When you own a gym, you get used to answering one question:
How do I get in shape? Or, how do I start working out? Or, what should I do when I go to the gym?
The answer: it depends. (This is always the answer!)
But because I’m asked this question most often at the start of a new calendar or school year, I thought it would be fun to chart out a year of workouts–starting from scratch. If you’re looking for a new beginning, here’s what I’d recommend:
1. First 8 to 12 weeks: Walk Every Day and Build Healthy Eating Habits
We want to make the foundation of our new fitness routine as strong as we can. That means taking care of the stuff we do most often: moving around the world and feeding ourselves. Getting outside for a 20-30 minute walk once a day and transitioning your meals and snacks to high quality protein, fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and adequate hydration is a fantastic way to get started. If you can’t do 20 minutes, do 10 to start. If you’re doing a lot of fast food and meals on the run, switch out one thing at a time. Every day is a chance to get better and every change is a new brick in your foundation. You’re building the ability to move around the world feeling healthier.
2. Next 8 to 12 weeks: Find a gym, coach, or a routine that specializes in strength training.
Now that we’ve begun to build some endurance and you’re feeling healthier and better, it’s time to get stronger. This is the next piece of the puzzle, because strength is THE physical adaptation that will change your life. This does not mean you need to become a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or a meathead (though if the Zubas fit, why not?), but you should be resistance training in an intelligent, progressive fashion. Picking up some dumbbells and kettlebells for time and sweat isn’t optimal when getting started; it’s far better to learn and safely load major movement patterns like the squat, press, and pull in the absence of much external interference. Again, we’re thinking foundationally here–multi-joint, compound movements done well will comprise the next level of bricks. Extra points if you’re using barbells: easiest to progress, load, and program precisely. Super duper extra credit if you have a coach–you want to get this right.
3. Next 6 to 8 weeks: Begin to learn and practice athletic combinations.
After we’ve built some endurance and a baseline of strong movement, we can begin to work with some shorter, athletic conditioning pieces. This will vary by the athlete, but at any station in life we can generally find two or three things we can do safely and well at higher intensity. Runners may choose sprints and calisthenics, folks who’ve come to love lifting may enjoy sled pushes and pulls, and for others at the far end of the spectrum this may be as simple as taking stairs twice a week instead of using the elevator. The point is to begin to use your fitness at speed–whether we’re talking 20 or 70 MPH proverbially. Here’s another area where great coaching can shine: everyone’s got a different engine and in this stage it can really help you to have an experienced co-pilot to work on throttle control with you. Be athletic, but move well.
4. Next 6 to 8 weeks: Address recovery and sleep.
By this point, you will feel like a different person. You’ll be able to do things you couldn’t dream of 32 weeks ago, you’ll be able to push harder, and you’ll be able to go longer. Because you’re doing more, you’re going to need to recover better. Adequate rest, stretching, and sleep bind your bricks together, so this is a great time to take out the mortar and work it into the foundation. Incorporating some stretching after or between workouts is a great idea, and you’ll never go wrong with a quick audit of your sleep routine. Shoot for a couple of warm-muscle stretching segments a week and make them gentle, and aim for 7-8 hours of shuteye (or as close as you can get it) in a dark, cool room.
5. Final Stretch: Take Stock and Set A Goal
I’m a huge fan of intention and competition. This doesn’t mean competing against others (though that’s fine too), but rather setting a goal for yourself and orienting your hard-won fitness habits around that aim. For some, this deepens the practice of athletic movement by giving it external focus; for others, it cements the commitment we’ve made to ourselves by providing a bigger structure. Here are some things our athletes at Woodshed have tackled over the years: walk every day, hike the New England peaks, compete in powerlifting, compete in Olympic lifting, run a 5k, run an ultra, run Spartans, beat my kid in a road race, compete in CrossFit, compete in Strongman, flip tires, surf every morning in the summer, compete in BJJ, pull trucks, take long road trips with my family, and many, many more. Pick something that resonates with you and go get it. Because by now, you’ve earned it.
This isn’t exhaustive, of course, but I think it’s a nice start for a new beginning if you’re looking for one. As always, we’re happy to help–reach out if you could use a hand!