From the outset, I want to be exceedingly clear on who this is for. This article is for those new to the gym, or to those who have quite a bit of weight to lose. As such, I’ll be taking certain liberties with how I describe things, and perhaps even being a bit #broscience-y in the terms I use.
If you’re a personal trainer or experienced lifter who is liable to get their panties in a bunch, go read t-nation or something, because this is not for you.
My intent throughout is to communicate to you, a relative or absolute beginner, male or female, how to get started in the gym, and how to lose that first bit of weight. I want you to know the challenges you’ll face, and the things to watch out for.
I’ll be using terms like overweight / obese etc etc interchangeably, and not putting any “official” definition on what constitutes what. Reason being – it doesn’t really matter. If you’re getting started in the gym, or you’ve fat to lose, this all applies to you.
So, let’s scare ya straight…
The biggest issue with being overweight and unfit is that you face a variety of problems referred to collectively as metabolic syndrome. The ones to be concerned about for now are – poorly regulated blood sugar control / insulin resistance (diabetes happens here), and, high blood lipid and blood pressure levels (this is where heart attacks happen).
THE PRIMA FACIE PROBLEM
As a beginner, the cards are stacked HARD against you. Especially as I write this in December. I don’t say this to scare you or put you off, I say it so whatever you do, you do educated!!
Commercial gyms are scary intimidating places to go, especially when you see all the skinny / fit folk working out in there.
Worse than that, there’s a pervasive stigma in the fitness industry about people who make new years resolutions. They’re somehow seen as “worse” than someone who starts on a warm April afternoon. Imagine that – the people who’s wages you pay are chastising you for starting to work out and get in shape.
…it’s no wonder most overweight people’s first experience of training is negative, and it forms a pretty shitty relationship for you going forward.
The FINAL thing I want you to be aware of, is that as a beginner you’ll have a pretty low tolerance to exercise in two areas – firstly, since you’re starting out unfit, the amount of work you can actually do without gasping for breath will be lower than an experienced person, and secondly – if you’re carrying a bit of extra weight then pounding your joints with high impact activity like pounding a treadmill or jumping around in a TRX class ain’t the brightest idea.
SHOULD YOU START BY LIFTING WEIGHTS?
RevFit’s a strength gym, and I’m a powerlifter. So you’d probably expect me to be all about “more muscle means a faster metabolism so you burn more calories”. Ever heard that one? I’m sure you have.
Unfortunately, the actual effects IN THE REAL WORLD are pretty much zero. For every kg of muscle you gain, you’ll increase your metabolism by approximately 16kcal per day. In your first year of training, as a male, you might gain 10-12kg of muscle. An increase in resting metabolic rate each day of 160-200kcals. Basically nothing.
Furthermore, if you drop bodyfat, you’ll lose 4kcals per day of metabolic spend for every kg you lose. So if ya gain 12kg of muscle in your first year, and drop 12kg of fat as well (ie your bodyweight stays the same) – your metabolism has increased by about 150kcals per day.
The equivalent of 3 oreo biscuits. Basically – nothing.
Sorry to piss on your chips here, but don’t fall for the biggest lie in the personal training industry. There’s lots of beneficial reasons to list weights (top of the list being that you’ll look sexy as fuck because of it) but “increasing your metabolism” is not one.
(side note: before anyone says “but if I do HIIT won’t I be burning extra calories all day – the effect there is also minuscule, but more on that later. Unfortunately, all the magic secrets you’ve been fed are overblown, but you knew that already, because if there weren’t you’d already be in great shape right?)
WHAT EXERCISE SHOULD YOU BE DOING?
Well… honestly… It doesn’t matter too much. I know I should be trying to sell you on RevFit and how our training is the best, but to be brutally honest, as an overweight beginner you just need to do something. Preferably something you enjoy and look forward to.
As a newbie, you’ll probably burn around 5kcals per minute of exercise. So if you do a 60-90 minute session that’s somewhere in the 300-500kcal range. A good place to be.
HOWEVER, you’ll prolly only be able to do that 3-4x per week, since as we’ve already said, you’re gonna have a lower tolerance to exercise than an experienced gym rat.
So… is all lost… can you only create a 2,000kcal deficit per week? Just about enough for a quarter of a kilo of fat loss? Obviously not. This is where your diet (literal sense of the word – the foods you eat day to day) become a big part of it.
