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How To Start Working Out When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

How To Start Working Out When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

What do you do when you’re trying to start a new workout routine?

Maybe you’ve been training your entire life and just want a new exercise to keep things fresh. Or maybe you’re getting started with exercise for the first time and don’t know how to start working out. Either way, starting a new training routine is something we all deal with from time to time.

For example, I recently added sprint training to my workout routine. There’s just one problem: I’ve never done sprint training before.

In this post, I’ll outline the strategies I used to get started with a new workout routine and how you can use them to kickstart your own training.

Decide what you want to be good at doing.

I’ve written previously about how important a sense of purpose can be, and that holds true for exercise and training as well.

The more specific you are about what you want to become good at doing, the easier it is for you to train for success. In my case, I want to become good at 400m sprints. That’s a clear goal and it helps provide direction to me in the process.

If you’re confused about how to start working out, then make a decision. It doesn’t even have to be the “best” decision. Just choose something that you want to become good at doing and start moving in that direction. There will be plenty of time for adjustments and optimization later.

Ask someone who has been there.

In the beginning, I had no idea what a typical sprint workout even looked like.

How did I find out? I asked people who did know. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Everybody is a beginner at some point. The people around you are your greatest assets.

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I went to my strength and conditioning coach from college, my old teammates who had done sprint training, and a friend who ran track competitively. I asked each of them for suggestions and programs for 400m sprint training and for general sprinting tips.

My hope was that by asking five different people instead of just one, I would get a more well-rounded view. As expected, everyone pointed me towards different programs and routines.

While all of this different information might seem conflicting and confusing at first, it’s important for the next step.

Get the main idea, skip the details.

This is where most people give up and never get going with their new routine (don’t worry—it’s happened to me as well).

Fitness is one of the worst industries if you’re looking for clear advice. It seems like everyone has a different way of doing things and they are all convinced that their way is the only way.

As a result, it’s easy to stress out over the details of a new workout routine. Should I do 5 sets or 6 sets? Program A says I should rest for 90 seconds, but Program B says I should rest for 60 seconds. This website says to work out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but my friend did it on Tuesday and Thursday. Which one is right?

Let’s all take a deep breath.

Here’s a little knowledge bomb for you: the details don’t matter in the beginning.

You’ll have plenty of time to figure out technique, rest periods, volume, training schedules, yada yada yada. When you’re starting a new workout routine, the only thing that matters is getting started. Get the main idea, stick to the schedule, and the details will begin to fall into place.

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Here’s how I did it with my sprint training:

I read each of the resources and workout programs that my friends sent me. Then, I wrote down the common ideas from each program.

Here’s what they looked like:

  • run sprints that range from 200m to 500m
  • rest for 2 or 3 minutes between sets
  • run between 3 to 6 sprints per workout
  • do sprint workouts 2 or 3 times per week

Did I leave out a lot of details? Yes. But with the main ideas above, I could go to the track and get my first sprint workout done.

And in the beginning that’s the real goal: make it as simple as possible to get started.

Go slow.

Most of the time when we decide to start a new workout routine it’s because we’re motivated to do it. It’s great to have motivation, but as I’ve mentioned before, it can be a double-edged sword.

Why? First, because motivation fluctuates. This means you can’t rely on it. That’s why you want to build good habits instead of getting motivated.

But secondly, motivation can fool you into biting off more than you can chew (I wrote about why this is an issue, and how to avoid it, here).

In the beginning, you want to start slow. Remember, the goal is to get in the habit of doing the workouts, not to do intense workouts.

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Here’s how I started with my sprints:

The first workout, I did 3 sprints of 200m at 50% intensity. It was easy and slow. I was simply trying to get my body used to running again.

The second workout, I did 2 sprints of 400m with 3 minutes rest in between. Again, this wasn’t a particularly taxing workout.

In the beginning, you want the workouts to be easy. This is true for the first 3 or 4 weeks. Your only goal is to stick to the schedule and build the capacity to do the workout. Performance doesn’t matter.

It seems like this is the exact opposite of what most people do. The typical approach is to go from sitting on your couch to doing P90X for six days every week. With a switch like that, it’s no wonder that most people give up after a week.

Don’t miss workouts.

If I could summarize everything I’ve learned in 10 years of strength training, it would come down to these three words: don’t miss workouts.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, here’s what our workout calendar usually looks like:

  • Workout consistently for a month or two.
  • Get sick. Miss multiple workouts. Spend the next month getting back in shape.
  • Workout consistently for a month or two.
  • Schedule changes. Life gets crazy. Miss multiple workouts. Spend the next month getting back in shape.
  • Workout consistently for a month or two.
  • Travel. Vacation. Time off. Miss multiple workouts. Spend the next month getting back in shape.

