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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Working Out

For a long time, two of the words I feared the most were ‘working out’. I’ve never been an athletic or particularly coordinated person, and for a long time, it showed. I’d avoid playing sports or doing anything remotely active, especially in front of other people. I was scared – I had no belief in myself or my abilities, and it felt like I’d spent so long being inactive that I didn’t even know where to begin to change things. By the age of twenty-two, I had resigned myself to being overweight, inactive, and unhealthy.

Fortunately, I decided I didn’t have to be that person anymore. I faced my fears and and signed up for a gym. There was a huge learning curve, but I stuck with it. Now, two and a half years later, I’m in good shape. I’m healthy and my body is strong and capable, which is an incredible feeling. I ran my first 5k last month – that’s something I never thought I’d be able to do. It’s a fantastic feeling, taking care of your body, and it’s one I encourage the people in my life to work towards, too. But I remember all too well what it was like, wanting to make a change and feeling overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone. It’s scary, and there’s a lot of advice I wish I could go back in time and give myself. And since I can’t do that, I’d like to write that advice out for anyone who’s considering working out for the first time. So, from someone who’s been there, here are the Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Working Out.

Credit Indoor Cycling Association

1. People at the gym aren’t looking at you.

This was my biggest fear when I first decided to start going to a gym. The idea of going into a gym completely inexperienced and working out among seasoned athletes was terrifying. What if I’m the fattest person in the whole place? I worried. What if everyone watches me and judges me because I’m new and can barely do anything?

Sorry to break it to you, guys, but here’s the thing: at the gym, nobody’s paying any attention to you.

Sure, every gym has some people who show up more to socialize than to actually work out. But these people are in the vast minority, and have been at any gym I’ve gone to. Almost everyone at the gym is there to work on themselves, and most of them are in their own little world. Nobody cares if you’re new. Nobody cares if you can only do one push-up or if you step off the treadmill red-faced and gasping for breath. Everybody was a beginner once, and nobody – not even the fittest people out there – has forgotten what it’s like to start getting into shape. You will not be some sideshow freak for people to observe and judge from their ellipticals. To be frank? Nobody cares, and it’s an amazing feeling.

2. You are likely more out of shape than you think… and that’s okay.

When I first started working out, I knew I was out of shape. I knew that I hadn’t really done anything beyond stroll around the block for a good five years and that I wasn’t ready to run any marathons. But on my first day, I decided to take an aerobics class. The instructor knew I was new and said she’d take it easy on me. Great! Fifteen minutes into the workout, I legitimately thought I was going to die. Until that moment, I had no idea how out of shape I was, and it was a huge wake-up call. I could have walked out of the class then and never returned; I could have seen it as a failed endeavor and let it all go. But I didn’t. The instructor showed me how to modify the movements to make them easier, and I finished the class.

And that’s the important thing – not to give up when you discover just how out of shape you are. Don’t get wrapped up in everything you can’t do. Take baby steps and lay the foundation you’ll need to start improving.  Don’t push yourself too hard at first – working out is about integrating new things into your daily routine and being consistent. Start with the basics to get your body to a place where you can improve and do more.

Credit pumpsandiron.com

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Whether you’re someone who hasn’t been in a gym in a long time, or has never set foot in one at all, chances are there will be machines you’ve never used before. Or there’ll be ones that look familiar to you, but are just different enough that they don’t work the way you expect. Instead of wasting time trying to figure them out, or worse, using them wrong and hurting yourself, ask someone. In every gym I’ve been to, both the staff behind the front desk and the personal trainers on the floor have been happy to take a minute to answer my questions or show me how to operate a machine. They know how to do exercises safely and effectively, and are always willing to show you – you just have to ask. You’ll get way more out of your workouts this way, and who knows? One of those confusing-looking machines might turn out to be one you love.

4. It’s okay to feel completely wiped after a workout.

People who have worked out for ages often talk about the great feeling they get after a session. They talk about feeling strong and energized, and they make it sound like the best thing in the world. That feeling’s not a lie – now that I’ve gotten into shape, I get that feeling, too. But it’s accompanied by also feeling completely and totally exhausted. When you first start working out, you’ll likely experience a lot more of the complete exhaustion than you will the great, happy feeling – and that’s normal. You’re putting your body through moves and motions that it isn’t used to, and it’s fighting to catch up and adapt. It isn’t a walk in the park, and feeling bagged after a workout is a good thing – it means you’re working hard. The more you do it, the more your body will adapt – and the more you’ll start to feel strong and healthy afterwards.

