Do you feel like you aren’t in good enough shape to exercise?
It is easy to think that exercise is only for people who are already in shape. Something that they do for fun or stress relief.
But going for a 5 mile run to “de-stress” can seem like an alternate reality when you can’t run for 5 minutes without dying. And you can’t even imagine it being “fun.”
Believe it or not many fit people were once out of shape.
Just like you might feel right now.
If you are ready to start the process here are 5 tips that can help you get started.
Clearly Define “In Shape”
One of the most difficult steps to getting in shape is just figuring out what that means.
Sometimes we get so focused on what we don’t want, we forget about what we do want.
You don’t want a roll of belly fat.
You don’t want to be winded by 2 flights of stairs.
You don’t want to feel uncomfortable every time you look in the mirror.
You don’t want to be out of shape.
But want do you want?
Do you want to be able to run a 5K without stopping?
Do you want to fit into an old pair of jeans?
Do you want to be able to lift a bag of dirt for gardening by yourself?
Do you want to be in shape?
For true athletes being in shape can mean very different things. Some of the strongest men in the world can’t run a 5K. Does this mean that they are out of shape? Of course not. At the highest levels, you have to start sacrificing other components of fitness to be the best at those that matter to you.
When you are completely out of shape something different happens. No matter what you do you usually improve at almost everything. So just focus on one thing. It is much easier to chase one rabbit than two or three.
You need to figure out what matters to you most. When you work on that, it will spill over to other areas of your fitness.
If the most important thing for you is to lose weight, you can start by getting your diet in order.
If the most important thing for you is to gain more endurance, you can start with some cardio training.
If the most important thing for you is to get stronger, you can start with some strength training.
Once you have made progress toward that goal and believe you have the mental space and physical capacity for more you can start doing more.
But trying to focus on multiple things at once will just make the task seem bigger. You need the task to feel doable. Pick one goal that will show you that you are in shape and put your focus on that.
Start With Reading
So you have decided that getting in shape means you need to work on your cardio.
So you get on YouTube and type in “cardio workout.”
Three minutes later you collapse on the ground wheezing, while the annoying instructor keeps giving instructions as if nothing is wrong.
Or maybe you join the gym, look around for 5 minutes in utter confusion, only to step on the treadmill and spend another few minutes figuring out how to turn it on.
Or you decide to cut out sugar and wonder how long until the craving will go away so you can stop thinking about all the things you can’t eat.
While action is critical for achieving your goals, just starting doesn’t guarantee long-term success. Otherwise, everyone who started working out on January 1st would get in shape.
You don’t need to just work hard. You also need a guide on this journey that you started.
No, this is not a plug for why you need to hire a coach because you can’t figure it out by yourself.
You most certainly can figure it out by yourself.
But if you go that route, you need to accept the fact that you will have to do some learning.
And this is the best time in human history for learning.
You have made a good start finding this article.
Now I am going to give you one of the most underused but effective tactics for learning something in the modern world.
Read a book about the goal you want to achieve.
But you ask…“Why would I read a book when I can read articles, watch YouTube videos and follow influencers on social media?”
“Books are long and boring, and cost money…”
It is exactly because all the information in the entire world is free and accessible that books are still so valuable.
All of that information is confusing and often false. This can make it impossible to do anything with that knowledge.
A good book provides just the knowledge you need (without distracting you) so you don’t have to sort out all that information yourself.
It can help guide you on a complete system (such as running, calisthenics, kettlebells or bodybuilding).
And it can give you a deep understanding and the opportunity to connect with someone who has dedicated their life to a certain type of exercise. Biographies (and autobiographies) of athletes are among the best tools to keep you motivated.
If you need a good book recommendation just send me an email.
Make a Small Commitment
When you start doing some research on exercise you can find some frightening information.
Like how much you are “supposed” to be exercising.
Ignore this when you are just starting.
Anything is better than nothing. Just because the American Heart Association says that you “need” to be doing XXX minutes of exercise every week it doesn’t mean that if you can’t do that much, you should continue doing nothing.
When you see numbers like XXX all they are really doing is telling you the point that maximizes the benefits. And doing more won’t help you get healthier.
Every minute per week you get closer to that goal, the more health benefits you will get.
This means if you were doing nothing and you start off with 5 minutes a day you will be doing 30 minutes of exercise a week (and still get a day off!).
If that is all your body (or schedule) can handle it can make a big difference on your path to getting in shape.
As you get in better shape you can increase the amount of time that you dedicate to exercise.
And remember that there is no rush to get there.
If 5 minutes a day is too much you can start with 3 minutes. Or 2 or 1.
“Small” also doesn’t have to refer to the amount of time that you spend exercising.
It can also refer to the intensity of the exercise.
If being in shape to you means being able to run a 5K you don’t have to start with running.
A 20 minute walk 3 times a week is an excellent start.
Once you get comfortable doing that consistently then it can be time to start following a running program.
Consistency is critical for your success. Smaller but more frequent is better than bigger and inconsistent.
Don’t Forget Diet and Sleep
When you want to get in shape you might get stuck focusing on exercise.
But it is really the recovery from a workout that helps your body get in shape.
You need periods of work and recovery.
Recovery doesn’t mean “not exercising”. You can’t just workout twice a week and expect your body recover.
If your body is missing key nutrients, you aren’t getting enough sleep, or you are over-stressing yourself in other ways (like work) you won’t recover.
Which means you won’t get in shape.
If you are only getting 4–5 hours of sleep a night, waking up early for a workout will make you feel worse.
Forcing yourself through it will make you less fit over time.
Once you can find a way to sleep 7–9 hours a night you will find that getting in shape and exercising are both much easier.
You also need nutrients to recover from exercise. The best way to get nutrients is from food.
Supplements are much less useful than you think. Of course, if you are an advanced athlete or you have a medical condition they can be invaluable.
But part of getting in shape is to ensure your body gets good nutrients, so eat fruits and veggies, drink lots of water, and eat protein and healthy fats.
You will almost instantly feel better and have more energy to put into your workouts.
Remember — It is a Journey, Not a Destination
You need to have realistic expectations when it comes to getting into shape.
The most dangerous myth about getting in shape is that you will one day “arrive.”
Getting in shape is not like finishing a project.
There is no day that you will say, “I am done.”
You won’t finish a degree, attend a ceremony, and sell your textbooks back.
You will not publish a book and be finished.
You will never be finished. If you stop doing the things that you did to get in shape you will end up right back where you are right now.
It is a lifelong maintenance task. Like brushing your teeth, there is no day that you are done.
But the time and effort you put into it will go up and down during different periods of your life.
Sometimes you will be in better cardio shape, sometimes you will be stronger.
Sometimes you will be set back by injury or unforeseen life circumstances.
Sometimes you will fall off and will need help to get back on track.
Just remember today is the only day you need to worry about.
And if you mess up, tomorrow is a new today.
Getting in shape can be a daunting task, and can seem like it is an impossible place you will never get to.
You don’t have to get there, you just need to work towards it.
Pick one goal and make it your focus.
Remember that you don’t know how to get there. Take some time, read, research and learn how to make that goal a reality.
Start small; you don’t need to make big steps to reach your goal. You need to make small steps consistently over time.
It doesn’t matter how small the steps are as long as you are moving forward. There is no rush.
Remember that being in shape is not just about exercise. You need to treat your body well so that it can get fit. That means sleep and food are big parts of the equation too.
And enjoy the journey. Don’t just be happy when you reach your goal. Enjoy the process so you can enjoy the work today.
Today is all you have, and all you have to worry about.
If you want more articles like this, sign up for my weekly newsletter.