Exercise has a ton of benefits, from physical health to emotional wellness. Staying fit can improve mood, boost creativity, and even sharpen long-term memory. But getting started with a fitness routine, or with any new habit, is hard Creatures of habit: Accounting for the role of habit in implementation research on clinical behaviour change. Nilsen, P., Roback, K., Brostrom, A., et al. Implementation Science, 2012; 7(53).. The good news? We’ve rounded up some great tips from personal trainers, yoga instructors, and other fitness experts to make getting started with fitness successful, sustainable, and fun.
We asked Greatist Experts and fitness professionals what they wish they had known when they first got started with exercise. After putting together the suggestions they gave us, we came up with a list of practical tips for people who are brand new to the fitness game.
1. Ask “Why?”
Plenty of people have heard the recommendation that adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. While plenty of science backs this up, this guideline doesn’t offer much in the way of personal motivation American college of sports medicine position stand. quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: Guidance for prescribing exercise. Garber, C. E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M. R., et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2011; 43:1334-1359.. In other words, if someone is thinking about getting started with exercise, chances are that it’s not because the USDA says it’s a good idea. So what’s a better motivator? Trainer Jonathan Angelilli urges beginners to seriously consider the question, “Why do you want to exercise?” He notes that “the more you can connect exercise to what your purpose in life is, the easier it is to evolve, become super fit, well rounded, and healthy.”
Try it: Identify the reason behind your desire to exercise. Sure, it may be to look good at the beach, but that reason may not last for much longer than swimsuit season. Keep in mind that things like staying happy or improving performance will probably be stronger motivators than six-pack abs.
2. Show Up Hungry
We’re not talking about skipping a pre-workout snack! Yoga instructor Julie Skaarup frequently hears this one from non-yogis: “I can't do yoga because I'm not flexible enough.” While this sounds pretty similar to something we may have said before, according to Skaarup, “This is kind of like saying, ‘Oh, I can't eat dinner now because I'm too hungry.’” (Or believing that only flexible people can practice yoga…not true! Beginners stand to gain the most from starting a fitness regime).
Try it: Think of one fitness-related activity that you’re reluctant to start because you’re too [inflexible/uncoordinated/out-of-shape/etc.]. Now, go out and find a beginner-friendly class and show up ready to learn. You can only get better from there!
3. Ask “Why Not?”
Everyone faces different obstacles, and it’s super easy to use those obstacles as reasons “why not” (ahem, excuses). Life coach and yoga instructor Sarah Olin advises beginners to “find what is getting in your way, identify that, and get over it!” Whether these challenges involve scheduling, lack of motivation, or physical discomfort, it’s about recognizing the roadblocks and figuring out specific ways to work around them.
Try it: Identify three challenges that are standing between you and your intention to start exercising. For each roadblock, come up with a couple of specific solutions that work for you. Use the list whenever you need an excuse-buster or three.
4. (Don’t) Stress... for Success!
Triathlete Terra Castro knows a thing or two about being super-fit. One of her top tips? “Rest when stressed! Better workouts come from being whole and ready.” Trainer Jonathan Angelilli agrees; he believes that "less really is more" and emphasizes the importance of recovery. It’s super important to incorporate rest days and easy days into a fitness routine; not only can they help prevent overuse injuries and mental burnout, they can actually help keep your immune system running.
Try it: Plan for rest days and don’t be afraid to take it easy if you’re feeling fatigued or sore.
5. Leap in…with a Baby Step
Establishing a fitness routine and a healthier lifestyle can seem overwhelming, complicated, and even impossible. But taking a bold first step will go a long way toward boosting confidence and preparing for success. Triathlete Terra Castro says, “The first step is putting it out there—being bold and believing you can do it. Take even a baby step.”
Try it: You know “that one scary goal that you think about a lot on the inside but don't really share...? Write it down,” says Castro. Share it with someone close to you to keep yourself accountable.
