For this quick guide, I want to focus on how to get started with fitness, particularly how to lose/gain weight (yes, some of you will need to gain weight). Exercising and dieting can be really intimidating when you’re first stepping into this world. Hopefully this guide will serve as a clear and concise introduction to get you started on your journey.
Determine your goals
First things first, you need to determine what you even want out of this journey. Do you want to get stronger? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to obtain a certain figure? Do you want to run faster? Do you want to be more athletic in general?
You don’t have to decide all at once of course, but having some sort of goal will help you choose a routine and what to do next. As you get more involved in this lifestyle your goal will probably change anyway so don’t worry if you’re not exactly sure.
Most of you probably ended up here because your goal involves losing weight, gaining weight, and/or building muscle, so let’s focus on that.
How to lose OR gain weight
The HOW part of losing weight is actually really simple.
It’s just basic thermodynamics: calories in vs calories out.
So if we know how, then what’s the problem? Implementation. Losing weight is hard. I’m sure you’ve seen people post progress pictures and the comments are filled with curious people who too are looking for results asking “How did you do it???”. Unless they’re trying to shill some supplement, the answer is usually diet and exercise.
Super simplified version of how we lose weight
A calorie is just energy. You consume food that contains X calories. Your body processes what you eat (which uses some calories) and stores the extra calories. Some is stored as glycogen, but the rest is stored as fat. Now any time your body needs to do something (walk, run, or even make your heart beat), it’s going to need energy. To keep it simple, sometimes you pull from your glycogen stores but if that’s depleted you start “burning fat” for energy.
So let’s say your body naturally burns 1200 calories just laying in bed. That’s what it takes your body to function. Well most of us don’t just lay in bed our entire lives. We get up, walk around, clean, maybe do some exercise. These simple tasks require energy as well. Let’s say you have a desk job but you’re fairly active doing stuff at home, so for your average day you walk around 6000 steps, but you don’t exercise. It’s still possible to lose weight!. All you have to do is make sure you’re eating less than you burn! So you burn 1200 calories by just existing. Plus those extra 6000 or so steps and maybe you did some intense cleaning…you could easily be burning 1800 calories or so from your basic day to day activities.
Losing or gaining weight without exercise
And how do we lose weight? Eat less than you burn! So maybe go for 1600 calories per day instead of 1800 and you will absolutely see weight loss. Not super fast, but it will happen. Conversely, if you want to GAIN weight, just eat more than you burn!
Now if you do want to lose weight faster it’s just about tipping this calories in vs calories out scale a little further. One way to do it is to eat even less, but I’m not a huge fan of this. I have a desk job and probably only burn around 1400 calories if I don’t make an effort to get up and walk around or exercise, so if I wanted to be a couch potato and still lose weight I’d have to go on a VERY restrictive diet.
There are a number of problems that can occur when you cut calories so drastically. The number “1200” gets thrown out a lot as a healthy minimum number of calories for dieting. Now this part is just my opinion, but the vast majority of people are going to feel absolutely awful doing that. I’m not super active, but I can’t even manage to go below 1500 calories without feeling lethargic all day and then restless at night.
Losing or gaining weight with exercise
Okay so what should you do then if you don’t want to dip into a super low calorie range? It’s simple, increase your output. Exercise! This doesn’t mean you have to go running every day or start pumping iron, but if you want to eat more you have to move more. Some ideas for those that don’t want to go to the gym:
– Go for a long walk
– Go hiking
– Start swimming
– Pick up a sport (tennis, soccer, etc)
– Take a class (yoga, pilates, dancing, lyra, boxing, etc)
There are a ton of options for you out there outside of the traditional gym grind. Just experiment and find something you like.
And that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the gym. Following a 4 or 5 day bodybuilding or powerlifting routine will give you awesome results in both strength and physique. Personally, I LOVE going to the gym and lifting weights, but don’t get thrilled about any other sports or classes outside of yoga. So experiment and find what works for you.
If you are interested in joining a gym to help you achieve your goals, make sure to checkout my beginner’s gym guide to get started.
Sculpting your physique
Now this part especially applies to you that don’t want to lose weight, just want to “tone” or even gain weight. Most people who want to gain weight really need to focus on gaining muscle. When you gain fat, you don’t get to decide what areas of your body get bigger. That’s determined by genetics alone. Some people can gain 10 lbs and it all goes to their bum, others it will disperse evenly, and for some it may go straight to your stomach. Again, this is all determined by genetics.
So how do you sculpt out the figure you want? By gaining muscle! And to grow specific muscles, you have to train them. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is by lifting weights. I wrote up a guide that goes over the basics of how this whole process works, so make sure you check that out if you’re ready to start lifting.
The most important aspect of exercise is consistency, so make sure you find something you like to do so that you don’t get burned out and give up.
If you stick to the mantra of calories in vs calories out, you will see results. It won’t come quick, there will definitely be setbacks (check out this post for an explanation), and it won’t be easy, but you will get there if you stick with it. Good luck and comment below if you have any questions!