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Every elite athlete, whether a runner, cyclist, swimmer or gymnast, was once a beginner at her sport. Just like you, she started at ground zero, learning the bare basics, stumbling along through successes and mistakes and eventually coming out on top. Whether you’re brand new to exercise or are returning after a long hiatus, there are a few things you should know before jumping in. Keep these in mind as you drive unequivocally toward your fitness goals.
Gyms are great, but you don’t need one to succeed
If you’re not down with sharing your space with other sweaty folk, or are trying to save your pennies, not to worry: You can get a killer workout without leaving your living room. All you need is your bodyweight, dumbbells or resistance bands and sneakers.
Don’t stress about concocting a bodypart split
Total-body workouts are best for beginners. These programs use compound movements — ones that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously such as squats, dips, push-ups and lunges — to build your body evenly and synergistically while burning a ton of calories. Here’s a plus: If you do these moves in quick succession (i.e., without a lot of rest in between), the workout also becomes cardiovascular, burning even more calories and saving you a ton of time trudging on a treadmill.
Make your cardio quick and to the point
Yes, there is a place for long bouts of slow, steady cardio if you’re a marathoner or have medical issues. If neither one applies, keep your cardio to sub-30 minutes per session and hit it hard. Research indicates that higher-intensity workouts burn more total calories, improve endurance and maximal oxygen consumption, and strip fat in half the time it would take to achieve the same result with traditional cardio. Bonus: High-intensity training also boosts the production of muscle-making and fat-burning compounds such as growth hormone, keeping you younger inside and out.
Put static stretching last
Returning exercisers might be surprised to learn that static stretching, in which you assume a stretch and hold it, has been replaced by dynamic stretching — in which you loosen your limbs with active range-of-motion movements such as leg swings and arm circles — preworkout. Save your static stretches for afterward when you’re warm and want to relax and lengthen your muscles.
You will be hungry
OK, you might even be ravenous. Don’t freak out: This is a good thing. It means your body is changing — growing muscle and shedding fat — and in order to do that it needs fuel. Feed the machine with lean protein such as grilled chicken and fish, complex carbs such as oatmeal and brown rice, and plenty of fruits and veggies.
You might gain weight
In reality, muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space. Consider that weight is only a measure of how hard gravity is pulling you toward the Earth’s center. It does not take into account your percentage of fat versus muscle, your height, the time of the month or any of a dozen other factors that could affect your physical weight from day to day. A better way to gauge progress is how your clothing fits. If it is getting looser, even if you’re getting heavier, you’re on the right track.
The “golden rule” is 80/20
We all need a chocolate bar or gooey plate of nachos from time to time. If you eat healthy and clean 80 percent of the time, you can be a stress-free, regular human the other 20 percent. Allowing yourself a little indulgence now and again will make eating clean and sticking to your program easier, and will ultimately get you the results you want.