Ultimate Guide to Fitness for Beginners
So you’re fresh into the gym for the first time ever. You have no idea what is going on but you’re excited, you’re anxious and you’re motivated to make an improvement to your health.
Does this sound familiar?
“You signed up at the local gym. Pretty cool.
Damn I’m locked into a 12 month contract.
Guess I’m here for awhile.
I can workout now? What do I wear?
There’s a tonne of machines – wonder what they do?
Ah I recognise that machine – the treadmill.
Look at the supplement cabinet, do I need those?
What should I eat? Do I need to eat ‘clean’?
How long do I exercise for? 2 hours a day it is!
How often should I go? Everyday it is. “
If you have had any of the above questions or concerns, read on to find out the answers.
Let’s get started
Okay we’ll break down this guide into a few sections:
- What to wear (gym attire, shoes etc.)
- How often to exercise
- Weights training
What to wear
Let’s start with the most important – footwear. If you’re a beginner in the gym, you’re probably thinking you need a good pair of running shoes or those fancy as cross trainers that the kid at Rebel Sports recommended for you. A cushioned running shoe is meant for exactly that, running.
When lifting weights or performing anything that requires stability (e.g lifting weights) opt for a shoe with a flat solid sole. Converse chucks work well here or low cut Van’s. These shoes have very little give and don’t roll.
Why is this important? Well if you’re performing squats or any exercises whilst standing, having a solid base is key. Cushioned heels will cause the ankle the roll and distract your focus. If you’re someone who enjoys performing circuits or you want to run shorter distances – opt for the Nike Metcon or Reebok CrossFit Nano. These are hybrid shoes that are a happy medium. A flat base shoe to provide you with stability to perform squats, deadlifts etc but arch support and flexibility to perform short distance runs.
P.S you could wear Vibrams – you know, those toe shoes that are basically gloves for your feet and when you see people wearing them you just know for a fact that they probably spent a large amount of time just wriggling their toes. They meet all the requirements of a flat solid sole shoe for the gym. But c’mon man. Just don’t.
Let’s talk about clothes.
Alrighty so I won’t state the obvious jeans and a button up shirt are NOT suitable attire for the gym. I don’t care what you say, if it’s Friday night and you’re heading out to the clubs afterwards – no. Just don’t. Jeans, cargo shorts, button up tops, sandals, thongs … no,no,no and no.
If you’re new to gym, fellas wear a good pair of shorts that are breathable and stretchy and will allow you to squat and move freely. Ladies a good pair of tights generally do the trick. Breathable t-shirts or training singlets work well. Compression tops? Don’t bother.
How often should I exercise?
Training frequency simply depends on one thing – how often you would like to.I’ll start by saying this; if you’re a beginner to the gym, training every day is NOT ideal. Three to four days per week (of training) is plenty if you’re new to the gym. A good rule of thumb early on would be to provide yourself with a 2:1 exercise to rest day ratio. So for every two days in a row you workout, have one days rest in between. Over time you can increase this to 5 or 6 days per week when your resiliency to training improves and you’re able to not wake up feeling like an old wooden roller coaster (anyone ride The Bush Beast at the old Wonderland Sydney?!)
Weight training/Resistance training
Regardless of whether your goal is you should be lifting weights. The benefits of lifting weights over time include improving skeletal strength, joint health and increasing muscle tone. If you’re lifting weights regularly over time your body is going to look banging! (assuming you’re eating well). Most research on comparing the long term weight loss supports regularly resistance training with a controlled diet compared to just cardio or diet alone.
When lifting weights for the first time it’s suggested you focus on mainly large compound movements.
Compound movements are exercises that use more than one joint at a time. A great example would be a push up or a squat.
Compare this to an isolation movement such as a bicep curl or side raise which uses just one joint.
Performing compound movements will provide you with more ‘bang for buck’ when it comes to making progress. When performing compound movements you’re training multiple muscles at the same time. When you’re performing a push up, you’re working not only your chest but your shoulders, triceps and even your core. That is four muscle groups in the one exercise. If you performed isolation movements you would need to perform potentially 3-4 different exercises. Umm I think I know what I would rather do! You’ll find that you can lift more weight performing compound movements, which is a good thing if your goal is strength building, bodybuilding, fat loss… basically everything.
