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Just 4 Beginners

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  1. #1
    38lbs lost
    TheGreatSatan's Avatar

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    Sep 2003
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    Just 4 Beginners

    Several weeks ago I received an e-mail message from a newbie in weight training who suggested I provide more information for beginners. Their specific area of interest was how to get started in a training program. This seemingly simple question feeds into a broad stream with many other important tributaries: Why exercise? What are my goals? How do I get motivated? How do I stay motivated? Should I compete? Will exercise hurt me? What if I’m slow? Am I too old to exercise? Although it isn’t possible to answer all of these questions in this article, I hope to get you pointed in the right direction.

    The first step is to formulate goals. Ask yourself what you want to do and why? For example, a 50-year-old wants to start a running program to feel fit and lose weight. Write your answers down in a logbook that will serve as your exercise diary. List several layers of goals (e.g., finishing your first 5 k "race") and refer back to them as you track your progress. This will help keep you on the right path.

    Before you actually start exercising make certain that you consult your doctor. This is important for athletes of all ages, but is especially important for those with health problems. After all, one of the reasons that people exercise is to promote their health. The pre-participation physical examination is a good start towards enjoying exercise, safely.

    Formulating a training program that is specific to your needs is as much art as science. There are a variety of sources that you may consult to develop a proper plan. Books, friends, and the Internet (web sites and discussion groups) are some of the most readily available resources for beginners and experts alike. Don’t be shy about being a beginner; most experienced athletes enjoy answering questions. Compile a "resource list" and refer to it as needed.

    One of the most common mistakes in the execution of a training program is to try to do too much, too quickly. Launching on a new program is exciting and challenging, but the lure can lead to injury and burnout. If you haven’t been exercising, don’t expect to jump into a 2 hour a day / 7days per week routine, or you’ll find yourself quitting the entire thing two weeks later. Start off gradually and build gradually. Don’t try to do too much in each workout, and be sure to allow for rest and recovery time between workouts (i.e., every other day workouts). Keep track of your workouts in your logbook, so that you can see what you’ve been doing if a problem starts to develop.

    As you progress in your exercise program, be aware that all those wonderful and noticeable benefits of exercise (e.g., improved mood, fat loss, etc.) take weeks to months to develop. The "silent" benefits (e.g., decreased risk of cardiovascular disease) evolve over months to years. Furthermore, you must continue to exercise to maintain and enhance these benefits. What this means for you in a practical sense is that patience and consistency are required. To help you achieve this, workout partner(s) or groups are very helpful. Also, if possible, exercise with someone who is a little bit better than you. This presents an extra challenge as well as a learning opportunity.

    One area that is often overlooked, and not just by beginners, is equipment: The right equipment is essential. Equipment refers to any of the essential devices needed for a sport, and should be "fitted" to your needs. For example, running shoes should be selected by type (e.g., motion control for flat feet), not color. This is necessary to help reduce risk of injury and boost enjoyment. In a similar vein, don’t go overboard and buy the latest super-high-tech stuff and expect it to catapult you to greatness; it won’t. Remember these four words, "Basic equipment, proper fit". (Keep in mind that ‘basic’ doesn’t mean ‘low quality’). Consult your resource list for help in choosing the right equipment.

    Finally, keep in mind that workouts should be fun. No one expects you to be ecstatic every time you look at your running shoes, but in balance you should enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t, then you won’t do it. So, go hard and challenge yourself, but enjoy the ride. The trip is as important as the destination.

  2. #2
    38lbs lost
    TheGreatSatan's Avatar

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    Sep 2003
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    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.

    For instance:
    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.

  3. #3
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    Oct 2003
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    Wow - thanks for such incredible advice here, Satan....and you are right about how confusing this is at the start. When I began two years ago, I combined both weight training (well, mostly via Nautilus machines) with cardio to cut fat and then, after achieving my initial goal, mixed it all up again to try to maintain and gain a few pounds of muscle. However, as is typically the case among some new trainers, I probably overtrained and struggled to learn proper form, even with machines.
    I've had rotater injuries that, while they haven't stopped me, caused me one cortizone treatment on the left side. To try to compensate while healing, I've tried doing lower weights with very slow reps to stretch the muscle and maximize effectiveness. This latest problem occured when I had moved more into the large free weights room at my gym. I did great on the leg equipment, since I had conditioned them really well from a variety of active cardio and Nautilus/Universal workouts, but am still trying to get used to the larger bar movements. I've had a veteran bodybuilder buddy help me with the ropes in that area, but am still playing it safe while the shoulder gets stronger.

    I'm not sure what you veterans know about this, but my observation is that rotater problems seem to be pretty common injuries, and most often caused by either an unbalanced workout or poor form. Is...there something beginners should pay attention to about this area when starting out, or is this just a malady that strikes down poor middleaged guys like me?

    *sighs*..and to think I teach part time at the University that I'm earning my PhD at...and I promised the students I'd be the Hulk by Halloween....hehehe. I'm gonna have to look for those padded paws...:-).

    Seriously, since I'm near 50, it does seem more difficult to keep the waistline down to at least 32"...and I'm nearly 5'10 and about 180 or so - good, strong bone structure (or so my doc says) and my joints are in good shape. I mix my cardio up between aerobics ( and NO, they ain't sissy classes - especially for older guys, they have been essential in helping me regain confidence in balance and a variety of movement, even if I sometimes look like an oaf)...spinning classes, the elliptical and a round of hitting tennis balls each week with a vicious young student who makes me run until I drop...
    I try to do a minimum of 20 sets each four-five days a week with weights/Nautilus/Universal equipment and have made good gains with that, but still struggle with the transition into the free weight areas. I split my workouts into arms/shoulders, chest/back, legs, and then a day of picking up stuff and trying new things. I'm still such a rank amateur beginner at this that I don't know half of the exercises available out there - just that I need to mix things up more and set a maintainable, realistic goal for myself now.

    Is there a lot of information out there that can..well, help the older beginner chart the differences in his progress and what growth targets are realistic in goals? And maybe someone could help me understand better what changes in strength/endurance I should expect to see as I continue doing this and grow older...if..that makes sense.

    Anyway, any help would be appreciated...and I'm open to offer any of my limited experience to anyone who might find it least amusing. :-)

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