I bet we could find 500kcal each day you;
- don’t even realise you’re eating, and
- wouldn’t miss if it was gone
…if you come in and do a free consultation and training sessions with one of our coaches (you can book that here: https://revolutionfitness.ie/pt-intro/). It’s important to remember exercise is not a magic cure-all for everything. Weight loss and lifestyle change is a holistic process.
And that’s good news, because, (and yes – I’m about to make a GROSS generalisation) in my experience, most people who are overweight don’t initially enjoy exercise. And I don’t blame ya – it can be damn uncomfortable when you’re getting going.
The good news is that as a beginner you get to see rapid improvements, a sense of accomplishment and will amaze yourself every day with how much better you get. You might just need a few weeks to settle in and see that!
FAT LOSS, OR HEALTH GAIN?
One of the things you won’t see when you get started is that within the first couple of weeks your HEALTH will do a complete u-turm. All the negative health markers we mentioned earlier will start to turn the corner. You will literally start to claw back weeks, months and years of your life.
Perhaps not as exciting as “look good naked” but a whole lot more fun than “dead, buried, gone and forgotten about”. Even a 10% reduction in weight can have a MASSIVE beneficial effect on overall health. Hell, being slightly overweight and fit might even be more healthy than being a skinny couch potato who never exercises.
Let’s talk about the difference between food quantity and nutrient density. Imagine a JCB. The big yellow things that get used to dig holes. They have a back arm with a small shovel, and across the front of the truck is a big fuck off front bucket that looks like a snow plough.
Now, fill up that front bucket with chicken and broccoli. There’s about the same amount of calories in there as there would be in a large takeaway meal from MaccyDs. You tell me which one is easier to over consume. And then tell me which one will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
It’s a no brainer. But my point is this – “dieting” doesn’t always mean eating less. Sometimes it means eating more, but eating different.
Now, I’m afraid there’s no way around this – I need you to keep a food diary. Not so I can judge you or scold you, but so we can establish an accurate baseline of where you’re at. It’s a quirk of the human condition that when asked to recall what we’ve eaten, we tend to underestimate by 30-50%. Not only that, but once you know you’re going to have to report, you’ll end up unconsciously changing dietary habits.
That’s good, and bad. It’s good because you’ll automagically do better. But it’s bad because we won’t ever really know what your unrestricted / not accountable outcomes were. But let’s just assume this – if you know you’re keeping a food diary, you’re probably going to get the amounts wrong , even after you’ve unconsciously stopped eating as much junk.
ARE YOU JUST GOING TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO?
At this junction, it’s worth stating that I can’t tell you what to do. I can offer suggestions and guidance, but ultimately what you’re doing to do, is down to you.
The FASTEST way to get your bodyweight under control is to smash out a full blown ketogenic diet for 6-8 weeks. Essentially eating no carbs other than vegetables and a small bit of fruit. It works remarkably well, and you can eat a lot of tasty food that way. It’d be my preferred option for rapid fat loss. But it’s complete misery for the first few weeks as your body adapts.
As an overweight beginner, you probably want to spend the first month or so just moving more, tracking your food and switching out good stuff for not so good stuff. You probably don’t even need those extreme approaches, but you can always try a phase of it if it tickles your fancy.
Previously, I said the training didn’t matter that much, but now that we’ve got a better understanding of everything else, I need to close that circle and tell you it kind of does.
It does in the sense that if you’re regularly performing full body workouts with weights you’ll do a few things – you’ll deplete glyocogen stores (your body’s fuel tank) which means that you become better at burning fat for fuel, and your body becomes more efficient at storing the food you do eat correctly (I’ve skipped about 75 steps there around insulin resistance and other points, but I did warn you there’ll be an element of #broscience, and this explanation suffices for now).
So, here’s what you do;
– track your food for a month
– don’t eat less, just eat different
– complete low to moderate intensity full body workouts 3-4x per week for approx. 60 minutes a time
– chill out and let things happen as they happen, your body is a wild animal that you can’t reason with, and like Siegfried and Roy found out, if you try to force it to do something it doesn’t want to do, you’re getting bitten
WHAT ** I ** WANT FROM YOU.
Initially, at least – we’re not training. We’re training TO train. Building a base. Digging a hole for the foundations we’re gonna put in place over time. You can’t go from years of activity to a relatively high physical capacity immediately. And you certaintly don’t need fancy or complicated methods to get there.
That should be a source of comfort to you. It means the initial stages will be quite easy, and you’ll be breaking your body in without breaking it.
Think about it – if you follow an advanced program NOW, how the hell will you keep progressing once you’re out of the raw beginner stage?
