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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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Published on July 18, 2019

11 Best Core Strengthening Exercises to Do At Home

11 Best Core Strengthening Exercises to Do At Home

No matter where you are in your fitness journey, chances are you wouldn’t mind a little more definition in your midsection.

Whether you have a six pack or a beer belly, those abs could probably be a little bit sharper. Not to mention developing better core strength is hugely important when it comes to improving your overall strength and athleticism, as well as protecting you from injuries.[1]

The good news? Your abs and core muscles can handle a lot of training.

While most of your muscle groups do best with just two training sessions per week,[2] you can hit your abs every other day to great effect. You don’t even have to leave the house!

Here’s my guide to the 11 best core strengthening exercises you can do at home with no equipment.

1. Planks

Let’s start with the mother of all core-strengtheners, the plank.

Planks not only work your abs and obliques, they challenge those core muscles deep inside your body that help promote stability and power. They can also reduce back pain and improve your balance and posture.

Get down into pushup position, feet behind you, hands under your shoulders. Lock out your arms and legs, squeeze your core muscles, and hold your body stiff (like a plank!) for as long as you can.

For a more challenging variation, try a forearm plank with your arms out in front you. Lay your forearms on the ground for support, with your elbows under your face rather than aligned with your shoulders.

2. Side Planks

To hit your obliques even harder, try this challenging variation: the side plank.

From plank position, rotate onto one side. Prop yourself up on your elbow and one foot with your body straight and stiff.

Don’t forget to squeeze your core as you hold this position for as long as you can.

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Switch sides and repeat to avoid creating muscle imbalances.

3. Reverse Crunches

The regular stomach crunch is a fine exercise, but when it comes to abs and core strength, you’ll want to opt for moves that are a lot more challenging.

When you can crank out 50 crunches without a problem, it’s probably time for something new.

The reverse crunch packs a wallop for your lower abs and can be done anywhere, anytime, just like the standard crunch.

Lay on your back with knees bent in crunch position. Place your hands flat on the ground by your side and lift your pelvis, bringing your knees up toward your face, then back down again.

Engage your lower ab muscles to do the work, not your back. Repeat for a few sets of 12-20 reps.

4. Flutter Kicks

The lower abs are a problem area for a lot of people, so we’ll want to work them hard.

If that sounds like you, flutter kicks are just what the doctor ordered.

Lay flat on your back in leg raise position, hands at your sides or pressed into the floor. Raise your legs together about 6 inches off the floor, then alternate lowering one and raising one a few inches in rapid succession.

It should look like you’re kicking the air, and it should give you quite a burn in your abdominal area.

5. Arms High Sit-Ups

Imagine a crunch, but way harder!

Lay down on the ground in sit-up position, knees bent, feet flat on the floor in front of you.

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Raise your arms up to the sky and keep them elevated as you perform a few sets of sit-ups.

Engaging your arms in this way makes the move extraordinarily difficult and taxing. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of this move versus traditional crunches.

6. L-Sits

The L-Sit is outrageously difficult to perform well, but if you can build your strength here, the benefits are phenomenal.

To perform an L-Sit, you’ll need a stable surface to press off of. You can do them on the floor, but it’s a little easier if you can elevate yourself on a pair of dumbbells, two sturdy chairs, or a similar apparatus.

Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Lock your arms in place at your sides, palms on the ground or surface, and press. Bring your legs into the air, perpendicular to your upper body, using the tension from your locked arms.

Hold this position as long as possible for an intense strength building workout.

7. Stomach Vacuums

And now for something different!

It’s easy to work your front-facing abdominal muscles, but there is another muscle group in your core that’s frequently overlooked: The transverse abdominis.

This muscle isn’t visible through your skin, but it’s incredibly important in stabilizing your body, creating good posture, and holding your belly in tight to your spine.

To strengthen this muscle and get a flatter stomach, try stomach vacuums.[3]

Standing straight and tall. Exhale all of the air out of your body and simultaneously pull your belly in tight. Imagine sucking your belly button back into your spine.

You’ll feel the transverse abdominis engage. Hold as long as possible, rest and then repeat.

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8. Star Planks

Planks are too effective to not utilize multiple variations of them in your routine.

The star plank engaged similar muscles to the traditional plank, but is a lot harder to hold for time.

From the push-up or standard plank position, walk your feet out wide and your hands, as well.

Your body should form an X position. Elevate your core off the ground, squeeze tight, and hold for as long as possible.

9. Boat Pose

Yogis know all about core strength, so if you want a tighter tummy, you should take a page out of their playbook.

Boat pose is an extremely difficult isometric hold that builds exceptional balance and core power.

Star in sit-up position. Crunch yourself up toward your knees, then lift your feet off the floor until they’re about level with your face. Balance on your butt, squeeze your core, and hold this position as long as you can.

Your body should form a V with the only point of contact being your butt on the ground. Holding boat pose should be extraordinarily challenging!

10. Mountain Climbers

Ab work alone won’t shred stomach fat. But when you combine abs and cardio, that’s when you’re onto something magical.

Mountain climbers fit the bill if you’re looking to blast your core and also work up a good sweat.

Get down into plank position. With your arms locked and your body tight, drive one knee at a time off the floor, up toward your chest, and then back to its original position. Repeat in quick succession.

It should look like you’re climbing a hill, and it should exhaust you in a matter of seconds!

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11. Russian Twists

Finally, let’s give the obliques a little more love.

Get down into sit-up position and perform a crunch toward your knees. From here, lean back so your torso is at a 45 degree angle to the floor, clasp your hands in front of you, and twist side to side in rapid succession.

You’ll feel your obliques engage after just a few reps.

For a more difficult variation, lift your feet off the floor similar to boat pose while perform the move, or perform the twist using a heavy medicine ball for added resistance.

The Bottom Line

The biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to six-pack abs is a low body fat percentage. That’s best accomplished by sticking to a smart diet and building your fully body strength.

However, if you want to improve your athleticism, overall strength, or even your longevity, you can afford to work your abs a bit more frequently — 3-4 times per week is perfect.

If you hit them hard enough, you’ll probably see some great improvement in definition as well!

Cranking out endless crunches is one way to go about core training, but there are so many better and more challenging moves you can try without ever having to leave your living room.

Give them a shot!

Featured photo credit: Luis Quintero via unsplash.com

Reference

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