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A Guide to a Healthier You in 2017

Written by Joe Martin

Well, it’s that time of year where every fitness professional on earth pretends to have a degree in psychology and offers up their best shot at a motivational New Year’s article. I get why they do it- readers love it. “New Year, New YOU,” right? Each year, millions of Americans proclaim a “new self” to start the new year. The idea of self-improvement has been slowly brewing all year, but this time, January 1st marks the day it all changes. We get it done, and we get it done well. We improve. Not only do we want to improve, but we want it all at once. We want a better work life, home life, and relationships. We want to start going to the gym, trying new diets, and then Rosetta Stone our way to a new language.

Instead of the usual “here is what you have to do to get in shape for the new year post,” I would rather teach you what I have learned in the 10+ years I have been lifting weights or exercising in one way or another.

I started lifting weights with a trainer in my 6th-grade year of school (no, it didn’t stunt my growth) which was 2006, so it’s been a while. I would train on and off for a couple of years and, then, in my sophomore year in college, I really started taking lifting weights a little more seriously. In that 10 year period, I would graduate with a B.S (not the BS you are thinking of) in wellness and movement studies and also get my strength and conditioning specialist certification. Although I am still a “new trainer” in that I’ve only been training clients formally for a little over a year and a half, I have amassed a great deal of knowledge within that 10 year period. I learned firsthand through my own trial and error in the gym, got a degree, did the high-level certification. So, you could say I know a lot about “lifting things up and putting them down”.

Let’s, be real for a second here… if I did write a “how to get in shape” new year post, do you really think anything I say will get you to take action on your health? You have to be ready to take that step yourself. So, whether you take the plunge on January 1st, 2017 or April 22nd, 2018, here are 10 things every beginner should know:



I was lucky enough to go to a high school that built a state-of-the-art gym equipped with every piece of equipment you would ever need. Not to toot my own horn, but during my freshmen year, I was hanging and banging with upperclassmen in the gym. I remember my teammates and even my coaches commenting on both my technique and strength. I remember thinking “what the hell is the big deal, has no one ever seen a squat before?”

You see, I had a leg up on everyone because of the time spent working with a trainer in my middle school years. Although I never really pushed the boundaries on my strength back then, the technique work we did set the foundation for my high-school years. I remember working with my trainer on the set up for the bench press for like 20 minutes in one workout. Of course, back then I thought it was pointless, but that was what made all the difference. I spent a lot of time learning the tiny details at a very young age.

Even today I tweak tiny details of my exercise technique. Sure, it will get much easier as you go. Yes, it will feel natural eventually, but that does not mean to get complacent. You will always have room to improve technique. Technique is your foundation. If you want to get in the best shape of your life, do it right. Each set and each rep is a chance to better yourself.


There are two major reasons people get discouraged with their results in the gym. The first is being unrealistic with their expectations. Three weeks in the gym will not undo a decade of inactivity. You need to be patient. Even more, I see the 16-year-old kid wondering why he’s not making progress “fast enough”. The truth is progress takes time. In fact, the improvements from the first 6 weeks of your training are not even visible. During this time, your body is improving neurally. What this means is you are learning how to recruit the right muscle, at the right time and complete the action in a coordinated manner. For a little while exercises, will feel unstable, wobbly etc., but it will get easier. Once your body adapts to the specific exercise, you will start to see huge improvements in your strength and physique. Be patient.

Another reason why people may get discouraged is due to a lack of consistency. Consistency will always beat the best program. I spent a lot of time in that 10-year span taking long breaks from the gym, which looking back on it now all stemmed from having an unrealistic schedule or workouts I hated. What good is “the best workout program” if you hate it? You will find every excuse in the book to not go to the gym if you hate your workout. Spending two days in the gym every week for a year will have a much better impact on your body than 5 days per week on and off for 5 months will. Figure out a schedule you can sustain, find out a workout program you enjoy and stick with it long enough to get the intended benefits.


It took me a long time to actually train for strength. This was unintentional. I thought strength was getting better at sets of 10 to 15 reps. Then I learned that in order to train for pure strength, you have to use heavier loads and lower rep training. It isn’t just showing up and going through the motions anymore. You have to push yourself to maintain technique, squeeze out some challenging reps and push yourself to add more weight next time around.