During your week, you should organise your training into a ‘split’ which is a routine or schedule for your workouts. A split is dependent on how many days you intend on training. From here you then organise your workouts so that across the week you cover all the major muscle groups which are:
- Legs (Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Glutes)
A very common method is the traditional bodybuilding split which would look something like this:
- Monday – Chest & Triceps
- Tuesday – Back & Biceps
- Wednesday – Legs
- Thursday – Core
- Friday – Arms
Fundamentally it’s fine, across the week you’re training the entire body but is it the most efficient use of your time? Also what happens if you miss a day? Suddenly you have to wait 7 days till you train that body part.
If you’re new to the gym you can better use your time by performing an upper/lower split or an all body split.
If you can only train twice a week – an all body split would be suggested:
- Monday – All Body (Legs, Chest, Back, Shoulders)
- Thursday – All Body (Legs, Chest, Back, Arms, Core)
If you can train 3 days a week, here is an example week:
- Monday – Legs
- Wednesday – Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
- Friday – Back, Biceps & Core
For a full example – CLICK HERE
If you can train 4 days a week you may want to try an upper/lower split:
- Monday – Chest, Back, Shoulders
- Tuesday – Legs
- Wednesday – REST/OFF
- Thursday – Chest, Back, Arms
- Friday – Legs & Core
For an example Upper/Lower program – check out my article HERE
So regardless of whether you can train 2,3 or 4 days each week you have options available. Just remember the fundamentals and to cover all the bases across the week
Okay so now that you have a brief understanding on training splits and the benefit of weight training, lets go over the basic gym language. This is common terminology that you will see in most programs.
- ‘Reps’ stands for repetitions. A repetition is a single execution of a movement or a drill. Example: 10 reps of Push Ups or 3 reps of 20 metre Farmers Carry
- ‘Set’. A set is a cluster of repetitions. Usually followed by a rest period. Example – 1 set of 10 reps of Push ups. This would be written in a program as 1 x 10
- ‘Tempo’ is also known as the speed of the movement. This is often depicted by 4 numbers for example ‘3-0-1-0’ or ‘3010’. The first number is the eccentric portion of the movement (when you’re lowering the weight against gravity). The second number is how long you spend at the bottom/end of the movement, a zero indicates coming up straight away whereas a one or two would indicate a one/two second pause. The third number is the concentric portion of the exercise, or basically the part of the movement where you are shortening the muscle or the joint (think of when you’re lifting the dumbbell when performing a bicep curl). The final number is how long you pause at the top of the movement.
- ‘Rest’. Is how long you uhh… rest.
- Eccentric contraction: the lowering phase of a movement, or when you lengthen a muscle. Example would be when you lower the barbell when performing the bench press or when lowering yourself down in a squat.
- Concentric contraction: the upward phase of a movement, or when you shorten a muscle. Example would be when bending the elbow and raising the dumbbell up during a bicep curl.
- Isometric contraction: this is when a muscle is neither lengthening or shortening but is contracting. An example of this would be having your arms out straight and pressing against a wall. Your muscles are not shortening but you can feel tension applied through them. Another example of an exercise that has an isometric contraction is a prone plank.
Cardiovascular training, or ‘cardio’ for short is any activity that fatigues the cardiovascular system, which consists of the heart and blood vessels. Cardio is often associated with aerobic exercise such as running and cycling. It’s a great tool for burning calories and as such aiding in weight loss. Maximise its effectiveness by combining it with regular resistance training and a controlled diet and you’ll be on track for success!
There are two common of cardio:
- Low intensity steady state (LISS)
- High intensity interval training (HIIT)
LISS is your more common method of performing cardio; going for a long run around the block or a bike ride down the local bike track. You’re not working at a high intensity and the goal is more on going for long. LISS gets a bad wrap as being a ‘waste of time’ but it’s great at improving your aerobic system (important part of your energy system). It is however time consuming so if you’re busy, you may want to opt for HIIT.
