So you’ve resolved to start exercising — but you’ve never done a bicep curl or been on a treadmill in your life.
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Sound like you? Don’t fret! Everyone has to start somewhere. And whether you’re hoping to improve your cardiovascular health, drop a few pounds or just feel more energetic throughout the day, getting moving is a great first step.
But, here comes the bad news: Surveys suggest that somewhere between 50 and 75% people who make fitness-related resolutions give up before reaching their goal.
So how can you set yourself up for success all year long? Certified professional trainer Alena Beskur has some ideas.
Beskur says beginners most often give up on their exercise-related goals because they grow frustrated when they don’t see results quickly. Or they try to do too much too fast and burn out.
“Exercise is not magic — it’s hard work that takes effort and time,” she says. So it’s important to approach your fitness goals with a sense of patience and persistence.
Your motivation also matters, Beskur says. Some people start working out because they’re motivated by something extrinsic, or outside of themselves — maybe they want to look great for their wedding or are training for a half marathon.
Other people have what’s called intrinsic motivation that comes from within themselves. They’re exercising because it makes them feel good, or because they know it’s good for their health.
Research shows that people with this second kind of motivation are more likely to stick to an exercise program long-term.
“If the motivation comes from within, those people tend to stick with exercise much longer because they don’t have a specific due date,” Beskur explains. “This is often the case for many people who have diabetes or heart disease. They become intrinsically motivated because they know exercise will help them in the long run.”
Tips for beginner success
How else can you avoid falling off the exercise train shortly after you get on? Beskur offers these tips:
Manage your expectations
“If you’re starting from zero, you need to set the bar low enough to be realistic,” she says. In other words, you’re not going to lose 20 pounds or be able to do a pull-up in a week. And you might not fall in love with the process right away.
“I warn beginners from the start that exercise will not necessarily be the most fun, entertaining hour of their day,” she says.
Stick to the basics
If you’re just getting started, don’t be tempted by the newest, flashiest fitness class on the block. It’s better to establish a routine with basic cardio and strength training movements that are both accessible and sustainable. Even though walking, squats and wall pushups might not be as exciting as hitting a TRX or barre class, you’re less likely to overdo it if you stick to the basics.
Yes, you have time
We tend to think of exercise as a separate activity that we perform during a certain hour of the day — like when we put on our stretchy pants and head to the gym. But Beskur notes that people actually get most of their training outside of the fitness setting.
Think about it — every time you walk up the stairs or stand up from a chair you are working muscles in your legs. “Maybe we should not see exercise as a separate hour of the day but as something we practice throughout the day,” she says. Prioritize activities that allow you to move your body without spending an hour in the gym, like gardening, riding your bike, walking the dog or dancing.
Every little bit counts
Exercise isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. If you can’t commit to exercising five days a week, aim for three. And when you come down with a cold and take a few days off, that doesn’t mean your whole month is doomed.
“If you exercise for five minutes a day, you’ll be better than you are if you’re not doing anything,” Beskur says.
Nutrition needs to be a priority
The quality of what you put into your body directly affects how it’s able to perform. That means you’re loading up on fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats to fuel your body. “There is no movement happening if we don’t feed ourselves well,” Beskur says.
Rest is also important
Whether it’s in between sets of squats or in between days, your body needs rest to repair the muscles that have broken down during exercise. Simple stretching can also help keep your muscles flexible and healthy.
Ready to get moving?
Starting from zero can be a bit intimidating, but these tips should help you set out on the right path.
A personal trainer can also work with you to create and stick with an exercise routine that will help you meet your goals. And, of course, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.