BEGINNER WORKOUT TIPS: Where to Start When You Are Out Of Shape

Out of shape and/or new to fitness? Looking for some simple and sustainable workout tips? Let orthopaedic surgeon/sports medicine specialist, and life-long athlete, Dr. Chris Raynor get you started on the right foot!

Living a healthy lifestyle can prove difficult even if you are a seasoned veteran. For those trying to establish new habits however, there is no doubt that the road can be intimidating indeed. Temptation and roadblocks seem to pop up everywhere these days, especially in today’s fast-food, sedentary society. So if you are starting from square one, never fear. Here are a few workout tips to get you moving in the right direction.

Hire a professional. Going from “not being fit” to “being fit” isn’t as easy as it seems otherwise everyone would have a six pack, but they don’t and it’s not. Since you are new to this whole lifestyle – and it IS just that, a “lifestyle” – you might want to get some help from someone who can assess your individual needs, and who has extensive background/education in this subject area. I mean, that’s what a professional is for.

Do your homework though. Ask around. Meet with a few. Don’t just pick the first Joe trainer or Jane nutritionist to come along (and you may want both since exercise and diet go hand-in-hand). Look for someone whose philosophy is about functional, balanced and safe movement practices and sustainable eating, someone who will push you outside of your comfort zone – because to make a change, you have to MAKE a change – but who is also compassionate and smart enough to know not to push TOO hard. As well, beware of those who say that there’s only “one way” to exercise or eat healthy. They are probably trying to sell you on THEIR way, looking to make money as opposed to helping you.

Forget “exercising” per se and just try to establish more generalized movement patterns. Given that a one-hour workout while sitting the rest of the day isn’t the ideal of “being healthy” (we’ll talk more about the Sitting Disease in another blog), finding ways to move outside of sanctioned “exercise times” is really the key. Sure, we’ve all heard the advice, take the stairs, park at the far end of the mall, etc. etc., but the little things really DO make a difference, and there are LOTS of ways to add small movement bits to your daily routine.

For example, if you need to talk to a colleague down the hall at work, get up and walk to see them instead of texting, emailing, or calling. If you are working on something that requires you to sit for an extended period, get up every half an hour to stretch and move around a little. While supper is cooking, do some squats. If your kids or grandkids are outside playing road hockey, go play with them. Of course, there is such a thing as too much exercise, but given that most people in society sit WAY too much and most of these elements are moderate to low-level, over-exertion is not likely to occur.

Surround yourself with like-minded people. Community and moral support is vital for healthy living. Why? Because we tend to adopt the habits of the people we hang around most. In your case, you may need to cultivate some new friendships. So you know that person who goes for a walk everyday at lunch? Ask him/her if you can tag along. Go with your neighbour to that belly dancing class she’s always talking about. Maybe your cousin is big on hiking. Find people who move, and move WITH them.Another thing to consider: if they aren’t already on board, ask your immediate family to join you in your quest for healthy living. It would be a huge plus for you AND for them if they did.

Doing things with people you care about (and who care about you) in your own home environment will make your journey a hundred times easier. If nobody buys a bag of chips and stashes it in the kitchen cupboard, then nobody – including you – can eat it. If everybody is spending their Sunday afternoon biking in the park, chances are, you will too. Now, if you don’t know anybody, and your family isn’t very helpful, you can always join a group or a gym.

Find activities that you enjoy, thereby creating a cycle of positive feedback. This is important ALL the time, but especially in the beginning – try to pick physical activities that you genuinely like to do. Even something as simple as helping out at your local community garden, joining a bowling league, or taking a line dancing class would be beneficial. Don’t worry if a friend’s definition of “fitness” means going to boot camp classes five days a week.

Exercising because you SHOULD, won’t be enough of a motivator to keep you interested over the long term. Don’t do things for the benefits you imagine that particular activity will bring to you in the future. You may never get there. Once you’ve created a pattern of regular movement, then you might start adding specialized programming, thereby stepping outside of your comfort zone even more.

Make getting healthy as fool proof as possible. Many people think that it’s their will power (or lack thereof) that influences whether they lead a healthy lifestyle or not. True or not – it IS about changing habits – and your environment can have a HUGE impact on your daily habits. Instead of making it easy to fail, why not make it difficult?

Yes, who you hang around with and what sorts of things THEY do (we’ve talked about this already), what you do for a living and how your workplace is set up, what’s in your refrigerator at the present moment or not, etc. are all things you may need to address. Arrange your life in such a way that NOT being active and NOT eating healthy is nearly impossible. Set yourself up for success, and you WILL succeed.

