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Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out

Feb 11, 2019

There are several things I wish I knew before I started working out.

Getting started with a new workout program can be really hard.

Wouldn’t it be great to get on the right track and learn what mistakes to avoid beforehand?

Having all this useful information will prepare you for what’s ahead and help you stick to your goals.


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Misconceptions

Cardio Isn’t Enough

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--3 people running on treadmillsCardio helps you lose weight, and, yes, any workout is better than no workout.

However, don’t expect to see the results you want just by doing cardio.

Strength training matters a lot, so by combining cardio and weights, you can build the perfect plan for losing weight and getting fit.

Cardio should come at the end of your strength training work, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Light cardio can be done in the beginning to warm up your muscles before your workout.

In order for your muscles to become stronger, they have to be challenged with a load that’s heavier than what they’re used to.

Your muscles should feel the burn and you can do that only if you pick the right weights range for them.

Otherwise, you’re just slowing down your own progress by not giving your muscles what they need.

That may be one thing you wish you knew before you started working out. 

Related: Daily Fitness Schedule: How to Make a Well-Rounded Routine


Do Sore Muscles = A Good Workout?

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--Man with sore musclesThat burn you feel 24 to 48 hours after an intense workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Fitness and nutrition expert, Harley Pasternak, M.Sc., author and celebrity trainer explains.

“The idea behind resistance training is that you’re basically tearing something and creating a microtrauma in the muscle,” Pasternak says.

“When the muscle recovers, it’s going to recover stronger and denser than it was before.”

Muscle soreness is normal and will happen sometimes, especially if you are new to a specific exercise or type of workout. 

Related: Foam Rolling Quads – Recovery for Results


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Injury Prevention

Make Sure It’s Not an Injury

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--man with sore kneeJust make sure what you’re suffering from is DOMS and not an injury. 

“A good way to tell the difference is if the pain is bilateral,” Pasternak says.

Having one very sore shoulder after you’ve worked both shoulders could indicate some sort of injury.

If you feel normal soreness in a muscle, ligament, or tendon, it’s DOMS and you can continue working out around it.

If your upper body is sore then work your quads, abs, or glutes and then move back to your upper body a few days later.

But if you always have significant DOMS, this could mean you’re going too hard and need to dial it back.

Don’t judge progress by how hard it is to walk up the stairs the next day. Instead, keep a training log to track the weights you used and your increases in strength.


Dealing with DOMS

To avoid feeling the pain of DOMS the next time around, start your exercise routine slowly.

You can increase your resistance gradually to allow your muscles to adapt to your new workout plan. 

Tips for Reducing Muscles Soreness

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--sore muscle sign

  • Warm up–Increase your body temperature to help prepare your muscles for the shock of an intense workout.
  • Stay hydrated—drink easily digested fluids so you can power up and avoid an upset stomach.

         Drinks with electrolytes can help sore muscles.

        Avoid beverages with protein or stimulants.

  • Ice sore muscles—Keep a cold pack ready to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Do cardio–A cardio workout increases blood flow and brings nutrients like oxygen, protein, and iron to the muscles that you’ve been training and helps them recover faster.

As the blood leaves the muscles, it takes away some of the carbon dioxide and lactic acid that may be causing DOMS.


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Eating Properly

 You Cannot Out Train A Bad Diet

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--healthy dietFueling yourself up with bad food is the biggest mistake you can ever do.

You cannot out train a bad diet, so don’t even try.

Your meal plan is one of the most important factors in the whole process.

No need to starve but eat the right things–proteins, fibers, greens, veggies.

Related: How Heavy Weightlifting Affects Diet


Fuel the Machine

Don’t work out on empty, and be sure to boost your recovery with proper nutrition afterward. 

If you are going to be working out for more than an hour–regardless of whether it’s running, walking, or swimming–your body needs more than just water to keep functioning well.

Find the endurance fuel that you like best and work it into your regular training schedule.


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Finding Balance

Active Rest Days

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out-- men doing yoga

You don’t have to completely give up on your workout during those tough days, just scale back? 

Add a gentle stretching routine for off days, yoga or Pilates work is great for active rest days.

Incorporating a shorter, lighter work out keeps your healthy habits going without over-stressing your body.

This could be one of the things you wish you knew before starting your workout program.

Related: Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program


Picking a Goal and Finding a Plan 

Figuring out your goal is more important than anything else.

Do you wish you knew before working out that your goal is your main motivation?

This is why you carve time out of your busy day to work out and to try to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Finding a plan means figuring out how to pair muscle groups with the right exercises to get the results you want faster.


