Exercise tips for beginners:
Let me start out by saying that this post was written first and foremost for those who are not naturally blessed with the gifts of athleticism, a muscular build, or an active lifestyle. And this is not to devalue the hard work and dedication of the strong, athletic folks who bust their butts in the gym every day. But it does acknowledge the fact that different people of different body types, lifestyles, backgrounds, and experiences exist. And some of us are just not as naturally capable of busting out 50 (or even one) push ups on a whim.
Take it from the kid who went from always being picked last in P.E., to getting cut from a no-cut intramural team in college, to not being able to lift the barbell off the rack the first time I attempted a squat. For some of us, square one is far, far, far behind Average Joe’s square one.
The main point is this: All of us have different starting points when it comes to fitness, and we can’t forget about the people who are discouraged (usually throughout their whole lives) from pursuing fitness because their body is not naturally capable of doing what other people may consider laughably easy. Starting from scratch is hard, and sometimes even embarrassing, but it does not mean that every single person has the potential to get strong, fit, and reach his or her goal.
Here are exercise tips for beginners, to help you, well, stop being a beginner. One of the biggest mistakes a beginner can make is trying to go all-out, too early, lacking the proper form. Doing an exercise with improper form is pretty useless, a big waste of time, and puts you at risk of injury. You will make much more progress working up to an exercise using proper form through small progressions.
Start by working up to a few basic strength exercises, such as the push up, squat, and pull up, through these progressions outlined below. As you excel at one step and move onward to the next, you will build strength, but also learn the correct technique and form needed to safely perform these exercises. Eventually, you will surpass the “basic” push up, squat, and pull up, and progress onward to more difficult variations. But first, the basics.
Exercise Tips for Beginners:
Work up to a push up: First of all, screw “girl” push ups (aka on-the-knees push ups). If you can’t do a full, chest-to-ground push up yet, do this:
- Hold the push up plank position, 3 x 1 minute at a time.
- Stand and do chest-to-wall push ups. Slowly decrease the incline from a vertical plane to a horizontal plane as you practice, doing chest-to-bench, chest-to-chair, and whatever else you can lean for these modified push ups.
- When you are comfortable doing chest-to-wall/bench/chair push ups, get in the push up plank position on the ground, lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle and hold it.
- When you can hold a plank at 90 degrees for 4 sets of 15 seconds, you are ready to start doing “real” chest-to-ground push ups.
Work up to a back squat: True, it looks super impressive loading weights onto a barbell and hefting it onto your shoulders for your squats. But don’t do that… yet.
- Start with wall sits. Put your back up against a wall, slide down until your knees make a 90 degree angle, and hold this position. Hold these until you can easily do 1 minute of wall sitting.
- Air squats: Doing these in front of a mirror helps. With your feet about shoulder-width apart, squat until your bum is slightly under your knees, then bring it back up.
- Jump squats: The same as air squats, except use explosive power on the upward movement to jump as high as you can, land, and descend into another squat.
- When you can easily do 1 minute of jump squats, then you are ready to try back squatting with a standard barbell.
Work up to a pull up: This is an especially frustrating exercise to accomplish if you have never been able to do a rep before (which, by the way, is the vast majority of women, so don’t judge), but these progressions will help you get to rep #1.
- Start by holding the negative. Meaning, use a boost to get your chin above the bar, then when you are “up”, use your arms to slowly lower yourself back down. This slow, controlled lengthening of the muscle is eccentric muscle action, more commonly known as negative resistance training. Of the three phases of muscle movement in weight lifting, the eccentric muscle action is the most effective for building strength.
- Do jumping pull ups. Use a boost so that you can jump and engage your arms halfway up (at approximately 90 degrees) to get your chin above the bar, then slowly lower yourself back down.
- Start at the top, lower yourself down halfway (90 degrees, always!), then bring yourself back up.
- Start at the top, lower yourself down all the way, then bring yourself back up.
- Now, and only now, are you ready to do a pull up from a dead hang.