I'm hoping that others will add more advice based on their own experiences and that this thread becomes another great repository of information for someone new to fitness.
For me this is the most important rule to training and getting fit:
Rule 1: There are No Rules
OK thats a pretty controversial thing to be saying so let me clarify it a bit.
Yes, there are basic principles to getting fit/weight training that nature puts in front of you that you can't get around... but essentially there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to train.
Its human nature to search for the perfect answer... find that elusive diet that really works or some sage advice from a master trainer... but the fact is there is very rarely such an answer.
So instead of looking for THE answer try looking for an answer that works for YOU.
Everyone is different - they like and respond to different forms of fitness training... if this wasn't true we'd all be doing the exact same fitness techniques.
It's all about finding what works for you... and the best way to do that is to constantly experiment and measure or monitor your progress and results.
So here's some basic advice that worked for me and that I hope in sharing might prove valuable to you - there are 3 basic principles:
1. Set Yoursef A Goal - visualise how you want to look and feel from training.
Set yoursef ONE measurable goal that will help you achieve this and give yourself a timelimit (within reason of course - i've found 2 months works well for small goals and 6 months for larger ones) . As time goes by you will start making lists of goals... but tackle them one at a time. For me its always worked well if i set small goals over short periods that way i'm constantly seeing the results i want and feel more motivated to continue.
visualise - taking off your shirt and seeing abs instead of fat.
goal - lose 5kg of fat in 2 months.
2. Change your lifestyle eating habits - the best diet is 'no diet'.
Instead simply change the foods you eat regularly and how you eat them. Regardless of whether you want to lose fat, put on muscle or maintain your weight you need to set yourself some guidelines to eating - and guidelines that become part of a new lifestyle for you - something that you can do longterm rather than shortterm.
Start simple. Most people need to reduce the amount of fat and fried food they eat so start there.
Next work out you calorie requirements - here's a basic calculator to help you. As you get more advanced you will want to take body fat % into account but this is a good start.
Once you have a figure, adjust it to meet your goal - as a general rule... to maintain keep that figure, to lose fat reduce it by 500cal, to gain weight add 500cal.
Once you have that figure its just a matter of keeping to it each day and trying to spread it out over 5 to 6 meals to help your metabolism. Try and eat healthier than you usually do. As you progress you might want to get more specific and work out a % of carbohydrates, protein and fat to eat each day but to start with this is enough. Things like supplements aren't necessary either until you progress far enough and want to start trying a few things but when you do keep them simple.
and don't forget... ditch the softdrinks and drink lots of WATER!
3. Exercise/Training - work your body to get to your goals.
Once you have your goal and your calorie intake in order its time to introduce the training aspect.
The most important thing is to find a programme that you enjoy and that you think you can keep yourself motivated to do. If you're not sure then try a few different things until you find the right one for you. Either way as you progress you might want to change things around to stop yourself from getting bored.
For me the best way to meet my goals was to join a gym but its certainly not the only way. For me it provided access to all the equipment i needed, advice from more experienced personal trainers in meeting my goals and most importantly being surrounded by others training provided me the motivation and lack of distraction to keep going.
How you train is going to depend on your goals... essentially the 2 methods are:
* to lose fat - you will want to do plenty of cardio work such as cycling and do some strength training as well
* to gain muscle - you will want to cut back on cardio and concentrate on weight training
remember that you can't really achieve both at the same time and that you should tackle either one or the other that suits the calorie intake you chose.
there's plenty of training advice out there so i wont go into all the types and variations but get some advice from someone thats experienced and start simple and train regularly - 3 times a week is a great start!
Wrapping it up...
For me... my goal was fat loss so i reduced my calories and did plenty of cardio and the fat melted away.
Once i had reached my fat loss goal i changed to wanting to gain muscle and increased my calories, reduced cardio and increased my weight training.
Above all... take it slow. Don't try and change too many things at once and make changes in small increments to get yourself used to it. For instance... slowly drop or raise your calories until you get to your required figure. Start simple with the training until your body gets fitter and stronger.
Keep experimenting until you find what works for you and it gives the results you need. Generally you'll need to stick at something for a month or 2 before seeing any results. Make sure you monitor yourself to see how your going - thats where a gym membership is great because they can regularly check your body fat and measurements so that you can see if what you are doing is working.
I'm hoping this gives someone new to fitness a bit of direction to head because i know when i started it was very hard to know what i should be doing and I certainly made many mistakes... so if you're new to training i hope this helps set you on your way.
There is tons of information out there... as you start to wade through it make sure you take it all with a grain of salt... above all you need to remember that you need to do what works for YOU.
For those with a little more experience please add your own basics down so that others can benefit from what you've done... because simply knowing where to start can be the hardest step.