What to expect when you first start exercising

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Thinking about taking the plunge into an exercise routine for the first time or perhaps you're contemplating a return after a spell on the sidelines? Here's what to expect when you first start exercising: 
 

You'll probably gain a few pounds

Weight!! What?

As strange as it sounds, you'll likely gain a few pounds when you first start working out. As a personal trainer, I see it a lot and it's something almost everyone experiences. Understandably for some, it causes confusion and frustration, especially at the start of a new exercise program. Before you start to panic and throw in the towel, take a deep breath and relax in the knowledge that this initial weight gain is actually positive and is your body's natural reaction to a new challenge.

When you go from couch potato to an active lifestyle, you shock your body into building new muscle. This new found muscle is denser yet weighs more than fat.

To avoid feeling frustrated, stay off the scales for the first month or so. You'll likely find that if you stick to the plan, the initial weight gain is quickly reversed once your body adapts to your new exercise routine.

Related: Fat loss vs weight loss – our unhealthy obsession with the scales
 

It's going to hurt! 

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There is truth to the expression, “no pain, no gain” and no more so than at the start of your new exercise routine.

Muscle pain

When you workout, you're actually damaging your muscles by creating "micro-tears" in the muscle fibers. While this sounds scary, the process is the catalyst for muscle repair which allows them to recover and grow back bigger and stronger. While the end result is positive, the short-term side effects can leave you feeling a little achy and sore.

It's important that you prepare yourself psychologically to deal with a little pain and discomfort especially during the initial stages of your new exercise routine. Think of it this way, if it were easy, everyone would be fit as a fiddle.

To avoid excess pain or Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), be patient and build up as your fitness level improves. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

Joint pain

More likely to affect those that are overweight. Joint pain can be a common symptom at the start of an exercise routine – most commonly felt in the knees, hips, shoulders and wrists. While I would never encourage anyone to push through pain, I wouldn't necessarily recommend avoiding all movements that cause a little discomfort at first either. While not every exercise suits everyone, if you heavily restrict your movements, you may further weaken muscles which can lead to more issues.

In contrast, by building up and strengthening key supportive muscles around your achy joints, you can relieve pain and improve mobility in problematic areas over time.

If you ever feel that your pain is too much or doesn't feel right, find alternate exercises and/or get checked out by a healthcare professional.

Related: how to speed up recovery after a workout
 

A better night's sleep.

This one doesn't require too much explanation. If you exercise, you expel more energy and can reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Both of which can allow you to not only get more sleep but also more time spent in deep sleep (the most physically restorative sleep phase).

For best results, try not to exercise too close to bedtime. Exercise increases your heart rate and core temperature along with stimulating levels or adrenaline and cortisol. All of which can take an hour or two to return to normal post workout.
 

Hunger! 

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If you find that you have an increased appetite when you first start exercising, don't panic. This is quite common. Food is your body's primary source of energy and if you're burning more calories than usual, it's quite normal to feel ravenous, especially after a workout.

While you may be keen to lose weight, don't fight the urge to eat, just make sure you don't go overboard and always fill up with healthy options that include lean protein, complex carbs and a healthy source of fat.

As your body familiarises itself to the new routine, you should find that hunger is reduced.

Related: Post-workout nutrition for big results
 

You might experience a break out here and there

It's possible that your skin will revert to that of adolescent years. That's right folks, we're talking pimples and blemishes.

Unfortunately, sweating can leave you more venerable to breakouts. This is due to perspiration during and after exercise which can create an ideal environment for bacteria to generate and thrive.

To avoid breakouts, make sure you use a clean towel, take off your sweaty clothes and wash your face post workout.
 

You'll definitely experience a few ups and downs

Progression is never linear and never more so than at the start of a new workout routine.

It's important to prepare yourself for a few ups and downs along the road. Regardless of how determined you feel at the start, we all experience these moments of doubt and it's important instead of talking yourself down that you learn from it.

Remember, there's no such this as perfection. If you miss a workout here and there or cheat on your diet from time to time, it's not the end of the world. Just brush yourself off and get back on track as soon as possible.

If you find that you're struggling to stay on track or even to get into a routine, why not try a few sessions with a personal trainer. Not only can they motivate you to get started and keep going, they can help you train more efficiently, support and educate you on best practices.
 

A confidence boost

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In my humble opinion, there is no better way to boost your confidence than by exercising regularly. The benefits are often immediate and can be experienced by more energy, a sexier physique, a more positive can-do attitude and even a better sex life.

Also, by taking control of your health, you'll feel more confident and capable to follow suit in other areas of life.
 

A final word.

Starting a new exercise routine is tough. It requires commitment, a can-do attitude, willpower and Patience. It's going to hurt, you're going to have ups and downs, triumph and setbacks. However, if you can stick to your workout plan consistently and make exercise part of your daily life, you can expect to achieve great things!

Related: A beginners guide to exercise