Back To Basics: An Intro To Exercise

Up until now, the articles I have written have been mostly for those individuals who already know their way around a gym. However, not everyone has been working out regularly and many people are just starting to workout or are curious about getting started but don’t really know where to start. This article is geared toward those people, although the seasoned veteran could still learn a thing or two as well! 

We’ll cover a few different topics that will help all the newbies out! These will include...

  1. Definitions 
  2. How many days per week to workout.
  3. What body parts to target each day you workout. 
  4. How long to spend on each workout.
  5. What's better, machines or free-weights?
  6. When you’ll start to see results.
  7. How long you’ll be sore for.
  8. How to set realistic goals.
  9. Diet + Exercise = RESULTS.
  10. How to stick with it when you get bored.
  11. How to track your progress

1) First things first, if you’re brand spankin’ new to working out, there is a good chance you aren’t even sure what a lot of the terms you hear people saying actually mean. Here’s a few that we’ll cover… exercise, sets, reps, machines, free weights, strength training, cardio, etc…

  • Exercise -  Referring to one movement, or one group of movements. One exercise could be pushups for example. Within each exercise you need to determine how many sets and reps you’ll be performing of that exercise. 
  • Sets and Reps - We’ll stick with the pushups example. If you perform 15 pushups then stop, that would be considered one “set”. The 15 repetitions you performed is referred to as 15 “reps” for short. If you repeat those 15 pushups 3 more times, you’ve then performed 3 sets of 15 reps of 1 exercise! Make sense? Hope so :)
  • Machines -  When you hear the term “machines” its referring to devices in the gym that have fixed movement patterns with adjustable resistance (weight). Usually these machines are setup in a circuit pattern to assist newcomers. 
  • Free Weights - Most gyms have a “free weight” section, which is made up of dumbbells, bars, plates, benches, squat racks, etc… Free weights are not locked into a fixed movement pattern like machines are. 
  • Strength Training - Any training performed on the machines or free weights is known as strength training exercises. Their main purpose is to build muscle. 
  • Cardio -  “Cardio” is short for cardiovascular exercise, where the main purpose is to get the heart rate higher and burn calories. Cardio machines are mainly treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes. 

2) If you’re new to exercise, you’ll probably have no idea how many days per week you should exercise.  I'm here to make it simple for you. 3-4 days/week is great for beginners, allowing for a day of rest in between workouts to alleviate soreness. Now, depending on goals, you’ll need to determine what type of exercises to perform each day you go. If you want to lose weight, I would recommend a mix of strength training and cardio. Having more muscle from strength training will help you to burn more calories throughout the day so no one should go to the gym and only perform cardio. If you want to gain muscle and are already very lean, I would do 3-4 days per week of strength training.

3) Being new you’ll also have no idea which body parts to target each workout! I’ll give two different examples here, and you can take your pick depending on preference. 

  • 3 days/week plan: Option 1 - Day 1 will be “push” including chest, shoulders, and triceps. Day 2 will be “pull” including back and biceps. Day 3 will be Legs. If you decide to go 4 days per week, you could add in a cardio/core day.
  • 3 days/week plan: Option 2 - Day 1 will be a total body workout. Day 2 (at least 2 days later) will be upper body. Day 3 will be lower body. You dont want to workout the same body part again if its still really sore from the last workout, so keep that in mind. Its best to take at least 1 and sometimes 2 days off in between for beginners. Also you’re probably wondering what the best exercises are for each body group, but thats another article for another day. If you want some specific suggestions feel free to reach out to me!

4) If you’re spending 1.5-2 hours in the gym each day during your first week there, you’re doing it wrong! Its very easy to over do it, especially at first.  You don’t want to end up being sore for the next 5 days. For the first month or two I would recommend about 1 hour of working out each day you’re at the gym. An hour is definitely enough time to get a great workout in as long as you keep up your pace and don’t talk to friends and stare at your phone the whole time. 

