Kudos! If you recently started your fitness journey, that's something worth celebrating. "Making the decision to work out for the first time is usually a more challenging hurdle to clear than any of the forthcoming workouts themselves," says Katelyn DiGiorgio, VP of Training and Technique with Pure Barre.
Still, chit-chatting with a fitness fanatic, scrolling through Instagram's fitness hashtags or even looking around your local gym is enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. How exactly do you get started? Is one type of exercise better than others? And how do you stay injury-free?
Don't worry. "No one gets into exercise knowing the answers to those questions or exactly what they are doing right away," DiGiorgio says. The good news? There are people whose job it is to help fitness rookies answer these questions: personal trainers. Below, a few of them share the tips they give their new clients — and wish they'd known back when they were beginners, too.
First, Learn Your Why
"Working out for the first time can cause doubts, worries and fears that you won't be able to 'keep up' or 'feel comfortable' to sink in. These negative thoughts are what limit so many people from exercising at all. The first step in quieting those voices is to find your why. Why are you starting this new chapter? Why now? What will you gain from this new commitment? Once you've got your why, you have your motivation."
Next, Find a Type of Exercise You Enjoy
"The motto I live and train by is: 'You can't get a body you love by doing things that you hate.' Pleasure is the only thing that will keep you coming back to any fitness or diet routine. Whatever you choose has to make you feel more alive and more grounded than you were before.
"This means carefully selecting new ways of moving your body specifically because they bring you joy. It can be a hike, a pole dancing class, a new puppy to walk, a couch to 5K, a yoga class or a photography project that gets you roaming through the city, the most important thing is that you are off your butt and moving consistently."
—Sarah Hays Coomer, certified personal trainer and author of Physical Disobedience: An Unruly Guide to Health and Stamina for the Modern Feminist
Then Find a Gym You Actually Like
"If you don't actually like your go-to gym or studio, chances are you are not going to continue going. As you are shopping for a gym ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the gym's hours? If you are a night owl or early bird person, make sure the gym is open when you'll be able to use it.
- Who is the gym catered towards? Is the gym full of bodybuilders and fitness models or does it have regular folks and people like you working out?
- What type of equipment? If you are hi-tech, you'll want a gym with the latest integrated equipment. If you are old school, older equipment will most likely be fine."
Test Out a Few Group Fitness Classes
"Group classes can be a great way to get started because they take out any guesswork. Instead of spending time researching how to utilize equipment, proper form, how many reps you should do, what weight you should use, etc... the instructor plans an experience that utilizes every minute and ensures you get a well-rounded workout.
"No two group fitness classes and studios are the same, so if you're someone who enjoys group fitness classes I recommend spending a week or two trying out a few different types of classes and types of exercise to learn what feels good in your body and makes you genuinely excited to show up a second time."
Leave Your Ego in the Parking Lot
"If you let go of your ego and embrace an open-minded mentality, your chances of getting through the workout and enjoying it will be much higher. Our ego interferes when it comes to how we think we should feel when we're working out or how we compare ourselves to others in the room.
"Don't let inner chatter get in the way. It's natural for feelings and emotions to arise when we're doing something new, whether it's physical or not, but if that chatter doesn't serve you in the moment, let it go. Before you know it, you won't have to constantly remind yourself of this, which will allow you to be your number one focus every workout!"
Stick to Your Plan to Prevent Injury
"One of the biggest problems people have starting a workout plan is trying to mimic an exercise they see someone at the gym doing and then they get injured. Injuries can destroy your momentum, so go at a pace that feels right for you, not what everyone else is doing. I learned this the hard way when starting out my workouts, but in retrospect I would have prevented some injuries if I had followed this advice."
Master Body-Weight Movements First
"The biggest mistake I made when I started lifting weights was that I jumped right into the most advanced variations of the exercises. I went straight to the barbell bench press, barbell squat clean and the deadlift. The problem? My form wasn't good and everything felt awkward and clumsy.
"So, instead what I recommend is starting with less technically complicated variations, first. For instance, instead of the bench press, start with a push-up (or knee push-ups). Instead of the barbell back squat, start with air squats and goblet squats. Instead of a barbell squat clean, do a med ball clean. Once you've mastered these with good form, then move onto more complex lifts and compound exercises."
Then Lift Weights (Yes, Even Heavy Weights!)
"There's a misconception that cardio, cardio and more cardio is the fast-track to meeting your fitness goals. But if your goal is to improve your body composition, you have to prioritize weight training! Weight training, done correctly, will increase the amount of muscle tissue you have, which in turn, will increase your metabolic rate (or help you burn more calories every single day). This means that you'll get leaner faster and begin to see fat loss and muscle gain."
Don’t Skip Your Warm-Up Or Cooldown
"You might be tempted to go 'all in' and skip a proper warm-up, but warming up before a workout is key to preventing injuries that can occur from an intense activity. A proper warm-up is a full-body warm-up that includes at least three to five minutes of a cardiovascular exercise (like a brisk walk, jaunt on the elliptical or 1000-meter row) plus some dynamic stretches that will loosen your joints and your prep your muscles for movement.
"It's also important to cool down — if you don't, you risk feeling sick or light headed. You want to stretch or walk after your workout until your heart rate drops under 120 beats per minute (which takes about five to 10 minutes for most people). Always remember to focus on your inhale and exhale as you cool down."
Hydrate Long Before Your Workout
"If you aren't properly hydrated when you start your workout, you may experience symptoms of dehydration like fatigue, headache, tiredness, which are going to make exercising feel way harder! I always start my day with a big glass of water, and recommend new exercisers do, too! It's a great reminder to fuel throughout the day.
"When you sweat, your body loses both fluid and electrolytes. After working out, you need to replenish both those things. I do that by adding some salt to my water bottle. Another benefit of staying hydrated is that many people confuse their body's thirst cues with hunger cues, which can lead to overconsumption of food. So boosting water intake can also help naturally reduce excess calorie intake."
Fuel for Your Goals
"If weight loss or changing your body composition is your ultimate goal, what happens in the kitchen is just as, if not more, important than what you're doing in the gym. We make decisions about eating healthy off and on all day long and spend an hour (or less) each day exercising. It is very easy for new exercisers to see exercising as an excuse to eat whatever! So my tip is to eat a nutrition plan that supports your exercise plan."
—Melissa Morris, who teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa in Florida