Think skill-based movement. As your journey to being healthy will have its ups and downs, using appearance-based goals – like weight loss or getting that “six pack” – as evidence for achievement can leave you frustrated and disappointed. Better to focus on tasks, starting at levels that you can DO with some (but not crazy amounts of) effort. Maybe it’s working through the progressions for doing your first REAL pushup. Maybe it’s striving to climb to the top of a very steep hill without having to take breaks to catch your breath. Maybe it’s learning the basics of salsa dancing.

Whatever it is, focusing on skill-based goals and/or goals unrelated to looks (or even health markers) means attaching your morale to what you DO (remember: this is something YOU control by setting yourself up with small obtainable steps), as opposed to who you ARE, a perspective that is much better for maintaining a positive self image, and for establishing that cycle of positive feedback.

Make sure you consider ALL aspects of health and fitness. First of all, when we are talking about fitness, there are many facets – strength and mobility training, conditioning, flexibility, proprioception, balance, etc. You want to have a balanced routine such that you work on all of them – this is where a professional will come in handy. It’s not just about jumping on a treadmill everyday – far from it. For you right now however – as you are just getting started – jumping in with two feet may leave overwhelmed and probably sore. Worry more about what I said earlier – adding more generalized movement to your life. You can add the complexity to your fitness programming as you go along.

With regard to overall wellness, one thing you should consider is that exercise and diet are not enough. A healthy lifestyle also include your mental, emotional, and spiritual sides. Getting the PHYSICAL self in shape is great, but a person is more than just a body. Neglecting to nourish all areas could mean problems in one that end up negatively affecting the prosperity of the whole. For example, you might have emotional issues that are the reason you are not so active to begin with. Address those and the physical part will be easier.

Variety is the spice of life. And it’s also the best thing for your body. Remember that your body is a machine and it is prone to suffering from overuse injuries like any machine would. So many people think that “getting in shape” means slugging away on a treadmill or bike or elliptical for half an hour, or going for a run or to a bootcamp class every single day.

Sorry, but that beach body workout – while it will make you sweat, and will surely increase your cardiovascular capacity – is not the definition of fitness and health all by itself. Going for a run or to a bootcamp class or even doing that beach body workout isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s bad if it’s the only thing you ever do. Remember this when you are planning. The key to success is to think “sustainability” and “injury prevention” vs “getting in shape”.

It’s important to realize that healthy living is a fluid – not static – state of existing. You will have up’s and down’s as the years go by and as your circumstances change. Maybe you had a baby, or two or three, or maybe because of family circumstances, you were out of town for a few weeks and your routine was thrown off.

Maybe you’ve been injured or are going through some kind of illness. Don’t beat yourself up over the fluctuations you are likely to experience during this lifelong process. Also, if you have enough tools in your suitcase, it’s easier to incorporate movement and exercise anywhere and everywhere you go. The goal for you is to be empowered, educated, and independent. Also, try to enjoy the journey, because that’s exactly what it is.

Put one foot in front of the other. Out of everything I’ve said on this list, I can’t emphasize this one enough. It’s particularly important for beginners. Yes, it’s nice to have a grand vision for what you are trying to achieve in life – whether it be fitness, relationship, or business related – but the fact of the matter is that “success” in ANY respect is simply a series of small (and I do mean small) progressions (more forward than back) that develop over time.

Taking a broader view, like saying “I need to lose fifty pounds” or “I will exercise every day for the next year (or even month)” can be overwhelming. Keep goals manageable and doable.Small changes add up. For example, maybe the first thing you do is plan to walk for fifteen minutes twice this week. That’s it. Plan to advance literally one day, one hour, one moment at a time, until that string of small victories becomes a way of life. The progress will be slower, but much easier to keep going over the long term.

There you have it: my top 10 beginner workout tips. I hope this helps you on a journey to a healthier, more mobile and injury-free life. 

That’s been a word from me (Dr. Chris) – #notyoureverydayortho 🙂

Related Articles:

How To Start An Exercise Program: Do The Least Possible
Beginner Body Weight Workout: Burn Fat, Build Muscle

25 Ways To Exercise Without Realizing It

5 thoughts on “BEGINNER WORKOUT TIPS: Where to Start When You Are Out Of Shape

  1. Excellent tips! When I gained a lot of weight after breast cancer treatments with chemo therapy I was in an exercise study with other survivors. One of the research doctors felt the fatigue from the treatments left us not doing the little exercise things we used to do, hence the weight gain.

    1. Thanks for sharing Haralee! Inactivity due to fatigue can certainly contribute to weight gain. It makes dies in that setting even more important.

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