission to not so subtly remind them that they, too, started out as the “newbie” at one time.

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This guy thinks he knows a lot about fitness. Trust me, he doesn’t. 

2. You don’t have to “kill yourself” every time. I would say the biggest reason most fitness programs fail is because people tend to go way too hard, way too soon. People who start fitness programs generally want to see results fast, and they think that the key to that is absolutely demolishing themselves during every session. We are a society of instant gratification —  we want what we want, and we wanted it five minutes ago. People want to see physical change from their fitness routine right away, even though that attitude is only going to lead to disappointment in the gym, where change takes time and a whole lot of patience.

“Go hard or go home” does not apply to every person during every workout. Do you want to push yourself so that your body adapts to new demands and becomes stronger and faster? Of course. Do you want to end up a non-functional pile of sweaty goo at the end of every workout? No, that is not necessary, and in fact is (or should be) discouraged. In fact, if you are working with a trainer who won’t let you leave the gym unless you’ve reached muscle failure during every single workout, your main concern should be finding yourself a new trainer.

Going too hard all the time can lead to injury, especially in those who are just starting out with a new program. And even for those who manage to avoid injury, this “go hard” mentality can very easily cause you to burn out and stop working out all together. So what can you do instead of going 100% hard, 100% of the time? Work with a trainer who understands your goals and who understand the necessary steps to get you there. Follow a program that helps you to see progress and reach goals, without unnecessary pain, sheer exhaustion, or overwhelming soreness. This is the type of program you can stick with, and this is the type of plan that your body will respond to in the long run.

What good is a workout plan that is just too much for your body to handle, causing you to give up after just a few short weeks?

3. You can’t out train a bad diet. I won’t go for the cliche “Abs are made in the kitchen” here, because I do believe that it takes a careful combination of both diet and exercise to reach body composition goals. That being said, it is not possible to out train a bad diet, and what you put into your body will absolutely be reflected in your results.

How many times have you heard of people who put in a great work out, and then go home and over eat because they “earned it”? Listen, I’m all about indulging sometimes, and I’m a huge supporter of “everything in moderation”. But if you are seriously trying to lose body fat or otherwise improve your body composition, your diet needs to play a primary role in achieving your goal.

Fat loss is much more complicated than just calories in, calories out, but the honest truth is that to lose fat, their must be an energy deficit. There must be, overall, less calories consumed than expended. And once you really get down to it, calories are a heck of a lot easier to consume than they are to burn. That cookie from the bakery that you “earned”? That’s 300-500 calories that will take you about 2 minutes to eat, and there goes the caloric deficit that you’ve been working so hard for. Like I mentioned before, moderation is the key here, but losing body fat does require that this type of indulgence is kept in check the majority of the time.

And while we’re on the subject, this unfortunately goes for alcohol as well. Alcohol all but halts your fat loss, so indulging in adult beverages several times per week, while fun at the time, can keep your progress at a standstill at the very least.

4. Bonus. I know the title of the post said 3, but I’m going to give you a little gem of a bonus here. Never, ever, use the good girl/bad girl (hip adductor and abductor machines). Just don’t.

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Readers: What do you remember most about when you first started going to the gym? What would be your top piece of advice for gym newbies? 

Advice For January Gym Joiners

Since I work out in the gym of the college that I work at, I’m just starting to see the January Joiners (resolutioners, if you will) this week. The students just got back to campus, which means that our gym now has the influx of New Year fitness buffs that many of you have already been seeing for the past couple of weeks.

As I was looking around during my lift yesterday, I saw a handful of people who came in, looked around with a puzzled (and terrified) look on their faces, and then proceeded to just stand there with that same look for at least 10 minutes before doing anything.

I get it. The gym can be a very scary place if you’re not used to going, especially if it’s a new gym that you’ve never been to before. But my gym is about as un-intimidating as gyms can be; it’s fairly small, it’s almost all students, and the weight room is very separate from the main fitness floor. But still, people stand there amidst a sea of treadmills, ellipticals, and Life Fitness machines, without the faintest clue where to begin.

As someone who has gone through this gym-paralysis before, back when I was in college, there are five main pieces of advice I can give to these people to help make the experience a little bit more terrifying, and a little more enjoyable.

1. Just try something. If it’s your first day in a gym in months, years, or ever, start out small and do more as you become more comfortable. Maybe that means today you just walk on the treadmill or ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes. That’s ok, that’s something. Doing something easy is better than just standing there, and it will help make you feel a little bit more comfortable in this foreign space, I promise.

