So, you’re interested in working out but you’re not sure where to start or what to expect? No worries. There are a few things to do before hitting the gym and we have all the information you will need.
First of all, know you’re making a great decision to exercise your body. According to Health and Human Services and their Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should be moving as much as possible, some movement is better than none at all. HHS recommends 150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity for substantial health benefits (1).
The list of benefits of exercise is long and impressive. You will even notice mental health benefits within minutes, this is because physical activity releases dopamine which helps regulate mood. This means you can be happier after just one workout! Also, within weeks you can see improvement in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle fitness, and even weight loss (2,3).
Now let’s talk about how you can get started today. We have broken down 6 actionable steps to getting started with working out that will boost your confidence, give you motivation, and prepare you for your active lifestyle.
STEP 1: What is your “Why”?
With any life endeavor, it helps to have a reason before dedicating time and effort into something. Are you working out to get in shape? Lose weight? Build muscle? Help your mental health? These are all good reasons.
The answer will inform not only how much you exercise but how you do it.
STEP 2: Set a Goal
Similar to step one, it’s crucial to have something you are striving for. Realistic goals will help you focus on specific things instead of getting overwhelmed by all the exercise world has to offer. Additionally, your goal will help you focus on what you’re working for when things get tough. Tracking your progress toward your goal will also keep you motivated!
It can be helpful to use the S.M.A.R.T. principle to set your goal. S.M.A.R.T. was first used by George T. Doran in 1981 when he outlined the best way to write goals (4). It has since been used by the Cleveland Clinic and large studies to set and measure goals (5, 6).
As you can see, by using the S.M.A.R.T. method, your goal should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related. An effective example using this method is: I will be able to run a mile in under 10 minutes.
Your goal should excite you, motivate you, and provide a clear road map in your mind leading to your goal. Mastering the art of goal setting is great because goal-setting should never end! Exercise Physiologist Rebecca Kurtz says goal setting does a great job of motivating and inspiring new and veteran exercisers and athletes (7).
STEP 3: Have a Plan
Your goal will help lay out a structure of what you will need to do. There are a few things you will want to decide.
Where will you be working out?
Will you be joining a gym or working out at home? Harvard Health points out a gym is not needed for you to be successful and attain your goals. While it is true that your body is all the equipment you need, the gym does offer some advantages.
Gyms provide an extra incentive to work out with their monthly fee, and have classes and equipment you might not find otherwise (8). You should ask yourself: If you work out at home will you have the discipline to get it done?
How many days per week will you work out?
Your plan should include a clear schedule for how often and long you will exercise. Set an achievable number of days per week as a minimum and strive to pass that.
Not sure where to start? The American Heart Association recommends 75-150 minutes of cardiopulmonary exercise (cardio) and 2 strength training sessions per week(9). Again, something is better than nothing, and getting comfortable as a beginner is the first hurdle.
Don’t forget to pencil in time for recovery! Recovering is a critical part of a successful exercise regimen and proper recovery will lead to better and quicker results. Olympic runner Jared Ward shared his 5 tips for recovery including: Warm up properly, fuel within 30 minutes of exercise, take protein at night, get plenty of sleep, and be positive.
When will you check your progress?
Decide ahead of time when you will check-in with yourself and mark it on your calendar. Depending on the goal you are working toward, your check-in time will vary. If you are exercising for weight loss, studies have shown that weighing yourself more often correlates with more weight loss (10,11).
Alternatively, it might make sense for you to do a monthly check-in on your mile run time or another training-related goal. Many activities, such as lifting for a heavy 1 rep max, are not safe to do frequently.
STEP 4: Take Pictures
One way to measure your success is with progress photos. No matter your goal, whether it be weight loss or muscle growth, comparison photos give you a perspective that neither a scale or mirror can mimic.
Keep these photos for future use. They will give you a point of reference and tell your story of progress better than your memory alone.
STEP 5: Start Small
You don’t want to overwhelm or overwork yourself right off the bat. Start small, one step at a time. Many beginners make the mistake of going “too hard” and hurting themselves or exhausting themselves.
In the same vein, don’t compare your progress to others’. Everyone is on a different part of their journey and have different abilities. Your past self is your only competition!
At the beginning of your exercise journey, you can try a little bit of everything to figure out what you enjoy. Enjoying what you’re doing will be crucial to staying diligent with your workouts and remaining disciplined in going to the gym.
A beginner program at home might look like a walk followed by a short circuit of 3 sets of ten lunges, squats, and jumping jacks (12).
At the Gym
Just about anything you do at home can be done at the gym. Gyms will provide you with a variety of implements that you probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise. You can use cardio equipment such as an elliptical, stationary bike, or stair climber or use free weights and machines to do strength training with exercises such as bench press, squats, curls, rows, shoulder raises, and so much more. Starting with a low weight and doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps is a great starting place. If you are ever unsure how to do an exercise, ask an employee or even another gym-goer. Most people will be glad to offer help!
No matter what you’re doing, be sure you are warming up your body before starting and listening to your body as you work out. A cool down and recovery session will also help protect your body from injury, ease soreness, and stabilize your heart rate.
STEP 6: Healthy Changes/Habits
You won’t attain the results you are hoping for without properly caring for your body outside of the gym as well. Healthy diet, proper sleep, and effective recovery will impact your overall health in a positive way.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean adopting an extreme diet, but being conscious of the foods you put in your body is central to your overall well-being. There are fundamental healthy dietary practices everyone should follow including eating whole grains, a variety of vegetables, whole fruits, and limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugar, and sodium (13).
According to the CDC, adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours per sleep a night. If you are not getting enough quality sleep you can experience increases in weight, anxiety, and other negative health outcomes (14).
Though recovery practices may vary from person to person, the concept of recovery should be included in your plan to maximize muscle healing and growth. The Meteor aids in recovery, with vibrating and heating capabilities that can be used pre and post-workout to relieve pain and provide a soothing massage.
We All Start Somewhere
Starting regular exercise might seem intimidating and overwhelming, but you should remember we all start somewhere! Grab your water bottle, headphones, and workout plan and get moving! Put these steps into practice and you will be well on your way to success. Your body and mind will thank you for investing in your health.