This is a series of articles, videos and podcasts on how to start working out again after you’ve lost most, if not all of your muscle or are starting from scratch.
Leaving the military has been the real test of keeping in shape. The real world takes up a lot of time. Same with high school or university athletes. Things get harder when being strong and muscular are not part of your job.
So I’m posting articles, resources and related videos for more depth and to answer specific reader questions as they come in to me:
For example: Answers to “What are sets and reps?”
Lots of tips and answers for subscribers on how to start working out in the monthly free newsletter which you can sign up for at the end of this article.
If you would prefer to read this on your kindle, you can purchase a copy of this on amazon here: “How To Start Working Out” by Raymond Burton.
There is also a helpful podcast with lots of answers on how to start working out below. It’s after the newsletter sign up.
If you don’t find answers to the fitness questions you have, ask me in the comments after this post.
How To Start Working Out: Step 1
Thoughts lead to feelings, causing actions that create your results.
Change is hard. Let me set the record straight right here right now. You absolutely have the ability to improve your fitness and health. If you are human (and I hope you are, if not “live long and prosper”) then you can get in shape, lose weight, build muscle or whatever. But it will take work. Read that again. If you are human, you can get in shape.
I only say this because some people believe they are born a certain way and cannot improve. “It’s genetics,” they say. Genetics do matter. But effort, consistency and focus matter a whole lot more.
If you continue to believe that you are destined to skinny, then you will fight with your inner self to be anything better. In essence if you change and stop feeling lazy, weak willed or skinny etc., you will lose your old identity. The “body image” has a way of wanting to self preserve it will fight you.
This is why change is hard. This is why starting life style will be a challenge. You must recreate yourself and become stronger than before…. lose your old self and create a better you. Step up and become involved with life. Do not stand on the sidelines any longer.
Fight that “soft and weak” ego voice that wants to keep you down. Other people (even family who are often the cause of your personal pain) will get in the way. Obstacles and challenges will arise.
You must adapt and overcome.
This is about you and fixing yourself. You have to come first sometime. Now is the time.
If you want to change, you can get in shape if you put in the work. If you have trouble making it happen, it’s one of two things; medical, or discipline.
One of the things people don’t get is that know how to start working out is like balancing your bank account. Deposit more calories than you withdraw and your bank account grows. If you stay comfortable and keep that bank account balanced… you’ll stay at the same weight.
But eating properly takes discipline and discipline is hard work. This is where many people don’t push through and control their minds and bodies for the desired result.
Shortly, I will show you how to start working out with a progression that a raw beginner would be best to follow when wanting to start out to get big and strong. This is a routine that I have found to work for a lot of people of all ages that have come through the different clubs. It works around the idea that you should walk and then run! Lets get started by answering some basic questions before you head off to the gym!
How To Start Working Out – THE BIG QUESTIONS
Which muscles where?
In the beginning, sometimes you don’t know which muscles are supposed to do what! Well for that matter, even where they are. You hear the fit folks saying, “Man did those bench presses ever blast my pecs!” But the problem for many is that you don’t have a clue what a pec is except that chickens do it when they are hungry! So instead of giving you the scientific name like pectoralis major (chest), I’m going to explain things like you would hear it in the gym or in the muscle magazines. No more mystery…
Just remember, I’ve done my best here to cover all the angles and answer all the questions I’ve heard over the years. However, there is always something that needs clarification. I’m only an email away, and it’s free.
There are also videos of all the exercises on the website on my Youtube channel.
You will find demonstrations of everything there for you and if you can not see it, again, please just contact me through the link above and I’d be happy to point the way.
How do I know its safe to workout?
I think the real question is “How safe is it for you not to workout?” Did you know that obesity has just replaced smoking as the number one cause of health related problems? That’s incredible! Sorry to say, but that means North Americans are a bunch of overweight, inactive people! Back in the day when people milked cows and planted their own food you would never hear of something like this. Our desk jobs are killing us! We are not physically tired at the end of the day and we are mentally worn out.
Lets look at some of the real concerns you should tend to before working out.
It’s important to see your doctor and get a checkup. Make sure you get a blood pressure test and a blood test. Have your heart condition checked and make sure all the other stuff is done and o.k. Some people mistakenly hold back serious effort in the gym for too long because they are afraid something may be wrong with them.
You should get a check up and receive a clean bill of health because that’s one more excuse gone!
Next, your trainer will need to know about past and current injuries to know how to design your routine. If you are going to do it on your own, you will be able to do some research as to which exercises are the safest and most beneficial for you and what you should avoid.
Medications – A large part of working out these days involves sports supplements. It’s a good thing to know if any medications you’re on because they can interact adversely with these supplements. I.E. Blood pressure meds mixed with ephedrine and caffeine is not a good idea!
There is also a form called the PAR-Q (physical activity readiness questionnaire). It covers most questions that should be addressed before starting an exercise program. Most gyms stock these forms for liability reasons and it shouldn’t be hard to get a hold of one.
Last point; if you are just starting out and have a lot of questions about exercise and your health, invest in a trainer or become a member of the Ray Burton Clan. It is the most sure fire way to make sure that you are doing everything correctly.
Next, we’ll talk about how to choose a gym if that’s where you want to workout, but also, how to start working out at home. There’s lots more info than just that but that’s what’s next in order of writing.
How To Start Working Out For The First Time – Priorities
When people ask me how to start working out for the first time, I know it’s because people get overwhelmed in the details. I get that, because while I don’t have a problem with fitness, I do have a problem with business. I crashed and burned my gym business at one point in time, even though everything was going well, and then I got overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do.
So to answer the question about how to start working out for the first time, I must tell you how to prioritize. This means, what is the 80/20 of it. What 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the effort.
When I see someone has a problem with one thing, I try to relate it. You have a problem with this. I had a problem with that. What’s the overriding principle that helps people cut through the crap on a variety of subjects. It’s focusing on big ideas. So fitness I do not have a problem with, so I’ll help you with that. You got to take the biggest thing, and I think one of the biggest things, right at the top, is so simple that you don’t even have to actually do anything, and that’s sleep.
How To Begin Working Out For The First Time: Step 1
First, forget about cutting out your junk foods or anything like that, or getting started right away on an exercise plan. Why don’t you first make sure that you’re not stressed out and that you’re getting proper sleep, because your body can’t function without that. So that’d be a number one sort of thing.
Personally, my mobility work is bad. So I know mobility work is the number one thing I have to get done every day, even if I don’t get a workout in. I have to get in the squat position, and I have to do some twisting and moving because for me, a priority is to not hurt so that I’ll want to work out. Doing something like this every day, if I at least get that accomplished, I know I’m moving long-term to where I want to be.
Now for you, perhaps your first thing is to get some sleep. If you’re getting only five to six hours of sleep, fix that before you move onto eliminating chocolate bars. None of your body systems are working properly if you are sleep deprived. This makes you unmotivated to work out.
How To Begin Working Out For The First Time: Step 2
After sleep, I would move on to diet and eliminate the biggest dietary problem for you. For skinny people it’s not eating enough. When you need to lose fat, the problem is saturated fats, too much food and simple sugars. These areas are confusing for people. “What foods have saturated fats? Can I eat carbs? What is the difference between carbs and sugars? How much food is ENOUGH?”
It’s easy. Start cutting back on anything that comes in a wrapper. This eliminates things like chips, pop, chocolate bars, pre-packaged meals, all those sorts of things. You know that those foods aren’t the sort of things you want to be steering towards. So learn how to make one good thing that doesn’t come in a wrapper, and put that in your pocket and use that, build on that.
So you have two big steps here. That is get a good amount of sleep, and that can be whatever for you, because some people work better on different amounts. Generally speaking, eight hours. Not always practical. So me personally, it’s between six and eight. Eight on the weekends maybe, if I’m lucky, and usually six during the week. I think seven is great. So put that in your pocket, that’s the sleep factor. That makes sure everything works right.
