Strength/Weight Training

How to Start a Successful Exercise Program

If you’re new to exercise, getting started can be a puzzling and daunting task.  You may have all the motivation needed now, but just don’t know what to do to get the results you want quickly enough to stay motivated. Below are some basic tips and principles to help make sure you and your exercise program are successful. Some may seem cliché and cheesy but these habits consistently appear in those that are successful in the gym.

Have a Goal in Mind

Make sure to list out your goals on paper and commit to accomplish them by a set deadline before you start.  Don’t just say you’ll do something, commit to it in writing. Make it like a business contract but with yourself. After all, a goal without a deadline is just a dream.  Improving your health and fitness requires habitual changes.  You must first train your mind to be set on accomplishing only that which will help you achieve your goal(s).  Keep these written goals visible in your home and/or work. Be proud to share your journey with others close to you and more than likely they will support you.  You will need this support. Use pictures and other reminders to help keep your mind on track especially around tempting areas such as the kitchen or in your car as you drive past all those fast-food saboteurs. If you are on the go a lot, how often do you look at your phone? Set alarms at key times to remind you of your goal (i.e. at 12pm: LUNCH- proteins and greens!) or change your phone background to reflect your deepest motivation. Don’t expect your willpower to win by itself; consistently reinforce your mind to stay committed.

Progressive Overload

Your exercise program should start off manageable and relatively easy. From there it should also always include cycling periods of gradually increasing intensity followed by ample recovery time to heal and see progress.  If you’re going into every workout sore and tired, you’re not recovering properly and probably not seeing the results you are expecting. To solve this, either space out your workouts further until you can handle more frequency or possibly fix how you eat, sleep and/or manage stress. Improving these areas may help you recover quicker allowing you to train more often during the week with a positive result. Most beginners can benefit from a basic 12-week program cycled several times over but with greater gradual increases in intensity/frequency/volume each cycle. You cannot achieve new solutions with old answers; increase your challenge to improve your change.

Specificity

If you want to get stronger you must perform resistance training.  If you want to improve stamina/endurance you could include metabolic conditioning or traditional aerobic cardio.  If you want to lose weight, you must do both as well as improve your eat habits. If you’re following in someone else’s footsteps with your training program make sure those steps lead down the path you want to go.  As a starting point, for general gains in health and fitness start with 2-3 resistance based sessions per week, and 2-3 metabolic/aerobic sessions per week (4-5 total hours per week). If you have the opportunity, add in a yoga/meditation/stretching session to the mix. I would even recommend substituting your 3rd resistance or metabolic session in for one of these “rejuvenation” sessions if recovering from your workouts proves difficult.

Consistency

Consistent habits lead to change but this principle applies to both positive and negative change. Accept that there will be hiccups along this journey. You will not adhere to your plan 100% of the time. You will have a bad workout, a bad meal, a bad night’s rest, a bad day, etc. Don’t throw away the farm; it’s never as bad as it seems. Shift your focus and realign with your goals. Renew your motivation and get your mind back to your goal. If you’re on track more often than you’re off track, progress will be seen.

Use a Journal

Record your workouts, diet and lifestyle over time along with other pertinent notes.  It is worth the time for what you do not track will not change. Not only will journaling increase your program adherence but it is also a great way to ensure progress is occurring.  If your workout today is performing exactly like your workouts over the past few weeks, then you’re not optimizing your results and should find a new method to work with. As for recording your diet and lifestyle, we often underestimate food intake and don’t realize how out of balance our nutrition is. However, one cannot know how to adjust one’s diet if you first do not measure what the diet actually consists of. I have yet to meet a client who didn’t need to adjust his or her diet based off what they were eating at the onset of their program. Record everything, thank yourself later.

Assess and Reassess Your Progress

This one could fall under the journal category but I feel it’s often an overlooked step and therefore should get the necessary attention. Following the principle of specificity, assess exercises that reflect upon your goal.  If you want to lose fat, performing a body fat or circumference assessment would benefit you.  If you want to get stronger, performing a 1-5 rep max assessment can help you determine if strength is improving.  Don’t blindly follow an exercise program assuming something is better than nothing.  More often than not, there is a more efficient way to achieve success with less perceived effort.  Use your assessments to experiment and find what works best for you.

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