Let me guess. You’re here because of something along these lines:
- Your doctor told you it’s time to start exercising.
- It’s been getting a bit harder to take the stairs at work so you’ve decided to do something about your strength and stamina.
- You’ve developed a bit of a muffin top (and not the delicious kind) and you’ve heard that exercise is important if you want to maintain a healthy weight.
Whatever your reasons for deciding to start a training program, congratulations on taking the first step and doing your research! But it can be a little bit overwhelming to weed through the thousands of articles on which type of program or approach to training is right for you, which is why we put together this comprehensive resource.
We’ll give you everything you need to know in this article, including how to establish your underlying motivation, assess your starting place, make a plan, and execute on that plan to achieve your goals.
Ready to get started?
Step One: Find Your Why
If you ask most people why they want to start training, they’ll look at you like you have three heads. Isn’t it obvious? Exercise is good for you–do you really need a deeper reason than that?
But just because exercise is something you are supposed to do or your doctor told you to do, if you dig into what’s driving you, you’ll usually discover that’s not your deep, underlying motivation (after all, you were “supposed” to exercise 10 years ago too, but something is making you start now).
Figuring out a more meaningful driver makes it a lot easier to stay committed to a healthier lifestyle when things get tough (and they will get tough, because life happens).
Examining what matters to you can mean the difference between tiring of your new program after 3 weeks because you aren’t seeing results fast enough, and creating a long term habit that makes you feel better and healthier over the course of your life time.
Identifying your why also informs the type of training you should do. For instance, let’s say you really want to do a Spartan race with your 13-year-old son because you want to spend more time with him and you want to create lasting memories. Your training will look different than if you want to be able to lift your wife’s luggage without worrying that your back is going to give out.
Establishing your motivation makes it much easier to weed through all of the different program choices out there and choose the one that is right for you.
A great way to figure out what motivates you is to spend time thinking about it and writing about it. This article gives you the tools you need to determine your motivations.
Step Two: Assess Your Starting Point
Now that you know your why, it’s important to assess what your starting point is so that you know what you should be working on.
An assessment should include some general things like overall strength, flexibility, motor control, and coordination, as well as some things that are relevant to your specific goals.
Continuing with the previous example, let’s say you are really intent on doing that Spartan race with your son in 6 months.
How do you assess your starting point?
Begin by thinking about the things you are going to need to do for the Spartan race. You are going to need to run, crawl under things, swing from things, and climb things. An assessment of your starting point or baseline might look something like this:
- Can you run 3 miles without stopping?
- Can you squat down low and walk in your squat for 60 seconds?
- Can you crawl for 60 seconds?
- Can you do a pull-up?
Let’s say you answered yes to running 3 miles without stopping and yes to a pull-up, but squatting down low (let alone moving in your squat) is virtually impossible. And crawling for any length of time makes your hips hurt just thinking about it; when you tried it, you felt pretty shaky after 15 seconds.
What can you take away from this assessment?
You have a great starting place for endurance and strength, two key components of your goal, but you need to address your hip mobility and flexibility in order to be comfortable in the positions that will be required to complete the race. Establishing a targeted mobility routine will be a key component to successfully working towards your goal.
What if you just want to be able to lift your wife’s suitcase out of the car the next time you go on vacation without worrying about throwing your back out?
Your assessment might look something like this:
- Can you get up and down off of the floor without using your hands?
- Can you squat without pain?
- Can you perform a bodyweight push-up on the floor?
- From a standing position, can you bend your knees and place your hands on the floor?
If you answered yes to doing a push-up and no to everything else, where should you start? You would benefit from working on general mobility and leg strength to build a solid foundation.
For more ideas on how to assess your starting point, check out this article here.
Step Three: Set Goals for Yourself
Now that you have established your why and assessed your starting point, it’s time to make a plan.
To do this, you’ll want to set short term and long term goals that support your why and account for your starting point. The ability to meet your short term goals will keep you motivated and help you establish a long term habit of exercise.
To set yourself up for success, your goals should be realistic, measurable, and flexible.
Things happen, and the ability to alter your goals so you still feel like you are making progress can be the difference between maintaining a habit and giving up because it’s too much or too hard.
Let’s look a little more closely at the idea of short term and long term goals. Remember you as the Spartan race competitor? The short term goal is the Spartan race, but what is your long term goal? Maybe it’s being able to still do a race like this with your son in another 5 or 10 years.
This is why it’s so important to clarify step one, finding your why. Your short term goal may be the impetus you need to get going, but your long term goal will be more closely aligned with how you want to live your life.
This also makes setbacks easier. Whether it’s an injury, illness, or becoming a new parent, life happens and sometimes you can’t exercise the way you want to or the amount you want to, but you can still make progress towards your long term goal through a flexible mindset.
And what about out the second scenario, where you want to be able to lift your wife’s luggage without injury risk?
Establishing a short term goal to measure progress will help keep you on track. You can even use your assessment as a way to gauge progress by checking your squat once every week and attempting to get up off of the floor without your hands once every couple of weeks.
One of the hardest aspects of beginning an exercise program is staying motivated—observable changes in your ability to perform skills is a great way to maintain motivation.
Our article on goal setting offers advice on how to set goals at different stages during the process.
Step Four: Get Started
The biggest mistake people make when getting starting with an exercise program is diving in to something without planning ahead and making sure it’s the right fit for them. Going through the previous three steps will ensure that the work you’re putting in matches your goals and where you’re at right now, which will set you up for success.
But then it’s time to do the work!
The most important thing is to pick an appropriate program that will generally help you toward your goals, and then stick with it. Do whatever you need to do to set up yourself up for success so that you can stay consistent with your new program. Once you build that habit of exercise, the rest of your journey will be so much easier and smoother.
One of the best ways to stay on track is to follow a plan that’s already laid out for you. Our free Strength and Mobility Kickstart will help you establish a foundation for mobility and strength, with no equipment needed. Take the thinking out of your programming and focus on the most important part–execution.