Absolut Beginner

My heart was pounding.

My palms were sweaty, my face was red, and my throat was dry.  I was driving to that terrifying place where I felt my most inadequate.  It was like taking my high school insecurities, dowsing them in gasoline, and then lighting them on fire.

I was going to… the GYM.

It’s been years since I made those 15 minute car rides to my very first gym.  Although it’s fair to say I’ve since become a bit more comfortable in the fitness setting, I’ll never forget those car rides.  Or the chlorine smell from the pool next door that permeated the weight room.  Or the way the jeans, flannel, and work boots-wearin’ gym denizens looked at me as I did curls with 10 pound dumbbells.

I’ve now spent a lot of my life helping others through those very first awkward attempts at making fitness a part of their life.  At MFF, we do all we can to make this as unintimidating as possible.  By slathering the experience with glitter, unicorns, and silliness, we hope to make fitness more accessible for any brave soul who wanders in with the dream of becoming a Ninja.

But I know many of you may be unable to train at MFF for any number of reasons.

So if you (or someone you love) are considering making a run at the gym… I salute you!  That’s fucking AWESOME.  Allow me to give you a bit of guidance if a visit to a Ninja Clubhouse isn’t part of your imminent future!

To be clear, this article is geared to someone with NO gym experience.  If this isn’t you, share it with a loved one you know who could benefit from a nudge and some useful info!

Getting Started

The very first thing to do is… find a place to work out!  While I’m partial to Clubhouses, depending on where you live, it’s probably more likely you’ll wind up at a gym.

Since this may feel daunting enough in the beginning, it’s important to set yourself up for success.  When looking for a gym, you’ll obviously want to consider the logistics.  Not only do you need to be able to afford it, it should be a place without an overly painful commute.

When looking at possible gyms, you should definitely get a tour and get a feel for the place.  Most gyms offer trial memberships, and this is a great way to audition prospective gyms.   You’ll want to see what the gym is like during the times you’re most likely to go there.

If you have a typical schedule, you’ll want to workout on Mondays at 6:30 pm.  So will 90% OF EVERYONE ELSE.  Make sure you see what the gym is like during your preferred fitness times, so you can see how crowded it gets.

Also, check out what type of equipment they have.  In the beginning, you’re just looking to get started with the basics, so you won’t need much.  If you take my advice, you won’t need much in the way of machines, but you will benefit by choosing a place that you can grow with as you get more ambitious with your workouts.

In addition to the pretty standard equipment that most gyms will have (benches, dumbbells, barbells), I’d recommend finding a place with some squat racks, as you’ll eventually want to do some exercises that utilize the rack in some fashion.  Additionally, having a cable machine will be useful as you progress.

Lastly, in a perfect world, you’ll want to find some qualified instruction.  If you have the financial means, few investments will save you more time and energy (and pain) than working with a qualified coach.  The key word here is “qualified.”  Fitness training as a profession has a notoriously low bar of entry.

You have every right to interview your prospective trainer!  If you’re paying them money and they’re giving you advice on what to do with your body, you want someone who knows what they’re doing.  Check out this article for some thoughts on what to ask a potential trainer!

The First Few Workouts

Your first few workouts are really just about easing in.  It may be a bit scary at first, but your goal in your first few workouts is just to make it in!  That alone will be fucking awesome and a victory in and of itself.

Remember:

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  And anything worth doing well is worth being uncomfortable while you figure out how to do it.

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While some soreness is to be expected, you don’t need to do a TON of exercise in the first few workouts to be successful.  We just want the minimum effective dose here!  Doing more isn’t better, and in the beginning, it will probably be worse.

For your very first 2 to 3 workouts, 1 set of 6 exercises will be PLENTY.  If you’re really truly working out for the first time, you won’t need more than 1 set of 6 exercises.  Since soreness is neither good or bad and just means something different has happened… expect to be sore!   Since “doing nothing” was your old status quo, this will be different enough to cause your body to start to get fitter because even a short workout will challenge you.