Then, and only then, did I start to progress at a much faster rate than in the past. Most coaches refer to strength as “the godfather of all training adaptations”. The reason for this is that strength can improve every aspect of performance, improve your body composition and burn an impressive amount of calories.

You can learn a lot from strength such as, “that you actually are quite strong”. Most people I come across don’t realize how capable they are. I have trained quite a few female client’s who surprise the crap out of themselves when they push a 400-pound sled or deadlift their bodyweight. There is something to be said about physically being strong. It tends to trickle into other areas of your life as well. If you can squat heavy, then you can push through the other crap life puts you through. So, surprise yourself -you’re stronger than you think.

There is something very surreal about moving heavy objects. It builds confidence, willpower, and better bodies. It is no longer about going to the gym and going through the motions or feeling like you’re on the sidelines or sitting on the bench. It’s 2017, we have to stop telling people that lifting something that resembles “heavy” is a bad thing. Especially when the research tells us it is no more injurious than going out for a run.


In order to continually make progress with your fitness, you have to keep raising the bar (ha, get it?). In order for your body to keep changing in a progressive manner, you have to continually work just a little bit harder. We call this “progressive overload” which refers to adding an additional set, one more rep or a little more weight to an exercise. Once you adapt to your training, you have to increase the demands you place on your body to see more progress. So, to get increasingly fitter, you have to do more work. There is absolutely no way around this. The day you stop trying to progress is the day you will stop making progress.

Sure, things will stagnate and progress will never be linear. This does not mean you throw in the towel. This means you figure out the road block, change some things around in your training and find a way to improve. Sometimes, it is as simple as changing your set and rep scheme from 3 sets of 5 reps to 5 sets of 3 reps. Other times, you might have to take an “easy training week” to allow for yourself to push it for the next few weeks. Whatever the case, keep it moving.


Saying “you don’t have to kill yourself” after a section on “it’s never getting easier” might seem like a contradiction, but let me explain. There is this current trend where circuits and hardcore boot camps are the answer to everything, and we have CrossFit culture to thank for this. The thing is though, you don’t have to beat the crap out of yourself lying in a pool of your own sweat or worse, vomit, to make progress. If fitness was about cramming in as many exercises in the shortest amount of time possible, do you think more people would be fit?

You need to learn how to take a rest. One of the bigger problems I see with gym culture is the need to consistently punish yourself each time you step into the gym. That will work for a week, but you will burn out very quickly. Contrary to popular belief, hardcore circuits are not the only way to train nor is it “the best”.

Circuit training can actually decrease your work capacity and calorie burn. If you’re unfit, you will not be able to keep up with the demand created by a lack of rest, which will make each successive set, rep and exercise less effective than if you had rested. This is a huge reason why I very rarely put a beginner through the ringer with a circuit. In a nutshell, resting between your sets will allow your muscle and cardiovascular system to recover and this will make each successive set more effective than if you hadn’t taken a rest. In other words, you expend energy (calories) when you perform physical work. If resting enables you to complete more work, you expend more energy (burn more calories) per workout.

The amount of rest you need will vary depending on exactly what it is that you are doing. For instance, heavier compound movements require 2-5 mins in between sets and lower body will require longer rest than upper body. Isolation exercises or exercises using light weight may require a minute or two of rest in between sets. So, stiff leg deadlifts will require more rest than a dumbbell row and a dumbbell row will require a little more rest than a calf raise or bicep curl. A good rule of thumb is to rest long enough to be able to repeat your previous sets performance. This will ensure adequate recovery.


As a beginner, it can be easy to improve on everything at once. You can get stronger, lose fat and build muscle all at the same time. As you continue to train, improving in every area becomes increasingly difficult. The sooner you figure this out the better. What usually happens is the beginners get better at everything really quickly and then they hit a wall where progress is no longer being made. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about this. Your body is much smarter than you think. There is this gap in adaptation. When something is new you can improve really quickly. As you continue to work on that specific aspect of your training, you respond less and less robustly to it, and the gap for improvement is getting smaller and smaller.

Therefore, you have to devote more time and energy to that specific aspect of your training. This means less time and energy can get devoted to other aspects of your training. Having one or two clearly defined goals will be crucial to sticking with your plan. The great thing is you have your whole life to get better. This should be a lifelong journey. Choose one to two goals, spend 3 months tirelessly working on them and then create two brand new goals.

Then, rinse and repeat.


This goes hand-in-hand with the above section. As you continue to train, everything will have to get more focused. This means that doing the opposite of what most people think will get you fit. You do this by sticking to a few basic and effective exercises long enough to actually get the benefits from them. To increase fitness to higher levels, you need to continually add more stress to your body and that stress must become more specific as time goes on. Doing everything at once will not work and what got you fit will not increase fitness anymore. Trying to improve everything at once will cause too much stress and, for lack of a better phrase, “you will not get good at any of it”.

Spend your time as a beginner mastering the basics. If you master the push-up, then the chest press and bench press will be easy to learn. If you can squat a 25-pound kettlebell with sound technique, then transitioning to a back squat will be easier. If you learn to hinge at your hips, a deadlift, clean and/or snatch will be much easier to learn. You should get the idea here.

Look at some of the best and fittest in the worlds’ training programs, and you will be surprised by how little variety they place in their training program. They might have 1-2 goals and use 4-5 exercises to get there. Sure, they are most likely highly specialized, but to a point. Less is more.

In order to keep things fresh and to keep your body changing in a positive manner, focus in on 1-2 goals for a period of time (at least one month), and learn 4-5 basic exercises. Once you reach your goal, rinse and repeat.


Being aware of what your body is telling you is a bit of a mixed bag. Some days you’re going to feel awful when you walk into the gym, but you will end up having the workout that week. Other times you will feel fantastic, but train awfully. For every 50 good workouts, there will be 10 bad ones. This is normal. It will not always be roses and chocolate. Eventually, you will begin to understand how the rest of the workout is going to go based on your first exercise or two. Maybe you might even realize your workout is going to be crap after your first two sets during your warm up. This skill does not develop overnight but can go a long way in keeping you healthy.

What do you think will have a better carry over to your health? Training hard when you feel like you can push it or training hard when you feel awful because you think you have to? This type of intuitive training comes from years of trial and error, but eventually, you will be able to rate each set and figure out if you should add, subtract or maintain the weight on the bar. We call this “rate of perceived exertion” or “RPE” for short.

This auto-regulation allows you to take advantage of good days and back off on difficult ones. Parallel to this is listening to how you physically feel following training. If your tissues or joints start to ache for a week, then maybe your training with too high of a workload and need to back off for a week. As you gain more experience, this will accomplish two very important things.

1). Keep your body and connective tissue healthy and,

2). Increases performance and results.


I spent a lot of time training in different ways to stay in shape. Some worked and some didn’t. I did the cardio-only thing, the bodybuilding style workouts, the powerlifting style stuff, and I dabbled in Olympic weightlifting for a bit. Each training method taught me something important, something unique to only that style of training. Trying new methods of training allowed me to figure out what I enjoy and what I don’t. It also taught me what is most beneficial and what isn’t, which didn’t also coincide with my enjoyment (or lack thereof).

Moral of the story: do not get complacent with your strength training. There are so many things you can learn from different styles of training. Ultimately, this constant learning, struggle, and progress gained from each new task is what I enjoy so much about training. It shows you what you’re made of.


It’s funny because last year I bought some equipment for a garage gym, literally just the basics. A squat rack, pull up bar, a barbell, bumper plates, bands and some free weights. My garage isn’t heated so when the New England winter hit I was freezing. The bar was so cold it hurt my hands, pull ups were barely tolerable and, on a good day, there would be no wind so I could open the door to let some sunlight in.

I loved every single part of training in the garage that winter. No distractions, no fancy equipment and definitely no excuses. My point? Find something you enjoy, and do it relentlessly. I just like to lift weights, any weights, any style, anytime and anywhere. You might not. You might only like kettlebells, body weight training, pilates or a boot camp. Who cares? Just do it.

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