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.
It’s OK to Start Small
A point you will find harped on repeatedly in this Wiki and by those successful in the fitness world is that consistency over time is king. Each year for New Years Resolution season and the months before summer beach season starts, the fitness community is flooded with those looking to achieve fitness goals who have repeatedly tried and failed to do so in the past. Often, the reason they have tried and failed is that they tried to make too many changes and do too much at once, felt overwhelmed, and either never started at all or were too easily tripped up.
It is tempting to try to look for the most efficient plan to take on to hit the ground running and make the best possible progress you can as quickly as possible. But it’s also important to be honest with yourself about how much change you can take on at once. Some people can do a complete 180 and zoom ahead with aplomb. You may not be one of them, and that’s totally OK. Alan Thrall has a great three minute video on this subject, in which he emphasizes the importance for those getting started that doing anything for your fitness with consistency (even just going to the gym once a week) to build a habit is better than doing nothing at all because it just doesn’t work for you to commit to something more comprehensive.
If you find yourself going through our Wiki and feeling like you’re overwhelmed, that there’s too much information, too many decisions to make, too much time to invest – take Thrall’s advice and stop. Pick one or two simple things to add or change to your life and start doing those consistently. They can be as simple as drinking an extra glass of water every morning, going to the gym once a week every week and doing anything you feel like, or eating more vegetables one meal a day. As these things become easier, build on them.
Always remember that it’s better to start small if it leads to your success than it is to start big and choke because you bit off more than you could chew.
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 soon as they expected. As you chase your goals, keep in mind how long you may have 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 around 0.8% of current bodyweight per week. 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 around 20 pounds of muscle – less than 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 most cases in direct opposition to each other, trying to achieve both at the same time is very difficult, requires significantly more time, effort, and preparation, and will take a much longer time to show visible results than choosing one or the other to focus on. 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
- Any dietary changes that are necessary to support the above
For the most part, the real differences are in the degree you work on each of those things. 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 training at an appropriate difficulty
- Having some form of progression over time in your training
- Eating an appropriate amount of calories and protein
- Getting enough sleep, rest, and recovery from training
- Consistency over time in all of the above
The 80/20 Rule is very much in play when it comes to fitness – every factor other than the above will have significantly less impact on your success. It is important to put the majority of your focus on dialing these five factors in and not bikeshedding yourself by getting hung up on factors that barely matter. 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.
Goal Setting and Habit Formation
These will be important parts of being successful in your pursuit of your physical fitness goals. We strongly recommend the following resources on this topic:
- Stronger By Science – An Evidence-Based Approach To Goal Setting And Behavior Change
- SBS Podcast Episode about the same, and r/Fitness discussion thread
- Revive Stronger interview with Dr. Melissa Davis of Renaissance Periodization on habit formation
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: