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9 Things I Wish I Knew Starting my Fitness Journey

26 Sep 2019

9 Things I Wish I Knew Starting my Fitness Journey

By Nathalie Lennon

It’s that time of year where many of you are thinking about starting, or have just started your fitness journey. Or perhaps you have travelled down your path a little already and something doesn’t feel quite right? After 4 years travelling down my own – there have been many moments of pride, bravery, growth, enjoyment & success! But there has also been some misunderstandings, dead ends, embarrassing moments & times where I felt quite lost. If you have experienced a combination of overwhelming emotions on your journey or before even beginning – welcome to the tribe of many that feel the very same. Making mistakes is a crucial part of learning and finding out what works best for you. It’s important to realise that making them is part of the process, not failure. If I can save you from making some of the mistakes I did however, you’ll be getting started on a better foot. Here are 9 things I wish I knew when I began my fitness journey.

  1. Workouts don’t need to continue for hours.

When I go all the way back to my very first experience with exercise, it began in my final two years of secondary school where all I thought was that the more calories I burned, the better the workout. All I knew then was running & sit ups, so I would take off on as long a run as I could back then with no idea why, no real interest, or goal. Whilst it definitely helped my cardiovascular fitness levels and sparked a love for running – I saw little progress, over worked myself on those days, and was travelling up a dead end.

Over training & under fueling can actually cause you to lose your muscle mass & elevate stress levels in the body too high than is needed. 20-30 minutes a day can be plenty of time to smash a very effective workout if you plan it the right way – add in high intensity intervals, resistance & weights – and you are flying it! It’s also far better to help you stay in a consistent routine, as it’s not as time consuming for the busy bodies.

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  1. Form is more important than ego.

Whether its weightlifting or plyometrics you rather – it’s time to crush the ego and focus on your form. It is not all about how much weight you can lift or how many burpees you can do in the same time that Sally can. When you take time to learn how to do exercises properly & ensure you continue doing so, you will avoid injuries. It’s actually harder to focus on good form as it involves more focus, stability, core strength & mind muscle connection (the power of which should not be underestimated). By ensuring your form is correct you will get far more “bang for your buck” with each exercise. By this I mean you’ll be far more efficient at targeting muscle groups you want to hit. You will be setting yourself up for progress, rather than an pulled muscle. If you have certain goals in mind, perhaps a burpee record, box jump height or headstand – you’ll get there far quicker if you take time to focus on how you do it with each session and not just the number of times you do it.

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  1. Weights don’t make you bulky.

This is one you must have heard time and time again? For my ladies reading – weights will not make you bulky. Trust me it has taken that buff security guard that trains in the gym years to get to his level of muscle mass, plus it’s far easier for males to lay down muscle mass. I avoided weights for a long time with the fear I would get too “bulky” (even though I read paragraphs like this time and time again too but when do we really let that penny drop?). It wasn’t until I started weight training that I finally started to breakthrough plateaus and see some real physical change which brought me closer to my goals.

It’s worth your time, whether male or female, to get a trainer even if for a few weeks to teach you the basics of weightlifting because it will help with your goals whatever they are – weight loss, muscle gain, strength, everyday functioning, speed and so on!

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  1. Diet is more important than supplements.

If you made some of the mistakes or choices I have in the past, perhaps you ended up following a diet plan which was based off the same meals day in day out which were bland & boring. Accompanied by many supplements I thought we “vital” for success. Whilst at times I may have looked ok, I certainly did not feel it. Then tracking calories can also work very well, but often we fall victim here of trying to “fit in” lots processed goodies, further justified by our long stack of morning supplements.

Since I have begun to focus purely on pumping my body with wholefoods that are varied day to day & full of vitamins and minerals inclusive of all food groups – I feel 100 times better. I feel more alert, energetic, and needless to say happy given that food taste so good again! At the moment by favourite breakfast is courgette oats with yogurt, berries & nuts, for lunch I love having eggs & wholemeal toast with steamed veggies & melted cheese, & come the evening I’m enjoying lentils or a homemade dish with fish/meat & veg. Then cappuccinos, yogurt bowls & fruit are my go to snacks.

  1. The scales should not be your sole progress measure.

Tracking progress is really important, especially when you do have a goal in sight and usually this goal is to drop body fat & gain (“tone”) some muscle mass. Whilst the scales is a measure of progress for almost all of us, it should not be your sole indicator. If you begin to check the scales every single day, it can really mess with your mind & the journey becomes far less enjoyable as we tend to obsess over every little fluctuation. Muscle is more dense than fat, so remember that while your body is changing. The scales may not go down consistently or as much as you expect but that’s not too say that your shape, fitness & health are not improving dramatically.

My favourite way to keep progress is a 50/50 split between progress photos and how I feel. Pictures are going to be the best way to track a physical change in your body so don’t let one more day of your journey pass until you take a set – no matter how cringe it feels at the time, trust me you will be thanking us later!

  1. Rest & recovery are essential.

Rest and recovery are not optional, they are essential. It’s often easy to get swept up in the rat race when the office colleagues are comparing who burned more calories in their morning spin, or everyone on Instagram has been up and to the gym before work except you. If it’s a day for your body to rest, don’t feel guilty about it. Schedule in rest to each week.

If you really want to push hard in your training & progress, rest days are a necessity for your muscles to repair & rebuild. Rest alone isn’t the key to recovery, diet has an important part to play too. Ensuring you rehydrate, keep your electrolytes balanced, supply your muscles with protein to repair as well as carbohydrates to refuel is very important. Milk is a great recovery drink that is a staple in my diet, as it ticks all of these boxes with protein, naturally occurring electrolytes, lactose to refuel your muscles energy stores as well as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, phosphorus & riboflavin.

  1. Variety is key to keep interested

Make changes frequently so you don’t get bored or plateau. Variety is the spice of life after all! This applies to all areas of your fitness journey – recipes, workouts & surroundings. If you find boredom starting to set in or the passion to workout start to dim, prepare to switch it up. You need to be prepared to also make an embarrassment of yourself on this journey at leats once or twice. No one used a treadmill for the first time without taking 5 minutes to find the start button (or maybe that was just me), no body joined there first CrossFit class without getting a little lost or confused with the WOD (that’s workout of the day for anyone else who also had to ask at their first class, cue rosy cheeks). The only way to get through discomfort and grow your self-confidence along with the boundaries of you comfort zones is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you have ever tried the exercise in my next point – you’ll know that feeling all too well.

  1. Hip thrusts are as good as they say.

I know we are not all looking to build our glutes so I will keep this one short and sweet. For 2 years I avoided this exercise with the fear of making a fool of myself, and it wasn’t until I broke through that fear that for the first time in my life, I felt real muscle recruitment in my hamstrings and glutes. It’s very important to balance out muscle strength & training, so if you are a quad dominant guy or girl, this is one exercise you need to add to your training programme. Squats and deadlifts are two very important exercises for anyone beginning to train with weights, but you won’t feel those glutes burn until you get thrusting. My top tip? Don’t make eye contact with anyone, especially not your gym crush.

  1. Above all – Enjoyment is the key to success.

At the end of the day – we will always have physical changes we might want to make if we had the choice, but what matters is that you enjoy how you exercise. That it feels good for your body & mind. Once it assists in helping to be healthier & happier – that’s all that matters.

Nathalie Lennon is a Personal Trainer, Online Coach and Ambassador for The Complete Natural. You can find more from Nathalie on Instagram and YouTube