For a lot of beginners, the noise around the fitness industry can be deafening. You'll find more shortcuts for sale than genuine answers. But there are some insights that I believe to be universal. They’ve been proven in my own journey over a period of years now, and I hope they could save a beginner some serious headaches and frustration.
1.) You should never feel insecure for trying and failing.
No matter if you're in a crowded gym, or your first class in a new group, or just alone in your living room. You simply must stop seeing physical failure as a sign of personal defeat. You WANT your body to fail.
The same way children learn to stop putting their hand on a hot stove, your muscle cells are learning from the failure you're experiencing. With that failure, your heart will grow to circulate oxygen more efficiently and you'll become "leaner". If you consistently pushed your body to the point of failure, one day you'll look around and be the fittest person you know. True story.
2.) Question Everything
You see a ton of people all doing a bench press, or bicep curls? Don't just assume that's the best course of action (it's likely not). Make a connection between each exercise you try and WHY it connects to your particular goals. You might see that described as a “mind-muscle connection” in a lot of fitness content. It is the most overlooked step for beginners who typically just want to see an immediate impact on their scale. Take the time to see how your mind is controlling your body under duress.
Especially in a typical gym setting, the dirty little secret is that most people don't know WHY they're doing most exercises. They're doing them because that's where they're most comfortable. And nothing grows in that headspace. So don't settle for imitating the routine you see most people doing. It has to work for you and feel like a challenge each time you try.
3.) Think Long-Term
Are the exercises you're doing now something you picture enjoying a year from now? Or the instructor at your group class? Can your current activities become effortless long term habits? If you sense the answer is “no,” then you're not building something that works FOR YOU, but rather enduring something that's working AGAINST YOU.
Whatever forms of exercise you eventually gravitate toward, above all else you'll learn that they're FUN for you. You ENJOY them. They're not punishment, and they don't bring about a sense of dread. The best form of exercise is the one you'll actually go out and do!
4.) Consider food your FUEL for your work
Ignoring fads (looking at you, "only drink juice for 21 days" crowd), what kinds of foods make you feel energized to increase your work rate? Think of it more as a mechanical function than emotional theatre.
Some people of course could benefit from a meticulously crafted meal plan from a nutritionist. But for a lot of people what they really need most are some good “rules of thumb” to abide by. Are you eating real food that actually grew from the earth, or was at one point a living animal? Do you make it a point to look beyond calories and consider things like sodium or sugar? Can you at least identify your average intake of these other variables? Sometimes just knowing the status quo is enough to make some serious improvements.
Here's one of the best ways I've come up with to help clients understand if they're on the right track. When you're eating a meal, try and gauge when you feel 75% “full” and then stop. From there, within the next 90 minutes or so you should feel a small sensation of being hungry again. Not starving, but just a sense that you've burned through the fuel you recently consumed. If you're not hungry three or four hours after a meal you've likely eaten too much or had the wrong kind of food (processed, salty, etc.).
The kind that comes from your peer group. The kind you internalize in your head. The only real question that should matter is "am I getting closer, or further away from my goals?" Everything else is dead weight. Find a way to get it done that works in your life.
One of the biggest reasons clients fail to reach their goals ironically has nothing to do with their effort during an actual workout. It is the process of internalizing other's opinion. Your co-workers, family, friends, etc. will all want to subtly see you stay within their comfort zone. Within the “norms” of the peer group. Don't let this be you. If you're being safe and healthy and something is working in your life you should keep walking toward that calling at all costs. Be polite and respectful to others at all times, but learn to say no and learn to simply put down the weight of other people's opinions. You'll sleep better at night when you do!