What’s the most important thing about starting to exercise? Ask a thousand people, get a thousand different answers…
Well, maybe not that many. But there are lots of different opinions about this. People who are just starting back to exercising, or those that haven’t done much training before, are the people I work with the most. I answer this question fairly frequently!
I can’t give a “single most important” thing to do when starting to exercise. There are so many factors that keep people making progress and enjoying the process! But I can give you my top three:
Take It Easy
If you’re not used to being physically active, starting to exercise will likely be a shock to the system – both during a workout and in the days afterward. This post-exercise soreness, which is a marker of how much physical stress you put on your body, is not a selling point for a lot of people. The training is hard enough – do you really want to pay for it for days afterward? Most people say no.
To avoid being overly sore, keep your workouts short and low-intensity. They should feel easy enough that when you stop, you feel like you could have kept going for a while. By stopping before you’re tired, you limit the amount of recovery your body needs. This means less soreness, which in turn means you can go back to your preferred workouts sooner. It also means that you’re more likely to avoid injury – one of the key reasons people quit exercising.
Building on the “not sore means you can exercise more” theme above, it’s also really important to be consistent with your workouts. There are two reasons for this:
First, your progress isn’t proportional to any given workout. Your nervous system (which determines how your body responds to the stress of exercise) will only respond so much to a single workout session. Essentially, you have to tell your body many, many that you want to be stronger (run faster, have more endurance, etc.) before it gets the message that you really mean it. That message only comes through with consistent, regular exercise.
Second, consistency builds habits. The neurological pathways that build an exercise habit also need to be trained just the same as your muscles. Anything that you do regularly will become a habit. (This is even more true if you set up conditions that make you more likely to do it.)
This makes consistency important for both physical and mental reasons. Find your routine and you’ll find more success.
Find What You Love (Or At Least Like)
It doesn’t matter how “good” your workout is if you hate it, because if you hate it, eventually you’ll talk yourself out of doing it enough that, presto, you’re no longer doing it at all.
Good news though: There are a million different things you can do that will make you stronger, fitter, and more energized.
Finding something you enjoy doing, or that will at least give you a sense of achievement. Many people try a few different things before they find what they like – it might take a while. But it’s worth it.
Doing what you like or love or satisfies you makes it so much easier to be consistent. (Though also makes it harder to take it easy when you’re starting, so watch out!) If you like running, run. If you like the gym, hit the gym. If you like walking the dog, go for a walk! If you don’t have to force yourself to exercise, you’re so much more likely to stick with it.
If you’re just starting to exercise – or starting back – find something that you enjoy doing. Don’t go crazy at the start: keep it short and sweet so you can go do it again sooner. Consistency really is the key to making progress and building habits. Train easy, go every day or two (provided you aren’t too sore), and have fun!