Next, slowly get rid of your packaged foods. You know, if it tastes really good, and it’s salty or it’s sweet, it probably shouldn’t be in there. Those are the two big cornerstones.
For skinny people there is more wiggle room on treats. They can get your calorie count up but they aren’t healthy. So garbage calories can help you get bigger but long term, bad things can happen – like diabetes.
How To Begin Working Out For The First Time: Step 3
After sleep and junk food, you’re looking at exercise. So just top tier stuff here all the way across.
The thing with exercise is there’s this mentality that you have to go hard, and you need to have these crushing workouts and all that.
My belief is to get rid of the things that cause the aches and pains in your body. They are signals that something is out of balance. So if you have knee pain, you’re not going to feel like doing cardio or all the big exercises like squats and deadlifts if you’re a lower deadlifter, and lunges. All these big exercises that are really productive. But you’re not going to want to do any of that if it causes you pain every time.
So for someone like that, you step back and you go, “Well, how do I start to get rid of this knee pain?” Diet, hydration, and regular movement fixes a lot of bodily problems. So something simple like yoga, very easy. Don’t go for a super fast flow or anything like that. Find a very easy yoga class, or even get yourself a DVD. I have several I could tell you about, I just don’t have them in front of me. But you can watch them anywhere, you can even download them to your laptop, take them with you or put them on your phone so that you can get them anywhere.
If your body is young and working well, then we have no problems going after the big compound exercises. Older skinny guys have to tackle things a little differently.
A rested, well fed, pain free body craves physical activity. You’ll naturally feel like taking a short 20 foot jog. Your walking pace will pick up, you’ll want to do some cardio, you’ll want to start experimenting with the weight training and those kinds of things.
Conclusion Of Part 1
So you need to get into it, like a rolling effect. Keep gathering momentum, don’t try to do it all at once. Don’t worry when you see fitness experts and stuff flashing their abs and telling you to make these cataclysmic changes to your lifestyle. You don’t need to do that. You’re going to be here until the day you die, so there’s really no rush.
Just keep chinking away at it and you’ll see the habits start to build on each other. It’ll make the process enjoyable as opposed to something that you jump into like cold water, and you get the shock and you want to get out as quick as possible. Slowly turn that dial until it becomes something that you’re comfortable with and you’ll want to do every day because the feedback you get from it.
When that starts to happen, when your body moves the way you want it to, and when you feel good, and you’re using the bathroom regularly and all those sorts of things, when that starts happening you’re going to want to keep doing the right things because the feedback you’re getting from it is worth so much more than any sort of discipline that you have to show to get it.
So sleep, start eliminating the packaged foods, and start moving with something you enjoy. Moving can be walking, yoga or whatever. Progressively get your joints and everything working better and feeling better so that you feel good, and you’ll slowly start to ramp up out of choice and not out of wicked amounts of self-discipline and willpower.
I hope this answers your question of how to start working out for the first time.
Oh, if you like what I’m doing here, let me know. Give me some kind of feedback and ask me questions below. I keep adding to this as people request info.
How To Start Working Out At The Gym
In this part of How To Start Working Out we are going specifically into how to start working out at a gym. There are a few key things you should know and the first is how to pick the right gym for you.
But let me be clear – I no longer work out at a gym. I bought a couple barbells and a power rack and threw it into the basement (this is where the coaching group Basement Barbarians came from). Everything I teach you can be done at home if you have this minimal equipment.
As for choosing a gym though – Here we go…
If you have never been to a gym, at first one may seem as good as the next. If you have been working out for some time, you probably already have a good idea of what to look for. Here are some of the things that you may want to take into account.
Atmosphere-I like to train hard and fast. At gyms where there are a lot of first timers, things can get frustrating. It’s not their fault; it’s just that a lot of people that are new to the iron game are not aware of the unwritten gym protocol. They rest on benches reading between sets and sip coffee while holding up machines with long rest periods. The opposite is true if you’re just starting out. A hardcore gym may make you feel a little intimidated. Find a gym where you feel comfortable (usually you can try a gym for free for a couple workouts). The main thing is that you look forward to going because you like the place and the people.