At its heart, exercise is merely about challenging your body in some way so that your body adapts and prepares for potential future workouts.  Again, you don’t need to crush yourself and shit blood in your first few workouts for it to be effective.  You just need to get in and do enough work that your body has the stimulus to adapt!

Your best use of time, particularly in the beginning, will come from learning to manipulate your own bodyweight.  Weights and machines can all serve a place, but for folks new to fitness, you can skip the fancy stuff and work on building a base by doing exercises built around basic human movements.

At its most basic, you want to do something for your legs, push something, pull something, and do something for your core.  A good template for your first workout ever would be something like this:

  • 1-2 sets of 8-10 bodyweight squats
  • 1-2 sets of 8-10 push-ups on barbell elevated in a squat rack
  • 1-2 sets of 8-10 bent over dumbbell rows
  • 1-2 sets of a bodyweight plank, held for 20 to 30 seconds
  • 1-2 sets of 8-10 split squats on each side

Although an explanation about how to do these exercises is beyond the scope of this article, any half way competent trainer should be able to lead you through these.  Additionally, you can YouTube most of the above exercises and find out more info.

(AND….keep your eyes peeled to MFFTV as we’ll be going over all of the above exercises in the next 6 months so we can be your virtual trainer!)

As mentioned, you can expect to be sore from your first ever workout, as your body will be “pleasantly surprised” by its new activity demand.  While that’s not the goal, it does come with the territory, and by keeping your first workout to one set of each exercise, you’ll make sure you don’t get so sore you can’t move.

Since we’re always looking for progression, you’ll want to keep track of what you do and then beat your own record with each subsequent workout.  Since you don’t want to get so gassed that your technique gets crappy, keep 8-10 as your goal rep range (“rep” is short for repetition).

For this very first program, every time you come in you can add one more set to one of the six exercises.  Slowly increase the total volume until you’re doing 3 sets of each exercise.  Ideally, you’ll start working out two to three times a week as you ease into your new lifestyle as a gym-goer.   This workout should keep you challenged for your first four to six weeks, at which point you’ll be ready for something new!

Other Shit To Be Aware Of

While the above principles will help you ease into the gym itself, here are some other things to be aware of!

  • Remember, you can’t out train your diet!  If you’re looking to lose weight or gain muscle, or even just be healthy, it’s important to eat right for your goals.  For optimal health, eat a wide variety of single ingredient foods that your grandparents would have recognized as food when they were kids!
  • Recovery matters!  Now that you’re working out (Fuck YES! Good job with that!), make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, drinking water, and taking care of your soft tissue.
  • Don’t go nuts right out the gate!!  Many a new gym-goer falls off the wagon because they start their fitness life trying to work out every day.  Not only is this not practical, it’s not even helpful for your fitness goals.  Three days a week is plenty when you’re getting started.
  • If you want to do something every day, that’s fucking awesome! Just don’t workout every single day.  In the beginning of your fitness life, adding in brisk 30 minute walks on your off day will actually go a long way to help prep your body for more frequent and intense workouts as you get in better shape.
  • And lastly, do your best to find a way to make it FUN!

I think strength training (like the workout above) is probably the best use of your time when seeking optimal health and hotness.  But if you just fucking haaaate it…. You have two options.

Option A, find something you DO like.  We don’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good!

Option B, find a way to make it more tolerable.  Having a workout buddy can be super helpful here!  Not only can working out with a friend help make your workout more enjoyable, but it will provide accountability to encourage to keep up with your new fitness habit!

Now Do It!

Although this brief article has given you the raw basics of getting started, I know this is just scratching the surface.  As mentioned above, keep your eyes peeled to MFFTV in the coming months for a video series dedicated to helping beginners get on the fitness train.  We got your back, gurl!

NOW… I want to hear from you!

If you’re already working out, I want you to leave a comment below and let me know how you got started.  If you’re not working out yet, leave a comment below and let me know what your game plan is for getting going with your fitness goals

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