A brief look at social media and commercials today will show you that there is a culture of business professionals that are very much in shape. In years past a guy wearing a suit was all it took to present an image of perfection, now it might only take an untucked button up so long as the guy is in great shape and has the right hair. If you’re on the outside looking in, this is incredibly intimidating. So how does somebody break into this culture when they have no previous fitness experience?
1) Your goal should be consistency, not an end result
Do not make the mistake of finding somebody with perfect physique and setting that up to be your ultimate goal from the start. Progress will likely be slow and, despite what magazines say, getting into that level of shape is crippling to most lifestyles. I would caution you against even making weight loss goals from the beginning. This is partially because you don’t know what to expect right away so setting an unrealistically high goal could tank your motivation early on. Another thing to consider is that when you first start your fitness journey, your body is going to shed fat while adding muscle. Muscle weighs significantly more than fat, so this early transition might stagnate your weight loss progress while having a net positive effect
2) Pick a routine that compliments your interests
You obviously have certain physical activities that you prefer over others. I, for example, love weightlifting. There are a myriad of options, you could enjoy swimming, biking, running, organized sports, yoga, Zumba, so on and so forth. Don’t force yourself to do something you hate, at least not right off the bat. I’m years into my fitness program and I still want to go to bed when I wake up for a morning run (because I despise running). If you jump into a routine that you hate, you’re going to break that routine. Find what you like doing, do more of it, keep doing it. It really is that simple.
3) Make the routine match your commitment level
While we’re on the subject of picking routines, keep in mind the time you have to devote to it and your level of willpower. If you have 5 hours a week to devote to exercise, that’s a great start! Does that seem like a huge commitment? Start at 2 hours a week. Pick a level of commitment that you know you can stick to the plan. If after 2 weeks you’re still hard at work and you aren’t skipping days, feel free to re-evaluate and add more. You do yourself absolutely no favors by jumping into an incredibly intense routine that you quit after day 3. Ease into it.
On a side note, you really only need 1 or 2 workouts a week to see the health benefits. Being active even to a small degree when you aren’t accustomed to it are going to be proof in and of themselves. You’ll be less winded from doing simpler tasks, you will feel more energized throughout the day, you might start to require less sleep after a couple weeks, and your mind will become sharper (especially following the exercise). You don’t need to exercises twice a day for 6 days a week to feel benefits!
4) Record your progress and celebrate small victories
No matter what you do, you need to keep records of your activity. When I lift, I keep track of my numbers so I know when to progress into higher weights. I also do this so that I know when I break new records. Furthermore, my full body rotation ends at the end of every week. If I get to Sunday and I’ve successfully hit all of my workouts for the week, it adds a huge psychological boost. When I run, I track the distance I run and the time it takes me to run. My fitbit tracks my resting heart rate over time so I can see when my overall wellness is improving and when I need to step up my game. Keeping track of your activity is crucial to your development as time goes on and on your mental health. You don’t want to miss out on your second week of the fitness journey when you look back on your first day and smile to yourself. Keep those records and brag to your friends!
5) Keep your diet in the back of your mind
Eat this, not that, blah blah blah. Let’s not get lost in the weeds. This isn’t a bodybuilding routine where we’re counting calories and trying to get you SHREDDED. This is about your general health for the time being. Don’t put too much thought into what you’re eating, because the priority is that you start getting use to putting your body through physical activity. What you should do is begin to feel how food affects your body. If you drink the night before you go for a workout, pay attention to how differently you feel. If you eat certain foods and you react to them negatively, make a mental note. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you begin to push your body to its upper limit you will become more sensitive to the factors that make you feel worse.
6) Don’t let speed bumps derail you
There are some days that I go out drinking the night before and the next morning I just cannot make it to the gym. The psychological effect of this is a feeling of worthlessness and abandon. In my brain, if I miss the workout because I was drinking then I have license that day to just throw my eating habits out the window and do whatever I want. Then the next day when my alarm goes off, what’s even the point of working out? It’s quicksand. Don’t fall for it. Shrug off your missed workouts as minor hiccups, not a fatal blow. For me, missing a workout just means that I modify tomorrow’s workout so that I don’t fall behind on my schedule (most of the time). I assure you, the best fitness addicts miss days and don’t let it ruin their entire lifestyle. It’s an extremely tough mental art to push through those setbacks, but you will be grateful once you have it figured out.
7) Lastly, never stop progressing
This is kind of a stupid point to make but I will make it anyway. Start small, but keep growing as you become more comfortable. That might mean adding in other types of exercise. I used to just lift weights, now I run and I bike to smooth out my routine. I even do yoga for flexibility and so that others in the class have somebody to laugh at. That’s one avenue, you could also upgrade the consistency. Instead of going twice a week, move to three times a week, four times, and so on. When you find yourself in a strong routine and you begin to reap the health benefits of exercise, it becomes easier and easier to add more exercise time without it completely crushing your willpower. Another viable option is to increase your intensity. If you’re really into jogging, try sprinting. Maybe instead of an exercise bike in the gym you try mountain biking with a group. There are infinite ways to scale your favorite activities into something with greater intensity.
In summary, there are very few reasons why you shouldn’t pick up a fitness routine. It will increase your quality of life in more ways than we even understand. There are few age restrictions, fewer income restrictions, and zero attitude restrictions. These rules I laid out should help to carry you through your first 4 weeks of a new routine, but the fitness world is colossal if you enter into it with an open mind. Happy sweating!