Starting your fitness journey can be intimidating at first, you may not even know where to start. And that’s okay! It can seem very complicated with all the different machines, cables, and weights, but it doesn’t have to be. There are so many “fitness influencers” out there promoting fake supplements or useless exercises, it can be confusing to know what’s right or wrong.
You probably have questions similar to these:
- What exercises should I be doing?
- How do I use this machine and what muscles is it working?
- How much cardio should I be doing and what type?
- What should I eat to lose fat/gain muscle?
The answer is the same for everyone, it depends on your goals! This is why it’s so important to work with a knowledgeable trainer so you are doing appropriate exercise and eating according to your individual needs and goals.
Let’s break fitness down into 3 basic categories: weight training, cardio training, and diet.
Even if your goal is to just improve general health, not gain muscle, weight training is an essential part of any fitness routine.
Here’s why: muscle is an active tissue which means it requires more calories to maintain compared to fat. This means that if you have a good amount of lean muscle mass, you will burn more calories throughout the day. This is called Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR. A pound of muscle is also significantly smaller than a pound of fat. Meaning if you replace fat with muscle, you will appear leaner. Fat also weighs 3x as much compared to muscle which is why the scale is not a good indicator of progress.
Now that you understand why building muscle is so important, here are the basics on how to lift weights.
Try to hit every major muscle group two times a week: chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and legs. Let your body recover for 2-3 before hitting the same muscle group again.
For example, if you did chest and triceps on Monday, don’t do them again until at least Thursday. This is where workout splits and programming play a big role.
Two key concepts to keep in mind for weight training: progressive overload and practicing good form. Progressive overload is the principle that you must gradually increase the amount of resistance placed upon your body to keep making progress. Good form is essential to not only better stimulate the target muscle group but also reduce the risk of injury. This comes with time and practice.
However, a good trainer will start with foundational movement exercises and gradually increase exercise complexity and intensity to stimulate muscle growth.
P.S. I promise you will not wake up one day and be “too bulky” from lifting weights. If it were that easy, everyone would be jacked.
The dreaded cardio – you probably picture hours of running on a treadmill, dripping sweat trying to burn stomach fat. This, however, is not the case.
There are typically two reasons someone performs cardiovascular exercise: to improve general health or to lose fat.
The “fat-burning zone” is a theory that a certain heart rate level will use energy from fat stores rather than carbohydrate stores. This is 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). To find your MHR, subtract your age from 220.
For example, if you are 30 years old your MHR is 220-30 which is 190. This would mean your ideal heart rate during cardio should be 114-142 BPM.
If your goal is to increase cardiorespiratory fitness, more intense cardio sessions should be incorporated. This is usually done in intervals of high intensity to increase VO2 max.
If your goal is to just simply to improve general health and fitness, any cardio is better than none!
Your heart is a muscle too and training it can help prevent health issues like high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, or cardiovascular disease. Cardio doesn’t just have to be walking on a treadmill or elliptical, cardio can be activities you enjoy doing like dancing, boxing, or hiking. Find an activity you enjoy and you’ll find cardio much more sustainable.
You’ve probably heard the statement “You can’t out-train a bad diet”. This holds true, no matter how hard you work out, it will all be for nothing if you aren’t eating right.
Firstly, fad diets are simply that, a fad. They do not work and are not sustainable. The recommended diet for most people looking to improve health and fitness is high-protein. This is because protein is critical in the muscle-building process which as I said before, is crucial to overall fitness levels.
Now you may be wondering, how much protein is enough?
A general rule of thumb is 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 190 lbs, you should be consuming around 152-190 grams of protein a day. That may seem like an impossible, unrealistic number but it is quite easy. Start by making small changes to your diet like replacing cereal with eggs, snacking on high-protein foods like beef jerky, or simply increasing the portion of protein in your meals. Protein is also more satiating than other foods so you will find yourself less hungry throughout the day and eating less overall.
Another important macronutrient is carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates provide your body with the necessary energy to perform daily tasks. Without them, two things will happen:
1.) You will be exhausted all the time and your workouts will be crappy because you have no energy, and
2.) Your body will look to other sources of energy like muscle. This means your body will start to burn muscle mass to function properly. Simply put, DO NOT CUT CARBS.
Lastly, I will touch on daily calorie consumption.
Like carbs, a common misconception is that you need to restrict your calories to the point where you are eating 1,000 or less per day. This could not be further from the truth.
When you restrict calories that tightly, your body will be put into an “energy saving” state where it stops performing certain bodily functions, like digestion and muscle remodeling, to save energy. Your metabolism will slow down because it thinks it is starving and needs to conserve energy. This is your body’s natural response to a lack of food. Now this doesn’t mean you can eat 3,000+ calories a day and expect to lose weight.
A good starting point is to be in a 300-500 calorie deficit from your maintenance.
Your maintenance is your base RMR or how many calories you burn if you sit around all day and do nothing. This number is based on age, height, weight, gender, and current activity level and is different for everyone.
There are a plethora of online calculators you can use to find this number. Dieting may seem scary and overwhelming at first but it is important to develop a healthy relationship with food and allow yourself to still consume what you enjoy while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes: