It can be daunting to be a beginner at anything. A new sport, a new language, or a new job. It’s always hard to overcome the anxiety of not being good enough.
When it comes to fitness, the stress is often compounded since one’s feeling of competency in the gym is closely tied to one’s body image and feeling of attractiveness. If you mess up, not only are you too dumb or ignorant to exercise or diet right — you probably look like crap as well, and you should be ashamed.
It’s very easy to get discouraged, especially when the field is so confusing. There are countless gurus shouting at the top of their lungs about how *this* diet is awful or *that* exercise is the best for [insert muscle X here]. Fitness is a field characterized by a lot of dogma, emotion, and appeals to popularity. The professionals who keep a level head and use evidence and critical thinking to arrive at their conclusions are, sadly, few and far between.
But I want to assure you that you’re not without hope. Furthermore, if you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t beat yourself up because you don’t look as good as you’d like *right this second.*
It takes time. It takes patience. And it takes the willingness to accept that everyone — yes, even you — will make mistakes. We all do.
With this in mind, I wanted to give a few quick guidelines that might help those out there who are new to exercise. These are some things to keep in mind that will hopefully help you to navigate the waters:
1) First off, get to the gym. Seriously. JUST GET THERE! While there isn’t a ton of research on the how structured gym-based programs perform against home-based programs, studies like this one have suggested that beginners who engage in a regular, supervised exercise routine may have better adherence earlier on (within the first few months) and improved outcomes in the long run. That doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at home, of course (I’d never discourage someone from making the best of wherever they are). But if you’re struggling with motivation and the desire to exercise, I feel that putting yourself in an environment that promotes exercise (including being surrounded by others who are also improving their health) might give you the boost you need.
2) Don’t be afraid of not knowing everything! Everyone who works in fitness or who seems like an “expert” now started off not knowing anything. We all have to begin somewhere. If this is your first foray into the realm of exercise, rest easy in the knowledge that you can learn a lot in a relatively short time. Treat each day as a learning opportunity, and maybe you’ll actually look forward to your time breaking a sweat. This is especially true if you can get help from a properly qualified trainer (note a previous piece of mine describing what I think makes a trainer qualified). While trying to learn everything right at the beginning can be overwhelming — and frankly isn’t practical — you can certainly focus on taking a bite out of the task every day. Whether it’s learning about a new muscle, practicing appropriate technique for a particular exercise, or just learning how to change the seat adjustment on a machine; you can always learn something!
3) Ask questions. Relating back to #2 — it’s often impossible to improve if you “don’t know what you don’t know.” Because of this, I encourage you to seek out advice from people who can help. NOTE — This doesn’t mean asking just anyone on the street. It’s important to choose your experts wisely, as some only give an appearance of knowledge without having much substance to back up their words. Experienced trainers who have a handle on the science, researchers/educators in the field, and well meaning writers and budding scholars like yours truly might be a better place to get some of those nagging questions answered than the fellow in the corner who has a nice body but only does the same three exercises every day. If you happen to have access to a place like MY FACEBOOK PAGE (shameless plug — sue me), feel free to ask questions about different exercises, equipment, and other gym and exercise conundrums. I won’t bite, I promise!
4) The exercise you do should be about YOU. This means not necessarily following a program just because a friend or your favorite celebrity does it. Everybody is different, and every *body* is different. This means that your needs may not overlap with that of the next person. That’s okay! Even if everyone started with the same structure and physical capabilities, they wouldn’t have the same goals. Maybe you want to become an efficient runner so you can participate in a 5K or 10K in a few months. Maybe you want to be able to strengthen your upper body so house work doesn’t tax you so much. Or maybe you just want to be able to get out of a chair without needing to push off with your hands. Whatever your goal, what you do in the gym should reflect these goals. And as stated earlier, everyone’s structure and capabilities will be different. This means even if you start off doing the same thing as someone else, you’re likely going to progress differently. Some things might improve quickly while others take more time. Again, this is completely okay. It’s all about you.
5) Exercise is supposed to be good for you! If it hurts, DON’T DO IT! Now don’t get me wrong — any exercise that challenges you is likely to introduce some degree of discomfort. This is normal and generally necessary to some degree if we want to get the body to adapt. However, sharp pains or dull aches that feel different from the burn of muscular effort are probably signs that something is amiss. It may be an injury brewing, or it may just be some sort of stimulus that your body is perceiving as a threat that your brain simply interprets as pain. Either way, you should probably stay away from it. I can say with confidence that if one movement hurts, there’s almost definitely another, less painful (and less potentially harmful) way to challenge those muscles or movements. The specifics of this could fill a book or six, but suffice it to say that there are *always* options. I explore some of them on my YouTube channel HERE.
6) Remember that the trainer works for you. If you sign on with a personal trainer to get started, realize that they’re not all created equal. Unfortunate as it is, some just don’t do a very good job of personalizing plans to their clients and accommodating their diverse, individual needs. Trainer personalities also come in as many flavors as anyone else, so realize that even the most competent trainer might not be the right fit for everybody for that reason. The “right” one for you should have a solid working knowledge of body mechanics, physiology, and other technical aspects of exercise while at the same time knowing how to speak to you like a human being and make you feel as though he/she cares. Empathy is incredibly important, so I can’t stress it enough. If you end up with a trainer who makes you feel unsafe or gives you a feeling that they just don’t care, don’t be afraid to give them the boot. You’re paying for someone competent. Be your own biggest advocate!
So while I could certainly unpack and dedicate a novel to each of these bullet points, hopefully this gives a little bit of perspective on starting out. They’re all good things to keep in mind as you begin your fitness journey, and I think you’ll find each one to make more and more sense as you gain experience with the process. So don’t be afraid to get up and make a change. Do it for your health.
Take the leap!