You’ve probably noticed that there’s a pretty big gap between wanting to work out and actually starting to work out.
Whether you want to hit the gym or get fit by stocking up on at-home workout equipment, the problem is that, while the reasons why you should start working out are pretty obvious—who doesn’t want more strength, bigger muscles and a longer, healthier life?—figuring out how to start working out for men who aren’t that familiar with fitness can be deceptively tricky.
How do you make time in a busy week to workout regularly? How do you find a workout plan that suits your goals (not to mention your schedule)? How do you keep yourself from bailing after the first one or two workouts, and stick with it until you get results?
How to Start a Workout Routine (and Stick to It!)
Even though I spent years editing a fitness magazine, it took me a lot longer than I would have liked to find answers to these questions. I wish I could tell you that I finally cracked the code and figured out how to start working out regularly through a combination of journalistic rigour and dogged determination.
But the truth is that this was only part of the equation. The other part? Good ol’ fashioned trial and error. (Alright fine, a little trial, and a lot of error—at least at first.)
And as it turns out, Mark Twain was right when he said the key to getting ahead is getting started: when I finally learned how to get off my ass and into into the gym on a regular basis, I was able to make some amazing gains. And you can to.
Below I’ve compiled the seven most essential steps you need to take in order to start working out. Follow the comprehensive strategy below, and you’ll go from wanting to work out to watching yourself work out (probably literally—gyms are covered in mirrors for some reason).
How to Start Working Out For Men
A 7-Step Strategy For Getting Started and Sticking With It
Part 1: How to Get Started
1. Choose a Body Avatar
If you want to not only start working out but keep working out until you get your desired result, you have to define what that result is.
The best way to do this is to create a vivid and detailed mental picture of what your body will look like when you’re at your fittest.
As a helpful hack, instead of asking what you want your body to look like, you can simply choose who you want to look like. There are a ton of super-fit athletes, celebrities and fitness models out there.
Maybe you want to be lean and slender like Michael Phelps. Or huge and muscular like John Cena. Or, you know, fit but still normal looking, like Ryan Gosling. Give some thought to how you want your body to look, then find a few celebrities who already have the type of body you’re going for.
These are your body avatars and will represent the goal you’re working towards.
Need more inspiration? Check out this introduction to working out from Chillin With TJ.
2. Get Inspired
Once you’ve identified a few names for your body avatars, go to Google Images or Pinterest and search for the name of your chosen body avatars. You may even want to search for “(body avatar) body” or “(body avatar) shirtless” to find the images that best show off their physique.
You may feel weird about this step. (God knows I did while making that collage of shirtless men above.) Do it anyway.
Find the images that most inspire you and save them somewhere where you can refer back to them: either on your computer, in the cloud or in an image board like on Pinterest. Any place where you can easily go to see multiple images of the body you’re aspiring to build.
Yes, I know it sounds silly, and you probably think of “vision boards” and Pinterest as tools mostly used by 13-year-old girls and moms on Weight Watchers. But trust me on this: it works.
I spent three years working as a magazine editor at a company that exclusively published health and fitness titles, and I can assure you: frequently looking at pictures of people who are in ideal shape will make you want to get your ass in gear.
3. Find a Workout Plan Geared Toward Your Body Avatar
If your body avatars are major celebrities, superheroes or professional athletes, chances are you can simply Google “(body avatar) workout” and find a plethora of results.
Your goals will vary and you’ll obviously want to find a workout that suits your needs and will lead to the body you want, but a few things to keep your eye out for in any good workout include:
- You don’t want to do the same thing every time, or work the same muscle groups two days in a row. Look for workouts that mix it up and feature different muscle groups each day. This will help keep you both continually challenged and continually interested.
Enough Leg Exercises:
Too many workouts – especially those based on celebrity bodies – are guilty of focusing on the so-called “glamour” muscles. Don’t fall into this trap. You build a body like you build a house: from the ground up. Look for a workout that recognizes the importance of working your legs.
- Don’t worry too much about this one for now, as you’re going to adapt any workout you find to suit your schedule. But roughly speaking, workouts that follow a two-days-on/one-day-off pattern work well, especially for beginners.
