So you want to start working out. Maybe you are tired of feeling tired and sluggish. Maybe you have put on 30 pounds in the last five years and your spouse is worried about you. Maybe your doctor told you that you need to start exercising. Whatever the reason is you know you need to start doing something. But it is very overwhelming. There are a million different options these days. Maybe you can just start running a few times a week. Maybe you will try an at home workout program. You google gyms close to you and 20 pop up that all look different and offer different options. You read some articles that all seem to be contradictory. After doing your research you aren't any closer to what you should be doing. You want to just quit.
I know your pain. Starting a new routine can be incredibly hard. With so much information out there these days it is easy to get information overload. I want to help you determine what you should be doing. This is the guide that I wish I could have read when I started my fitness journey. Hopefully this will help you get where you want to be.
1. Determine Who You Want to Be
The first step is determining what your goals are. Most people have the vague idea of wanting to get in shape. Most people who come into our gyms say they want to lose some weight, want to tone down, or want to be fitter. That's great, but that is very vague. You need to get very specific here. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to get down to 10% body fat? Do you want to be able to fit in the size clothes that you could in high school? Do you want to see your abs? Write down some of the characteristics that you would want to achieve. Then start thinking about the people who have these characteristics. What do they have in common? What are they doing that you aren't? Make a list. This is just a brainstorming session but it will really help you determine what direction you need to go. The more specific your goals are the more likely you are to achieve them. What we are determining here is the person that you need to become to reach your goals. If you were that person now then you would have already achieved them. Determine the person you want to be first and foremost.
2. Find a Gym Who Can Help You Reach Your Goals
Once you have your ideas down on paper you can start creating specific goals. You know the characteristics you want to have. You know the person that you want to become. Now it's time to determine what you need to do to get there. This is where finding the right gym and/or coach is crucial. You need to determine what workout program you need to be following. You can try to do it on your own but most people have trouble doing that. Finding a great coach or guide will make you much more likely to succeed and will speed up the process. Start shopping around different gyms. Look into different styles of training and see what works best for you. Make appointments with gyms in the area and see what they are about. Do your homework.
So what should you be looking for? First and foremost you need to make sure the coach or gym knows how to get you where you want to go. Tell them your goals and see how they can help you get there. The more people you talk to the more likely you will find someone who stands out. If they say here are the weights go for it then find somewhere else. If they just throw you in with everyone else then find somewhere else. If they ask you about your goals, tell you their recommendations to get there, and seem to genuinely care, then you have probably found the right place. At our gyms we have an On Ramp program to help new athletes ease into the gym and to determine what class track is best for them. We can also determine if classes are the best bet or if personal training is going to be a better fit. We spend a lot of time with new athletes learning about them and finding out the best way to help them reach their goals. We also check up with them throughout the year to make sure they are making progress towards those goals. If the gym you are looking at isn't doing that then keep looking for one that does.
3. Create Accountability
It's easy to come to the gym at first. You are fired up and motivated and ready to make a change. The first few weeks of January are always the busiest weeks of the year at any gym. By February, however, it is back to normal. Why is that? I think it's because most people haven't created accountability. They don't have anyone in their lives holding them accountable to showing up. If you don't create accountability for your fitness journey then you are much more likely to fall off. Find a few people in your life who care about you and tell them to make sure you show up when you say you are going to show up. Get creative. Make not showing up painful. Tell them you will wear your favorite team's rival shirt for a week if you miss a session, or will pay them $100 a missed session, or give them the right to make fun of you for missing. The more painful the miss the better. One of the coolest things about our gyms is the community. The people in the gym generally care about each other and reach out to each other if they haven't been to the gym in a few days. Our coaches call people who haven't been in in a few weeks to check on them. Accountability comes naturally to a big part of our community but we also go out of our way to foster it. You will let yourself down a lot faster then you will let someone else that you look up to or care about down. Keep that in mind.
