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7 Things to Remember Before Starting (Another) Exercise Program

By Tom Nikkola, CSCS, CISSN, Pn1

The New Year has arrived. If you’re like millions of people around the world, part of your New Year’s plan includes a recommitment to health and fitness.

And with that commitment comes the need to overhaul your diet, begin an exercise commitment and start going to sleep at a reasonable hour again.

Whether it’s been a few months since you last exercised, or a few decades, the following are seven reminders I’d have anyone keep in mind before they begin a new exercise program.

My hope is that with following these tips, you’ll not only have a great workout in the upcoming weeks, but you won’t drop out in the months and years to come.

With that, I offer seven things to remember before you lace up your shoes and start your new workout program.

1. You’re probably not a high school athlete anymore.

Remember back 10, 20, 30 or more years ago, when you were lean, strong and full of energy? You might have followed a program developed by your football coach (who probably wore those short-short gym shorts) and thought he was a genius because you got so strong.

You were more resilient back then. As a teen or young adult, your body was still developing. It surging with hormones, so you were able to recover from even the worst types of training programs. It’s probably not that you were following a great program. It’s just that your body would have responded to any kind of training.

What might have worked back then probably won’t work this time.

You need to follow a sensible training program, use proper form, and progress in intensity in a methodical way.

I remember one January day, several years ago. I was the personal training department head, and was cleaning the free-weight area. I heard a guy behind me gasp for help. I turned around and saw him on the bench press, with the bar resting on his chest. He couldn’t get it up.

After I helped him lift the 225 pounds off his chest, we chatted for a few minutes.

He said he wanted to try the weight that he’d used when he was last working out. I came to find out that he’d just joined Life Time an hour before. This was his first workout.

I then asked when he’d last worked out. “In high school,” he said. I could tell he wasn’t in his 20s. “How long ago was that?” I asked. “Twenty years ago,” he said.

While I applauded the effort and positive attitude, that was pretty dangerous. He was out of shape, hadn’t properly warmed up and could have easily been hurt, an hour after joining the fitness center.

Have patience, follow a properly periodized program, and you may end up in better shape than you’ve ever been in.

2. Your body will change when you challenge it, not when you punish it.

The harder you train, the faster you’ll see results – up to a point. And that point isn’t very extreme if you’re just getting started.

If it’s been months, or years since you were last on a serious exercise program, you need a very mild amount of exercise to start creating change. By being conservative, you also avoid a risk of injury.

Every January, a ton of new faces show up in their local fitness center. I saw this each year I worked in a Life Time club.

By February, some of those people would show limping, with their arms in slings, or on crutches. Others would disappear for several weeks, explaining after they’d return that they’d been sick for weeks.

When you train too hard, too fast, your body may not recover from exercise. The result is often injury or sickness.

As a general rule, you want to use the smallest amount of effort or intensity while still causing your body to change.

This is part of the reason fitness professionals are so valuable. They understand how and when to modify your program to keep you making progress, while minimizing the chance of causing injury or under-recovery.

You should get stronger and faster each week. If you go at things too fast, you won’t be able to progress from one week to the next.

If you’re able to talk on the phone, text with your friends or read a book, your workout is too easy. If you’re sore for a week after your workout, it’s too hard. You need to find the sweet spot somewhere in between.

3. Exercise is just a stimulus. Nutrition and sleep are what actually change your body.

Your workout is really just the first step in the process of getting leaner, stronger or faster. Exercise is a signal to your heart, muscles and metabolism that you need to change.

In order to rebuild, repair and burn fat, you have to provide the right nutrients and get enough sleep.

Without quality nutrition and sufficient sleep, you won’t be able to recover from the training sessions. If you can’t recover, you won’t be prepared for your next training session and your body won’t change as you’re hoping it will.

You’ve got to eat enough quality protein, healthy fats, vegetables and use appropriate, high-quality supplements to supply your body all it needs to repair and rebuild.

Sufficient, quality sleep helps optimize your body’s hormones like growth hormone, cortisol and testosterone. When these and related hormones get out of balance, the immune system becomes compromised, it becomes difficult to add lean mass and the body tends to burn carbohydrates rather than fat for energy.

Assuming you’re healthy based on lab work, nutrition and sleep can be the most important factors in getting rid of the bumps around your waste and adding bigger bumps to your biceps.