To get you started, here are a few good workout plans I’ve found based on commonly Googled celebrities:
- Hugh Jackman workout via Men’s Fitness
- Superman workout by Jim Stoppani, Muscle and Fitness
- Captain American workout (and nutrition plan) via Bodybuilding.com
- Ryan Gosling workout via Fitmole
- Ryan Reynolds workout via Superhero Jacked
- Daniel Craig workout via Kinobody.com
- Note: this one’s pretty good, but only features one leg day per week
Part 2: How to Stick With It
4. Plot Out Your Progress
On Sunday, get out a calendar and look at your upcoming week. Planning ahead removes the guessing (“Should I go to the gym today…?”) and allows you to adapt your workout plan to your schedule.
Figure out where you can squeeze in workouts throughout the week. I find it helpful to use a weekly planner that breaks down each day hour by hour, as recommended in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That way, you can plan not just which day you’ll workout, but which hour.
Some workout plans will list workouts for Day 1, Day 2, etc., while others will list specific days of the week: chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, etc., but don’t get too hung up on this.
Don’t be afraid to bend your workout plan to your will. It might not be realistic for you to go from working out zero days a week to working out five days a week. Plan a schedule that you feel good about and will actually stick to. If you feel like you could have done more this week, then add another workout on to next week.
5. Find a Nutrition Plan
Whether you want to build muscle, burn fat or both, nutrition is 80 percent of the equation, especially in the beginning.
Just as you found a workout plan to suit your goals, you need to find an accompanying nutrition plan. This sounds easy because there are a ton – and I do mean a ton – of options out there, but it’s one of those things where there are so many options it can actually be intimidating.
Key Principles of Nutrition
I’d recommend Bodybuilding.com as a pretty good and accessible starting point, but no matter where you find your nutrition plan, there are a few key principles you want to keep in mind:
- You want to get a high amount of protein from diverse sources: meat, legumes, protein powder, etc.
- Low (or better yet, No) Sugar
- This is a particularly insidious one. Read food labels religiously and watch out for sneaky sugar in foods you might not expect, like bread. And speaking of bread…
- Whole Grains
- Whether you’re making pasta or toast, always opt for brown over white.
- Lots of fruit and veggies.
- As you dive into the world of fitness and nutrition you’re going to hear a lot of varying things about vitamins and supplements, the benefits of which are highly disputed. To avoid the debate entirely, remember that it’s always better to get vitamins and fiber from fruit and vegetables than from a bottle.
As with the workout plan, start small and adapt whatever nutrition plan you find to your tastes and schedules. If you don’t like something recommended, make a substitution that you will like. If it’s not realistic to eat healthy all day long, focus on at least one healthy meal each day, then bump it up to two, then three…
6. Track Your Progress
One of the most effective ways to stick with a training and nutrition regimen is also one of the simplest: write it down.
Take a small notebook with you to the gym and record your results as you go. Depending on your workout, you might record:
- The amount of weight you lift for each set of each exercise
- The amount of time or distance covered on the bike, treadmill or elliptical
- The number of calories you burned
Similarly, keep a nutrition journal and jot down what you ate each day. It can be as simple and quick as writing:
- Breakfast: two eggs, toast, coffee
- Morning snack: protein bar
- Lunch: BLT sandwich, donut
- Afternoon snack: apple, walnuts
- Dinner: Steak, mushrooms, caesar salad
Review your progress
Each Sunday or Monday (whichever day you consider to be the start of the week) go back and look at what you achieved the previous week.
Ask yourself: How can you do just 5% better this week? Maybe it’s by lifting just 2.5 pounds more than last week. Or maybe it’s substituting a piece of fruit for a donut just once this week.
Focus on small, incremental and easily achievable things you can do to surpass last week’s progress. Over time, these small steps will add up to big results.
7. (Optional) Be Held Accountable
If you’re self-motivated then keep your journals, reference back to them and just do you. Some guys won’t be comfortable advertising their plans/goals to others, and that’s totally fine.
But if you’re comfortable telling other people what you’re up to, it can be extremely motivating to feel like you’re accountable to someone else. Whether it’s your partner, your parents or just a close friend, find someone you trust and tell them what you’re up to and what your plans are for a given week.
Focus on what you plan to do (i.e. I plan to workout three times this week and eat at least six clean, healthy meals), not on what you want to achieve (i.e. I want to lose five pounds this week).
You can also do the same thing online. Use the comments section of this post to declare what you intend to do this week; we can check in with each other, ask each other questions and provide advice, and keep each other accountable.
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