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Starting a New Workout? 12 Must-Follow Rules to Set Yourself up for Fitness Success

For beginners and those looking to get back on track with their workouts, motivation is key to kickstarting any exercise program. But before you race to the nearest gym and sign a costly contract or enroll in a local boot camp, you need to devise a plan that will set you on course for a lifetime of fitness success.

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Get a check up

Before you start a beginner’s workout, or any fitness program, you should book an appointment with your doctor for a health assessment. “A doctor will ensure that you don’t have any conditions that might predispose you to injury or harm,” explains Joy Keller, certified personal trainer at LA Fitness, San Diego. Once your doctor gives you the all-clear for fitness, you can start moving—and start experiencing all the many benefits of exercising.


Get assessed by a certified personal trainer

Everyone’s fitness level is different, so it is best to get assessed by a personal trainer before you begin a new exercise program (and most gyms offer a free assessment when you join). A professional will take you through a basic, total-body routine to determine your fitness level, and then help you find a group fitness class or activity that appeals to you. “Make sure you let the fitness professional know that you’re a beginner to exercise so they can best support you,” says Keller. “A good fitness professional will help you make the behavioral changes you’ll need in order to reach your goals.”


Determine your fitness goals

“It’s very important to have a goal in mind before you start a beginner’s workout routine,” says Keller. Most people want to lose weight, but others might want to increase strength and stamina, train for a marathon, or just improve flexibility. “If you are not sure what your goals are, working with a health coach or personal trainer can help you determine what path is right for you,” says Keller. If you’re looking for the biggest calorie burn, these are the workouts for you.

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Find the best trainer for your needs

Whether heading to a new gym, signing up for a softball team, or hiring a personal trainer, it is important to seek out fitness professionals who can advise beginners on exercise and direct you to the best workout programs, activities, or sports that match your interests and level of fitness. For example, those who want to start running could try a beginners running program such as Rev up To Run, a class offered at Pongo Power in Brooklyn, New York, that starts by analyzing each member’s gait to identify strengths and weaknesses in their movement patterns. “We determine what muscles are tight and need loosening, and what muscles are weak and need strengthening,” says Julie Petrusak, certified personal trainer at Pongo Power. After the analysis, new runners are given exercises and stretches to correct their specific muscle imbalances. “Doing so prevents injury, allows them to get stronger, and run longer and faster,” says Petrusak. They’ll also help you avoid these common running mistakes.


Start with the basics

It’s important for beginners to learn technique and proper form for any type of exercise they choose to pursue, explains Petrusak. Starting with a beginner level class at the gym allows you to master the basics of the activity so you can advance in that activity safely. “Our beginner runners are coached on running form—everything from the placement of their feet to the use of their glutes.”


Try different types of workouts

From big-name gyms to boutique studios, there are a multitude of fitness outlets and classes to choose from. But you may not know what is best for you until you try it. To help make your decision easier, Keller suggests reverting to your childhood. “Think about what types of games you enjoyed playing as a child and branch out from there,” she says. If you played kickball, you might want to check out your local gym’s group exercise schedule. If you loved riding your bike, take an indoor cycling class. If you like to dance, there are dance-inspired classes that explore different types of movement. “Whatever you choose, start slowly, be patient, and work your way up.” Also, if you choose a physical activity that you enjoy, you are more likely to stick with it for the long term.

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Start slowly

You may be tempted to jump in and go all out but, if you do that, your raise your chances for injury, and that will delay your results and goals. When beginning a new exercise program, start slowly (10 or 20 minutes each day), and then build on those numbers. Remember that exercise, even for beginners, is a form of stress, and you need to allow your body time to adapt and recover. “As you gain more experience with exercise, you’ll discover what is best for your body,” says Keller. “Start slowly and pay attention to what brings you the most joy and benefits.”

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Don’t be bullied into buying what you don’t need

Don’t invest a lot of money into contraptions that make ridiculous promises (such as lose six inches off your waist in one week), and never work with a fitness professional who isn’t certified. “It’s dangerous!” says Keller. When choosing a trainer, make sure they have experience with teaching and training beginners. Other pitfalls to avoid include buying nutritional supplements. “You don’t need them to exercise,” says Keller. She also suggests skipping the temptation to buy an expensive heart rate monitor, at least at first. “A beginner probably doesn’t need a heart rate monitor unless they have a health condition that warrants it,” she says. “It’s better to wait a few months, until you reach a goal, and then buy one so you can accurately gauge how hard you are working.” Check out nine surprising things your fitness tracker knows about you.

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Make exercise a lifestyle change, not a hobby

When starting a beginner’s exercise program, it’s important to be positive, keep and open mind, and allow yourself time to achieve the goals you set. “It may go smoothly; it may not, but it’s important to keep trying,” says Keller. Anticipate that there will be set-backs. “Maybe you’ll have a tough week or two where you can’t make it to the gym, or you might not lose the weight in the time you wanted. It’s okay! Just keep moving and get back into your routine when you can. Your body will respond.”


Self monitor your progress

Along with old-fashioned journaling with a pen and paper, there are several apps, such as MyFitnessPal and Fitlist, designed to help monitor your fitness. When you start a new workout routine, try journaling on the days you are active,” says Jessica Matthews, senior health advisor for health and fitness at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Keep track of how many minutes you work out, how intense you worked out, and how you felt before and after the workout. “That reflection is powerful in making healthy lifestyle changes,” she says.


Make yourself accountable for fitness

Adding an accountability factor to your fitness routine helps you stay on track and prioritize your commitment to health and wellness. When you schedule time with a personal trainer or sign up for a class, or gym workout for beginners, you not only make a monetary commitment but it requires that you block off time in your schedule. It also adds a human factor, explains Matthews. “Someone is expecting you, waiting for you.” You can also create accountability by meeting up with a workout partner to go for a walk or hike. “When someone is waiting for you, you are more likely to show up because you don’t want to let them down. They are supporting you and you are supporting them–this can be transformative in your health and wellness.”


Acknowledge your success

Getting started with a beginner’s or any exercise program is tough. Sticking to it is even harder. When you accomplish a workout, acknowledge yourself! “This might be as simple as saying, ‘Yes! I did it, go me!'” says Keller. “Giving yourself this pat on the back is positive reinforcement that will help to rewire your brain and turn your new exercise regime into a habit.” Check out 51 brilliant heath tips you’ll want to make a habit.

Kim Fredericks
Kim Fredericks is a freelance writer, content specialist, and editor with 20 years experience covering fitness, travel, hotels, design, real estate, and luxury lifestyle topics for major publications and web sites such as the Robb Report, Luxury magazine, Reader's Digest, and Oyster. Kim earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and English from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and a Masters in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She is an avid skier, golfer, and outdoor enthusiast. She lives in the NYC Metro area with her husband Victor and Rocky the Jack Russell. Visit her website: Kim Fredericks.