Guest Article by Alex Fernandes
So you’ve decided that it was time to improve your life and begin your fitness journey? Maybe you used to be active, but have found with passing time, you have let yourself go in favour of more pressing things like career and children? Perhaps you have never been active before, and are completely oblivious, but have noticed some friends improvement in quality of life since joining the gym? Some may be nearing the latter stages of their lives, and want to maintain their independence. Others may be on the first leg and are looking to improve their athleticism for a desired sport. In any event, any and all reasons to improve your life through fitness are valid, and should be encouraged.
Any new path in life can be daunting, and leave you wondering “where do I begin?” Forming a new habit, and especially sticking with it, creates all-together different challenges. Your fitness journey is no exception to these obstacles. It’s not uncommon to see people sign up for a gym membership, only to see them standing around wondering what exercises to do, only to end up on the treadmill for 45 minutes, day in and day out. This cycle continues for most, with no real results. This can be disheartening and lead to poor adherence, and eventually, quitting all together.
As a personal trainer I have learned a great deal. I started lifting weights in highschool, with little to no guidance. I was in the same place as many of you are now. Dazed and confused if you will. But after some 15 years of fitness related endeavors both as a trainer and enthusiast, I have accumulated some valuable information that can help you expedite your journey, and more notably, simplify it. Here are some useful tips to help you get started:
1. Create Accountability
Having someone or something to make you feel accountable is paramount. Find a friend who is also looking to make a change and work out together. Having a friend who relies on you to show up for their own success should help keep you coming back. Better yet, ask a friend who is experienced and could be your pseudo trainer. Join a social environment, or a local fitness group — their ability to create to create a community is important for supporting accountability. You can also hire a personal trainer where you have scheduled appointments. Your trainer should not only keep you accountable from an attendance standpoint but be checking in on you often, asking things like “how did you feel after last night’s session?”, or implementing other tools like a food journal. Without accountability, excuses can easily begin piling up.
2. Set Specific Goals
One of the most common goals you hear during consultations or passing conversations, is to “tone up”. The question I always have in return is what does that mean to you? “Tone up” is far too ambiguous. Do you want to lose weight? How much? Are you looking to maintain weight but carry less body fat? Digging a little deeper, and setting much more specific goals will be beneficial. Using specific goals with specific numerical values is the best. If you can’t track your progress clearly, you won’t get that gratification we all crave as humans. My favourite goal and one that is often overlooked is setting a pants size goal. The way clothing fits is a great way to see improvements without obsessing over the scale. Dropping two pant sizes not only will feel great when achieved, but there is clear numerical data to back up your progress. Other numerical values you can track for progress include but are not limited to:
- Strength: More reps, or more weight completed on a given exercise
- Measurements: Chests, thighs, arms etc.
- Cardiovascular: Improvements in timed distance. Ex: Improving one mile time
- Body Composition: Calipers can give you specific values of a percentage of total mass
3. Don’t Overlook Important Variables
In its simplest form, fitness is about improving your mental and physical health. Sure there is some superficial motivation as well, but your priority should be improving your quality of life. Rarely do you see someone simply begin to work out and everything just falls into place. Your exercise routine likely only accounts for between 3 and 10 hours of your week. But what else are you doing to improve? How are you eating? How much water are you drinking? Do you get enough sleep? What sort of things are you doing to manage stress? Do you sit at a desk all day for work, or is your job active?
Most of us know we need to drink at least 2 litres of water a day, only need to consume around 2000 calories per day, and need about 8 hours of sleep each night. But most of us fail to actually do those things. Improving your quality of life isn’t just about getting a good sweat in the gym. Make sure you look at the other factors that account for much more than those 3 to 10 hours of your week. Setting lifestyle goals should go hand in hand with goals inside the gym.
4. Avoid Too Much Too Soon
Some people are pensive or apprehensive when beginning new endeavours while others dive in whole-heartedly. With fitness though, trying to do too much too soon can have many negative effects. Working out is a stressor for the body. We are damaging our bodies on a micro scale to recover and improve. Going from no exercise to 6 days a week is not conducive to success, and in many cases can even lead to injury. You’re much better off starting with shorter duration workouts, that won’t leave you severely sore, and will allow your body to learn how to recover from this new stimulus.
This approach also includes the lifestyle factors you are no longer overlooking. Trying to change your life overnight is very difficult. Instead introduce one or two new goals each week. Start by establishing your gym routine. Then focus on your sleep, which will help ensure you are recovering from your new exercise regimen. Follow by monitoring your hydration levels, and maybe bringing a 2 litre bottle of water to work. Spreading out your goals makes them more manageable, and achievable. Fitness is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
5. Use and Abuse the Internet
It goes without saying, the internet changed the world. Between the many fitness and nutrition websites, countless social media groups and influencers, podcasts, YouTube, and infinite access to even more complex scientific journals, there is a plethora of information on how you can better your life with fitness. I’ve learned more from online tools, than any formal education, weekend course, or conference. With that being said, as a beginner it is tough to weed out the bad resources, which is why even today you see many people implementing dangerous or ineffective training protocols. To save you a great deal of time here are a bunch of links to different fitness related Instagram accounts, websites, and YouTube accounts that will save you a great deal of time.
@bretcontreras1 (glute specific)
@themusclephd (nutrition/research/muscle building)
@pheasyque (beginner graphics)
Examine (supplement efficacy and use)
T-Nation (training/nutrition beginner to advanced)
Strong Lifts (beginner strength training)
Live Strong (beginner and intermediate)
BarBend (all levels)
Based on the above tips and recommendations for online resources, you should be ready to kick start your fitness journey. I truly hope that this helps you to create long lasting healthy lifestyle habits, and to start building a foundation of fitness knowledge.