Beginnings can be difficult, in anything. Rarely is the moment to start something new ideal. There’s no point in trying to prepare endlessly, sooner or later you have to take the step. If you want to start at the gym but don’t know how, I encourage you to read this post. I discuss a number of key issues you will have to deal with in the initial stages of your fitness journey. Be warned though, this is also your last chance for excuses!
Instagram is a relatively new creation. The fitness industry exploded on it only a few years ago, but bodybuilding in its relatively modern form is just over a hundred years old.
The above train of thought made me wonder what the beginnings of many of the people I follow were like. What did their physiques look like during their first serious, systematic visits to the gym?
The main goal of my thought experiment is to realize that everyone started somewhere. With different body types and genetic potential, nobody was born in top shape. Everyone was inexperienced and uncertain at some point.
Therefore, the simplest answer to the question of how to start at the gym is to get rid of mental barriers. You can certainly become the best version of yourself, but you must take action at some point.
The absolute basics
Working on your physique is a process with many factors that you can change and optimize, sliders that you can adjust through experiments to achieve solid and sustainable results.
However, many people try to skip the basics and find magic ways to guarantee quick results when starting their fitness journey.
That’s a grave mistake. It’s a bit like starting to learn a foreign language with idioms, which are of course important but quite useless if you can’t introduce yourself and describe your day in a few simple sentences.
So, how do you start at the gym? It’s best to start by learning and implementing the necessary basics, including concepts such as:
Diet and exercise go hand in hand
If you start eating more consciously, counting calories, macros, maybe limiting certain products or ingredients, and do NOT add appropriate physical activity tailored to your situation and goals, you are depriving yourself of additional benefits.
Similarly, if you train and are active, but completely neglect your diet, you are not maximizing the effects of your efforts. You may even be neutralizing them.
Calories in, calories out, which means the daily and in my opinion, weekly caloric balance is the absolute basis for both weight loss and weight gain.
Yes, there are people who, due to their particular health condition, have problems, especially with losing weight, but for the vast majority, the CICO principle applies.
From my observations, people trying to shed some pounds will engage in incredible mental gymnastics before spending six months in a calorie deficit. On the other hand, long-term maintenance of a calorie surplus is also not easy, and it’s worth keeping in mind when wanting to build muscle mass.
Strength training does not burn a lot of calories
Elevated heart rate for a prolonged period contributes to increased calorie burn, which weightlifting does not provide. If you want to lose weight, choose running or cycling. If you want to build muscles, regularly attend the gym.
Of course, you can combine both, but if you want to build your physique, don’t overdo cardio. More doesn’t always mean better.
The advantage of having a significant muscle mass in the context of calories is that it requires a substantial amount of them just to maintain it (preventing the body from using muscle for energy purposes). This means that the more muscle you have, the more you can eat without consequences.
Goal and consistency
You can know absolutely everything you need to succeed in the gym, but this knowledge will not generate any results if you do not have a long-term training goal and do not consistently strive to achieve it.
Effective and satisfying fitness is a lifestyle that you consistently adhere to, not something you do from time to time.
What you will need to start your gym journey
A journey requires preparation. Among the many things you can potentially bring with you, there are several that you cannot do without. The same goes for the gym – to start, you will definitely need:
- Knowing your daily caloric needs, which is the basis for both a weight loss and muscle-building diet. In other words, you need to know how much to eat.
- An electronic scale to help you prepare meals accordingly. If you’ve never cooked by weighing each ingredient, start doing it. At first, it may seem strange and a nuisance, but it quickly becomes helpful in achieving your dietary goals. It’s not something you’ll have to do forever, but it will be crucial at the beginning.
- A gym membership. Sure, you can exercise at home, I’ve done it, but believe me, nothing can replace access to a diverse range of equipment and weights, and what it generates in terms of results. Additionally, regular gym visits help establish good habits and push yourself harder. Plus, you’ll meet new people and learn something new. Oh, and did I mention good lighting for photos and mirrors?
- A nutrition and workout plan. Just going with the flow and relying on intuitive eating and training will bring you some results if you are just starting out, but in general, it’s a waste of time. To maximize your results, you need structure in your diet and workout routine, which will allow you to track your progress and make adjustments if necessary.
- Workout clothes that make you feel good and/or motivate you to act. The visual aspect of training is really important, so dress for success! Before going to the gym, think about how good you look in those leggings or tank top and let it be one of the driving factors motivating you.
What is less important
I get the impression that many people who are wondering how to start at the gym focus on less important aspects of training, thus avoiding more effective but difficult actions. So, among the less important things are:
- Having your own mat
- Shaker color
- Smartband / smartwatch
- Sports drink during training
- Supplements (gainers, fat burners, other “wonders”)
Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying that the above things are absolutely useless, but as a beginner, you need to focus on much more important basics discussed above. They, combined with good habits and consistency, will determine your success, not the brand of protein you choose.