5. You are going to be sore in the morning.

One of the worst pains I’ve ever felt was waking up the first couple mornings after my first workout. My muscles ached, and trying to move around just made them scream more. There’s a huge chance that you’ll experience the same sort of pain after your first workout. And it doesn’t happen only once – anytime you push your body to do things it hasn’t before, it’s likely you’ll wake up sore. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and it’s exactly that – your muscles hurting after you’ve pushed them to do new things. New or incredibly different workouts will cause microtears in your muscle fibres, and it’s the healing process that hurts so much. But the upside? The new, healed muscles will have started to adapt. The more you put your body through DOMS, the more your body will be able to do! It’s a pretty exciting thing, realizing that you can now do something that you never thought you could. It just takes awhile to get there.

Credit The Modern Latina

6. Vary your workouts.

After several weeks, your body will start getting used to the workout you’re putting it through – you’ll likely wind up finding that working out is getting a little easier. That’s when you want to start making it hard for yourself again. A body that’s comfortable and adapted to its workouts doesn’t need to exert the same amount of energy as it did when the workout was new, so you’re burning less calories and aren’t improving your physique the way you were at the beginning. Switching things up by trying new machines and movements will force your body to learn new patterns and use different muscle groups. Variety is the key to keeping your body guessing, and to continually improving your level of fitness!

7. Don’t be afraid of group classes.

If your gym offers any group exercise classes, give one a try! Some of my favourite workouts have been in group classes – just follow along as best you can, and don’t stress it if you have trouble keeping up at first. Telling the instructor at the beginning of class that you’re new will usually work out in your favour – they’ll keep an eye on you and show you modifications for the more advanced movements. Just like in Tip #1, people are so focused on their own workouts and on making it through the class that they won’t be watching what you’re doing. If you’re nervous, set up near the back so that not as many people have you in their line of sight. An added bonus: since group classes happen at the same time every week, they’re a great way to “schedule” your gym time and make sure you get there for your workout.

8. Gaining muscle is a good thing.

Few things make me as angry as hearing women say they don’t want to lift weights because they “don’t want to look bulky”. The idea that weight training in women will lead to bodybuilder muscles is a myth that’s been going around for years now, and it’s time for that thought to stop. In most cases, women do not have the testosterone levels needed to build the kind of muscles you see on bodybuilders. Lifting weights will not give you giant Superman muscles. Building muscle helps to increase your metabolism, helps you burn more calories throughout the day, and helps to tone and shape your body. I’ve been my lowest weight a couple of times now, and let me tell you, I looked far better at that size once I started gaining muscle mass. Don’t be scared of the machines and free weights at your gym. Start small, learn some movements, and slowly increase the size of the weights. You won’t regret it.

Credit yourwellness.com

9. Food is not the devil.

I’ve seen a lot of people who decide to lose weight and change everything about their habits – they exercise frequently, they switch to healthy foods, and they cut way back on eating. Two of those things are great; one can become a problem. If you’re exercising, your body needs food, especially the right foods. It needs fuel to keep it going. Sure, if you cut way back on your eating, you’ll lose weight. But there’s no possible way to sustain eating like that for an extended period of time, and chances are, you’ll rebound because you haven’t learned healthy, long-term eating habits. Putting your body through drastic changes like that is unhealthy, too. Your body needs protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to function. Make healthy choices, but don’t starve yourself. When you’re changing your eating habits, you shouldn’t feel hungry all the time. Give your body the nutrients it needs.

10. Do what’s right for you.

At the end of the day, remember that any advice you’re given about working out is exactly that: advice. There are no hard and fast rules, whether they’re coming from friends, trainers, or your aunt who lost fifty pounds last summer. Even these tips aren’t set in stone – they’re all based solely on my experiences and past learning, and I’m certainly no trainer. Everyone has an opinion about working out and weight loss, and some have more science to back it up than others. There’s no one hard and fast plan to get in shape and change your lifestyle – so find out what’s going to work for you. Do your research and try new things. If you find a routine and plan that you enjoy, that works with your schedule and your life, it’ll be far easier to stick with it. And, coming from someone who’s been in your exact position before: you can do it.

And it’s worth it.

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One Comment on “Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Working Out”

  1. Judy Howsam July 12, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    This is a fabulous article Janna! Great tips and insight that can benefit others who are either thinking about or attempting to get fit. Nice to read something like this that is realistic and encouraging. Well written!

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