Gear – This doesn’t mean all the new sparkly machines and chrome dumbbells. What you need is a gym that has plenty of cardio machines and enough gear available at the time of day you have chosen to work out. Look to make sure the gear is well maintained. No frayed cables, loose dumbbells or bent bars. The state of the gear in a gym can say a lot about the professionalism of the management and what to expect from customer service.
Cost – Most gyms charge an initiation fee and then a set monthly fee for the full term of your membership. Simple is good. Don’t get talked into a gym on your first visit unless you know for sure it’s really what you want and like. Some of the sales people can be real smooth!
Location – Make sure the gym is a reasonable distance from your home. If the gym is out of the way, you probably will miss a lot of workouts no matter how nice it is. In the beginning any excuse is a good excuse not to go! It’s best not to allow yourself any wiggle room in the beginning. I would usually take location over atmosphere or gear. If you don’t go, you won’t get fit! Make sure there is enough parking. It’s not a big deal, because even if you have to walk, you are there to exercise after all.
Change rooms – This really depends on your level of demands and your lifestyle. To me, all you need is lockers, showers, toilets and that’s about it! The bottom line is clean! Change rooms can be gross and even if you’re hardcore, germs are still bad! You may want towel service or a steam room but these are not necessary and will drive up your monthly fee.
Food! – Not a big deal, but a juice bar is great if you’re on the run a lot. Its great to be able to finish you workout, have a shake and carry on with your day. The juice bar is also a great place to chat with friends and catch up on what’s going on. It’s a much better place to have a conversation than on the gym floor while people are waiting to use the equipment!
Should I hire a personal trainer?
It depends on your finances, how quick you want to achieve your goals and your level of motivation and dedication.
I know personal trainers can be expensive. The usual fee is anywhere from $35-$125/session, which is usually about an hour, depending on the circumstance and the depth of the routine and package. So the question is “why hire a personal trainer?” In one word: efficiency.
A personal trainer will get you to where you want to be in the shortest possible time. How do they do that? Well most of the trainers have been on the scene for a while and know the ins and the outs of this working out thing much better than you do. Like anything you want to succeed at, it’s always best to copy somebody who is already where you want to be. Why? Because they already have it all figured out. Let’s look at a few of the most obvious ways that a trainer can save you time and frustration.
Exercise technique – Sometimes the pictures in the magazines are a little abstract and can leave some question to the finer points of an exercise. I can tell you from experience that unless you’re doing the exercise right and are feeling it in the right areas, your results will be dismal.
Time off due to injury – This is close to number one. When you move a weight in unaccustomed plains of movement, you have to do it right. It is almost painful to watch some of the exercises people think they are doing right in the weight room. Inside I know it’s only a matter of time before they have to push aside their goals and stay out of the gym in order to heal an injury caused by lack of knowledge or technique.
Proper program – So you have the proper technique, great. You feel it where you’re supposed to, awesome. Now you must know if you’re on the right overall program to reach your individual goals. Are you in the right set and rep range? Are you using enough weight? How frequently are you training? Part of a proper program is your diet. This is where I find that most people need a lot of help. One of the greatest things a trainer can do is pull all aspects of the “fitness approach” together. Then, to lay it all out for you in an easy to follow program of diet and exercise.
Commitment and motivation – Your trainer is going to be there and you are paying him whether you show up or not! Just knowing that someone’s there waiting for you and that the time is scheduled in, is a great help to keep you on track. The other thing trainers do is motivate. Trainers aren’t all about grunting and yelling. My clients have a personal side that sometimes needs attention too. My clients need to know that when they are down, I’ll do my best to have them “up” by the end of the workout. They need to know that when everything else is crap, there is someone they know who will always push them to be their personal best every time we meet.
These are the things that come to my mind and are the roles that I fill on a daily basis. The bottom line is that personal trainers are your gym teacher, guidance counselor, shrink and best friend all rolled into one. The mind, the body and the spirit are all things that the personal trainer can help you with on your path to true physical fitness.
