How to Improve Your Fitness As a Total Gym Newbie: Experts

  • If you’ve been working out less than a year, planning ahead can help you keep making gains, experts say.
  • While beginners can improve from nearly any exercise, strategies like progressive overload are key. 
  • Build good habits like consistency and stick to a program to prevent plateaus, according to trainers. 

As a fitness newbie, you can make quicker gains than at any other stage of working out, and it’s a crucial time to build good habits for long term success, according to experts. 

A fitness beginner is anyone who has been training consistently for less than one year, strength and conditioning coach Michael Boyle told Insider. “Newbie gains” happen quickly as a result of neurological changes as the body learns how to move better. Beginners can also build lean muscle mass more quickly, although it takes time to accomplish.

By developing consistency and good habits early on, you can make the most of your gym newbie status and avoid muscle-building plateaus when you level up to intermediate or advanced stages of fitness. 

You might be hitting personal records each workout — keep track and build on your success

One sure sign that you’re a beginner to exercise is if you’re able to consistently beat your personal best at each session in the gym, sometimes without a coach or dedicated exercise plan. 

 “It’s like a ‘free’ period where they’re working out and hit a PR every time, even though they’re probably still looking at Instagram for ideas,” Boyle said, referring to a personal record, such as a max-effort lift.

But exercise is different from training, which involves focused progress towards a goal, according to Stan Efferding, a powerlifter and coach known as the world’s strongest bodybuilder. 

“You can leave sweaty and tired, but if it’s not measurable and progressable, you may not be improving,” he told Insider. 

To make gains, track metrics of fitness attributes that are relevant to your overall goals, such as strength, skill, speed, and endurance, or muscle mass.

You can then build on your success by increasing the challenge over time, whether that’s how much weight you can back squat, how quickly you can run two miles, or how well you score in an AMRAP workout.

Adding intensity over time prompts your muscles to adapt to the new stimulus and grow, a fitness principle called progressive overload.  

As you’re trying new things, prepare to invest in a program

Trying new things as a beginner is a great opportunity to find out what you enjoy.

“The best exercise is the one you’ll do,” Efferding said.  

But while you can improve your fitness and build muscle as a newbie by hopping from program to program, or trying random exercises, it’s likely to stall your progress over term, experts previously told Insider. 

The sooner you’re able to find a program you enjoy and can stick to, the less interruption you’ll see in your gains as you continue to improve past the beginner stage. 

“You’re moving away from just doing something every workout to spending enough time on a progress to really get the benefits,” he said. 

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