8 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Working Out

by Shannon Clark
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8 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Working Out

If you’re getting ready to kick-start your journey into fitness—whether it’s starting a strength training workout for the first time, finally lacing up your running shoes and hitting the pavement like you’ve talked about all these years, or taking a group fitness class like kickboxing or yoga—there’s likely a little voice in the back of your head giving you doubts.

The voice might make you wonder if you can really do this—are you really prepared? Do you really know what you’re doing? Will you really see success?

Very often, these doubts simply come from the fact that you don’t have experience with what you’re about to do and are worried there’s too much you don’t know.

To help ease these doubts and make the transition into fitness easier, here are a few of the big things I’ve learned throughout my 15-year journey to fitness.

1. THERE WILL BE DAYS YOU JUST DON’T WANT TO

First, let’s start with what you likely don’t want to hear: You won’t always be motivated. Inspiration comes and goes, even for the most fit individuals, and that’s completely OK. Normal even.

Embrace it. Realize that you can’t expect motivation to carry you through this journey. You need to trust the process and know that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, results will eventually come. In fact, your ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other during this time is what will make you stronger mentally—just as your workouts make you stronger physically.

Even on those days when you just aren’t feeling into it, do something active. Something will almost always be better than nothing (unless you really do just need to rest, and then it’s time to listen to your body—more on this later).

2. FINDING YOUR “INNER REASON” IS KEY

Why do you want to exercise? Does it make you feel more confident? Does it give you more energy? Do you want to be active with your grandkids?

Find an inner reason—something that isn’t about impressing others or looking good at your reunion. Those reasons just won’t stand the test of time.

3. PROGRESS WON’T ALWAYS BE LINEAR

It would be great if your results were just a straight line that went up, up and up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Understand that you’ll progress much faster at certain times than others. Again, this is natural. Don’t give up the fight. Just as things seem to slow, you need to trust that they’ll pick up again.

Learn the difference between slow progress and stagnation. If it’s been four weeks or longer without any results, it’s time for re-evaluation. Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result. If after four weeks you aren’t seeing progress, then it isn’t coming.


READ MORE > 12 WORKOUT MYTHS THAT JUST NEED TO GO AWAY


4. REST IS KEY

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the great changes that are taking place, and you might want to work out every single chance you get. Unfortunately, this will likely result in slowed progress, burnout, illness or injury.

Rest is a vital component in the process of getting fitter. Learn this now or you’ll be forced to learn it later when you’re sidelined due to fatigue or injury. The choice is yours.

5. PERIODIZATION IS IMPORTANT

Periodization, meaning focusing on different goals at various points, is also a must. During some months, gaining strength may be a goal. Over the next few months, you might choose to work on losing fat instead.

Change things up. This will not only keep you more mentally interested in your sessions, but also give your body a break from the repetitive nature of the exercise you’re doing.

Over the long run, this can go a long way towards preventing injuries.

6. COMPARISONS WILL NEVER HELP

One of the worst things that you can do as you go about this journey is compare yourself to others. There will always be someone out there who is fitter than you, leaner than you, stronger than you, and so forth.

Don’t pay attention to them. This is your journey so the only person you need to worry about is yourself.

Are you better than you were yesterday? That is the question you need to be asking.

7. SEEKING ASSISTANCE WILL HELP

Don’t be afraid to ask others for support. Benefit from the experience of others, whether this is a personal trainer, friend who’s more fit than you, or someone you know online who is an expert in the area you’re trying to improve.

Failing to get the help you need could be the one thing that causes your progress to stagnate. Don’t be shy or embarrassed about it. Reach out and you’ll be glad you did.

8. HAVING FUN SHOULD BE PRIORITIZED

Finally, it’s a must to focus on having fun. If you don’t have fun during your workout, you’re unlikely to stick with it over the long haul. Nothing says you have to lift free weights or that you have to go for a run. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

There are plenty of ways to get fit, so choose one that you’ll look forward to doing. When you enjoy the activity, it won’t feel like work and you’ll naturally want to exercise regularly.

