New to fitness? Welcome!
oment by moment, incremental positive choices lead to massive up-levels, and you’re now on the path to living a powerful, energy-filled life.
However, it’s not always easy when we’re starting out. We have to choose new beliefs about ourselves and keep believing them, no matter what. There will be highs and lows, moments of defeat and moments of glory, but with these 12 essential fitness tips for the absolute beginner, it will all be totally worthwhile!
You need to have a plan
Have you ever walked around a gym, aimlessly hopping on whichever machine is available, trying to target your problem areas? You’re certainly not alone, but a training plan can be a game-changer!
Having a program designed by a qualified personal trainer or coach will not only give you more confidence, but it will also give you a specific strategy for achieving your individual fitness goals. A good personal trainer will also be someone who can offer support while keeping you motivated and accountable.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is great for the time-poor
Know WHY you’re training a certain way
Resistance training: Using barbells, dumbbells, resistance machines and even your own body weight will help you build muscle, get leaner and look more toned, increase your metabolism, and become physically and mentally stronger.
Functional training: Improve your balance, agility and coordination, your strength to weight ratio, and your ability to perform everyday movements without pain or injury. Functional training is ideal if you suffer from back pain or postural issues.
Low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS): Consistently maintaining an effort level at about 50% of your maximum means can easily hold a conversation, so LISS is great to do with a friend. Select a low-impact exercise like walking, swimming or hop on the stair-climber machine for between 15-60 mins for best results.
LISS is an excellent accompaniment to resistance training because it helps to burn fat rather than muscle, and is a form of active recovery.
Moderate-intensity cardio: Working at around 70% of your maximum heart rate or level of effort for 20-40 minutes is the best way to improve your cardiovascular health, but it’s also great for your muscular endurance. Going out for a steady 4-5km run is a good example of moderate-intensity cardio, but it can also look like swimming, cycling, dancing or rowing. Do what you enjoy!
High-intensity cardio: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is great for the time-poor! It’s a very time-efficient way to burn lots of calories because your metabolic fire continues burning bright for some time after you finish the session. An effective HIIT workout can take as little as 4 minutes, but it requires working at 80% of your maximum effort or more!
Avoid using momentum and resist gravity
Are you using the contraction of your muscles to move the weight, or are you swinging the weight a little to use momentum? You’ll probably have to switch to lighter weights when you stop using momentum, but on the bright side, your workout will be much more effective because you will be maximising the concentric contraction and the time under tension.
After lifting the weight, it’s tempting just to let it fall back to the starting position, but lowering the weight with control is just as important as lifting it. During this part of the exercise, the muscle is lengthened, and this is called the eccentric contraction.
Focus on compound exercises
One common mistake among beginners is jumping into cardio while bypassing strength development through compound exercises. A compound exercise is a movement where more than one joint is used, such as a squat, where the hips, knees and ankles are all involved.
As a beginner, focusing on compound exercises to develop strength and correct movement patterns is far more effective than spending all your time on cardio equipment.
Everyone must start with the basics to learn proper technique
Technique is a top priority
Not only is it important to know not only which exercises to do; knowing how to perform them correctly is also essential. Correct technique isn’t always something that can be learned just through watching others, as each exercise has unseen subtleties and specific mental cues.
Absolute beginners may be inspired by someone they follow on social media and rush to try the coolest-looking advanced level exercises. However, everyone must start with the basics to learn proper technique, minimise the risk of injury, and ensure a sustainable fitness lifestyle.
Best advice: Leave your ego at the door and master the movement before adding heavy weights or working at a very high intensity!
Make the most of the mind-muscle connection
The repetition of lifting, pushing and pulling can make it easy for the mind to wander off and leave our bodies to go through the motions. Developing your mind-muscle connection will keep you present and help you reach your goals faster, all while enjoying similar benefits to a meditation practice!
Focus your attention on the muscles you’re working and visualise the contraction as you lift, and then the lengthening as you lower or return to the starting position. Maintain awareness of your posture and alignment, and beware of any stress or tension in muscles that shouldn’t be working in that particular exercise.
Align each movement pattern with your breath
That’s right - people who are new to fitness are often surprised by how great exercise can be for mindfulness. For next-level mindfulness in your fitness journey, pay close attention to the way you’re breathing.
Focusing on the breath will help you feel greater strength, control and power, so breathe out in time with the concentric contraction (the lift), and as the muscle eccentrically lengthens and stretches, take an expansive breath in.
Core strength is the foundation for your overall strength
Build a strong core before lifting heavy
A strong core is ‘the trunk to your tree.’ In other words, core strength is the foundation for your overall strength. Training your core is about much more than getting abs; in fact, your core plays a significant role in every compound exercise.
Good core stability is even essential when doing isolation exercises like the bicep curl, and once you’ve built up the strength and confidence to get under a barbell, a strong core will protect and support your spine to remain in its neutral position.
Take rest and recovery seriously
There’s a lot more to a fitness lifestyle than the workouts, the sweat, and the cute outfits. Fitness is a package deal that comes with nutrition, rest and recovery - and sometimes it can take beginners a little time to find the right balance.
Did you know that the periods of rest between your training sessions is where the magic happens? Just as we need to learn the correct technique, we also need to learn how to rest properly so that we can actually become fitter and stronger. Overtraining is a real thing, and it has many serious consequences for your overall health and wellbeing, so listen to your body. On that note…
Listen to your body
You are the sole owner of your body, and only you can know what’s best for it. What your body needs won’t necessarily be what’s working for someone else, and your individual needs can change all the time.
When you’re new to fitness, learning to listen to your body and trust what it’s trying to tell you is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. Your body has ways to ask for more food or an extra rest day, but if you tune in, you’ll also know when you can push a little harder or go a bit longer.
Know the difference between muscle soreness and muscle pain
Typically, your muscles won’t be sore right after a workout, but soreness over the next 1-3 days is a normal sign that you’re training hard enough to create physical change. Immediate pain, on the other hand, is your body’s natural defence mechanism, and it’s a sign you’re not using the correct technique.
An injury usually causes a sharp stabbing pain, while soreness is more of a tender, tired, tight or achy feeling. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is to be expected, but it will become less intense as your fitness improves. DOMS tends to affect an area or muscle group rather than one specific spot, and shouldn’t be accompanied by swelling.
Learn the basics of nutrition
The three macronutrients - carbohydrates, protein and fats are all essential for long term health and fitness. Still, micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are just as important because many physiological processes depend on getting enough vitamins and minerals.
The key is to figure out what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it, so that your nutrition is supporting you towards your fitness goals, rather than holding you back. The reality is, this is an ongoing process of learning, trial and error.
That said, there is a danger of overthinking it as a beginner and jumping into fad diets or going to the extremes used by elite athletes. As a beginner on your fitness journey, just focus on eating plenty of whole foods and minimal junk food.
Everybody deserves to feel their best from the inside-out, so it's highly recommended that fitness beginners invest in some high-quality plant-based protein supplements, as well as some organic superfoods to stay on top of your micronutrients.