How to pick a personal trainer for you
This is a great question, but a little hard to answer. Picking a personal trainer is like finding a best friend in a way. You both have to jive and also enjoy the company of each other. I like to push my clients to their personal limits. Now that doesn’t mean Mr. Olympia workouts all the time, but I want them to work as hard as they are capable of on any given day. Some clients I have run into only want the status of saying that they have a personal trainer and never give their all or try hard to reach any personal goals. In this case, I would be the wrong trainer for this person.
Personalities also have to match. You have to like and have a certain “respect” for your trainer if you are going to listen to and do all the challenging things they thinks of! Obviously your trainer should have the qualifications to provide you with the information you need to reach your goals. Lastly and this is just my opinion, I think your trainer should walk the walk. I never ask my clients to do anything that have not done or have experienced myself. I feel that they have to know something is possible to be able to achieve it themselves. I like to be able to provide the resources needed from personal experience and it helps to have experienced the obstacles first hand.
I think it’s great if you can find a trainer that will sign you up for 1-3 sessions with the understanding that this new “relationship” is on a trial basis. That way you don’t get stuck with some shmuck that looked great at first but really has the skills of a cucumber when it comes to getting results for you.
What’s in the gym bag?
What do I need to buy before I hit the gym? Nothing. If you are healthy and don’t have any specific joint problems or injuries, anything you buy is just for convenience, pure luxury. I’ll explain later what all those gadgets are for but just remember, any time you use something to assist you or to make life easier, you will usually develop a weakness in that area when you are not using the device. If you lift “bare” when you first start out and tough out the sore forearms and fatigued back, these weaker areas will come up to speed in time and soon you will only feel the target muscle working and not the little guys. Here is a list of some gadgets people use and what they do.
A Weight Lifting Belt – Used to support the lower back during overhead lifting and other heavy compound movements. Some people develop a dependency on the belt and don’t do a single lift without it. All this does is ignore the problem of weak stabilizer muscles, while continuing to develop the main target muscle. The time to use a belt is when you are attempting a heavier weight than usual and venturing into uncharted territory. The other is if you have an injury to the lower back, although, in this case I would suggest going lighter until the injured area is brought up to speed. If you always rely on the belt your lower back will never be able to acquire the strength that it needs.
Knee and wrist wraps – These are elastic type bands that are wrapped around the joint to provide stability. This again is the same type of deal as above.
Weight Lifting Gloves – Gloves are good if you find that your sweat prevents you from being able to grasp the bar for the duration of the set. The other reason for gloves is if you have an aversion to calluses.
Lifting straps – I am kind of divided on this one. Lifting straps go around your wrists and then you wrap the remaining material around the bar affording you a much stronger grip. So of course if you use them all the time you never get a strong grip. Eventually though, the power of your back can jump ahead of your grip. The last thing you want to do is train your back at sub-optimal levels because of a lack of grip. So, what to do? Train as much as you can without them and only put them on for the top end heaviest sets. Every once in a while attempt to do the set without them and if you can make it through, ditch the wraps until they are needed again.
Lifting chalk – O.k., so this is one thing that I like. Chalk absorbs your sweat when you put it on your hands so the bar isn’t so slippery. I will always use chalk before I use wraps. That way I still get the gripping power but the slipperiness of the bar is gone. Some gyms do not allow chalk, so make sure you check the rules.
Your tunes – Most gyms you go into usually won’t play the music you listen to, so bring your own. Music that you enjoy can change your mood and get you pumping with more intensity. The other benefit of listening to tunes is that most people will not stop you in order to talk up a storm if you are going to have to take off your headphones. This way you can keep up your training pace and not get caught up in someone else’s social outing and hinder your training effect.
I use these bluetooth headphones so that the wire doesn’t ever get in the way.
Shin pads – I have never personally seen anyone else use these but me. Maybe I have actually pioneered something, which would be cool. I use the shin pads during deadlifts so that I don’t loose the skin off the front of my shins. Again, not needed but something that I like to use.
Stop watch – This is a good one because once you start to get tired, your rest periods will probably get longer than they should be. With a little watch, you can time your rest periods and keep the training pace honest and fast.
