Before You Begin
Just like any other activity, bettering your physical fitness can feel daunting – especially if the world of fitness is a completely new one to you. To help with this, before we dig in to the “What”, it’s important to lay some groundwork so that your head can be in the right place as you pursue your fitness goals.
Change Takes Time, You Must Be Patient
Often, beginners to fitness have the misconception that they can achieve their goals quickly, and get discouraged (sometimes giving up entirely) when they don’t see results as quickly as they expected. As you chase your goals, keep in mind how long you’ve been out of shape for and how long it took you to get there. Also keep in mind the following:
- The general guideline for healthy, sustainable weight loss is losing 1 pound per week, or 52 pounds in a year. If you are extremely overweight, you may be able to safely lose more – but chasing rapid weight loss is a recipe for frustration and yo-yoing. Losing weight at a slow and steady pace significantly increases your likelihood of keeping it off in the long term. For more, see: Weight Loss 101
- Muscle is built much slower than most people expect. Absolute beginners, in their first year of training and doing everything right, are generally expected to gain at most 20-25 pounds of muscle – barely a half a pound a week – and that rate drops off as time goes on. For more, see: Muscle Building 101
- Because losing weight and gaining muscle are in direct opposition to each other, trying to achieve both at the same time is very difficult and will take a much longer time to show visible results than choosing one or the other. It is usually better to choose to focus on one goal or the other. For more, see: Should I bulk or cut?
Fitness Goals Are Made of Simple Components
One of the most common pieces of confusion we see on r/Fitness is some version of the following – “I read X, Y and Z article and information but it didn’t apply to my specific situation so I don’t know what to do”. It is easy to believe that your circumstances and goals are complex or unique if you are unfamiliar with the fitness world, but in the majority of cases they actually boil down to a few very straightforward concepts (especially aesthetics goals):
- Losing some amount of fat
- Gaining some amount of muscle
- Doing some amount of strength / resistance training
- Doing some amount of cardio / conditioning work
- Practicing and improving your skill in specific movement patterns
The only real differences are in degree. Whatever goal you have in mind, before you get started, try to boil it down to some proportion of these five concepts. Thinking of it in these terms helps simplify your process and make it more clear what you need to do to achieve your goals.
Some additional discussion on this can be found in our FAQ:
Avoid Majoring in the Minors
The most important factors in achieving fitness goals are:
- Doing an appropriate amount of exercise at an appropriate intensity
- Having some form of progression over time in your training regimen
- Eating an appropriate amount of calories and protein
- Getting enough sleep, rest, and recovery time
- Consistency over time in all of the above
All other factors – including and especially commercially available supplements – will have extremely minimal impact on your success. It is important to put the majority of your focus on dialing these five factors in and not try to “min/max” factors that are much less important. Not only is it a better use of your time and energy, but keeping the amount of change in your life small will make it less stressful and easier to sustain.
Always remember – Do not let pursuit of “perfect” be the enemy of achieving “good”, and do not fall into the trap of premature optimization. Just like you had to learn to walk before you could learn to run, it’s important to dial in the fitness fundamentals first.
Let’s Get Started!
Now that we’ve laid some important groundwork, let’s move on to the two major components of achieving fitness goals: