When you’re motivated and excited to start something, you want to go full-on with it.
No matter what you’re excited about, you feel like diving in headfirst. With fitness, just deciding to improve your health is the biggest step.
From there, you probably want to overhaul your life as soon as possible. This newfound motivation is great, but I encourage you to slow things down.
I’ve been a personal trainer for over 20 years. I’ve worked in gyms in four different countries and have worked with hundreds of clients. And the biggest thing I’ve seen is nothing causes burnout and failure more than taking on too much all at once.
Here’s why it may be a better idea to start slow and steady.
You’ve Decided to Make a Change — Now What?
This can be an overwhelming time. You’ve made the commitment to get fit, bought some new shoes, and some pretty sweet workout gear.
But where do you start?
There is an endless amount of fitness options. Do you:
- Join a gym
- take spin classes
- take group exercise classes
- work with a personal trainer
- buy a Peloton for your home
- start a new sport
- train for a marathon, half marathon, or 5k
- hiking, biking, or swimming
The best fitness for you doesn’t have to resemble what everyone else is doing. This is a good time to dip your toe into some different styles of fitness to see what appeals to you most.
This may take a while, but you want to find the type of exercise you actually enjoy and are motivated to do.
Nothing will burn you out quicker than thinking you have to slog away doing a workout or exercises you hate.
Exercise should be fun and make you feel good, so, if possible, try a few different things. You may find you like taking dance classes and mixing some hiking in each week.
Or, you may find you love strength training and throwing in the odd spin class. Fitness can be whatever you want it to be, so figure out what motivates you to move.
You may like a super structured routine, and that’s great. Different personalities respond to specific styles of training, and this is the time to find what works for you. Or, if you’re stuck in the same workout, find something that’s a better fit.
However, if you are brand new to fitness, why is starting slow so important?
Taking on Too Much at Once
Going from very little activity to doing CrossFit five times a week will not only physically wreck you, but demotivate and discourage you.
Besides being unable to lift your arms over your head the next day, you probably won’t feel all that motivated to return.
I’ve seen too many people think they have to go from nothing to 6 workouts a week — and wonder why they don’t stick with it.
By early February, resolution failure rates are around 80% and gym memberships drop like a rock from January to February.
There’s the common New Year’s Resolution issue of the gyms being packed in January and then empty less than 6 weeks later.
Again, after witnessing this for over two decades, the gyms clear out because people have either: a) tried to get fit doing something they don’t like, and/or b) doing too much and completely overwhelming themselves.
If you are just getting started — and want to stay with this for the long run — you want to start slow and build from there.
If you haven’t exercised in years, just look to do something active a few times a week. Don’t make it overly intense or complicated. There will be time for that later.
Start with something simple, like a brisk 20-minute walk. If you want to go to a gym, just select a few exercises, don’t train to failure, focus on learning proper form and keep it short.
The next week, you could make each walk for 23–25 minutes. If you did 30 minutes on the cross-trainer; go for another 30 seconds next time.
When you add in progress gradually, it adds up to quite a bit down the road — and you don’t even always notice because the changes are small and gradual.
“do at least what you did last workout.”
Small improvements are still improvements, and this is what leads to progress.
Other options to start slowly could include doing a YouTube workout at home at your own pace twice a week and adding in a few hikes.
This is also the time to try out different activities to see which click with you.
Exercise should leave you wanting more and you want to cut things off before you overdo it. When you take on too much at once, it will only leave you frustrated, overwhelmed, and more likely to abandon it altogether.
Fitness is a long-term game, and it’s more helpful to think of years down the road instead of weeks or a few months.
You’ll be doing yourself a favor by not taking on too much at once, as this will make you more likely to stick with it.
People often join a gym in January, start doing workouts that take hours, and are soon gone just a few weeks later. Trying to overhaul your fitness in just a few weeks is not going to happen.
It's also going to take time, and the focus needs to be on progress and not perfection.
It’s the slow build that makes healthy habits stick. I know it’s frustrating when you want to see immediate results, but it doesn’t work like that.
A fitness plan doesn’t have to start in January, but that’s never a bad time to start. Whether you are just getting started — or getting back into exercise — keep your focus on building consistency.
Remember, you don’t have to join a gym to get fit and healthy. If it appeals to you, go for it, but ultimately — no matter what type of exercise you do — it’s consistency and adherence that determines your results and success.