And on and on.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with your schedule changing or taking vacation, but you need to have a system to make it as easy as possible to get back on track. This is especially true when you’re just getting started with a new workout routine.

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When I started my pushup routine, I managed to get 17 consecutive workouts in before I missed a day. And I got right back on track after that one day off. In total, I did 93 pushup workouts over the course of 8 months.

The individual impact of each workout has been very small, but the cumulative impact of sticking to that schedule has been huge. (I’ve doubled the amount of pushups that I can do.) And it all comes down to not missing workouts.

I’m planning on applying this same strategy to my sprint workouts and I suggest you do the same.

Pick an exercise and get started.

There are more exercises in the world than I care to count, but I think you can list the important ones on two hands.

  • Clean and Jerk
  • Snatch
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Pushups
  • Pullups
  • Sprints

Pick one that you would like to be good at and get started.

Remember, you don’t need to worry about the details in the beginning. Just get the main idea, start slow, and don’t miss workouts.

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to hit the track.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on September 4, 2020

How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle to See Results Fast

How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle to See Results Fast

There’s a lot of confusion, mystery, and desperation around how to lose fat and gain muscle. We applaud body transformation pictures we see on Instagram, Facebook, and magazine covers but are never able to replicate the results ourselves.

Well, that mystery is over because I will tell you exactly how to achieve those results in this article.

The journey to getting there is straightforward but not easy. Most people give up too early in the game, when they stop making visible progress.

Keep reading to learn how to utilize your metabolism and the laws of muscle building to lose fat and gain muscle fast.

Skyrocket Your Metabolism to Lose Fat

Learning how to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time is one of the biggest misunderstandings of body transformations because they are opposite metabolic processes.

To lose fat, you must have calorie deficits each day, and to gain muscle, you must be in a caloric surplus, but you cannot do both at the same time.

When you look at pictures, it looks like it can be done simultaneously, but what is actually happening is a change in fat and muscle percentages.

If your weight stays the same through your journey, and you lose body fat, your percent of lean muscle mass automatically goes up by default. You didn’t gain any muscle, but your fat and muscle ratio percentages have shifted.

Calculating Your Calories to Lose Fat

There are many good calorie calculators out there that will give you an estimate on how much to eat to start losing fat for weight loss. You usually need to cut about 10 to 15% of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calories to start the process.

You can find a visual explanation of TDEE below[1]:

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Use TDEE to learn how to lose fat and gain muscle.

    Remember that the calculators are just an estimate. It’s up to you to track your measurements and to adjust your caloric intake to ensure you’re getting the results you’re looking for.

    Metabolism calculators take into account four different ways your body burns calories to come up with your TDEE, or how many calories you burn in a day:

    • Resting metabolic rate
    • Thermic effect of food
    • Thermic effect of activity
    • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis

    Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

    This is your baseline metabolism at rest, or how many calories your body needs to survive if you spent the entire day lying in bed awake.

    RMR accounts for about 60 to 75% of your total daily energy expenditure. Your RMR is mostly determined by how much you weigh.

    A heavier person has a higher RMR than a lighter person, even if the lighter person has a higher lean muscle mass, because the metabolism of muscle only contributes to about 20% of your total RMR energy expenditure[2].

    Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

    You’ve heard that to lose weight and gain muscle, you should be eating lots of protein. This is true for a number of reasons:

    • Lowers your intake of other types of foods, like processed carbs.
    • Increases satiety, so you continue to feel fuller, longer.
    • The building blocks for your muscles are found in protein.

    About 30% of the calories from protein intake are burned off during the digestion process, which includes absorption and waste removal of it. Eating more protein as opposed to other macros increases the amount of calories burned during digestion. That’s why you feel fuller with a higher protein diet.

    Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)

    The calories burned in TEA are relatively minor in your entire TDEE equation. TEA is any calories burned during official exercise, like going to the gym, doing an aerobics class, or going for a run. It covers any exercise you do outside of your normal activities.

    Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

    The calories burned in NEAT is the big game changer for most people and can vary up to 2000 calories burned per day between people with identical RMRs[3].

    For the majority of us, when we’re done with our workouts for the day, we don’t do much else for movement. We spend about an hour in the gym, and instead of using the other 15 hours awake as an opportunity to move and burn more calories, we spend it sitting.

    This is how there can be such a big difference between the amount of calories burned between two people who have the same RMR.

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    Outside of your gym workout, any additional body movements count towards burning additional calories. The quickest way to add this to your day is to make everything you do as inconvenient for yourself as possible.

