If you talk to anyone that has been exercising for a few years I bet there will be at least one thing they say they wish they would have known or done when they started. This is going to be a list of some of the most common ones to help you skip making mistakes or help you see those gains quicker.
I have another post on setting your fitness goals that you can read here which talks about all the things you should be doing to prepare for the start of your life style change. Now lets get in to some tips for when you start working out.
One of the most common mistakes many of us make is reading magazines; that is still a thing right?, or watching videos of people that are ripped with very little body fat and think since we want to look like that we need to work out as much as them. This is not the case at all, and one of the best fitness tips for beginners that I wish someone would have told me all those years ago is that all you’re doing is wasting time. Even after 16 years of exercising, I try to keep my weight training sessions to under an hour, and most of the time closer to 45 minutes.
If you are just getting in to weight training then you may want to start with 20-30 minutes. Your body isn’t going to see much benefit from pushing passed this, studies have shown that the majority of the benefits from weight training come in the first 45 minutes.
If your fitness journey includes cardio or HIIT training then save this for after your weight training and don’t count it as part of your 45 minutes. This way you get all the benefits of the weight training you just finished plus you burn excess calories to get yourself in the calorie deficit you need to burn body fat.
Warm-up Before You Start
When I say warm-up I mean do some light exercises with high reps and low weight. Don’t do any static stretches before lifting weights. A static stretch is where you hold a stretch for any amount of time, this will stretch the muscle and not only weaken the muscle so you can’t lift as much but it also makes it more difficult to do the muscle damage required to make them grow. Save this for just before bed, thats where you will see the most benefits.
I like to pick the first exercise of my workout and do 12-15 slow controlled reps for 3 sets with a lighter weight than my working sets. Unless you have a preexisting injury which you should be discussing with a doctor or physio therapist, this should be all you need for a warm-up.
Strengthen Your Core
This is one of the best fitness tips for beginners that gets overlooked more than you would think. Most people want the elusive 6 pack, so they do sit ups every couple of days and think they have a pretty strong core. But your core is more than just your ab muscle, not to mention sit-ups only work part of your ab muscles.
To properly strengthen your core you need to be focusing on all the muscles that you use to stabilize your body when lifting weights. So don’t stop doing the sit-ups, but instead add some other movements to target the other areas.
Things like bottom up crunches where you roll your lower body up and lift your butt off the ground and keep your upper body planted. Or twisting movements, both bottom up twists and top down twists. You also have to put some focus on your lower back to round out the complete core strengthening with an exercise like the bridge hold, where you plant your feet and shoulder blades on the ground and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can to create a bridge.
You use your core for all weight lifting movements that you do, even if you think that you aren’t. Focus on squeezing your abs when you do any lift and I guarantee you will not only perform the exercise better but will probably lift more too.
Mind Muscle Connection
Focused and controlled! I will never forget the first time I heard Arnold Schwarzenegger talk about connecting your mind to your muscle. At first I never fully understood what he meant, I was lifting the weight, I can feel it in my muscle, over time my muscles were responding to the training. Clearly I must have been doing it right.
Turns out I wasn’t, and it took me a lot of years to figure that out. When you lift weights you need to focus on the muscle you’re working out and make sure to fully squeeze it when you contract it, don’t just move the weights, control the movement.
This is something you can work on without even having weights. Try flexing your bicep, now touch your bicep with a finger from your other hand and focus on squeezing that point as hard as you can. Feel the difference? You should get a cramped feeling in your bicep, this is the ind muscle connection, and with practice you should be able to achieve this same result with any muscle in your body while lifting weights.
When I got started I would get workouts from other people or magazines that covered all kinds of different exercises, doing 5 or 6 different things for each body part and using 4 different machines and skipping the big compound movements.
The big 3 are bench press, dead lifts, and squats.
Make sure you work each one of these in to your routine, you don’t have to go as heavy as you can, you don’t have to start your workout with these and you don’t have to be a power lifter. But you do need to focus on your form and do them properly, if you have to drop the weigh then do that. It’s better to lift light with proper form then heavy with bad form.
Focus On The Eccentric
The best fitness tip for beginners that I bet most experienced people could benefit from as well is to focus on the eccentric. Everyone wants to flex their muscles, and most people are only concerned with getting the weight up (the concentric) and then letting it fall back down (eccentric). However, you will see way more gains if you have a controlled eccentric portion too. We are stronger in the eccentric for most exercises so you can go slow to get even more benefits.
Focus on lifting the weight and contracting your muscle, squeeze it at the top and then without releasing tension from your muscle slowly allow the weight to go back down while keeping the tension tight. Even if you have been working out for several years you will see added gains from making this change.
Skip The Steady State Cardio
Unless you are training to be an endurance athlete or to run a half-marathon then skip the steady state cardio. If your main objective is to lose body fat then the best thing for you is adding muscle and fluctuating your heart rate. Both of these things can be achieved through lifting weights, the more muscle you have on your body the more calories you will burn while at rest.
If you are looking to add to this and want to do cardio then do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) after your weight training session. Whatever you choose whether it is the treadmill, bike or just burpees. Go as hard as you can for 30 seconds and then slow down the pace for 30-60 seconds to allow your heart rate to come back down. Repeat this for 9 rounds or 10 minutes, whichever comes first based on your timing.
Stop Worrying About Other People
I spent too much time worrying about what other people were thinking of me in the gym and because of this I was making mistakes like trying to lift heavier than I should have or using bad form.
Well after years of working out and going to the gym and seeing all kinds of beginners, the best tip I can give is to stop thinking that people are judging you. When I see someone that I know is new in there I usually think good for them! And I know talking to my friends that they feel the same way. We all started somewhere, so no matter how big or good of shape someone is, every person in that gym knows exactly what you are going through.
So don’t be embarrassed, don’t think that people are judging you and don’t be shy. Go in there with confidence knowing that you are making a change to better yourself and every person in there has made that same choice and they are proud of you for doing it, no matter what stage you are in!
Don’t Be Scared To Ask
Just like we all started our journey somewhere we have all reached a point where we needed to ask someone for help, whether it is to spot you or for advice on your form. Obviously the best people to ask would be a trainer but if one isn’t available you can ask just about anyone in the gym for help. Try not to interrupt someone in the middle of working out, and be honest. Most people will be more than willing to assist.
This also goes for outside of the gym, if you have any questions about diet or exercise please ask in the comments below or what are the best fitness tips for beginners that you may have to add?