While I was attending a dinner this weekend, one of my friends asked me a question that shouldn’t have stopped me in my tracks. It was a simple question that didn’t require a difficult or elaborate answer. But nonetheless, it stumped me, because my fitness-saturated brain wanted to give him every bit of information at once to help. And ultimately all he needed was a simple guide. He asked me, “Where do I start?” He wanted to start working out, start losing weight and feel better. And he was coming to me feeling somewhat overwhelmed and confused. And I didn’t help him at all. So I’m taking this chance to simplify it now for him and anyone else who might want to get started.
Tips to Start Working Out
- Find your why: When asking “how do I start working out,” I’d consider the “why” behind your question. Why do you want to lose weight? Get fitter? Improve your strength? Everyone will have a different why, and no “why” is necessarily wrong. But I’d recommend looking for your why; don’t do any of this for someone else or some external gain. Do this for you, for your happiness, health, confidence and well-being. It’ll help you stick to the marathon of a fitness journey you are starting out on.
- Ask for help: You’ve already begun by asking the question “how do I start working out.” Next I recommend that you ask a professional for help. Ask a trainer, a doctor, a nutritionist, a coach or a trusted athlete to help you get started.
- Try different approaches: If I were just starting out in the gym and only had 20 to 30 minutes a few times a week, I’d never waste it on a cardio machine! I think a lot of people jump on an elliptical or treadmill because it’s the only thing they know how to work. Take a group exercise class, buy a fitness DVD, hire a trainer and learn about as many exercise approaches as possible. Then get out there and do them! Eventually you’ll find which approach is best for your body or what training method you enjoy doing the most!
- Choose wisely: If the thought of venturing over to the free weights is far too scary at this point, add some resistance and/or incline to your cardio machine. Try an exercise machine that has a diagram demonstrating how to perform the movement and use a light weight until you feel comfortable performing the full range of motion. Do this for a week, and then in the following weeks make small increases in intensity and duration (add five minutes to your total workout time and/or five pounds to each exercise you perform).
- Eat clean: Don’t waste food, but don’t eat it just because it’s in your house. Shop the perimeter of a grocery store, look up whole-food recipe ideas, and cut out empty calories in your beverages. Simply staying in this week instead of eating out will help you eventually lose weight and even help you save some money!
- Pick compound movements: While beginners shouldn’t dive in to compound movements at the start of their fitness journey, it’s an exercise approach that should eventually be considered. Compound movements work multiple muscles at once, require balance and agility, and burn far more calories than basic, single-joint isolation exercises like the dumbbell bicep curl. Examples of my favorite compound or multi-joint exercises are a walking lunge with overhead press, a dumbbell snatch, a kettlebell swing, box jumps and burpees.
- Recruit friends and gym buddies: Research repeatedly shows how helpful it is to have a friend or loved one join you on your journey to become fitter. It can be scary and overwhelming. But when you have the support of someone by your side, you’ll feel more comfortable trying new exercises and be less likely to give up on a routine.
To summarize: When you’re asking “how do I start working out,” I recommend you ask for help, grab a gym buddy, become a student of fitness and health, and clean up your diet. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Achieving fitness goals is a marathon and not a sprint. It will include lots of learning curves, ups and downs, and possible setbacks. But you aren’t alone. We’re here to help, because we were at that same starting point just like you once upon a time.
Lastly, if these seven guidelines don’t help, and you’re continuing to ask “how do I start working out,” I believe the right thing to do is just to start. Move! Whether it’s walking, squatting, running or lifting, it’s better than not moving or avoiding the gym altogether. Remember, it’s never too late to get in shape. You truly just need to start—the awesome benefits of exercising will be waiting for you right around the corner.