    Examples of inconvenient activities that count towards NEAT include:

    • Taking the stairs versus the elevator
    • Parking farther away
    • Getting up to change the TV channel versus using the remote
    • Pacing and walking while on a phone call instead of sitting down

    Increasing your NEAT goes a long way to helping your burn calories faster, leading to quicker fat loss. For more ideas on how to make life a little more inconvenient to up your activity level, check out this article.

    The Laws of Building Muscle

    Congrats on reaching the stage where you want to tone and get some definition! Learning how to lose fat and gain muscle isn’t an easy process, so if you’ve taken it on, that’s a huge step.

    To build muscle, first you want to increase your calorie intake.

    Based on your TDEE, you want to add about 10% more calories as a starting point. This is enough calories to build muscle, and any excess can lead to fat storage if you’re not training hard enough or aren’t active enough.

    Again, be sure to track your measurements and adjust your calories if necessary.

    Second, follow a muscle-building program that you can sustain for at least 3 to 6 months.

    Consistency is key with building muscles because they need to be stimulated and broken down on a regular basis in order to build back up. You want to strength train at least twice a week for at least an hour each time to start getting results.

    Of course, more often is better but requires better planning and a more complicated body parts training plan. So, start simple if you’re a novice. It’s not necessary to train 6 times a week unless you’re training for a competition.

    Progressive Overload

    Muscle needs to be challenged in order to grow. You need to gradually and consistently increase the amount of load and volume you are lifting.

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    Load means the amount of weight you’re lifting during weight training. Up to a certain point, it becomes unrealistic to keep adding pounds to each exercise every week, at which point you need to switch exercises and work on your weaker points to break that plateau.

    However, the goal with load is to keep increasing the amount of weight you lift.

    Increasing the volume you do is another method to progressive overload. Volume means the total number of reps for that specific exercise. If you’re doing 3 sets of 12 reps, it means you’ve done a total of 36 reps.

    But increasing volume doesn’t mean doing super high reps of 20+ unless you’re training your muscle for endurance versus strength.

    You want to use a challenging weight and be able to lift more of it each week through increased reps and sets.

    Here is a visual explanation of how you can engage in progressive overload[4]:

    PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD FOR MUSCLE MASS by @jmaxfitness - Visit the link in my bio to claim your free 1-week muscle bu… | Muscle, Gain muscle, Weight training workouts

      Training Intensity

      Paying attention to what you’re doing is required if you want to lose fat and build muscle because you want to build and improve the mind-muscle connection to optimize growth.

      A healthy mind-body connection means you’re able to better feel your muscles working during each lift.

      You know you’ve picked the right weight when the last 2 to 3 reps of your intended rep range is challenging. On occasion, you want to push past the burn and muscle fatigue for the last reps.

      This little bit of pushing past the discomfort is the difference between an average body and a body with more definition. Lifting almost to failure increases muscle recruitment, metabolic stress, and anabolic recruitment to grow muscles.

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      Proper Recovery

      This is the most overlooked aspect of building muscles. We focus too much on pre/post workout meals, macro tweaking, and supplements, forgetting that we already have the ultimate tool for recovery: our own body.

      For best recovery practices, allow at least a day, but no more than 3 days of rest between workouts that stress the same muscle group. Overtraining results in diminished exercise capacity, possible injury, and illness.

      Remember, muscles are broken down in the gym and built outside of it during recovery.

      Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and be mindful of your stress levels to optimize recovery time. A lack of sleep and excess stress will spike cortisol levels, leading to hunger cravings, decrease regulation of burning fat, and cause faster aging.

      You can learn how to lower your stress levels fast here.

      Stop Program Hopping

      Every day, there is new workout, new exercise, new program on a website, in a magazine, or in your social media feed. No wonder we’re tempted to try a little bit of everything!

      Frequent program hopping stops you from getting any results.

      When you change programs too often, you don’t make progress on each exercise. It becomes hard to gauge whether you’re getting stronger or even getting results because you’re not allowing enough time for your body to adapt.

      Strength is a skill that needs to be built and developed by practicing it consistently. If you’re changing the skill set too often, you won’t know if you’re improving, and, therefore, cutting yourself short of future muscle gains.

      Conclusion

      The steps to losing fat and gaining muscle are simple, but the journey to get there is not.

      Tracking and measuring your calories is the quickest way to lose fat, along with increasing your activity level outside of the gym. Having a stronger, more toned body can be yours when you follow the laws of building muscles consistently.

      Applying these methods will guarantee that you get the results you’re after!

      More on How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle

      Featured photo credit: Benjamin Klaver via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Cheat Day Design: What is TDEE?
      [2] International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Determinants of energy expenditure and fuel utilization in man: effects of body composition, age, sex, ethnicity and glucose tolerance in 916 subjects
      [3] Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: Variability in energy expenditure and its components
      [4] J Max Fitness: PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD FOR MUSCLE MASS

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