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For most men the problem isn’t losing weight. It’s getting off your ass and caring about your health. It’s easy to get complacent once you land a desk job, have kids, find a partner who doesn’t care what you look like (or at least pretends not to) and are old enough to rationalize that your best years are behind you.
One of the toughest parts about getting into anything new is mustering the motivation to start. This rings especially true with fitness, for two reasons.
First, fitness is confusing. The wealth of information available via the internet is mind-blowing, and not always in a good way. It’s easy to find advice, but not so easy to decide if it’s worth following.
Second, fitness is difficult, especially in the beginning. It hurts, and it requires you to carve time out of your busy day to become somewhat of a masochist.
That last bit might sound a little dramatic, but it’s not too far from the truth. Either way, the point stands: fitness isn’t a beginner-friendly activity, at least not inherently. But, you know what they say – you gotta start somewhere. It’s true that starting is easier said than done, but wait until you get to the maintenance stage. That’s even tougher, especially when what you’re doing inevitably stops working.
I’m painting a pretty grim picture, but don’t stress out. There’s a lot you can do to make this process easier – that’s where the following 10 tips come in. They’re aimed at the first six months of your road to better fitness, but many will create lasting habits that can carry you forward for years to come.
1. Start Slowly
You might be ready to rock and roll on day one, but try to remember that it’s not a race. I know that’s such a clichéd thing to say, but it’s true, and ignoring it is one of the easiest ways to screw up your plan. The goal in the beginning is to create good fitness habits that help you achieve consistency.
Ease into fitness by committing to something that’s relatively small, and something that you know you can handle. Maybe that’s two days a week in the gym – two full body workouts. Or if you’re trying to become a runner, start with two runs per week, always on the same days. If you can handle more, go for it, but don’t overwhelm yourself. One step at a time, my friend.
2. Limit the Scope
Fitness is a broad term that encompasses a number of different qualities. There’s strength, endurance, power, balance, and many more. When you’re first starting out, it’s often a constant game of balancing your goals. You’re welcome to chase five at a time, but don’t be surprised to see mediocre progress after you advance past the beginner stage.
Instead of trying to do everything, focus on doing one or two things well. If your primary goal is to lose weight, spend more time doing fast-paced conditioning work. If you’re interested in building strength, dedicate the bulk of your effort to heavy lifting. Build great conditioning or strength or whatever it is you’re after, then work on everything else.
3. Expand Reasonably
Just as you need to start slowly, you also need to expand at a reasonable pace. Fitness is multi-dimensional in nature and it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that you need to do this, that, and those all at the same time.
Resist the urge to tackle everything at once or prepare for the possibility of being completely and utterly stomped on. If your end goal is to adopt a healthy, fit lifestyle, then work in phases. Start with four weeks of bodyweight workouts without worrying about any other aspect. Once you’re comfortable with that, start dedicating effort to another area, like nutrition or cardio. Get comfortable, build habits, then expand.
4. Follow a Sound Plan
Hint, hint: not a program that you created yourself. Further down the list, you’re going to run into me telling you to educate yourself. I stand by that, but there’s a limit to how far you should take this knowledge – at least at first.
If you like to get really obsessed with tasks that you set your mind to, you might have the urge to try to piece together your own program. I can already tell you that it’s going to end up as an amalgamation of conflicting methodology that might work until you leave the absolute beginner stage, but not beyond that. Choose a popular and proven plan within your goal area and embrace it.
5. Stick to What You Enjoy
If you spend enough time working out you will find exercises that you don’t like. In fact, you’re going to find exercises that you downright hate. Hate, hate, hate. But you’ll continue to do them anyway, because your program calls for them.
Forget that. I know I just went on about following a solid program, but it won’t matter how good the workouts are if you don’t want to do them. If there’s an exercise that you despise, toss it – don’t even hesitate. Really give it your best shot before doing so, but don’t let one movement ruin everything else. At the same time, understand that if you ditch enough exercises, you won’t have a program left to follow.
6. Be Progressive
One thing you need to know about fitness is that progression is the name of the game. Over time, you should be progressing across areas like volume, intensity, and exercise difficulty. Unless you’re cool with being stuck in the same spot forever, this progression has to happen.
Unfortunately, it’s a piece of the puzzle that people often overlook, especially beginners. Your primary goal is, of course, to become more comfortable with movement and build a base foundation of fitness. But after that, you have to implement a system of progression. The easiest way to do this is to start by choosing one variable – let’s say intensity – and increasing it weekly. If you squatted 180 pounds for 5 reps the first week, try for 185 pounds for 5 reps next time.
7. Create a Support System
It’s easy to dismiss the idea that other people can be a factor in getting fit, because in many ways, fitness is a solo affair. If you’re a solo kinda guy and you’re able to maintain motivation and consistency in your training, then hey, more power to you.
If you’re not one of these people, however, then you will probably benefit from a support system. Think of this system as a means to keep you on track. When you’re having a tough time, just turn to your support network. It might be as simple as recruiting a friend to hit the gym with you once per week, or maybe you join a free Saturday boot camp class. Just put something in place to help keep you accountable.
8. Track Your Progress
Monitoring your progress provides two distinct benefits. First, it gives you a framework with which to move forward. I mentioned the importance of progression earlier, and this goes hand-in-hand with that point. Second, it’s motivation in the purest form. Feeling down? Just take a glance at your inhuman progress over the past few months.
That brings us to the how-to: keep a written record. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical or digital, but you need to be able to actually see it. Log the exercises you do, the sets and reps, the weight – all the details. And, on top of that, make a note of how you felt before, during, and after the workout. It sounds like a hassle, but it’ll pay off in the long run.
9. Educate Yourself
It has never been as easy to access great fitness information as it is today. One of the best things you can do at the start of your fitness journey is to become a voracious reader. Devour every last bit of information you can find that relates to your goals.
At the same time, be wary of the advice you choose to absorb. For better or worse, fitness isn’t a regulated industry. There’s no standardized level of education in the field, and there’s certainly no barrier to writing articles on the internet. If something sounds fishy, try to corroborate it with other sources. Rely on smart people in the industry who are well-known for the advice they give.
10. Reevaluate Often
I’m going to tell you right now that you will make progress. It’ll be slow for some and faster for others, but it’s going to happen. Ride that wave as far as you can, and keep doing what you’re doing until it stops working. When you hit that point, reevaluate your plan.
I’ve seen so many people struggle after hitting their first wall. They continue to hammer against it without changing anything, all the while thinking that something will eventually give. Well, it probably won’t. If you stop making progress you need to take an immediate step back and start asking questions. Why isn’t this working? Am I not using enough weight? Is it because I started to miss a session every week? Become a detective and don’t stop until the bar starts moving again.
Too many people jump into fitness without any kind of game plan. This happens at the beginning of every single year, and is quickly followed by a mass exodus a month or two later. If you follow even a few of these tips, you’re going to be far better off than the guy standing next to you in the locker room and you’re still going to be there long after he’s gone.
Did any of these tips help you, or do you have any of your own to share? Let me know in the comments.