Disclaimer: I am not a personal trainer or exercise science expert. Everything in this post is just my opinion or experience. More here
One of the challenges in life is starting something completely new.
How do you start working out? It can be pretty intimidating to start trying to get in shape when you aren’t sure where to begin.
But don’t fret. Everyone who exercises has been there at some point.
Even the Rock had to start at the beginning once. Probably.
I’ve been working out somewhat consistently since early 2016. It was difficult to get into at first, but now I hate to work out less than 6 days a week. So, here’s some tips for taking the initial leap into fitness.
Do your research
There are so many types of exercise out there now. How do you pick what to do?
Look up a few different places and types of fitness to help you narrow down exactly what is right for you.
Also, classes and gym memberships can get expensive.
Most gyms offer a free trial period, which seems to be a week on average. Other places like yoga and dance studios may offer a free class. Take advantage of these promotions and scout out a couple locations.
Chain gyms can vary at each location, so it helps to check out multiple. I had a friend who loved one type and hated another one within the same chain.
Ask for assistance
When I first started working out, I had a personal trainer. She was super helpful and taught me how to use machines and freeweights. She also helped me figure out what weights I should be starting at. That’s especially important for safety and progress.
At that point I was only going to the gym maybe three times a week, but it was a start. I used the really small weights because well, I was really small. Right now I think I could bench press my old-self. It was kind of hard for me to get into the flow of working out by myself because I felt self-conscious. Getting personal training helped because at least I knew I was exercising correctly.
Every personal trainer has a different style, so even if you don’t feel like you’re learning the right stuff, you can try working with someone different and that might just be a better fit.
Rope a friend into it
After I moved to SoCal for school, I made friends with a bunch of bikers and started working out with them. I had decided to try to be more confident in the new city, but I ended up just coming off as tough and tomboyish. So, going along with that persona I became really competitive and out-lifted all my girl friends (who didn’t know I was competing with them).
In the first few months of school, I was at the gym everyday or close to it for anywhere between 2-4 hours. It was intense. I was also doing figure skating, so on some days I was there once for my own workout and once for team workouts.
For the first year I continued going to the gym with someone, although I switched up who I brought with me. I feel more comfortable lifting heavy with a friend. They’ll provide encouragement and spotting.
When Evan started working out again after he stopped doing forced runs and hikes, he went with friends too. He got tips on form and better ways to lift from them.
So if you want to improve, have more fun, and feel more comfortable, bring a friend.
Determine your goals
It’s hard to work towards something if you don’t know what it is.
My goal at first was just to gain weight, look less like a twig, and just be in better shape. Once I became comfortable with weightlifting and got stronger, I wanted to lift as much as my guy friends and gain more stamina. In an attempt to reach those goals I worked out much more frequently, lifted heavier with fewer reps, and ran.
At some point I switched to wanting to bulk. I continued lifting heavy, but dropped the running completely. I’m currently just trying to lift as much as I can and increase muscle definition. Sometime in the future Evan and I will cut, which means our diet will change and we’ll probably have to do the dreaded cardio.
So, figuring out your goals will help you figure out your workout. For instance, if you want to be more muscular, then a mix of cardio and weightlifting can help increase muscle and decrease fat.
Get into a routine
Evan and I are all about routines. We know a large percentage of what we’re going to do each day. The gym is one of those routines. Everyday except Saturday we go to the gym and follow a set workout plan. If one or both of us miss a day, we’re going to guilt trip about it.
It is much easier to keep working out when you have time set aside for it regularly. It also helps to have a routine once you’re there because your time is spent more efficiently and you feel more confident knowing what you’re going to do next.
Change it up
Contrary to my last point, changing your workout and routines can help you get out of a plateau or just plain boredom. I don’t mean anything drastic like going from yoga to fencing, unless that is something you really want to do, in which case go you! But it can be something smaller like adding HIIT one day a week.
For our routine, we do a different muscle group each day, using the same workouts each week. After 6 weeks we change the exercises. We currently use an app called Jefit to plan out our workouts, which brings me to my next topic.
The benefits of logging workouts are twofold.
First, you’re organized and ready for each day of gymming.
Second, you can see the progress you’ve made.
It really makes it easy to go from one station to another and to pick the right weight if you have a plan and know what you did last time. You’ll be able to lift heavier weights sooner if you’re consistently paying attention to how much you lift rather than guessing and accidentally going down in weight.
We create workouts on the Jefit app and log in the weights we use for each exercise. It’s pretty easy to use although there have been a few annoying glitches since the most recent update. It’s much quicker to use than just taking workout notes on your phone or in a notebook. This also helps because you can see exercise history, which shows how much weight and reps have changed over time. I find it motivating to be able to see how much stronger I’ve become.
This is a screenshot of my hacksquat history. You can see I’ve gone up 40 pounds in just over a month. Before I started logging workouts I’d sometimes feel discouraged because I forgot where I started and felt like I’d been using the same weight forever. I wish I had started logging them earlier because I still don’t remember exactly how much weight I was using in the beginning.
Take progress photos
This is another part of being able to visualize your progress. Even if you’re uncomfortable with how you look right now, eventually you’ll start seeing small changes after working out. I like comparing photos from when I was primarily doing cardio to now when I’m just doing weights.
It takes time to see major changes, but it’s validating once they’re there. If you feel like you haven’t made progress, they can help show you how far you’ve come since the beginning of your exercise journey.
Below is a photo taken in 2016 (left) compared to a photo taken today (right). If I’m not flexing I still look pretty thin, so progress photos is one of the only ways I can actually see progress.
These are just a few things that have helped me and other people I’ve talked to. If it still seems intimidating, just start with one step and see how it works for you. Feel free to share other things that have helped you get into gymming.
Featured photo credit to Kelley Williams Photography. https://www.kelleywphotos.com/