The only goal you should have in your first month of training is to make the next workout. You won’t make progress if you’re not showing up. And it doesn’t matter how good the program is if it doesn’t get done.
There’s a time and place for tracking and measuring everything. But that’s later. Now, you just show up and enjoy the workouts. You keep track of your progress. You look at how you’re improving. You try to enjoy the process as best you can. No more. No less.
HOW HARD SHOULD I TRAIN?
I’m gonna assume that if you’re asking this Q you’ve skipped a large part of this article. The answer is simple –you should be training as hard as your comfortable with, and no harder. That means if you want a 3/10 effort day, that’s what you do. If you’re feeling great and you CHOOSE to push it, brilliant – go 10/10. But for the most part you should be in the 6-7/10 range. At least initially.
In general, if a thing makes you feel bad, or you don’t enjoy doing it – you won’t continue at it. So, the first step of a training program isn’t to feel great, it’s to not feel bad!! As a trainer, that’s a particular challenge from my perspective, because a lot of people EXPECT their first session to suck, and for them not to be able to move afterwards. Some people almost end up disappointed
they’re not wrote off after it.
Just remember, any boot-licker can make you sore. That’s not a skill. Helping you to get started the right way and make the right changes at the right time is where a good trainer will shine.
NO ONE ENJOYS INTERVAL TRAINING
At some point during your training career, you’ll hear about “interval training”, (IT) most likely in the form of HIIT (high intensity interval training), the benefits of which are espoused by new PTs the world over as being superior to “easier” forms of exercise.
My concern for you is that most forms of IT really really suck. They’re hard, they burn, they’re not enjoyable. Hell, I’m lifting 10 years and I STILL hate them. I accept them as a necessary evil and enjoy pushing myself to the brink of collapse from time to time, but if you know you’ve got to choose between going to the gym for your trainer to scream at you, make your legs wobble, have you gasping for breath and cramping all over the by the end of the session, or staying on the couch, which do you think you’re gonna choose when things get tough?
Again – I’m not saying there isn’t a place for some IT (there is), or that you’re soft because you can’t hack it (you’re not). That place just isn’t every single day in a beginners program.
So, when you’re getting started, you absolutely have my persmission to only go as hard as you feel like you want to on a given day. You should leave the gym feeling fresh and energised. Not crawl out on your hands and knees beaten and defeated. Remember – you only get that luxury for the first 3 to 6 weeks tho, by then you’ll be all about the #fitlife (let’s be real – we all know people who’ve been going to the gym for years with no tangible results because they never pushed the treadmill past the ‘slow walk’ setting).
What’s happening behind the scenes with all of this is that we’re asking the following Qs;
#1 What exercises are suitable to start with that you (the person in front of me) can do, and continue to progress on?
#2 What exercises can you perform without slaughtering yourself and ending up wrecked for the rest of the session?
#3 What are you likely to ENJOY doing?
…and then we’re asking to perform those exercises to a level where you’re comfortably uncomfortable.
Don’t worry – a good PT will have a decent idea where to start you on that, but you will have to feed back a little!
But you don’t need to know much more than that for now.
Look, there’s a lot of information here. And while I’ve tried to keep it as straight forward as possible, there has been A LOT to cover. If I lost you, I’m sorry.
All I really want out of your attention for the 10 minutes its taken to read this is one thing – I want you to be excited about training. I want you to feel like someone hears you. That they know how you feel. How nervous you might be. And that you can get you started in a positive and fun manner.
I also want you to know that training doesn’t have to suck. Dieting is more about eating the right foods than the wrong foods. And not everyone in the gym is a narcissitic body hater.
You might not know there’s a way to get started on your journey that doesn’t involve spending a fortue on a personal trainer (…or risking going it alone). There’s a third option.
A coached small group personal training service where you and other people just like you with similar goals all work together to lose weight, increase energy and have fun while doing it. It’s very similar to what you’d be doing with a personal trainer, but doing it with a group of people with similar goals guarantees that you get results.
The best time to get started was 6 months ago. The next best time is right now. Fill in the form below and I’ll give you a call back personally in < 24 hours to have a chat about your goals and how we might be able to help.
RevFit Beginners Program
I owe a debt of gratitude to Lyle McDonald – this is entire piece was inspired by a similar one he did years ago. It’s lengthier and a bit more verbose, but you can go read the first of the 6 parts here: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/training-the-obese-beginner-part-1.html