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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 July 3, 2020

7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Workout

7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Workout

Maybe you like going on walks in your neighborhood or hiking in the park, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Or perhaps, you like to push yourself with spin classes and work up a real sweat. Maybe that basketball at a local recreation league is your thing.

But even though you enjoy these activities and you like the way you feel when you are doing them, somehow lately, you haven’t been able to muster up the energy to participate.

There’s a “catch-22” that often happens when you’re wanting to work out, but you are not in the mood. Working out will boost your mood and make you feel better.[1]

But because of your current mood, you don’t want to work out. Does this conundrum sound familiar?

Anyone can get stuck in this rut from time to time. It could be that work has been taking too much out of you, or your family and personal commitments are eating up a lot of your time and energy. You’ve got to find a way to break out of this cycle.

Getting your groove back requires finding a way to getting back to working out; you need a way to get started again.

How can you get started? Use one of the following hacks to get you back on track. Find one or two of the ideas on this list that speak to you and that you think you can easily implement. Once you get your workout mojo back, you’ll be surprised at not only how much better you can feel in a short amount of time, but also how much better everything will seem.

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Here are 7 ways to motivate yourself to workout.

1. Don’t Get Sucked Into the Black Hole of the Couch

As soon as you come in the door from work, get your workout clothes on and hit the door. If you sit down on the comfy sofa, it will take more fortitude to get yourself going. Think of your sofa as quicksand and don’t get pulled into the trap.

It’s a simple law of physics—Newton’s first law: An object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion.[2] You can nestle into the comfy couch after your workout. But first, while you’re in motion from your day, stay in motion and get your workout in.

2. Find an Accountability Partner

Studies show that having an accountability partner greatly increases your exercise frequency and success.[3] Talk to some of your friends and find someone who is interested who has the same schedule as you, and you’ll find it easier to motivate yourself to workout.

Maybe you have a friend who would love to hike early morning before work, or maybe you know someone that would like to hit a dance class right after work ends. Knowing that you have to meet someone else will make you think twice about blowing off your workout.

You don’t have to have all your workouts include your partner, but even if you meet this person once a week, that will give you a boost to want to keep your workout going on other days. If you really feel that you need an accountability partner all the time, then find 2-3 people and meet them 2-3 times a week.

One caveat: if your accountability partner cancels on you, be prepared for that and keep to your schedule. Everyone has things come up every now and then, but if you find your partner is frequently trying to cancel or reschedule, you probably need to find a new partner.

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3. Or, Make Yourself an Accountability Partner

Commit to 30 days of an exercise plan. Look at your calendar and plan out which days and times you are going to work out, including what that workout will be. Allow yourself two “do-overs” for random life events or illness—but only two.

For example, let’s say you have on your calendar that you are going to go to a spin class after work on a Tuesday, but a family member calls whose car broke down and you have to go assist.

You will rearrange that date of your spin class and find a different date to put it on the calendar, but you only want to do that for necessary external life events. Hitting the snooze button because you woke up too tired isn’t a good excuse.

If you can stick to 30 days of this plan, it should feel more like a habit and be simpler going forward as you reap the benefits of feeling better, mood boost, and more energy.

4. Integrate Some Mini-Movement Into Your Day

If you go into work and sit at a desk most of the day, it will feel good to get out and move your muscles afterward. But sometimes, it seems difficult to get out of that sedentary rut.

One solution is staying in touch with your body all throughout the day. Set a few timers on your phone during the day, and when they go off, take a few minutes to do different physical movements.

Stretching and doing forward bends or side bends are some ideas. You can stand against the wall and “peel” off of it, feeling each vertebra and releasing your lower back. Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes around. Do calf raises, standing up and lifting your heels up and down.

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These small movements done 2-3 times throughout your workday may seem insignificant, but they will keep your attuned to your physical self a bit more so that you will be more motivated to have some bigger, longer, “real” workout sessions.

Think of them as appetizers and your workout is the big meal.

5. Eat Something Fresh

Speaking of a big meal, what we eat and drink is related to how we feel. So, if you’re not eating particularly well these days, commit to at least eating one fresh item daily. Maybe you have an apple as an afternoon snack. Perhaps you fix a nice salad to go along with your dinner.

Sometimes, we’re so busy on the run that we don’t realize we’ve not been eating as fresh as we’d like. By making the conscious choice to seek out some fresh food, you’re taking care of yourself which in turn will make you think about those same kinds of choices when it comes to exercise.

Another benefit is that if you’re eating well, you may feel “lighter” and have more energy to work out.

6. Create an Alter Ego

It may sound kind of crazy at first, but employing the use of an alter ego can be a great way to break out of a habit or create some life changes you desire. In his book The Alter Ego Effect, Todd Herman illustrates how an Alter Ego is a mental trick to improve your life. Many famous entertainers have used alter egos to overcome stage fright.

How could this work for you? You may be too tired to work out at the end of the day, but your alter ego isn’t.

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Let’s say you create a character named “Ironman.” Sure, when you come in from a long day at work, you can talk yourself into wanting to relax on the couch. But Ironman doesn’t feel that way—he’s ready to throw on his sneakers and go for a run!

7. Water, Water Everywhere

Sometimes the simplest rules are the most important. We all know we are supposed to be hydrated throughout the day. But if you’re busy all day at work and you’ve nursed a big tumbler of coffee all morning, suddenly it might be early afternoon and you realize you haven’t had any water today.

Drinking water boosts mood and decreases fatigue.[4] These two factors will help you motivate yourself to workout.

Make sure you’re getting your water intake all throughout the day, and if you’ve had coffee, drink some extra water to counteract the dehydrating effect of it.

Final Thoughts

So, how are you planning to get going this week?

Motivate yourself to workout—pour yourself a big glass of water, get out your calendar, and think about what types of workouts you want to do.

Whether you call a friend and ask him/her to be an accountability partner, or whether you sketch out an alter ego for yourself so you can harness your power, you can use a hack to get you back on the track of being motivated to work out.

You know how good you feel when you do, so give yourself that gift. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow—go get your sneakers on!

More Tips to Motivate Yourself to Workout

Featured photo credit: Jonathan Borba via unsplash.com

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