Fitness for first-timers

On the journey to self-betterment with SFU strength & conditioning coaches

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Illustration of a diverse group of people of different abilities working out.
ILLUSTRATION: Jiamin Bai / The Peak

By: Natalie Cooke, News Writer 

New year, new you! As you step into the gym this January, you’ll see many people at different points of their fitness journey: from old-timers, to people on day one, and those starting fresh on a newly inspired journey. Regardless of where you fit along this spectrum, it’s important to recognize that a healthy lifestyle looks different for everyone depending on their goals. Understanding fitness with a “one size fits all” approach can make an already challenging experience that much more intimidating. 

While fitness doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the challenges that can come along with starting a new workout routine, sayings such as “go hard or go home” or “no pain, no gain” falsely attribute success to the amount of discomfort a person experiences. But how will I know if I’m making progress? It’s true that you might feel an ache while working out and for days afterwards. But that’s most likely a micro-tear and is your body’s way of allowing the new muscle to build itself up. Not feeling this sensation is completely normal, and doesn’t mean you’re not making improvements. 

Professional baseball player Yogi Berra famously said that baseball is 90% mental, and the same can be said about fitness. People often get hung up on the numbers they see on a scale because they believe this is a quantitative measurement of how far they’ve come. While this may be an important measure for people who need to be in a certain weight class for competitions or training, numbers can be deceiving. Muscle is denser than fat. It’s not uncommon for your weight to increase while feeling and looking better. 

So how exactly do you start a fitness journey? Kris Robertson, SFU head coach of strength & conditioning, and Tanner Care, SFU assistant coach of strength & conditioning, provided the best ways to avoid pitfalls, stay motivated, and consume enough protein. Coach Robertson said step one is finding a gym buddy. “A lot of [first-timers] don’t know what they’re doing. People end up getting hurt, and end up in this cycle where you’re hurt, you don’t go to the gym, you try to get back to the gym, and get hurt again.” 

“Find someone who knows what they’re doing whether that’s a friend, personal trainer, or coach — that’s going to help you get to where you need to be.”

Now that you’re learning how to navigate the fitness world, how can you stay motivated? Coach Care emphasized the importance of discipline when changes aren’t immediate. It can take upwards of eight weeks for changes in strength to become apparent. While this can be discouraging, it’s important to stick with it, and see working out as a marathon and not a race. This means staying consistent. Nothing will change overnight. It’s important to keep yourself in a routine; creating a program for a set period of time will allow you to get into the practice of incorporating exercise into your daily life. After all, fitness should still be fun! 

Another key aspect of motivation is addressing the reason why you’re working on your well-being. Coach Robertson said keeping track of your progress helps hold yourself accountable. He compares journaling to writing “a contract with yourself.” 

“Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t be afraid of what your ‘why’ is. At the end of the day, it’s only between you and yourself.”

Eating habits are just as important as consistency. Coach Care explained the need for a high protein intake to facilitate muscle growth, as well as healthy carbohydrates to have enough energy for your workouts. Everyone requires different amounts of protein depending on their fitness level, age, and body composition goals. However, 0.8–1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is suggested. Coach Robertson recommended to “sandwich” your workouts before and after with food. Three meals a day and snacks with a balance of macronutrients carbohydrates, protein, and fat — is the way to go.

Many people use the improvement of their appearance as a motivator, and while that might get you through the gym doors, it’s important to understand the lasting effects of a healthy lifestyle. Coach Care described how diabetes, heart disease, and mental health troubles have drastically increased. With all the health issues that exist, you need to “control what you can control” of your eating, sleeping, and training habits. 30-minutes is the benchmark for daily physical activity. That’s 30-minutes of movement, whether that be from washing your car or dancing to music. For individuals with low mobility, arm circles and body raises are best. Resistance bands can be used for an extra challenge. 

While setting goals can motivate a person, fitness is life-long. It doesn’t have to be done strictly for physical results. Aerobic exercises such as running, swimming, walking, dancing, among others have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. That being said, a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee fewer health issues. 

So what have we learned? Fitness is what you make of it and is unique to every individual person. Some might start their fitness journey by choice. Some may have more serious health implications. No matter how big or small the change you seek is, you’re still going out of your way to better yourself. Talk about power.