High intensity interval training is a very popular and trendy method of performing cardiovascular exercise. HIIT is often associated with short duration, high intensity efforts followed by a short rest period and done repeatedly. The rest periods are just enough to help you catch your breath but not completely recover. Working at a high intensity is highly fatiguing but the benefits include relieving stress levels, maintaining muscle tone but mainly its time efficiency. Due to it being highly fatiguing, it’s not recommended that you perform it more than twice a week until you build up the experience.
An example of a HIIT session would be:
On a treadmill, sprint at 11.5km/h for 20 seconds and then walk at 4.4km/h for 40 seconds. Repeat this for 10-15 rounds.
Stretching and Mobility
Stretching is an overlooked part of a person’s health and fitness journey. Stretching is the process of lengthening muscles to improve elastic properties and also increase range of motion around a joint. It serves as a quality tool in the gym as regularly stretching can improve flexibility which can aid in reducing back pain and/or joint pain.
Mobility is different however to flexibility. Flexibility refers to the length a muscle can elongate (lengthen) where as mobility is an overarching term for one’s ability to manipulate joints into certain ways in order to perform an exercise. To improve mobility, regularly exercising with full range of motion is suggested. Use methods such as foam rolling, massage and trigger balls to aid in improving mobility.
There are two popular methods of stretching; static and dynamic. Static stretching is your more traditional style of stretching that you would see people perform in the park or on TV. For example holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds.
Diet aka What do I eat???
This could be an entire article in itself. It’s arguably the most critical component of ones journey to health and fitness. You can’t exercise well, but then inhale McDonald’s bi-weekly and expect to present to the world a fully fledged 6 pack (unless that 6 pack is indeed a 6 pack of McNuggets). Let’s go over the basics of human nutrition firstly. This will help you understand the background behind your food choices. Because education is the key to making long term health changes. The more you know, the better.
First thing to understand is the First Law of Thermodynamics. Basically it’s this long winded explanation that when we exert energy as heat or work, it changes our internal energy supply.
Let’s relate this to exercise and food. If we exercise, breath, walk, talk or basically just remain alive, we burn energy which is referred to as calories – we replace this energy by eating food. At the end of the day if we exert more energy than we consume, this is referred to as negative energy balance. If we consume more energy (food) than we exert (through either exercise or bodily function – more on that shortly) we may put ourselves into a positive energy balance.
A negative energy balance would lead to our body losing weight.
A positive energy balance would lead to our body gaining weight.
The above can be summarised into the saying:
‘Calories In, Calories Out’
If you burn more calories than you consume – you will lose weight.
If you eat more calories than your body burns – you will gain weight.
You may hear otherwise or you may read otherwise but you simply cannot undo human biology.
So now you know the phrase ‘Calories In, Calories Out’. To lose weight you simply need to burn more calories than your body needs.
Few things need to happen here: you need to figure out what your body needs. This can be done rather easily using online calculators. These calculators will use certain information such as age, height, weight, fitness level or frequency you go to the gym to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is basically how many calories your body roughly needs to maintain your bodyweight. For examples sake let us say your BMR is 2500 calories. If you want to lose weight – eat less than 2500, if you want to gain weight – eat more.
But how do I know how many calories I’m eating?
Most accurate way to do this would be to familarise yourself with calorie counting and then track your calorie intake using an application like MyFitnessPal.
Another way, which in my opinion is fantastic if you’re starting out is to simply record your food with a notepad and pen. Combine this with weighing yourself daily.
Weighing yourself daily, first thing in the morning is ideal (naked too or in undies). Don’t analyse the number – just record it, and keep recording it.
When you record your food – look at it subjectively. Each meal, ingredients etc. ask yourself where you can make improvements. Think back to when you were in school and learned the food pyramid for the first time.
Does your daily food intake contain a balance of complex carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta etc), vegetables, fruit, lean mean such as fish and chicken, red meat, a little dairy etc.? If not – make SMALL changes to your food intake and continue weighing yourself daily.
