If you’re just starting out in the gym, you’ve probably ended up there after reading magazines, going on websites and chatting to friends who already exercise. In amongst all that noise, you might have found some nuggets of gold to get you started. But I bet they’re buried under a mountain of BS, ego and just plain confused advice from generally (but not always!) well-meaning people.
So, at Real World Fitness in Nottingham, we’ve put together 5 nutrition and 5 training basics. These, in our opinion, are essentials that anyone new to this lifestyle has to get right pretty quickly.
1. Establish a baseline
Find out how many calories a day you can eat and stay broadly the same weight. Think of this as your body’s overdraft facility. This is what you have to work with at the moment – if you spend more than you earn, you lose pounds. If you earn more than you spend, you gain them.
Initially, fat loss is about finding a baseline from which you can adjust your intake to match your goals. Without a starting point, how will you know what to improve? Use an app like MyFitnessPal to get you started.
2. Learn to cook bigger meals
…and then save half. If you live on ready meals and ‘easy’ foods, you will never be fully in control of your diet. There’s too many unknowns, too much temptation. But who wants to cook three times a day? Making double or triple the portion size, then either chilling or freezing the extra, saves so much time you’ll wonder why you’ve never done it before.
It’s also *ridiculously* cheaper to cook this way.
3. Go for moderation
Once you’ve established your baseline, aim to split your calorie intake equally between carbohydrate, fat and protein. For most people, this will mean that they dramatically reduce carb content, and eat far more protein and fat, than previously. And guess what? The quality of what you eat will almost automatically go up as a result.
4. Don’t reach for supplements straight away
They are supplements for a reason – they aren’t essential. They are there to plug gaps in an otherwise solid nutrition plan. If you’re getting most of your protein from shakes, bars and ‘protein bread’, then you’re doing it very, very wrong. And expensively.
Personally, I maybe have a whey shake 3-4 times a *week*. I know some people who have that a *day*. Eat whole food; you’ll feel fuller, more satiated and you’ll have a fuller wallet at the end of the month.
5. Ditch empty calories
Seriously, food is NICE. Why waste 300 calories on a Coke, whatever your goals are? Just have a diet soda, and save the calories for actual food. Double check the calorie content of drinks you have – some squashes are sugar packed, and flavoured waters are often as calorific as normal Coke.
If you’re new to training, you need to learn the basics and learn them well. You can’t do that if you follow a programme with 30 different exercises in it. Even now, in a typical week, I’ll do less than 15 different exercises. In the whole week.
A basic programme should be based around a squat, a deadlift, some kind of pull, and a push. That’ll do you for at least six months, three times a week. A four-way split when you’ve just started training? You’re just asking for an injury, and it’ll take you forever to get half-way decent at anything.
2. Learn form
Seriously, it’s so important. Find someone to teach you properly, or at the very least, video yourself and compare the video to a decent from guide on YouTube. Be honest about your form, and make sure everything you do is done to the best of your ability with regards to technique. You will save yourself months of wasted progress and potential injury if you do. Come and see us and our gym in Colwick, and we’ll help you out.
3. Use a mixture of free weights and machines
Depending on who you listen to, machines are either perfect for new users, or only for advanced gymmers. Oddly enough, I’ve heard the exact same arguments for and against free weights.
You know what’s true? That incredibly unsexy things called moderation again. A mixture, depending on your ability, is likely the best option. Not many newbies can do a proper chin-up, so use the lat-pulldown instead. Have no spotter and no confidence? Don’t use a barbell for bench pressing; use a chest press machine to build up some basic strength first. You get the idea. On the whole, in my opinion, beginners should be aiming to be proficient with free weights as soon as possible. Few machines can compete with a barbell, once you know what you’re doing.
4. Don’t copy everyone else
Honestly, probably 90% of people in gyms are clueless. Including many of the staff.
Don’t spend ages learning excellent squat form from YouTube, and then copy the first big guy you see quarter-squatting because you can use more weight. Once people have been training a while, there’s loads advanced techniques they can use to push through sticking points and plateaus etc. Maybe you’re watching a powerlifter doing partials to help his hip drive? Maybe you’re watching an utter muppet destroying his lower back? Who knows? It’s not important. You are not them. Do what you’ve learned and don’t be swayed by others.
Remember – some people are successful in SPITE of how they train, not because of it. If you do anything for 20 years, chances are you’ll end up bigger than average. But maybe you could have done it in half the time, training properly? Big/ripped doesn’t always mean smart or knowledgeable. Saying that, don’t dismiss advice from bigger guys/girls. Chances are they know something about staying power and commitment, if nothing else…
5. Train what you can’t see
Everyone wants good abs, guys want a good chest, girls often want defined arms and shoulders. Not enough people want good legs, but that’s another blog post entirely.
That’s great, and they all need training.
But, train what you can’t see in the mirror. Your posterior chain – hamstrings, glutes, lats, erectors and everything in between – will impact how you look from the front. Training your upper back will pull your shoulders up and back, and make you look a little broader. It’ll also help show off any delt definition in your shoulders.
Training your back as a whole will give you better posture, and if that seems too dull – it’ll improve your bench press. Got your attention now, eh? It’s rare that a really, really strong bench presser has a weak back.
Above all, because I’m split thirds on strength, health and aesthetics, training your posterior chain is one of the key ways to stay injury free. It often removes lower back pain, shoulder niggles are lessened and strengthens your core. You might accidentally even end up with abs.
And a bonus:
It’s not going to happen overnight. Have realistic expectations. Focus on performance first and aesthetics will follow. Get good at stuff, and you’ll look better. It’s that simple, but it DOES take time.