Beginner’s Guide to Fitness: Where to Start

Whenever I talk about fitness with friends, one comment I always hear is “I have no idea where to even start. I want to change but it all just seems so overwhelming.” Those words have been said to me in so many different ways, but it all boils down to finding a starting point. Trust me, I’ve been there. That weight section is scary as hell (excuse my language), transforming your entire diet overnight seems impossible (probably because it is), and sticking to a routine seems virtually impossible.

Are you wanting to start on a fitness journey but are unsure of where to start? Try trendy workouts and fad diets, but nothing just seems to stick? Here's my guide to starting at the gym and you'll be on your way to accomplishing your fitness goals in no time!

I’ve been there, every fitness person ever has been there, and what you’re feeling is perfectly normal. Incorporating fitness into your life is just like adding anything new into your life — it just takes trial and error. Okay so maybe 6 AM gym sessions aren’t your thing because it leaves you exhausted by the end of the day. You might not be able to prepare your meals every single day.

And guess what? It’s all okay. What matters is that you stick with it and figure out what works for you. That’s the only way you will succeed.

For this post, I’m going to be focusing strictly on workouts and where to start a the gym. A post about nutrition and macros and all that fun stuff will be up soon!

Just Start

The hardest part is just starting.

Put on your gym clothes, fill up your water bottle, and take yourself to the gym. No excuses.

But what if people judge me?

Honey, if someone is at the gym to judge others, they’ve got another thing coming. Everyone at the gym is there to better themselves. They’ve put aside time in their day to make a positive change in their life.

But everyone else looks better than me.

You cannot compare yourself to others online or in the gym.

Comparing yourself to others online is going to be a whole other blog post because let me tell you, I have some words to be said on that topic. Comparing yourself to others in the gym is a huge no. You have no idea how long that person has been training. You have no idea what that person’s background is. They could’ve been a bodybuilder in their younger years, they could be training for a bodybuilding show, they could just be blessed with wonderful genetics, they could’ve spent years as an athlete in high school, they could be on steroids. You have no idea.

Related: Here’s How to Actually Get to the Gym This Semester

Set Goals

The most important part of beginning a fitness regimen is to set yourself some goals! We talk about goals all of the time here on this blog, and there’s a good reason for that. If you don’t have something you’re working towards, how are you going to achieve something?

Set a wide range of goals. Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals are going to keep you motivated to keep up with your fitness goals!

Here are mine:
Daily: Drink a gallon of water.
For the week: Fit in 3 days of cardio.
For the month: Only go out to eat at most 3 times.
For the year: Lower body fat % enough to see my abs.

Are you wanting to start on a fitness journey but are unsure of where to start? Try trendy workouts and fad diets, but nothing just seems to stick? Here's my guide to starting at the gym and you'll be on your way to accomplishing your fitness goals in no time!

Find A Time That Works

If you’re a college student, finding time for the gym can be difficult. And most of the time, it’s going to take a bit of sacrifice. It will take time for you to figure out your body and your schedule to find a workout time that is optimal for you.

My favorite time to workout is in the morning. I’m not talking like 10 AM, I’m talking like 6:30 AM. Starting my day out with a workout gives me more energy throughout the day, and it’s nice not to have the thought of getting to the gym at some point during my hectic days weighing on my shoulders.

Is it a struggle to get to the gym that early? Yes.

Is it hard having to go to bed at 10 PM when all my friends are hanging out? Yes.

Is it hard to keep up the motivation when all I want to do is sleep? Yes.

But you know what makes it all worth it? The confidence I have in myself, the joy I get out of working out, and knowing that I am bettering myself every time I step into that gym.

For the average person, there are usually 3 time slots available:

  • Early in the morning before class or work
  • During a lunch break or between classes
  • After work or after class

Related: How to Find Time for the Gym in College

When deciding on when to hit the gym, you also need to listen to your body. Does your body do best first thing in the morning? Does it do best a few hours after you wake up? Does it do best a few hours before you go to bed?

Try out all the options, and see what works for you! I’ll tell you right here and now that my workout schedule changes on the regular. Usually it’s bright and early at 7 AM, but if I know I need my sleep, I’ll hit the gym between classes. You’ll soon realize that fitness is all very flexible, and you have to fit it to work with your lifestyle.

