Making a commitment to get fit can be completely overwhelming! With so much conflicting information out there, where do you even start?
Over the past 4 years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and what I didn’t know cost me a lot of time, money, and unintentional self-sabotage. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.
That’s why today I’m sharing “14 Things I Wish I Knew When I Began My Fitness Journey”, in hopes that it will help you as you begin yours!
1. Proper form is WAY more important than how much weight you’re lifting
Oh lawd – if there’s one thing I could tell my young weightlifting self it would be to swallow my pride and focus more on nailing my form than on the number of plates on my barbell.
When you use more weight than you can properly handle you 1) set yourself up for injury (a lesson I learned the hard way) and 2) actually sabotage your gains, in many cases.
When the muscle you’re targeting is too weak to lift the load it’s bearing, a phenomenon called “synergistic dominance” occurs, in which secondary muscles will compensate to allow you to complete the movement. This can lead to ineffectively strengthening the target muscle and overtaxing the muscles picking up the slack.
2. Stop obsessing over supplements
In your quest for fitness info, you’re bound to be bombarded by influencers and marketers telling you about all of the health products you just HAVE to have.
There’s a lot of shadiness and pseudo-science in the supplement industry.
If you’re just starting out, don’t spend hours banging your head against a wall trying to figure out which supplements to take.
While they can definitely enhance your performance and results, the most important thing BY FAR is getting your diet and training right.
Before buying any supplement, I recommend that you look it up on Examine.com to see what scientific research has to say on its efficacy.
3. Lifting weights will not make you bulky
News flash: Getting bulky as a woman is HARD.
If you’re afraid that lifting is going to make you look too “masculine”, trust me, you’re not going to get there by accident.
Putting on that kind of muscle mass takes a LOT of intention and effort over a long period of time.
You won’t go to the gym for a week or two and then suddenly wake up one morning looking like the Hulk.
I personally love the look of defined muscles, but if that’s not your jam – all you have to do is stop progressing the amount of weight you’re using once you’re satisfied with your physique or reduce training frequency for that particular muscle group.
4. You’re going to feel awkward AF about certain exercises… do them anyway!
Lookin’ at you hip thrusts 👀
Doing any unfamiliar exercise for the first time might make you feel awkward or silly. Add to that those booty-building moves that look overtly sexual (*cough cough* hip abductors) and you might be tempted to skip them altogether.
BUT the only way to get past the discomfort is to push through it. Confidence comes from action not thought.
Accept that you’re going to feel awkward and do it anyway. It DOES get better. And your #gainz will thank you for it.
5. Hip thrusts are the Sh!t
Seriously… If you’re trying to build a booty, this is the move fam!
If you listen to traditional bro science, everyone preaches squats and deadlifts as the go-to lower body moves, and while they’re both great movements in their own right, neither comes close to activating the glutes as well as the hip thrust.
Brett Contreras, The Glute Guy (yes, that’s really what he’s called), has published tons of research-backed information on this on his website. If one of your fitness goals includes building the perfect posterior, I highly recommend you check him out!
6. Many “health” foods aren’t all that healthy…
At the beginning of my fitness journey I decided I needed to clean up my eating, and so I used to survive on things like Special K brownies, Pop Chips, Lean Cuisines, and Walden Farm’s 0-calorie syrup. Not exactly the diet of champions…
Many of the health benefits touted on the boxes of these foods were nothing more than clever marketing. While there were definitely less calories in these items than their alternatives, I was still eating a TON of processed foods.
Thank god I finally learned that there’s a lot more to healthy eating than calories/macros.
How your food is produced is also REALLY important.
Now I try to stick to whole, non-processed foods (that are organic and locally grown, when it’s in the budget).
7. Rest days are not lazy. Rest days are essential.
When I first started taking weightlifting seriously, I prided myself on the fact that I was team #nodayzoff.
I seemed to have this fear that if I missed one day, I’d somehow completely fall off the rails and lose all my progress.
Be better than me plz 🙏
If you’re pushing yourself hard, rest days are ESSENTIAL for your muscles to repair and rebuild.
Going to the gym became so ingrained in my daily routine that it was hard for me not to go. If this sounds like you, I recommend taking “active” rest days, where you do light cardio, yoga, or something minimally taxing on your body so you can still get some movement in while giving yourself a chance to recover.
8. Scale weight is not a good indicator of progress in a resistance-training program.
If you’re starting a cardio-based workout program with the primary goal of weight-loss then the scale can be a useful tool to monitor your progress.
However, if you’re implementing a resistance training program, it’s not going to do much for you. Since muscle is more dense than fat, you may be making tremendous strides forward, but see a larger number on the scale.
