new to exercise

New to Exercise: How to get past the INTIMIDATION

There, I said it. You may be busy, or not have access to a fancy gym, but let’s get down to what really blocks people who are new to exercise, or getting back into if after inactivity.

In a recent interview with Aaptiv, we discussed things that cause “fitness anxiety” and how to work through it. I like to call it more of what I think is at the root – intimidation. Here I share with you more of what I really believe are some of the biggest barriers when you’re new to exercise, and tips for moving past them.

If You’ve Never Been One to Exercise

The biggest obstacles to starting from scratch for many are having a “non-exerciser” self-concept (I’m not an exerciser and can’t imagine ever being one”) and self-talk, especially in the context of social comparison.  E.g., “I can’t because I’ve always been overweight and that’s just who I am”, or “So-and-so has always been active and I can never be like her”.  Let’s take a closer look at these two beliefs.

  • I’m not an exerciser and can’t imagine ever being one: Oh really? How did you establish your self-concept in the first place? You lived a little and gained some experience. Researchers at the University of North Texas (2002) found people can have a change of heart in as little as three months. Subjects who began a six-month study believing they were not “exercisers” but stayed active at least three months changed how they viewed themselves.
  • So-and-so has always been active and I can never be like her: Why are you comparing yourself to her anyway? All too often we compare ourselves to someone who meets some standard that has nothing to do with our needs. Look for someone whose story is closer to your own – Sally had depression after having her second baby, but built up her activity level and felt enough like herself again to stop her antidepressants. Bob was 50 pounds overweight and had awful knee pain, but got stronger with walking and strength training and now looks and feels better than he has in 20 years.

If You’ve Fallen Off the Wagon

You’ve been active before, but can’t seem to get going again. Here’s what I think is getting in the way: Expectations.  

  • “It will be way too hard, I won’t be at the level I was before”. My challenge to that one is, “so what?”. Are you exactly the same as you were five years (or however long) ago? I sure hope not. I’m willing to bet while you weren’t exercising, something else was important and took your time and attention. That time and attention has made you better at something than you were before, right? Our abilities, interests and priorities evolve throughout life. Don’t expect everything to be as you want it for all of time. That’s not how life works. There will always be pluses and minuses in the changes we live through, so embrace them.
  •  “If I can’t do what I did before, I will have failed”.  “I want to be able to do what I did before, anything less isn’t good enough”. All-or-nothing thinking like this doesn’t move anyone toward change. What would you say to a loved one that got back into it slowly? Would you be that harsh on them? And, who knows? You very well may be able to get back to your previous ability, people do it all the time.

How to Break Through It

when you're new to exercise, don't let negative thoughts get in your way
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For starters, identify your goals – ones that work for you. Are you trying to lose weight? Great, but “lose weight fast” won’t cut it. Set a goal that’s about the exercise, because that’s a behavior. The weight is secondary to the exercise – your body’s response to the behavior comes later.

Set your goal to be doable in real life. “Run a mile every day” may not be reasonable, but “move more” every day might. Having goals that are behavioral and realistic will start to bust cracks into that thinking I talked about above.

Next, once you get going, here’s how to combat the intrusive, self-conscious and insecure thoughts that will rear their ugly heads.

  • Pay close attention to your breathing:
  • Immerse yourself in the music (and sing along, if you’re so inclined).
  • Look around you really see what’s there, bushes, flowers, trees, a water fountain, towels, the color of the walls, floor, etc..
  • Count something – number of trees, squirrels, stationary bikes, televisions.

Use one of these examples as an anchor each time your mind goes where you don’t want. Give yourself permission to return to the present. Remind yourself that you’re the boss of your mind, those thoughts aren’t.


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