FAQ: How to get started in fitness and exercise

Your fitness and exercise questions answered

When you first start out exercising, it can seem difficult knowing what the right kind of training and training gear is for you. Here are our answers to several frequently asked fitness questions that are often asked by beginner exercisers.

I've always been too scared to go to the gym to exercise. Won't it be full of bodybuilders and super-skinny models?

There was a time when gyms were full of stick-thin women and competitive body-building males. Thankfully those days are gone and modern gyms are now full of a wide range of shapes, sizes and fitness levels. It’s still a good idea to check out a few gyms before deciding which one to join though, as different gyms do have different ambiences.

I want to start running for exercise. What equipment do I need?

The most important parts of your running kit are your running shoes and sports bra. Buying a pair of running shoes can be a daunting task as there are hundreds of pairs on the market. These are our top tips to help you get the right pair:

  • Forget the color of the shoes;  prioritize with fit, function and feel.
  • Don’t buy the ones your friends have always run in, they may not be right for you.  
  • Take advice from a knowledgeable and trustworthy sales person (preferably at a specialist running shop). Understand why you require the product being sold.  
  • Only buy sports shoes after you’ve tried them on.  
  • Keep your feet dry. Running-specific socks will help stop moist or sweaty feet from blistering.

You will need a well-fitting and comfortable sports bra. This is essential to avoid painful bouncing and worse, potential permanent drooping! It may be best to get advice at a specialist running or sports shop.

Clothing-wise, initially you will probably be able to make do with the kit you already have. Comfortable loose shorts and t-shirts, or in colder weather tracksuit bottoms and layered cotton tops are fine. However, as you progress in running you will want to buy specialist clothing that wicks away sweat from your skin, so even with intensive sweating you can feel comfortable and dry.

Woman in trainers tying laces

I've heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Can you suggest some healthy breakfast foods to aid my exercise?

Yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and here are some healthy suggestions:

  • Porridge (with skimmed milk) and berries (raspberries, strawberries or blueberries)
  • Beans on with no buttergranary toast
  • Bagel with reduced fat cream cheese and smoked salmon
  • Fruit and low fat yogurt
  • Crumpets and fruit spread (no butter!)
  • Muesli and soya milk or semi-skimmed milk
  • Pure fruit juice and iron fortified breakfast cereal
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Scrambled / poached egg on granary toast  

 

I always ache the day after jogging exercise. What am I doing wrong in my training?

Even if you’re relatively fit, you will probably experience aching muscles when you begin to jog. Here are the reasons why and what you can do about it:

  • You are not used to exercising. If this is the case then take it easy ... Start off really slowly — just 10 to 15 minutes for each session every other day. Build up your times no more than 10 per cent per week.
  • You are not warming-up, stretching and cooling-down properly for exercise. This could lead to aching if not carried out. Here’s what to do:

Warming-up for exercise

Often overlooked by the beginner, warming-up can reduce the chance that you will pick up an injury and it should be an integral part of your preparation whenever you go out for a jog. A typical example would be to walk for 60 to 90 seconds, building up the pace every 10 seconds or so, before breaking into a gentle jog for half a mile (or whenever your body is beginning to warm-up) before stopping and going in to your stretching routine.

Stretching for exercise

Your stretches should cover all the major muscle groups, particularly the legs and back. Do remember to hold each stretch for 10 to 15 seconds — without bouncing!

Cooling-down after exercise

Once your running distance is complete, you should not just come to a complete stop immediately as this encourages the muscles to contract too quickly and could cause an injury. They should be eased down and stretched out gently. The best way to do this once the run is finished, is to drop your speed down to a jog for 30 to 60 seconds before slowing down to a brisk walk, reducing the speed every 10 seconds or so. You should then stretch all the major muscle groups before you get cold — but this time, they should be held for slightly longer (15 to 20 seconds), again without bouncing.

  • You’ve over exercised. Start off slowly and don’t increase the total time of your running more than 10 per cent per week

I can't afford gym membership. What's the best way to get fit at home?

With some inexpensive equipment and some imagination you can still achieve excellent results at home. The following list of basic equipment will start you off well:

  • Skipping / jump rope
  • Stability ball
  • Exercise mat
  • Small set of dumbbells  

 

You will need to have structured exercise sessions with a warm-up and stretching exercises before the main session, and a cool-down and more stretching after that. An equally important factor with a home training session is executing every exercise with correct technique. Because a non-gym-based session usually involves more bodyweight and free-weight (dumbbell) exercises, technique is particularly critical and expert guidance will maximize your gains and prevent injury. If you can’t get professional advice, then lining up with a like-minded friend so that you each have a training partner can really help. Not only can you monitor each other’s technique but you can also help motivate each other during the workout.

Woman skipping by the sea

I need to shift some weight fast. What diets do you recommend?

Fad diets do not work, as they do not look at altering long term eating patterns. Many are also totally imbalanced and do not provide you with the range of nutrients you need. Foods such as red meat and dairy products should be included in a weight loss plan as they are such good sources of iron and calcium.

The fact is, if your calorific intake (food) is less than your output (the calories it takes to do all your daily activities plus exercise) you will lose weight. The energy content of 1lb of fat in the body is 3,500 calories. So to lose 1lb per week you need to cut back by 500 calories per day. This may seem a large drop in the number of calories you consume per day. However, the best way to do it is to combine changing your eating habits and increasing your activity. It is important to remember that there are no hard and fast rules about the speed at which you lose weight, in fact the more slowly you do it the better.

Try to aim for 1 to 2lbs per week weight loss. If it does not happen as quickly as that, try not to get disheartened, after all, the weight you are wanting to lose probably didn’t appear overnight and therefore it will take more than a few weeks to lose it. Conversely, if you have a lot to lose, initially you may lose a greater amount of weight than 1 to 2lbs per week. Bear in mind that you ought to make gradual changes to the food you eat and the amount of exercise you do, as the smaller the changes you make, the more sustainable they are in the long term.

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