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10 Tips to Starting a Fitness Journey from Scratch

I know the gym can be intimidating if you’ve never spent much time there. If you admire people living the fitness life, and don’t know where to begin, here are 10 tips to starting a fitness journey from scratch:

1. Just start – The number one thing I hear from the mouths of everyone from the person 6-months into their fitness journey, to some of the top weightlifters is, “I wish I would have started sooner.” Guess when the soonest time you can start is? Not Monday – but today, right after reading point 10.

2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – For many of us, this is an enormous challenge. I know people who haven’t started training because they couldn’t find the perfect program to follow, people who won’t squat at all because their knees aren’t perfect, and people who beat themselves up every day because they don’t see that “perfect” image of themselves in the mirror. Guess what? You look great – celebrate that! If you can’t do a regular squat maybe you can do a very high box squat; and if you can’t find a perfect program, start by heading to the gym and doing something for 20 minutes, half an hour, an hour, anything, until you find a great one to follow because by waiting for the perfect (it never comes, trust me), you’re missing out on what’s really really good. Start with good.

DEAT Brittney Jacqie Shanley3.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone – It’s going to feel scary heading to the gym if you’ve only ever worked out in your basement. It’s going to be intimidating stepping into a CrossFit gym if the only free weight you’ve lifted is for a bicep curl. But guess what? Scary is good! What you need to do, is choose something that is just the right amount of scary for you! As someone who has coached in a CrossFit gym, I will tell you honestly that anyone can do it, and it’s probably the fastest way to see the results you want – however, I get that it can be pretty menacing. So if that’s too much for you at first, start by walking on a treadmill. And then watch some videos and learn how to do a dumbbell shoulder press. Once that’s easy, grab a barbell and learn to press that. But don’t stay stuck where you are. Start small. Dream big. Don’t quit.

4. Lift weights – Muscle is a freaking beautiful thing. Although the treadmill might help reveal that “toned” look you want, it doesn’t exist without muscle. Learn to lift weights by watching good videos, or hiring a personal trainer (in the flesh or online). Putting on mass will also fast-track you on the way to the lean body you so crave because a muscular body burns more calories at rest.

5. Learn to squat – This is one of the first movements I teach people because it utilizes the posterior chain (the muscles along the back of the body) so well, and if you want the fastest results you should train these because they are the biggest muscles we have. Click here to watch the progression I take people through. Once people have mastered the first steps they can move to the higher level squats, but can certainly still perform the others for variation and accessory work. There are lots of good videos on YouTube on the higher level squats, but my video teaches the first few steps.

  1. Body weight squats to a bench.
  2. Goblet squats to a bench and air squats.
  3. Split squats and goblet squats.
  4. Back squats.
  5. Front squats.

6. Don’t worry so much about sets and repetitions, but make sure you’re getting enough practice at the movement, and that you’re not destroying your body too much to get back at it the next day. Start with 2 sets, and build up to 5-6 sets. Use 8-12 reps so you can familiarize yourself with the movement. 2 sets is lots for the first week. For example, you can start by doing 10 squats to a bench (that was 1 set of 10 repetitions), rest for a minute, and then repeat it (Awesome!  You’re done 2 sets of 10).  Try 3 the next week. If your body recovers well, try 4. And so on. You may need to stay at the same number of sets for awhile and that’s ok. Listen to your body, and increase slowly. There is no point going lower than 8 reps when you are starting out (in the first 3-6 months) – you will still be building strength and you need the extra reps to practice a solid motor pattern.Brittney Bergen Warne Photography7. Have someone who knows more than you watch you. I know it’s scary to have someone watch you, and that’s probably more than half of what’s keeping you out of the gym, but guess what? They aren’t judging you! People who love the gym are there to get in their own workout, but they also adore sharing their knowledge and will feel honoured if you ask for help. You can send someone videos of your movements or ask someone at the gym, but beware: some people are good at faking gym knowledge and some people actually have it. This is hard to tell. If in doubt, please email me videos of your movements and I’ll be happy to help you.

8. Train your back with pulls. Lat pull-downs, (assisted) pull-ups, barbell rows, kettlebell rows, dumbbell rows, cable rows, and deadlifts are all ways to strengthen the muscles surrounding your spine. Struggling with back pain? Guess what? I used to, too. In university my back was always sore and I saw the massage therapist as often as I could. People will often point to your core for back pain and that could be it! But most of us hit every ab workout on the market while rarely training our backs. Click the following links to see the progression I take people through to learn a deadlift:

  1. Conventional deadlift from blocks or a rack or even aerobic steps.
  2. Lower the blocks.
  3. Conventional deadlift from the floor.

The answer to back pain? Not “take it easy” like we want to hear, but strengthen your back!

9. Learn mobility as you learn strength. If you’re like me – the only time you’ve stretched is when you were forced to in Phys Ed or yoga class. Learn to make your flexibility training as important as your strength and conditioning, and you’ll save yourself from a lot of injuries and be able to perform much more beautiful movements. Here are five of my favourite movements I perform at least four times per week.  I recommend you start your own mobility practice and then learn one new movement per week. Barbell Shrugged and Mobility WOD both offer fantastic material. Always hold all your stretches for at least 20 seconds to overcome the stretch reflex.  I plan to make you a mobility video, but I haven’t yet, so please enjoy the array of YouTube videos I’ve linked you to. 🙂

  1. 3 Position Assisted Pigeon (Keep your chest up tall, then lean towards your knee, then lean towards your foot – 10 seconds each.  If you feel a stretch in your hip you’re doing it right.  You might not be able to get your knee down to the bench or be able to lean very far if you aren’t very flexible.  I just use a normal bench.)
  2. Dragon Pose (Hip flexor stretch)
  3. Hip flexors with softball on a bench (He starts rolling his psoas with a ball at about the 2:30 mark.  I like to do this on the edge of a bench with a baseball or softball because then I can hang my leg off the side, move it around, and get further into the psoas.)
  4. Shoulders and lats with a softball (Get under the armpit and in the front of the pec)
  5. Barbell quad smash (So long, nagging knee pain!)
  6. Thoracic extension over foam roller + general foam rolling.

10. Take your nutrition even more seriously than your training. You eat all day. You probably work out for 30 minutes to 2 hours per day. Your nutrition is the bigger factor. Check out this blog to see what I learnt from my university days until now when it comes to nutrition.

Wondering the right way to get fit? Just start. Just start with something. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. What’s even more important?  Celebrate your progress along the way and learn to have joy for the journey. Learn to love the energy you get from working out. Learn to adore the feeling of strength you get from lifting a heavy barbell over your head. If your entire motivation is based on what you see in the mirror, you will give up; I promise you that. You need a stronger why.

This blog started because someone asked me, “How do I get started with fitness?” It ends with me asking, “Why do you want to get fit?”

Know your why.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche


Related Reading:

“You Don’t Have to be Fluffy All Your Life”

“Become Who You Are: My Fitness Journey in 6 Stages and 4 Lessons”

Want to take the guess-work out of getting fit?  I’ll make you your very own custom workout plan that you can follow at home or the gym, and I’ll even include quality videos to teach you all of the movements.  Email me for more info.

Need help and support with knowing what foods you should be putting into your mouth to see the body you want in the mirror?  Check out my nutrition program and be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

Photo Credit: Warne Noyce

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