This is providing you with two things.
- You’re receiving educated feedback on what happens to your body based on your food choices
- You slowly become more conscious of your food choices and are more likely to make better choices in the future.
Need help with your nutrition? Contact us today to learn more about our customised nutrition and training programs. Find out more here.
‘What about some general guidelines bro?’
Okay for those who just want some straight up recommendations:
- At least 1-1.5g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (a 75kg male should consume 75-110g approximately).
- 25% of total food intake from healthy fats (avocado, nuts, fish etc)
- Vegetables at every meal (more at lunch/dinner if you don’t have any for breakfast)
- A pre-workout meal 45minutes prior to exercise should contain roughly 50% carbohydrates (bread, rice etc).
- 2-3 Litres of water per day
Overall – keep your nutrition basic. Don’t overcomplicate things by getting caught up in fad diets or advanced methods such as the ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting. There is a time and place for them. Eat a tonne of veggies, eat fruit, consume copious amounts of protein (meat, fish, tofu etc.), a little bit of fat, enjoy a treat here and there and have fun.
‘The best diet is the one you can stick with’ – Alan Aragon
Majority of first timers in the gym, particularly those looking to build some muscle will ask me about supplements. Notably protein powders and/or pre-workouts.
If you’re eating poorly, don’t bother with supplements.
That’s the truth. Focus on your overall eating habits for 3-6 months (like really make an effort) before you even consider supplements.
With that being said, assuming you are eating well – then there is no harm in adding a few supplements to aid you. Any supplement will not be the magic pill that grants you a lean waist or bulging biceps overnight, just keep that in mind before you head off to your local supplement store.
I’ve actually written a previous blog post – Ultimate Beginners Guide to Supplements.
Feel free to check it out for a full list of recommended supplements that are scientifically studied and proven both safe and effective for human use – CLICK HERE
Sleep it of utmost importance regardless of goal in the gym. You’ve heard before, ‘sleep more’ or ‘get 7-8 hours of sleep’. Reality is if you’re eating well and exercising regularly but sleep poorly or irregularly, you could be wasting your time.
Sleep allows you to recover and regenerate. During this time, hormonal levels rise, growth and repair occurs and bodily processes that aid in fat loss and muscle growth take place. Stress levels steadily rise the longer you have consecutive nights of poor sleep. The stress hormone cortisol is destructive towards our efforts to burn fat or build muscle. So to combat this, try and get 7-8 hours of sleep daily.
The quality of your sleep also is important, not just the hours you rack up. If you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep but waking up every 2-3 hours or spending an hour on your phone in bed going sleep, you too could be wasting your time.
Phone screens are absolute cancer to our sleep quality. Bright screens from our phones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers all emit blue light (we can’t register the blue shades) which interrupts our sleep quality. Blue light interrupts the production of a hormone called MELATONIN which is a primary ingredient for a great quality snooze fest. Easy way to combat this – get rid of phone screens 30-60 minutes prior to going to bed. Alternatively, install a blue light filter on your phone so that if you MUST go on your phone you are reducing the exposure.
Other strategies to improve sleep quality include going to bed at the same time. Routine allows the body to adapt energy levels. By going to bed at roughly the same time every day, the body recognises this and eventually will help you get into a ready state to go sleep. During the hour or so before you sleep, minimise screen time, read a book, perform some self reflection exercises and you’ll find yourself drifting off in no time. PROTIP: Are you a desktop user? Download this free plugin called Flux (https://justgetflux.com/) which will progressively dim your computer screen in accordance to the time of the day – so good to ensuring you sleep well!
There you have it! The Ultimate Guide to Fitness for Beginners. This is by no means an exhaustive guide as there is plenty for you to learn during your journey to improved health and fitness. But if you do follow the advice given here in this guide, I am confident that you will find yourself with a fantastic head start on the competition.
If you’re looking to get started on your own health and fitness journey and would like to find out more about Personal Training – start by filling out our short health and fitness questionnaire.
If you want references to any of the material I spoke about today – just reach out to me via the Contact page or drop me a message on our Chat icon on the site.