5) A lot of people have a preference when it comes to free weights and machines, but which is actually better? Well truth be told they can both be very effective if used properly. Both can help you build muscle, tone, and get stronger. In my opinion free weights have a slight advantage because their movement pattern is not fixed and this will help with your stabilizer muscles. It will also help you to determine if you have any muscle or joint imbalances that need addressing. I like to start my workout with free weights, and when the muscles start to get fatigued I’ll go hit a machine or two to keep the burn going strong! 

6) Don’t walk into any new workout program expecting to see results after the first day, thats just not realistic. You’ll no doubt FEEL better after even the first workout, but physically seeing progress and changes in your body could take anywhere from 2-4 weeks, depending on different factors such as how hard you push yourself, what your goals are, how good your diet is, how many days per week you work out, etc… So give it time, be patient, and know that your hard work WILL pay off, its just not going to be immediate! 

7) Being sore is a fact of life when you’re an avid exerciser. And unfortunately when you’re just starting out its much, much worse. This is why its recommended to ease your way into any new exercise routine, and not jump in head first trying to keep up with people who have been at it for years. Your goal should be to be sore, but not ‘can’t-sit-on-the-toilet sore’. For people just starting out, its perfectly normal to be sore for the next 2 days following a workout, and depending on how hard you pushed yourself it could last up to 3 or 4 days. This is normal, and you should not worry about the soreness like its a bad thing. Your body is repairing itself, and it just takes longer at first! After a while you should be sore no more than 1-2 days following any workout. This is why its also recommended to take a day off in between workouts for newcomers, as you don’t want to workout the same muscles again when you’re still sore. 

8) Setting goals is something that a lot of people take lightly, but it can be very advantageous to your progress in and out of the gym! A lot of times people start a workout plan with an unrealistic goal in mind such as, “I want to lose 50 lbs this month!” Well guess what, sorry but that’s not going to happen. And then when it doesn’t happen, people get discouraged. This is why its important to set small, realistic goals that are easily attainable. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment after you’ve reached that goal and feel more confident that you’ll be able to reach the next goal you set for yourself. So remember, set one easily attainable goal at a time. A good example would be, “I want to get to the gym at least 3 times this week.” Easily attainable, and once you’re steady going at least 3x per week you can set yourself a new goal. Always have a goal, it will continue to drive your progress and make sure your routine does not stall out on you!

9) Okay we’ve all heard it before, diet is 75% of the equation and exercise is the other 25% (or something along those lines). While the exact percentages are impossible to know, the general idea behind the saying is 100% TRUE. You will NOT see the results you desire unless your diet AND exercise are both on track. If you’re not someone who is willing to make some dietary sacrifices, you’ll find you have a very hard time making the progress you want to in the gym. Most people know what is good and bad for them when it comes to food, its just putting that knowledge into practice that people struggle with. Get the diet down, along with your exercise, and your body will thank you later!

10) Some people can deal with the same routine day after day, week after week… and some can’t. If you’re one of the people who can’t then you’ll need to do something to keep it new and exciting. Luckily for you, there are many different ways you could do that. You could change up your exercises, change the amount of sets and reps you perform, change your rest period in between sets, get a gym partner, get outside for some exercise, join in on group classes, and so much more.  Fact is, if your routines bore you then you’re not likely to continue with it. Whatever you need to do to keep yourself exercising, do it! Simple as that! 

11) Tracking progress is very important in exercise, otherwise you might be skating by without making any progress at all! Before you start any new exercise program you should have baseline measurements to know your starting point. You can measure body weight, body fat, take different body part measurements, and take a before picture. Continue to measure these every few weeks or every month, if you’re not making the changes you desire, then you know something needs to be changed, either in your workout or your diet! Another important aspect of tracking progress is tracking the weights you use at the gym. From week to week, you want to be making progress, and without tracking your weights theres a chance you’ll use the same weight as the prior week or even possibly use a lighter weight if you don’t remember what it was.  We certainly don’t want that! So, carry around a notepad, or use your phone (I use the notes page on my phone to track each exercise performed and the weight used). While you won't be able to go up in weight every single week, tracking will make sure you do go up when you’re physically able to. 

That should be just about all you need to know if you’re a beginner to exercise in order to get you started! Any questions or comments feel free to email me directly.

Until next time, keep it healthy!

Brian Lepine