2. Don’t be afraid to walk around and look at things. In other words, don’t just stand there. If you’re not familiar with your gym, how are you going to know what your options are if you don’t walk around and look at things? It’s easy to walk in and hop on the first piece of cardio equipment that you see, but it’s also easy to take 5-10 minutes to walk around to get yourself oriented. No one’s going to look at you strange for doing this either. Trust me, most people at the gym are far more interested in what they are doing than what you are doing.

3. Take it slow. As with big changes in diet, big changes in your fitness routine (like working out for the first time… ever), should be made with baby steps. If you throw yourself into a super intense circuit training on your very first day there, not only do you run the risk of hurting yourself (or someone else, God forbid), but you also run a huge risk of burning out way too soon. Start easy, and go from there. Like I mentioned above, pick something that you know you can do — riding a stationary bike — and then build on it. Maybe do some planks and some body weight squats and lunges. It’s better than nothing, and it’s a good way to get your body moving after not doing so for some time.

4. Talk to an experienced professional. I kind of think this goes without saying, but if you walk into the gym and truly have no idea what to do with yourself, your best bet is probably to spend at least one session with a personal trainer.  At the very least, they will be able to show you the different equipment that the gym offers, and help you with your form on some basic exercises. Use this time well, and don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. It is their job to help you on your fitness journey, and trust me, you are not the first person they’ve seen who has no idea what they’re doing.

5. Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t do. A lot of people stay away from the gym because they’re petrified of all of the scary looking equipment, both in and out of the weight room. Sure, you may not be able to squat like the guy in the power rack, but I’m sure that with some proper cues, you’ll be doing body weight squats like a pro in no time. This goes back to tip number 3 of taking it slow. Who cares if you have to start with body weight squats, stationary bike, and wall push ups? Everyone has a starting point, and the only way you’re going to get better is to recognize yours, and work your hardest to improve.

Jumping in over your head and getting frustrated because you can’t do a push up will not help you improve. Learning how to increase your strength gradually, working towards someday doing that first push up is what it’s all about. Focusing on the negative only reinforces the belief that you aren’t good enough, which is probably what kept you out of the gym in the first place. Instead, focus on what’s getting better — maybe your body weight squat suddenly feels too easy and you can add in some dumbbell weight — now that’s progress!

Just remember, your experience is yours and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be doing or how fast you should be doing it. Sure, let a personal trainer push you a little bit, but don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be doing this weight lifting program or that running program. The important thing, when starting a new fitness regimen, is just sticking with it. Consistency is key, and hopefully after a little while you’ll actually start to enjoy yourself.

Readers: What is your biggest piece of advice for gym newbies? What scared you the most when you first started going to the gym?

A Change In Perspective

I’ve noticed something lately.

I see so many people on Facebook complaining about having to drag themselves to the gym, having tricks to force themselves to “just make it there”, and commenting on how little motivation they have to get up and do anything. It seems strange to me, because I truly, honestly look forward to my gym time.

I’m not pretending that I’ve never lost motivation, or that I’ve never complained about going to work out, because I have. But not for a long, long time.

Not since I started working out in a way that I really love.

Back in the day, when I used to go to the gym, hop on the treadmill and run 3 miles, and then maybe go do some sort of nonsensical “ab routine”, I hated it. I would complain all the time. The treadmill? Absolute torture. And then I started running outside, and guess what? I kept on complaining. I hated every second of it.

Once I started lifting though, everything changed. And then a few years ago, when I started lifting heavy things, everything changed all over again. I was no longer going to the gym to drone on the elliptical or stare at a TV screen while pounding the belt on the treadmill. I was going to the gym with a purpose, with goals, with a routine that was making me happy and giving me results.

And I’m not saying that heavy lifting is the answer for all of those people out there who have little motivation to work out (although I wish that were the case). I’m just saying that at some point I had a shift in perspective, and started treating my workouts as stepping stones to bigger goals, instead of just ways to burn off that bread bowl from the day before. And maybe that is the answer.

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When I used to ride along on the elliptical or treadmill, there were no real goals and there was never really a sense of accomplishment, besides the one (yes, one) time I ran 7 miles. The most exciting thing for me would be watching the number on the calorie tracker go up as I went along. Never mind that those calorie trackers on the machines are far from accurate anyway. If your biggest concern while working out is how many calories you’ve burned while watching The View, what are the chances you’re actually making any progress?