4. Sometimes, doing an exercise wrong is worse than not doing it at all.

That’s right.

Doing a lunge or squat with poor form can be worse than not doing them at all. Why? From my experience, most people who squat or lunge with poor technique put an excessive amount of stress on their quadriceps (front of their thighs), and little to no stress on their glutes or hamstrings. As a result, they complain of knee problems after a few weeks.

Doing pushups with poor technique puts a lot of stress in the shoulder and leaves little stress on the triceps and chest. As a result, people notice shoulder pain after a few weeks.

Even something as basic as jumping from the floor onto a step, if your muscles aren’t coordinated, can be asking for unplanned strains, sprains and other pains.

My recommendation: Unless you’re an expert in exercise, always start a training program by working with a fitness professional. You could do just a couple sessions to make sure you understand what proper technique looks like. Of course, most people would benefit from a few months of working with an expert. It’s a learning experience that can pay immeasurable dividends for years to come.

Although we’d all like to think we can learn from watching someone else do an exercise on YouTube or at the fitness center, we don’t learn how to move just by watching others move. You also can’t be sure that the person you’re watching is actually doing things right.

5. The sauna and steam room can help you recover faster.

Remember, exercise is just a stimulus. Once you’ve done enough exercise, you need to help your body recover. Sleep and nutrition are important. But the sauna or steam room can help a lot too.

Heat therapy has been shown to increase growth hormone, which is important for muscle repair and fat metabolism. Heat has also been shown to speed recovery from injury and lowers rates of oxidation. And heat helps detoxify the body as well.

If you need more convincing, check out Why You Should Make Heat Therapy Part of Your Fitness Program.

After your workout, and before you shower, consider spending 15 minutes in the sauna or steam room.

6. Nutrition and supplementation can lessen the muscle soreness.

Muscle soreness, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is expected when you just get started exercising again, or when you change up the type of training program you’re following.

Usually, the soreness decreases in severity in two to three weeks of following the same type of program. Staying hydrated and eating enough protein can help. Higher-protein intake is especially important on a fat loss program, when calorie intake is less than calorie expenditure.

One supplement stands out for combatting muscle soreness. The use of curcumin phytosome, available as Rebound, was recently shown in research to reduce the severity of DOMS.* In general, curcumin phytosome helps maintain normal levels of inflammation, so this isn’t surprising. However, to see it shown in actual research was pretty cool.

Curcumin phytosome provides a number of health effects, but as it relates to starting a new exercise program, the reduced DOMS can be an awesome benefit.*

To further reduce DOMS, be sure to move throughout the day. When your legs are painfully sore, it’s comforting to just sit still. But if you can move more throughout the day, it keeps blood and lymph pumping through your legs, and can shorten the time that your muscles are sore. I wear a Garmin Vívosmart and notice that I have to make more of an effort to hit my 10,000 steps the day after a tough workout. I do notice a big difference when I move enough compared to days I feel confined to a desk chair.

7. You don’t have to be a runner, but you should view the process of getting fit as a marathon, and not a sprint.

You don’t gain weight overnight. You can’t lose it overnight either.

You didn’t lose muscle overnight. You can’t rebuild it overnight either.

To do things right, and to give you the best chance of sticking with this exercise program for the long-run, you have to be patient.

I always set up my clients’ programs with a minimum of a 12-week period of time in mind. To get to their major goal, it often took longer than 12 weeks, but three months was long enough to create significant change, but not so long that it seemed like the day would never come.

Once we got through 12 weeks, we’d look at where they were at on the path toward their goals, how far they’d come, and adjust their program as necessary. Sometimes, we’d keep training together for another 12 weeks. Sometimes they’d go it alone. But those first 12 weeks were the most important.

Whether you try to train on your own, or you think about working with a fitness professional, it’s important to look at a minimum of 12 weeks in designing your program.


I recommend talking with a fitness professional before you really get going with your program. If you have access to a Life Time club, you can contact a fitness professional here. If Life Time isn’t in your area, see what else is.

If you don’t have access to a fitness professional, or you’re determined to try things on your own,

Download the Core 3 Training Manual.

You’ll learn more about the science behind our programs, and how you can apply some of that on your own to get much better results than you’ve seen in the past.

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The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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