The number on the scale doesn’t take into account body composition or differentiate between lean mass (muscle) and fat mass.
Keeping an exercise log that allows you to observe strength gains over time, taking progress photos and recording weekly measurements are much more effective ways to track your progress for this type of training program.
9. Make sure you’re eating enough food…
There seems to be this myth floating around that in order to get fit you have to adopt a super restrictive diet.
Not only is this unsustainable, but it can also be dangerous and keep you from seeing the progress that you want to make.
Building muscle requires consuming more calories than you burn.
If you’ve cleaned up your eating and your diet consists primarily of plants and lean poultry, then you may have to consume a larger quantity of food than you’re used to to hit your macro goals (You’ll never hear me complain about having to eat more).
10. … but also realize that “bulking” doesn’t require as many extra calories as you might think.
Building muscle requires being in a caloric surplus, but some people take this as an invitation to eat all the thingz.
If you’re eating because you’re hungry and you want to, then go for it – get down witcha bad self. Ya girl can put away some food, so you know I’m not judging.
But if you think that you need to consume excessive amounts of calories to put on some muscle, well… that’s just not true.
The ideal calorie number for increasing muscle mass is between 250 – 500 calories above your maintenance levels.
“Maintenance levels” simply refers to the amount of calories you use to complete the activities of one day. You can calculate your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, using THIS calculator.
11. A longer workout doesn’t equal a better workout
When I first got seriously into weightlifting, I’d be in the gym 2 hours a day, 7 days a week… not wise, my friends.
In fact, training this way can actually cause you to LOSE muscle mass.
This is because as you train the level of cortisol – a stress hormone that helps regulate metabolism and energy – in your body begins to rise, signaling to your body to break down muscle protein as a source of energy.
When exactly this begins to occur depends on the intensity of your workout, but if your weight training is regularly taking 2+ hours, then you are likely a) not training hard enough or b) overtraining and inadvertently causing a loss of muscle tissue. No bueno.
For most people hypertrophy training (the fancy pants way of saying training for increased muscle size), the sweet spot of training hard enough to see maximum results without overdoing it is a 60-90 minute workout.
12. Don’t underestimate the power of the mind-muscle connection
While training you shouldn’t just be going through the motions, only focused on cranking out a certain number or reps or thinking about what you need to buy at the grocery afterwards.
All movement begins with a signal sent by your brain telling your muscles to contract.
Many studies show that focused concentration on the muscle you’re targeting results in greater neural activation.
Improving the communication between your brain and body allows for a better quality muscle contraction and ultimately a better quality workout.
So with each rep that you complete, be sure that you’re really focusing on moving the weight with the muscle you intend to and feeling that contraction.
For more info on how to build your mind-muscle connection and why it matters, I recommend checking out this article on T-Nation.
Arnold Schwarzenegger swears by the mind-muscle connection (and science proves it), so if that’s not compelling enough, I don’t know what is!
13. Sometimes the best way to increase strength isn’t adding more weight
The most obvious way to “progress” in the gym is to continually increase the amount of weight you’re using as you become stronger.
However, it’s important not to forget that there are other ways to make an exercise more challenging.
To switch things up I sometimes like to take down the weight a bit and focus on completing the exercise, particularly the eccentric (or lowering) phase, nice and slooooow. This maximizes the time that the muscle is under tension allowing for greater growth.
Drop sets are another secret weapon I wish I would’ve incorporated from the start.
With drop sets you essentially use a challenging weight to complete an exercise as usual, but when you reach failure or your target number of reps, instead of stopping, you reduce the weight and immediately continue lifting until you reach failure at that weight, continuing the process until your muscles are tapped out.
14. Be careful who you follow on social media
When I first got into fitness I – naturally 🙄 – turned to Instagram for workout ideas and advice.
While I think it can be a great tool, as I began to learn more through my own experience, looking at what research has to say, and getting my certifications, it became more and more apparent how many influencers were out there, both knowingly and unknowingly, giving bad workout advice or pushing ineffective or unhealthy products (Example A – when I purchased and suffered through wearing not one, but TWO waist trainers because all of the fitness gurus were raving about them *facepalm*).
Make sure that the people you are following have your best interest in mind and are qualified to be giving you advice.
Also be sure to conduct your own research before buying any products or trying exercises that look cool on the ‘gram but could be potentially dangerous.
Now I want to hear from you!
What do you wish you would’ve known when you started your fitness journey? If you’re just starting out, what is your biggest source of confusion? Let me know in the comments below!