So back to this change in perspective. When I first started lifting, I finally realized that there was a form of working out that I enjoyed and that could make me feel good. Running felt like torture. Lifting, although difficult, felt amazing. And by amazing, I mean equal parts challenging and agonizing — but in a way that feels like I’m accomplshing something great. While I realize, unfortunately, that lifting does not feel so amazing to everyone, doing something to get that feeling is what it’s all about, No?

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most people that share those types of complaints are those who are spending countless hours on cardio machines. Maybe it’s unrelated, but of all of the lifters I know, they’re generally NOT complaining about having to work out.

It’s usually more of an “F Yeah! It’s Deadlift Day!” type of mentality.

Maybe everyone doesn’t need to dive head first into the weight room and set up camp in a squat rack, but there is something to be said about finding something that gives you that “F YEAH!!” feeling.

If you’ve been parking your ass on an elliptical for the past 2 years, have seen little progress, and have hated every second of it, what makes you think your perspective is going to change and that you’re all of a sudden going to love it? (Or that you’ll magically start to make any progress, but that’s a different story).

Of course you don’t have to change what you’re doing in the gym, but if your first thought of every day is something along the lines of “Ugh, I Have to go to the gym today. Gloomy mopey mopey dread“, than it seems silly not to. I swear there’s a saying about that sort of thing…

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Find something that you love. Something that makes you feel empowered, strong, capable, and purposeful. Find something that you can put your heart into, strive for goals, and be proud of your progress. It doesn’t have to be heavy lifting of course, although if improving your strength and physique are among your goals, that seems like kind of a no brainer to me.  It could be yoga, it could be training for a half (or full) marathon, it could be martial arts, or something else entirely. I guess my (rather long winded) point is this:

Stop complaining. If you hate working out, you’re not doing it right. Find something that makes your life better, through both happiness and health. Find something that can help you shift your perspective from “Ugh, I have to go do this today” to “I can’t wait to see what kind of progress I can make today!”

Is there a type of workout that makes you feel amazing? Do you usually complain about working out or do you look forward to it? 

Motivation Monday: Let the gym be your refuge

You know that commercial where the husband and wife are going back and forth with ridiculous excuses about why they didn’t make it to the gym that day? For example:

Wife: “I forgot my ponytail holder”

or

Wife: “My mom called”

Husband: “Well there’s a day right there..”

As funny as that commercial is, how many times have we all done that? How many times have you missed a workout because you have too much going on, or you’re too stressed, or it’s just one more thing to add on to a to-do list THIS LONG? How many times have you skipped a workout because you don’t have a solid 90 minutes to dedicate to exercise, so you scrap the whole thing all together?

Stop that.

How about this? Instead of allowing the gym to be something else that you have to do, why not make it your escape from all of the other things that you have to do? Why not make it your refuge? All it takes is a little shift in thinking. Instead of saying to yourself “Ugh, I have to get to the gym”, try “I get to go to the gym today, that’s MY time to focus on me”.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of daily life and to forget that it’s imperative that you take time to take care of yourself. How can you take care of others if you are not at your best? We are reminded of this by the oh-so-lovely flight attendants every time we fly, after all. What is the #1 thing to remember in case of a loss of cabin pressure? Put on your own oxygen mask first.

It’s OK to be a little selfish sometimes.

I know that for me, my life gets more stressful when I can’t make it to the gym or get regular workouts in.  Time spent lifting, running stairs, sprinting, etc. is my time to not think about anything else but myself. How many times a day can you say that you feel that it’s acceptable to think only about yourself? How often do you allow yourself to not worry about doing things for other people?   For me, gym time is one of the only parts of my day where I can be completely selfish.

I work in a profession that is inherently selfless and involves taking care of others constantly.  But I am very well aware that if I’m not at my best, both mentally and physically, I’m not able to give the best to my patients. Even if you don’t work in a job that involves taking care of others, you are still doing things for other people all day at work. If you are a stay at home mom, you are most certainly doing things for other people all day long. If you have a family and you have a job, you’re essentially doing things for other people a good 17 hours per day.

So when can it be YOUR turn?

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Right Now.

Let the gym be your escape. Let your workout be a privilege in your day, not a chore. Even if you can’t get to the gym, take 20 minutes and do a quick Tabata or body weight circuit at home.

Take care of you, and the taking care of others will only get easier.