Find something that brings you an inner sense of joy—something that makes you feel alive when you do it, and that’ll be the workout that changes the way you view fitness.

So keep these quick tips in mind. As a beginner, you’re forming the foundation upon which you’ll view fitness and everything involved with it. Make sure you make that foundation a positive one.

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  • Sherese

    great advice and well expalined thx

    • Robert Bors

      I totally agree!!!!

  • Manny Paz

    Great article!

  • Garlic7girl

    Great advice and it ain’t nothing but the TRUTH!!!!!

  • JenJen

    Agree with this 100%

    • Den

      Many people who have had strokes, knee replacement etc. need advice on how to start and continue working out. Make sure the number one thing you do is ask your doctor what is recommended for you at the start and what he sees for the future. You don’t want to have a setback from doing too much too soon. Dennis

  • Keeno

    Great article. I always push myself too hard too early and stop enjoying the activity. Now I’ve backed off a bit I’m starting to enjoy it.

  • lola

    this is amazing thank you, I needed to hear some of this.

  • Tariq

    Great article, I needed it!

  • jnbubba 151

    Great article. There are days I don’t want to go, and I go anyway. Those seem to be some of my best days. Also senior citizens need to work out with younger people. It helps me stay focused when I know I can do a modified version of a tough workout.:

  • @Cyphersjosh

    Spot on Shannon! I’m into month four of the best fitness journey I’ve set out on and its success is due to all the things you mentioned. Thank you!

  • dj

    does anyone else have a under active thyroid on here beside me..

    • scooby68

      I have a low thyroid on medication for it

    • Victoria Kazimierczak-Morfoot

      Yes I do. Why do you ask?

  • Didee

    Fantastic advice and so true! Nice to know some day to day struggles are just normal – don’t give up, just get on with it and mix it up a bit!

  • “Change things up. This will not only keep you more mentally interested in your sessions, but also give your body a break from the repetitive nature of the exercise you’re doing.”

    –> This is key for long term success and provides immense value to people looking to improve their performance in other areas. Our brains are inherently lazy and will look for the path of least resistance. When your brain finds this path it enjoys remaining there as long as possible. But the long term effects of such behavior are enormously damaging.

    Breaking out of your comfort zone and daily routine from time-to-time is great practice for breaking out of the brain’s energy saving mode — homeostasis.

    Thanks for the insightful article 🙂

  • jojo

    That really hit home at so many points. Wonderful for those who may feel like they’re jus treading water and losing motivation.

  • FitLizIsTheBiz

    Don’t wish you knew this sooner! 😉
    Check out this new app the FitCoin download now. App synchs with your calorie tracking device i.e. fitbit, and converts your calories into virtual money. Thats it! Its that simple yet genius. Purchase gift certificates, discounts or promotional items with your calories burned. Now thats my idea of motivation and support for being fit and health conscious. Happy Tracking!

  • Nushivis

    I will try this. I like this article. Very simple steps that I can take. Thanks.

  • Calvin

    The last tip may be the best piece of advice this article gives. It’s so important to have an exercise or workout you look forward to.

    Like the article said there are many ways to get fit. If you like doing something that makes you more active, do it. That first step may also take you in a direction that entices you to try new activities.

    It’s gotta be fun otherwise it won’t last.

  • Todd Magruder

    Question: I am recovering from a stroke I had 3 mos ago, and have right side weakness. What is a good recovery workout I can do at the gym?

    • Debbie Vierdag

      Todd, I had a stroke 7 years ago at the age of 54. I used the exercise bike/recumbent bike and worked with a trainer for a couple of weeks so he could help me with balance issues and help me with strength training. water walking and water exercises are great also. Good luck on your road to complete recovery.