Training journal – This is one thing you must have! It is so important to keep a record of everything you do in the gym. Memory fails and you have to know how much you did last time in order to make continual upward progress. It’s also good because when you have an exceptional day you can look back and see what variables contributed to such a great workout and therefore you will be able to replicate it again. I record everything. What day I start certain supplements and if they worked or not. What music I listened to. How I felt. You name it, if it has an effect on your training then you should keep note of it. Every time you repeat a workout, you should look back to the last time you performed the same workout. During today’s workout, you want to add weight, add reps or decrease your rest periods. This way, your workout will be more intense than the last. This is the whole secret to success. Constant improvement.
5 Things To Do Before You Start Working Out At The Gym
Well, if you are like me the first time you shelled out some money for a routine, you’re biting at the bit to see if this stuff is actually going to work. It will. Guaranteed. I have trained many people using the exact same stuff I am showing you now and they have all done very well. Having said that, you’re probably even more pumped to get going! First, there are a couple of things I would like you to do before you even step foot into the gym, these will pay great dividends for you later.
Body fat check – Most gyms will do this for you, and some will do it for free. If you can’t get a gym to do it and you don’t want to pay a trainer to do it, then you can buy devices at fitness stores that will take a measurement for you like this one. Some of these are more accurate than others but at least you will have an idea of where your starting point is. The reason you want to do this is because you can lose weight but it might be muscle and you don’t want that because then you will do the yo-yo and end up with more fat then before! Also, sometimes people gain weight and freak out. If you check your body fat and your percentage has gone down then your weight gain has been muscle and you should be stoked because now you will have a better shape and a higher metabolism. Scales are o.k., but they don’t tell you where the change in bodyweight came from so keep that in mind.
Measure your body parts – Get a plain old tape that a seamstress would use (not a carpenters tape or duct tape!) and get measurements for all your body parts. Make little notes as to what side of the body it was and if you can find a land mark like a freckle or scar then you will be more accurate when you come back to do it again. You want to do this because then you will know if a body part responds quickly (and you can be excited) or if you may need to put more effort into a body part that is lagging (in this case, cash in on that determination!).
The bottom line is that if you don’t do these two things, you won’t be able to appreciate the differences you have caused to your body. On those low days when motivation wanes, you can look at what you have accomplished already and get your butt to the gym.
Buy Your Food And House Clean – If it is there, you will eat it. Therefore, get rid of the bad stuff around the house and go buy a bunch of good stuff. The difference between what to eat and what not to eat is as simple as this; “If it was made by man, then it’s banned. If it came in a wrapper, it will make you fatter!” Make your foods from natural sources. You can eat it if it grew, walked, swam or flew.
Have a clear goal – Lifting weights and watching your food intake is not without its trials. When you do anything that takes you out of your comfort zone, you had better have a good reason why you are doing it. In order to do your best at anything you really have to want it. You must have something that will drive you when your motivation wanes.
Believe – Have you ever gotten ready for something and had that feeling that no matter what happens you are going to succeed at it? What happened? You probably got what you wanted right? Well, the same thing applies here. The body cannot achieve anything that the mind thinks is impossible. Did you know that when people under hypnosis touched an ice cube that they were told was a hot piece of steel they actually developed a blister? This just goes to show the power of belief and that whether you think you can or can’t, you are going to be right! “As a man thinketh so shall he be!”
In the next part of How To Workout To Gain Muscle For Ectomorphs, I’ll discuss the specifics of sets, reps, loading patterns and the actual first routine that helped me go from 126 pounds to 175 pounds inside one year.
Before you go, there’s also this helpful podcast for those that are not skinny but trying to lose weight instead… It’s an hour long interview I did with David DeRose of American Indian Radio about How To Lose Weight If Nothing Seems To Work. There’s a lot of helpful info in this jam packed podcast.
FEEDBACK: Is this helpful so far? Do you have any questions? Would you like to see more? Let me know below in the comments. I use your feedback to determine if How To Start Working Out At Home is an area that needs further coverage on this site. THANKS!
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