Planning a Workout

The biggest mistake people make when going into the gym is not having a plan. They’ll walk in, be scared by the weight section, and head straight to the cardio because that’s what’s the most comfortable. Then they’ll end up staring at a wall for 30 minutes, leave the gym feeling bored, and then most likely won’t come back for a while.

If you’ve been on my Twitter or Instagram lately, you know that I go to the gym 5-6 days a week, and for most people, that’s not feasible. You do not have to go to the gym every single day to see results, and please do not be discouraged if you can’t get to the gym as often as I do!

For the average college student, I’d suggest getting in the gym 3-4 days a week. That’s more reasonable, right?

Monday, Wednesday, Friday splits are probably the most popular because it leaves your weekends free. That right there is a great place to start. In fact, that’s exactly what I was doing back in September!

For beginner’s, sticking to full-body routines and cardio is the way to go. It’ll help you get your cardiovascular health up to par and build up your strength. Building muscle will not only look good aesthetically, but more muscle burns more fat! That’s what we’re all looking for, right?

Are you wanting to start on a fitness journey but are unsure of where to start? Try trendy workouts and fad diets, but nothing just seems to stick? Here's my guide to starting at the gym and you'll be on your way to accomplishing your fitness goals in no time!

The Workout

Here’s a pretty solid 3x a week split:

  • Monday: 30 minutes full body, 30 minutes cardio
  • Wednesday: 30 minutes full body, 30 minutes cardio
  • Friday: 30 minutes full body, 30 minutes cardio

When you’re planning your workout, you want to try to hit all the major muscle groups: legs (glutes, hamstrings, quads), arms (biceps, triceps), shoulders, chest, and back. Compound movements are going to be your best friend when doing full-body work. But Abigail, what is a compound movement? A compound movement is an exercise that requires more than one muscle group. Squats, deadlifts, and bench are the most common.

Here’s a look at a workout I would put a friend through if they start coming to the gym with me:

Circuit 1:
Reverse lunges x 10 each leg
Tricep pushdowns x 12-15
– Burpees x 10

Circuit 2:
Squat to shoulder press x 10
Bicep curls x 10
– Plank 30 sec – 1 minute

*each circuit is to be completed 3x.

If you can’t make it through 3 sets, that’s okay! When I first started back in 2016, I could barely make it through one circuit in 45 minutes. Now, these are a breeze! It just takes time and hard work, and you’ll start to see progress.

Rest Days

On your days off, try to still get up and move. That’s what we like to call “active recovery.” Remember, rest days are just as important as the days where you go to the gym. Muscle growth and recovery occur on your rest days, so if you never rest, you may never grow. Okay that’s an exaggeration, but rest is important.

When starting a fitness regimen, keep these things in mind on your rest days:

  • Drink lots of water. It’ll help flush that lactic acid out of your muscles.
  • Get adequate sleep. After all, that’s when the gains happen.
  • Get up and move, even if your muscles are sore.
  • Keep your nutrition on point even on your days off.

If you’re confused about anything, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email over at hello@livingthegraylife.com. I’m always up to talk fitness with anyone and everyone! Plus, I want to make sure you’re on track to accomplish your fitness goals!

~abigail gray

  • Love love love this. Also, the steroids comment made me laugh. But honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if some people I see at the gym are using them.

  • I totally meant to link to bodybuilding.com for most of the exercises! If you check now, most of them include a link to bodybuilding.com and that will show you proper form, etc. I’ve thought about doing workout videos but honestly I’m really nervous to film in the gym… but I guess that’s a fear I will soon get over! Hope those links help and if you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask 🙂

  • This is such a helpful post! I’m not a stranger to working out, but I am one to the gym and equipment. I’m vowing to hit up Strom Thurmond quite frequently despite my insecurities since I’ll be attending the University of South Carolina starting this fall, though (perhaps I’ll see you around)!

    • Ahh so excited that you’re going to be a fellow Gamecock! If you have any questions about anything school or fitness related, I’d love to email! Also, I’d so be down for helping you gain confidence in the weight area 🙂

  • This is such a helpful post! I used to go to the gym three times a week a few summers ago and I remember loving it! But now that I haven’t really worked out in YEARS, I am kind of scared to go back. I feel a bit overwhelmed just thinking about it. But your post is so helpful! I’m definitely going to try your circuits. 🙂

  • Great post and tips!