6. Goals, Goals, Goals
For Olympic Weightlifting Specialist Jason Edmonds, specific goals are pretty much part of the job description. Goals aren’t just for marathon-runners or professional athletes, however. Edmonds believes that everyone can benefit from goal-setting. He advises beginners to set specific goals for performance in a fitness program or in a sport. The payoff? “Ultimately, you'll be more consistent, and will be more satisfied, and as a bonus might find that you like the way your program makes you look too.”
Try it: Be SMART about goal-setting. For whatever activity you choose, set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This means coming up with a target like, “I will attend three yoga classes over the course of the next week,” or “I will work up to running for five minutes without stopping by July 5th.” Even though these may seem insignificant, a bunch of small, positive changes will add up!
7. Don’t Get Tied Up in Knots
While goals are great motivators, don’t be discouraged if they seem out of reach at first. Yoga instructor Julie Skaarup recommends taking it slow and enjoying the journey: “Your practice will grow over time, and maybe someday you'll find yourself twisted up like a pretzel, but in the meantime, you get to enjoy the deep release of mind, body and spirit that yoga has been providing for generations.”
Try it: Next time you find yourself getting overwhelmed by all that you can’t do (which may seem like a LOT!), focus on enjoying and living in the moment. Awesome music, a favorite yoga pose, or just feeling like a badass for getting out there can turn a blah workout into a blast.
8. Make It Fun
A common newbie mistake? According to trainer Jordan Syatt, “If you aren’t having fun…you aren’t doing it right.” If the treadmill seems, well, the opposite of fun, here’s a secret: The problem is not you, it’s the ‘mill. Fortunately, there are so many other ways to get moving. Olin comments, “When I first started yoga, I didn’t understand that there were many different styles…it’s endless.” Still not convinced there’s something fun out there? Research shows that adults, prior to an exercise session, typically underestimate how much they will enjoy it The invisible benefits of exercise. Ruby, M. B., Dunn, E. W., Perrino, A., et al. Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2011; 30:67-74..
Try it: To find an activity that’s enjoyable, don’t stop searching if something doesn’t click right away. Hated that hot yoga class? Try another style of yoga (there are tons of types to choose from), or check out another activity altogether!
9. Resist Resistance
Sometimes the hardest part is just getting over our own reluctance to change. Olin gave it to us straight: “Resistance is resistance is resistance…get over it. If you want something, go and get it.” Trainer Rob Sulaver had some similar advice. According to him, “The magic sauce” of fitness is simple: “It doesn't matter what you do. Truly. The only thing that matters is that you do something. You have to start. Starting is everything.”
Try it: Nike’s slogan may be cliché, but it’s a great mantra to keep in mind. Come up with a phrase (here you go!) that will serve as a mental kick-in-the-butt (hey, sometimes that’s what you need to get out of the door!).
10. Try a Little Bribery
Research shows that financial incentives (a.k.a. “bribing” yourself with some kind of reward) can increase adherence to exercise programs in both the short and the long term Financial incentives for exercise adherence in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Mitchell, M. S., Goodman, J. M., Alter, D. A., et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2013; 45:658-667.. Olin fully supports the incentive approach in her own life. “I am big on rewards,” she says. “If I know there’s a juicy reward in it for me, I am much more likely to get myself to that yoga class.”
Try it: Set up an incentive system. Make a deal with yourself—try a small reward in exchange for making it to a fitness class. Or sign up for an app like Pact that gives users cash rewards for meeting fitness and nutrition goals.
11. Don’t Overthink It
According to trainer Rob Sulaver, “Initially, the problem with most folks’ relationships to health and fitness is information overload.” There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially as a beginner. Contrary to what some sources may lead you to believe, a HIIT workout (tracked and posted to social media via a fitness tracker), followed by a gluten-free green juice and a stress-busting massage isn’t the only way to go. An old-fashioned walk or run will do the trick!
Try it: Get off the computer screen, already!