What to expect at the gym
If you’ve never trained in an organized way before, or not at all, you probably don’t know what to expect at the gym, especially since a lot of legends have cropped up around this place, and its portrayal in pop culture is heavily simplified.
Expectation: the gym is full of evil and aggressive meatheads creating an unfriendly and excluding atmosphere.
Reality: at the gym, you will meet people of all kinds and in various shapes. This place is for everyone, and if you don’t know something, you can ask without shame.
If you’re worried that someone will judge you, well, it seems to me that it’s simply human nature and happens in many life contexts, so in a sense, it’s inevitable.
No one will stare at you or mock you in the gym. People are busy with their own training, not constantly watching others.
Moreover, seeing people who are far from being in shape regularly attending the gym, I become their silent supporter. I admire how they overcome their weaknesses and mental barriers, and I think I’m not alone in this. If you’re one of those people, go to the gym, don’t worry about anyone else, and do your thing.
Which training to choose and how much time should I spend exercising?
If you’re wondering how to start exercising and what’s the best training program for beginners, I’ll tell you straight up – the best training is the one that is regularly performed. It’s not so much about the type of exercises as it is about iron consistency that will contribute to achieving results.
But I want specifics! Tell me what to do.
Okay, I’ll try to guide you a bit. First of all, I have the impression that people think that there are special training systems that will guarantee results.
I believe that the key to shaping your physique through training is understanding the idea of systematically engaging individual muscle groups, rather than sticking to some magical “Workout by [insert name of a fitness influencer whose physique you admire]”.
Your goal should be to provide the appropriate level of stimulation to your leg muscles, back, chest, arms, and, further down the line, a few smaller muscle groups if you’re more advanced.
Your thought process should look something like this: okay, today I’m training legs, what movements/exercises do I like the most and feel the best doing? Alright, tomorrow is back. Again, what movements can I do to effectively engage my back? And so on, for the remaining muscle groups. There are plenty of movements available for all muscles in different planes that you can freely choose and group together.
If you’re just starting out, begin with a FBW (full body workout) and train your entire body during each gym visit.
Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps for legs, back, chest, biceps, triceps, arms and finish with abs.
Over time, increase the weight, number of repetitions, and sets. Eventually, this will force a change in your training system as you won’t be able to properly engage each muscle group at every workout.
Two popular systems you can try are push, pull, legs, which groups exercises based on the nature of the movement, and upper-lower, which alternates between training upper and lower body, i.e. today upper body, tomorrow lower body, a day off.
It’s important how many times a week you plan to train. Personally, I train three days in a row and then rest for one day, and then repeat. I use a modified push, pull, legs system.
Day 1: chest + triceps + abs.
Day 2: back + biceps + abs.
Day 3: legs, including calves, + shoulders + abs.
On the first two days, I work on a major muscle group and a smaller one, and on the third day, the lower body and a small but crucial upper body part. You don’t need to work on abs every time. I just like to feel that I have a strong core.
To sum up, start with a full-body workout every time, explore exercises for each muscle group, and then group them to attack each group regularly (twice within 6-8 days).
A few things to keep in mind:
- Stretching and foam rolling – there are different opinions on this, I do it before, but it’s also worth doing after. Take care especially of your back, as it is absolutely crucial for your overall mobility and fitness.
- Start your workout with large muscle groups – legs, back and chest. Finish with the smallest one (usually abs).
- Take care of regeneration – rest days and quality sleep are essential for the body to rebuild and create new muscle fibers.
- Mindset – for the best training results, it should be a challenge but also enjoyable for you.
When and what results can I expect
Every investor, and that includes you, investing your time and energy, wants to know when and what return they can expect. A significant advantage of fitness compared to strictly financial investments is that the return is guaranteed. Of course, not everyone will achieve a fitness model’s physique in a year, but everyone will become better, and most have the potential for significant improvement over several years.
The scale of the return will, of course, depend on where you start from. There are people who are slim with clear genetic potential for physique development, and there are also obese people who will have to work twice as hard.
There is no single formula that allows for precise calculation of weight, measurements, or expected strength results and to place them on a timeline. I believe that one should not even think about it in terms of deadlines. Your main goal is to change behaviors and build good habits for life.
All you can and must do is consistently adhere to the rules and implement the plan. Time will pass anyway; the question is how you will use it.
The above post provides answers to a series of questions that people who want to start their adventure with the gym may ask themselves. I sincerely hope that it will help someone start a new, better phase of their life.
So, how to start at the gym?
- Don’t expect a miracle
- Focus on the basics
- Remember a few important issues and don’t bother with nonsense
- Have a sensible diet and training plan, and then implement it consistently
The beginning may be difficult, but once you catch the wind in your sails, you may find that, like me, you become addicted to conscious eating and regular physical activity. Good luck!
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