4. Start Slow
It's easy to start looking at fit people in your gym or on Instagram and want to be able to do what they can do. Most people don't realize the amount of work it takes to reach high levels of fitness. It takes years of dedicated work (3-5 hours a day, 6 days a week) to make it to the CrossFit Games. You aren't going to be able to do what they can do in 6 months. It's just not going to happen. But that's ok. Check your ego at the door and go at your own pace. Your goal each day should be to get a good workout in but leave some in the tank so that you can come back tomorrow. Overdoing it in a workout and having to skip a week because you are too sore to move is a bad idea. At our gyms we have a scoreboard because it causes competition and gets people to push themselves harder than they normally would. This can also be a bad thing, however, if you obsess about your score. Use the leaderboard as a tool, not a definer of your worth. It doesn't matter what your score is. It only matters that your name is on the board. Your goal shouldn't be to have the fastest time in the gym every day. It should be to have your name on the gym the most times over a long period of time. Remember that this is a journey and you don't have to do it all at once.
5. Create One Habit at a Time
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are first starting out is trying to do too many things at once. If you try to change five things in your life at once then you will burnout in a few weeks and drop all of them. Just do one thing at a time. Start off by developing your habit of going to the gym. It takes about 28 days to develop a habit. Do something active every single day for 28 days. Go to the gym 3-5 times a week and do something easy (go for a walk or easy bike ride) the other days. Buy a big calendar and mark off every day with an X that you do something active. Your goal should have a month full of Xs. Also schedule your gym days and times a month in advance. Make this your non-negotiable time. Everything else on your schedule should be set around this. Once you have been doing it for a month it should be a habit and it will be harder to not go to the gym than to go to it. Once it's a habit then you can back off of the tracking, but don't skip this crucial first month! Once you have developed the gym habit then you can decide on the next habit to develop. Maybe you are going to track your food for 28 days. Go through the same process. Then move onto the next habit. Maybe it's go to bed at the same time every night. Maybe it's drink 100 ounces of water. Keep adding a habit a month. In 5 months you will have developed 5 habits. Think how much fitter you will be not only in 5 months but for the rest of your life if you take the time to develop these habits one at a time instead of all at once.
6. Set Quarterly and Yearly Goals
One of the biggest saboteurs of a fitness journey is boredom and plateau. There are a ton of gyms and programs out there that have you doing the same thing over and over. Yea you might make progress for a while but eventually you will stop making progress (you actually might start regressing a bit) and you will get bored. It is crucial that you are always working towards something. Good companies always have quarterly rocks and yearly goals (along with other long term goals). Every quarter set a new goal or theme. What do you want to work on this quarter? Maybe you want to run a 5k for the first time. Maybe you want to lose 5 pounds of body fat. Maybe you want to add 20 pounds to your back squat. Maybe you want to compete in your first CrossFit competition. Everyone is different but the key is to find something that excites you. What fires you up? Constantly be working towards something and you will never get bored. It is also important to evaluate yourself at the start of every year. What went well last year and what could have gone better? Are you still headed in the right direction or do you want to change course? Always be working towards something and you will never get bored. This is one of the coolest things about CrossFit. There are so many things that we do that there is always something to work for. It is a pursuit that can keep you coming back for 5, 10, 15 years or more.
7. Consistency is Key
Once you have developed your healthy habits and have been setting quarterly and yearly goals then it's time to keep them. Keep showing up day in and day out. Month in and month out. Year in and year out. The fitness journey is a journey with no end point. We always overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in 5 years. If you go to the gym 4 days a week for 5 years where do you think you will be? You will be a completely different person! Play the long game here. Average life expectancy for an American is almost 80. Don't be frustrated if you are 40 and in the worst shape of your life. You are only halfway there! The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is today. Start now and you will be amazed where you will get in 5, 10, 15 years or more. Keep the long game in mind.
8. Enjoy the Journey
If you aren't having fun then you are doing something wrong. Find a group of people who you enjoy being around and workout with them as much as you can. Don't take it so seriously. So many people get caught up in having to follow their specific program to the T that they miss out on a lot of the joy of fitness. Sure it's hard and it's uncomfortable and it hurts. There are good days and bad but remember what you are working towards and always remember why you are doing what you are doing. If you genuinely enjoy the process of getting better then you can keep your fitness journey going for life. Play the long game and your future self will thank you.
I hope this guide can help you get started in your fitness journey. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do (How do you know someone does CrossFit? They never shut up about it!) and it can change your life for the better. At our gyms we get people in the best shape of their lives, at their own pace, in a supportive community. If you can find a gym like that then I would highly encourage you to start. You will be glad you did.