  • James Wisecup

    Not totally agreeing with “Comparisons Will Never Help”. Negative comparisons like “I could never by like them” or “l don’t know what they know.” are not helpful… BUT… Using they/them for motivation and inspiration can be very helpful. I am always trying to model my “whatever I am working on” after others that have succeeded at that same thing. “I want to look like them” or “I want to know what they know”…Those thoughts are positive and can be very inspirational. I think that paying attention to them from a learning and growing perspective is a must. It’s how we self-teach and grow.

    • Travis Kibel

      I 100% agree with not comparing yourself to other’s. The only thing that matters is working hard on your individual fitness every day. Eventually you will hit your goals. When you start comparing yourself to other’s, it is a recipe for failure because you are not always going to live up to the comparison’s. This is especially true when one compares themselves to an unrealistic image. That last sentence tends to be the case with most people. Knowing something is different than comparing yourself to someone else. We are all genetically different. That means we could do the same things and have different results. I personally only worry about me and my goals….those goals have brought their own results.

      • James Wisecup

        I appreciate your point and agree with your perspective. Comparing yourself to others from a negative perspective is self defeating. But there is a positive side to this also.
        Working hard is good but at some point you have to learn, grow and evolve to get better. Watching and learning from others can be a great way to stay motivated.

        • teacher with no technology

          I agree Travis, if you look at comparing yourself to others in a way that in empowering, and you have chosen positive role models then comparing can be a useful tool to help prompt you along the way to finding what works in the journey to better health. If I didn’t compare myself to others I would think my lot in life is to always be a fat girl sore and tired with no energy and doomed to always be this way for the rest of my life. Instead I choose to look to others who have lost large amounts and say to myself each day ” If they can do it SO CAN I!” my role model lost weight after 40 she started running before she was thin, she didn’t follow a crash diet or take any drugs or have any surgery- she is now running marathons 3 years after starting and has lost 245 lbs, why wouldn’t I compare myself to her?

          • Doc Holiday

            Well said & good for you! (and your friend – losing 245 lbs. is amazing) I love to hear attitudes like yours (it’s not just misery that loves company). – I compare myself to those I want to be like & look like. It’s not jealousy, it’s respect & admiration. I also remind myself of those less fortunate. My best friend recently had some serious health issues & whenever I feel like slacking off, I think of him and tell myself that he would love to be able to do the sit-ups that I want no part of.

    • Christin Seegers

      Agreed.
      As a larger sized woman, I’ve always had problems losing weight when exercising to a workout video on YouTube with the trainer a thin lean woman wearing a size 2 or 4.
      A size 2 or 4 for me was when I was a little girl. My teens at 5′ 7″ and 119 pounds, I was wearing a size 9.
      I’ve always thought I could never be fit with my larger size. That I could never look sexy. Until I came across this lady on YouTube and was blown away at what she had accomplished. We’re about the same age, height and build and yet she was fit. And like me, she’s thick.
      I was happy to have finally found someone like her. Done everything she had suggested and it worked. I had this toned, shapely body despite me being tall and heavy.

      • Amanda

        Do you happen to remember the ladies name? I have the same issues

      • Maria

        Yes, please, can you link that lady? I have a heavy build myself.

    • Maria

      You’re right about the positive comparisons, but really, in the long run, they disappoint you because in the process of being inspired, you start creating unrealistic expectations from yourself that you might not be able to live up to. The motivation from comparing with others can last only so long.
      Of course it’s a good idea to see others who’ve had success and feel inspired from it, but there has to be moderation and a sense of objectivity if weight loss or strength are to be sustained.

      • James Wisecup

        I hear you and thanks for sharing. Having others that can provide support are a necessary part of the journey, in my opinion. They help keep you/us from those unrealistic expectations as well as positive feedback too.