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Optimization

Compound Exercises Maximize Your Gym Time

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--woman squatting

Never underestimate the importance of compound exercises.

Don’t spend too much time on exercises that isolate one muscle group at a time, like bicep curls and calf raises.

There are hundreds of weight-lifting exercises out there but you get the best bang for your buck by focusing most of your energy on compound movements.

Compound movements work multiple muscle groups at once, such as the squat, deadlift, hip thrust, shoulder press, back row, and bench press.

It’s more efficient, and more functional, to strengthen your body in the ways it moves in everyday life.

Leg extensions, bicep curls, and lateral raises are all exercises that focus on just one muscle group.

These types of movements should be used to complement compound movements.

They can enhance muscle growth and strength, but they shouldn’t take up the bulk of your workouts if your goal is to get stronger and fitter overall.

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Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Important Considerations

How Heavy is Heavy Enough?

A good guideline when lifting heavy is that the last 2-3 reps in each set are challenging to complete but they shouldn’t be so difficult that you compromise your form.

If you’re lifting heavy enough, you probably don’t need to lift for more than an hour.

Aim for five to seven exercises, 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of each.

When you feel your performance declining, it’s time to wrap up your workout for the day.

Don’t ignore that feeling!

How many days a week you should train really depend on your goals.

Anywhere from three to five days is a good number, as long as you are resting enough in between sessions.

People often choose to do two upper-body days and three lower-body days per week.

If you are training less than four times per week, a total-body workout most days is probably a better approach.


Lifting Too Often

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--baby crying

People can log endless hours at the gym, thinking the sweat dripping from their bodies is an indication of how hard they are working.

Tracking progress by time spent lifting, rather than increasing the amount of weight lifted, can affect your progress.

One thing you might wish you knew before working out is that lifting too often, for too long, can be counterproductive to building muscle and strength.

The fact that you’re able to lift for so long probably means you’re not lifting heavy enough to challenge your muscles and efficiently build strength.

To use resistance training effectively, you need to stress your muscles, which will cause fatigue and ultimately muscle growth.

If you don’t challenge your muscles with enough weight, you won’t stimulate this process.

Using weights that are too light may allow you to train for a longer time, but you are improving muscular endurance rather than getting stronger.


Two Steps Forward One Step Back

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--chart with arrow going up

It would be great if you can see the results from your workouts as a straight line that went up, up and up.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.

You will progress much faster at certain times than others.

This is normal, don’t give up.

Just as things might seem to slow down, you need to have faith that they’ll pick up again.

There is a difference between slow progress and stagnation.

If it’s been four weeks or longer and you don’t see any results, it’s time for a re-evaluation.

Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result. 


Rest is Key

Things You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--man sleeping under weightsIt’s easy to get carried away when you are excited about the great changes that are happening, and you might want to work out every single chance you get.

Unfortunately, this can lead to burnout, illness or injury.

Rest is a vital component when you are trying to get fitter.

This is when it’s helpful to focus on different goals at various points.

You might find that gaining strength may be the goal at some point in your program.

Other times you might choose to work on losing fat instead.

Change things up to maintain the interest level in your sessions.

This will also give your body a break from the repetitive nature of the exercise you’re doing.

This approach can go a long way toward preventing injuries.


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: Managing Expectations

You Won’t Always be Motivated 

There will be days that you don’t feel so great or you are hurting more than normal.

One thing you might wish you knew before working out is that inspiration comes and goes, even for the fittest individuals.

That’s completely OK.

Don’t give up.

Your ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other during this time is what will make you stronger mentally—just as your workouts make you stronger physically.


Ask for HelpThings You Wish You Knew Before You Started Working Out--woman and man working together

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help and support.

Learn from other peoples’ experiences.

Talk to a personal trainer, a friend who’s more fit than you, or someone you know online who is an expert in the area you’re trying to improve.

Not getting the help you need could be the one thing that causes your progress to stagnate.

Don’t be shy or embarrassed about it, ask for help and you’ll learn something worthwhile.


Remember to Have Fun

If you don’t have fun during your workout, you won’t stick with it in the long run.

There are many ways to get fit, so choose one that you’ll look forward to doing.

When you enjoy the activity, it won’t feel like work and you’ll want to exercise regularly.

Find something that makes you feel charged and energetic when you do it, and that’ll be the workout that changes the way you view fitness.


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out: My Final Thoughts

Don’t expect to work out and eat healthy for three months and think you will be fit for the rest of your life.

It takes a lot more than that, and much longer too.

It can take months, even years to make your new lifestyle happen. 

Don’t forget to stay persistent, safe, and dedicated to your specific goals!

Stick with the program—it’s worth it!

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