Starting anything new can be scary, especially when you feel like unknowns exist around every corner. Luckily, fitness doesn’t have to be the metaphorical monster under the bed for first-time fitness enthusiasts like you.
Whether you’re looking to venture into strength training for the first time, run a mile without stopping, or just want to live a more balanced lifestyle with the help of exercise, these tips are sure to assist.
Success as you begin your fitness journey is just a click away. Check out these 12 useful fitness tips to keep in mind as you embark on a lifelong relationship with exercise:
Fitness Tips for Beginners
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
Mastering the mind is a critical step to enhancing your quality of life — and your fitness journey. Control your thoughts and you’ll control your own destiny with whatever comes next: Boxing, running, jumping, or lifting.
Don’t Forget Your “Why”
Pro tip: Write down your goal on a post it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror (or the place you tend to look at the most).
Before you start a detailed exercise and nutrition plan, you need to set SMART goals. SMART stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound,” which helps goal-setters get granular about what they want to accomplish and take productive action. (1)
Maybe you want to run a mile without stopping by the end of the year, or you’re looking to lose a few pounds before your wedding. Whatever your goals are, remember them on the days you need a little extra motivation. Your “why” will drive you to be consistent.
Keep Your Mindset (and Self-Talk) Positive
Pro tip: Remember to be thankful for what your body can do. Start each workout by saying (in your head or out loud) one part of your body that you’re thankful for. An example of this would be, “I’m thankful for my strong legs because they allow me to run.”
Imagine telling a friend over and over that they weren’t good at running or strong enough to lift a certain weight. You probably wouldn’t do that, right? If you wouldn’t say the negative things you’re thinking during a workout to a friend, you shouldn’t say them to yourself. Keep your mindset (and self talk) positive and encouraging.
This skill of positive thinking will extend far beyond the beginning of your fitness journey. You’ll notice that a positive mindset allows you to take future challenges and hurdles in stride (and, hello, who doesn’t want the ability to be more resilient?).
Remember the Mind-Muscle Connection
Pro tip: Turn on a playlist that helps you stay in the moment. This may look like more calming music than you’re used to, but it’ll allow your brain to focus on your movements.
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It can be tempting to zone out during a workout, but studies (2) show it’s actually more beneficial to focus intentionally on the specific movements as you do them. When focusing on a specific muscle, you may be able to more thoroughly engage your muscle fibers, which may improve your gains. This is a great way to practice mindfulness (your yoga instructor would be proud) as well, and stay present in the moment with your body.
Plus, if you’re trying new movements, staying in the moment and connecting your mind to muscle can help reinforce good habits and engrain proper form.
Grab a Friend
Pro tip: An intense workout is more bearable with a friend, so consider trying out something new with a pal by your side.
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Everything is more fun with a friend, right? Some data (3) even go so far as to say that when given a choice, people will choose physical activity with a friend over being sedentary alone.
So when you’re feeling less than motivated, invite a friend or two to try a workout class with you. Not only will you have a built-in spotting partner, but you’ll also have someone to cheer you on and motivate you through a tough set. What’s not to love?
The body is your vessel for exercise — and you only get one. Treat your body well and you’ll be ready to brave whatever comes your way.
Drink Enough Water
Pro tip: If hydrating is hard for you, make it fun! Purchase a colorful water bottle and you’ll likely look forward to drinking more water.
Yes, drinking water is important. But did you know it can greatly affect the body’s ability to perform during intense exercise? (4) Studies consistently display that dehydration affects both the physical and mental side of exercise.
This essentially means your body may struggle to do movements and exercises you could typically do if you were better hydrated. It also means your short-term recall suffers and you may perform less, or lower-quality, work overall. Long story short? Drink more water during the day — it affects your workouts.
One gallon of water per day is an oft-cited benchmark, but can be a lofty goal if you’re not used to it. Start with 64 ounces (that’s eight eight-ounce glasses) and you’ll be well on your way, not to mention well-hydrated.
Take Rest Days
Pro tip: Stave off soreness with low-intensity workouts like walking or yoga on your off days.
When you work out, the mechanical tension and metabolic stress creates small tears in your muscle tissue.. These small tears need time to repair to grow even stronger, which requires adequate rest and time off.
Bigger muscles aren’t the only reason taking at least one rest day every week is important. You’re also more at risk for overuse injuries if you don’t give your body the needed time to rest and recuperate. And who needs a pulled hamstring or sore hip?
Beginners can do quite well with just three days of exercise per week and four rest days. As you acclimate to the demands of exercise, you can amp up your training frequency if you wish.
Pro tip: Healthy eating looks different for everyone. Consider consulting with a medical professional if you’re unsure of your recommended intake.
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Your body works much like a car. If you don’t fuel your car up, it’ll eventually run out of gas and won’t move. Similarly, when you don’t give your body enough calories, you’ll begin to notice a downtick in your exercise capability (and energy). The same thought also goes for carbohydrates, which supply your body with short-term energy during a workout.