    • Christa Delaney

      James ‘Wisecup’… It’s all in the name. Words of wisdom for sure! I totally understood the spirit of your comment and couldn’t agree more. After a diagnosis of Hashimotos disease and weight gain that would NOT come back off, I hit a mental period of utter defeat. suddenly all of those Instagram success stories & before/after pics were more annoying than they were inspiring. My self talk was something like- ‘yeah but she’s in her 20’s – I’m OLD by comparison’ or ‘ok, but no way is this happening with my thyroid’. Then one day I stumbled on pictures of a nurse who’s story was remarkably like my own. In her 40’s hypothyroid & other challenges… She dropped “carbs” and weight lifted her way to a staggering 200+ lb weight loss. It truly flipped the script in my head that very day & I never looked back. I’ve since crushed all of my short term goals and that magical goal number is easily in sight. Thanks for your keen observation- it’s spot on!

      • robinbishop34

        My oldest sister is about 48 and was significantly overweight most of her adult life. Like you, she made the decision to make a change a few years back (with my help) to figure out her TDEE, and then develop a healthy, sensible, calorie restricted diet and simple walking routine. The weight fell off and she is an entirely different person. New haircut, stylish glasses and clothes, attitude… you name it. She is very cute and confident now. As you have found out, It is absolutely doable at any age. Besides, 40 somethings are NOT old 😉

        • Christa Delaney

          LOVE to hear that! Congrats to her and thanks to you for your comment and positivity!

  • Susan

    I am just recovering from having both knees replaced. My major problem is from being sedentary for so long that I get out of breath while only walking one block. Any advice?

    • Zongirl

      My legs became super weak from all the sitting. So I Started slowly. Over a period of 2 months I built up to 3 sets of leg lifts in bed along with side leg lifts and knee squeezes. I was way out of shape too and these exercises did strengthen my Quads etc that made getting back into it easier. Really give this a try every day before you even get out of bed. Best wishes to get your strength and stamina back. Never sit more than an hour to prevent getting a blood clot from being too sedentary. Keep moving frequently thoughout the day even if it’s just a few minutes.

      • Susan

        Thanks for your advice. Will try the morning routine. Take care.

    • Ken

      Susan, if pulmonologist and cardiologist were not part of your knee replacement pre-surgery team, might be good to start with an evaluation in those areas. If everything’s good there, and a block is all you can do, then do the block and add slowly! If you have access to a community pool or YMCA type facility, try water aerobics/exercises. Those are some of the best exercises, and will lessen impact stress on new knees. Be blessed, and hang in there! You can do it!

      • Susan

        Thank you Ken for your good advice .

  • Cecile

    I would add the importance of mindfulness is important. Being aware of body alignment, breathing, monitoring how you feel as you go. These are critical for avoiding injuries while working out. I’ve learned so much about body awareness in my yoga practice. Also, how inhaling and exhaling with one’s movements helps with the movement. I’ve also learned how important addressing core strength is for everything.

  • Wrighton

    This article really hit home as I am on the eve of beginning my journey. I am going to have to dig deep and fall back on raw grit when I am feeling like blowing off the walks and the eating healthy/cutting out carbs. I love carbs/they love me. It will be the worst break up in history.

    • Dharmish

      Cutting out carbs shouldn’t really be a long term plan. Carbs are just as important as any other nutrient and the most important word is moderation. Ultimately if you are hitting the right number of calories then a balance of nutrients will be more beneficial than cutting out carbs.

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      • Mike Ipsen

        When people say ‘cutting out carbs’ these days they mean things like refined sugars, processed foods and other things that do not need to be part of a long term plan. Most know that carbs are in all veggies and other good foods too. They are just not part of the ‘cutting carbs’ term. That or the public is just ignorant as to what carbs are and they just mimic the media.

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        • Rick Johansen

          General public is ignorant. People tell me they cut carbs means they they still eat 4 hotdogs at the cookout but without the buns.

  • D’An

    I have lost 35 lbs whe dealing with fibromyalgia, thyroid issues and inflammatory arthritis. I have hit a wall. I have something wrong now have to go to a neurologist. The high level of pain is making working out very difficult. How do I keep the progress going?

