So you've proclaimed 2014 to be the year you finally get fit. Now what?
Between the workout-specific lingo, fancy gear and expensive gadgets, exercise can feel a little bit like an unwelcoming club. But the last thing we want is for you beginners to be discouraged. That's why we've decided to let all newcomers in on a few insider secrets. Here are 10 things you should absolutely know if you're going to really make that resolution stick.
1. You're Going To Hurt
You should expect to have some aches and pains, but that's usually a good thing: Muscle soreness is usually not much more than a sign that you've been working those muscles. Your first few ventures back into the world of fitness are going to wake up some sleepy muscles and push them harder than sitting around the Thanksgiving table and making the holiday party rounds. The good news is that you can usually continue to exercise despite the soreness, and sticking with it means you'll eventually be able to perform that deadlift or master that plank pain-free -- and you'll get stronger in the process.
It's important, however, to listen to your body's individual fine line between soreness and injury, and to ease off when something's really wrong, which leads us to...
2. You Must Take Rest Days
One of the fastest ways to guarantee a real injury (or burnout) is to allow yourself zero days off. Without giving your body time to recover, it won't "adapt to the stress of your training -- you won't get stronger, or faster," Runner's World reported. The longer your streak of workouts, the higher your risk of overtraining, which can lead to drops in strength and speed. When you're planning out your workouts for the week, build in at least a day (if not a couple) to take it easy. Really!
Not sure if you're due for a day off? Count up your overtraining red flags here.
3. Sleep Is Not For The Weak
Muscles aren't built in the gym. After you drift off, your body gets to work increasing blood flow to muscles, dolling out growth hormones and repairing tissue. Without enough quality sleep, don't expect to see results. Luckily for you, your new workout routine will also probably make you a better sleeper!
4. Don't Compare Yourself To Others
You didn't make the resolution to get fit for anyone but yourself (at least we hope), so your workouts should be for you, too. As much as you can, try to ignore the speed at which that woman is sprinting on the treadmill next to you, or how much weight that guy is loading onto the squat rack. Everyone has different goals and different backgrounds, and that's okay!
5. Do Not Hesitate To Ask Questions
That said, that guy squatting the unfathomable amount of weight just might be your best, untapped resource. Rather that risk injury by attempting to go it yourself on a machine you've never even seen before, ask questions of the other exercisers around you. With any luck, they'll recognize themselves in you: Everyone was new to exercise at one time! If no one friendly-looking enough is around to help you out, ask trainers or other gym staff to show you the ropes.
6. You'll Want To Eat Enough For A Family Of Four
Not only will you be burning more calories (which you'll need to replenish for getting sweaty all over again), exercise also seems to boost levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Aim for a balance of lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains, fresh produce and lots of fluids rather than an entire six-foot sub.
7. But You Probably Don't Need That Sports Drink
You're going to sweat, but let's not get carried away: It takes over an hour of intense training to deplete your calories, sugars and salts to a place where you'd need a special drink to bring you back. Most of us can get by just fine with good, ol' H2O. If you want a little something extra, try a banana. A 2012 study found that cyclists performed just as well on bananas as they did while guzzling a sports drink.
8. You Might Not Lose Weight
If your goal to get fit really means slimming down, consider that not every new exercisers drops pounds. For one thing, it's easy to overestimate the calorie burn of a workout and consequently overdo it on the post-workout snacks. You'll also likely be building muscle as you lose fat, which can lead to a stagnant scale. That doesn't mean you're not getting trim; you could be losing inches and dropping sizes without even noticing if you're too fixated on the number on the scale.
9. The Gym Is Not Always This Crowded
If your first couple of workouts involve lines for showers, no parking spots or waitlists for treadmills, don't get discouraged. As seasoned fitness fans know, January is witness to loads of "resolutionaries", many of whom taper off by mid-February. Stick it out for the next few weeks (and avoid becoming one of the 60 percent of people who let their gym memberships go unused): It gets better.
10. Your Laundry Pile Might Suddenly Feel Rather Daunting
You might even be tempted to re-wear dirty socks.
11. Success Takes Time
If your first day at the gym was January 1, you're probably not going to be running any February marathons. Going too far, too long, too fast or too heavy too soon in your new fitness routine can lead to injuries and more of that burnout we mentioned. As Hunter S. Thompson said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." Gradually work toward your goals by increasing components like mileage or weight slowly, keeping in mind that fit bodies aren't built in a day.