Long story short? Don’t excessively restrict your caloric intake or carbs because you think it’ll speed up weight loss. Spoiler alert: It won’t. Most folks can tolerate a 500 to 1000 daily caloric deficit. Beyond that, you’re likely to run into serious exhaustion or muscle loss.
Eat More Protein
Pro tip: Build muscle by adding protein powder to your daily smoothie.
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Just as taking rest days are important for performance, eating enough protein is, too. And since muscle tissues are composed of protein, you can imagine recovery is better with adequate protein. Wondering what else protein is useful for?
“Proteins are important for many body processes,” a study from Sports Health (5) in 2018 explains. “Not only are they the building blocks of muscle, tendons, and other soft tissues, but they also are essential for building enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters for many bodily functions.”
And if you’re not sure how much protein your body really needs, it’s always best to consult a registered dietitian. However, for a general estimate, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 or use BarBend’s handy protein calculator:
Your workout won’t do itself. Here are some tips to get your butt in gear and crush your next (or first) session.
Wear Comfortable (Yet Supportive) Gear
Pro tip: Invest in cushioned socks and appropriate footwear above all.
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Wearing comfortable clothes eliminates most issues. Okay, only kidding, but wearing breathable and stretchy clothing while working out helps you keep your mind on the task at hand. Look for moisture-wicking fabrics like polyester and nylon, and stay away from materials like cotton, which holds onto sweat like nobody’s business.
And if you’re planning to run, walk, or jog frequently, consider getting properly fitted for running shoes. Many running-specific stores will analyze your gait, arch, and foot strike to put you in a shoe that best supports you.
If you’re starting out with one of the strength sports (that’s powerlifting, strongman, weightlifting, or CrossFit), this holds up as well. A pair of low-cushion, flat and stable shoes are ideal for hitting the weights. For Olympic lifting specifically, a pair of heeled weightlifting shoes are mandatory.
Take Your Ego Out
Pro tip: Pro Tip: Don’t compare your training to someone else’s. You don’t know their fitness goals or fitness routine.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in your own (or other people’s) expectations. Instead of letting ego (or “shoulds”) rule your workout, figure out ways to scale difficult movements to still feel the burn.
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You don’t have to do everything exactly as prescribed in order to get the benefits from the movement (and others around you don’t care what you’re doing). For example, if you’re not quite ready to do a full burpee during a CrossFit WOD, scale the movement down by doing the push-up component on your knees or excluding the jump. You can still get a stellar workout without over-exerting yourself or trying to lift a specific weight you aren’t ready for.
Pick Workouts You Enjoy
Pro tip: Get creative about how you train. You don’t need to lock yourself up in a dingy gym or slave away on a rickety treadmill to get a good workout.
Physical exercise should add to your life, not detract from it. This of course applies to the strength gain, muscle-building, or health-related results you’re after, but it certainly counts for the enjoyment you get out of your workouts themselves.
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If you’ve always had a fear of water, now is not the time to torture yourself with a water aerobics class just because everyone else is doing it. Find what type of movement fuels you, and stick with that. This could look like hiking with your beloved dog, or maybe tapping back into the joy you felt doing ballet as a child and picking up a dance class.
Stick to Your Plan
Pro tip: Need an extra push? Consider working with a personal trainer. They’ll keep you accountable, and paying for a coach creates buy-in on your part.
Consistency is one of the hardest components for those beginning their fitness journeys. Deciding on a workout schedule and sticking to it is a great way to stay disciplined. Consider blocking off specific time in your calendar and honoring it like a doctor’s appointment. If you wouldn’t bail on a medical check up, then you shouldn’t bail on your set workout time.
Once you’ve built the habit of going to an exercise class or hitting the weights every other day, it’ll be harder for you to get out of the routine (which is exactly what you want). If you aren’t into group fitness, a simple Monday, Wednesday, Friday three-day workout routine is easy to remember and easy to stick to.
Get ‘er Done
Nothing will make you feel better except doing the work — and yes, this does pertain to your 5 a.m. CrossFit class or taking a much-needed rest day. You need to be in touch with your mind, body, and the workout you’re about to straight up crush.
And luckily, these 12 fitness tips were designed specifically to help you get in there and get the results you’re after.
Bailey, Ryan R. “Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change.” American journal of lifestyle medicine vol. 13,6 615-618. 13 Sep. 2017
Calatayud, Joaquin et al. “Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training.” European journal of applied physiology vol. 116,3 (2016): 527-33.
Salvy, Sarah-Jeanne et al. “Effect of peers and friends on youth physical activity and motivation to be physically active.” Journal of pediatric psychology vol. 34,2 (2009): 217-25.
Backes, T P, and K Fitzgerald. “Fluid consumption, exercise, and cognitive performance.” Biology of sport vol. 33,3 (2016): 291-6.
Bytomski, Jeffrey R. “Fueling for Performance.” Sports health vol. 10,1 (2018): 47-53.
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