    • Kristen

      You are not your fibromyalgia. Recognize when your heading for a flair up and walk, walk, walk. It doesn’t matter how much or fast just enjoy the scenery. When you start to come out of it, you can build up again. Try not to think about your pain when you walk , just look around and enjoy the outside. Then drink water. I have riiden this roller coaster for 22 years. Most of the time with patience can manage the lows. Good luck and Congratulation on your weight lo

    • Amanda

      I have the same issues. Have you done some long stretches before hand? Have you tried yoga and massage? Hour yoga is great

  • Charlotte

    The one piece of advice of “do something you love” …or enjoy … or is fun is my stumbling block. The ONLY exercise I have ever done that I enjoyed was zip lining in Costa Rica and I can’t make that trip several times a week. I do enjoy walking — at a leisurely pace. I am in my 60’s, didn’t have gym in school and have never exercised — just tried different things. Everything I enjoy doing is sedentary but I don’t want to cut my life short. I need something that I can do in the shortest amount of time available. I did join a health club last year and paid for a personal trainer telling her in advance that I was out of shape and had never exercised. My husband had to help me in and out of chairs and bed for 2+ weeks. Any advice?

    • LadyDiLikesPie

      I too am 60 and have always disliked exercise of any kind. Until I tried yoga. It could be that I lucked in to a great teacher on my first try, but I also just deeply love it and the effects on my body and mind. So that might be something for you to try.

  • nikia abrams

    Thank you for the heads up!! I appreciate the advice and will put it to use. Thanks again! Nikia A.

  • POLLYANNA WINTERBOTTOM

    I found having to do ‘exercises’ a tedious chore. Counting reps and looking at the clock which never seemed to move was disheartening.
    Then I changed my fitness terminology and use the word DANCE.
    Putting on my youtube music vid collection…………I do vigorous dancing every day for a minimum of 90 minutes.
    The Latin beat of the Mavericks……
    you just gotta get up and shake that a@s!

  • Tony

    I agree with all of this, but I think it is also very worthwhile to use the fitness you are gaining to trial new challenges you wouldn’t have tried before. Whether it is hiking up a hill, trying a local 5 km event run, or taking up a sport. Fitness is great in and of itself, but the feeling of using that new fitness to achieve something makes you really appreciate what the exercising routine is all about and to recognise how far you have travelled. So book up for something 6 months ahead to give you something to work towards.

  • Karlo Garcia

    All the advice in this blog is as accurate as it can be! Some days I just feel like not being motivated to my health & fitness programe but those days were you push yourself are the most rewarding days feel like you were rewarded with more. What keeps me motivated is that you cannot cheat the process or cheat yourself. U just have to TRUST the process more than anything & timing is everything.Its about the journey along with the moments that makes memories than the finished product and the destination

  • Maria

    This article is great. Especially the part about comparing yourself to others. Hit me right where it had to. The only person you should be comparing with is your own self. It you feel better, lighter, more active than yesterday, then that’s all that counts and what you’re doing is worth continuing.

  • Paul Jones

    This is a great article to refer back to…Great advice!!!!!

  • #9 – Shoes! Spend the extra money to get good shoes and sock because it makes a huge difference! Those crappy shoes you get at Payless will end up doing far more harm to you than you can imagine. I promise you… GET GOOD SHOES!!

  • Mike Ipsen

    Another thing to remember when first starting out is ‘You will be sore and ache all over’, especially if you are new to weight training. Cardio does not have this impact, but weights, oh baby. They can make you not be able to lift a fork or walk anywhere later. Ease into it is the key, don’t push to hard too fast or you will regret it. – lol

    • Chris Jones

      If cardio isn’t making you sore, you aren’t doing it right . . .

      • Mike Ipsen

        Nope, I just do not sit on the endless hamster wheel for hours at a time. Such a waste of time.

  • Animal SoulBonder

    This is THE best and most accurate article I’ve ever read since I’ve subscribed top this forum. Just needed to put that out there.

  • Lilly

    I needed this. Just got back to working out again and I must say,I need to truly find that innermost reason,I just always do it for events,lose some weight,and gain double after that….thanks for the motivation.