Beginner Isn’t Always Beginner

During the pandemic, when the gyms were closed, YouTube became our best friend when it came to working out and losing those lockdown pounds. However, there was a downside discovered to working out online and that was the so-called beginner video.

The viewer is geared up in their brand new workout attire and they click on play. Skip to two or even five minutes later and the viewer has given up on the beginner workout video and is now watching cat videos while sitting on their couch in their athleisure wear.

Why did they give up so quickly? The beginner video they chose to work out to was directed toward the beginner, but in fact was too advanced for them. This brings up multiple questions, like what exactly does beginner mean for people who want to exercise? Why do some beginner workouts seem more like advanced level workouts than others?

Matt Salvatore, fitness professional for close to 30 years, started in corporate fitness at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, straight out of college at SUNY Brockport as a fitness specialist undergrad. He came to SUNY Plattsburgh in 1994 and helped the university to jumpstart their fitness program. Salvatore is a certified personal trainer, a certified strength and conditioning coach, CPR and AED certified and teaches in the fitness and wellness leadership program at SUNY Plattsburgh. Fitness management, which is Salvatore’s expertise, is one of the courses he teaches where he helps students who are interested in becoming personal trainers.

Q: What does beginner mean in the fitness world?

A: When I reference the term beginner, when I train my student staff, I’m talking about someone who has never been in a fitness facility before, a gym or health center. Someone who has never lifted weights, someone who has never done any cardio, such as using a treadmill or stationary bike. Someone who has absolutely no exercise history. Those folks we love to work with, folks who need more time in terms of educating them and helping them to feel more comfortable in the space, as well as showing them how to safely and effectively use the equipment in the facility, help them to create a routine (and) an exercise habit that will help them works towards their fitness goals.

Q: What are SMART goals? What does SMART stand for?

A: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (and) time based. In fitness, SMART helps to establish and follow the principles that are well-rooted and have been researched. A lot of the information and research we look at as fitness professionals comes from the American College of Sports Medicine.  We’re trying to get individuals, who are trying to get started in a new exercise program, to go about it in a progressive way that is safe and effective. There are three phases. The initial conditioning phase, which lasts roughly four to six weeks, where basic exercises are shown, introducing someone to some equipment, working major muscle groups (and) talking about exercise intensity, frequency, duration, etc. Basing a lot of things on the ACSM principles, such as working out two to three times a week, cardio, flexibility and resistance, as well as making sure to warm up and cool down.

What comes next is the improvement phase which lasts another eight weeks. During this phase what happens is someone is adjusting the exercise/training variables. “It’s always about being progressive,” Salvatore said. “Increasing the intensity, which is the most important variable.”

Frequency is important. You can’t just work out once a week and expect results. “When you feel sore the next day after a workout, this is called delayed onset of muscle soreness, which is when people drop out, but it goes away after a few days.”

The third phase is the maintenance phase, where you have met some of your fitness goals, but you have to maintain that, because otherwise you can go back to square one. “Research shows that after about four days of not being active, you start to lose the improvements you have made,” Salvatore said. 

Q: When it comes to beginner fitness videos, why aren’t they beginner for everyone?

A: We use the terms beginner, intermediate and advanced for all kinds of different things. A beginner can be advanced if they already have some exercise history. There are ways you can supplement a beginner workout so it’s not as intense. It’s about adaptation, it’s about each individual’s starting point. Some of us find certain activities easier than others.

Q: So it’s not a textbook case?

A: No, everyone is different. We don’t have cookie cutout exercise programs for people. We want to take the time as fitness professionals to speak with individuals (and find out) exactly what their goals and objectives are. Everyone will respond to a new exercise differently. 

Luke Shotts shows APN writer Amy Ward three simple exercises for people who are new to working out. Video by Amy Ward on YouTube.

Connie Fesette is a registered dietitian, who is certified in multiple group exercises and has been the Group Exercise Director at SUNY Plattsburgh for the past seven years. “My job is to get students interested in becoming instructors, training them to instruct classes (and) getting them certified whatever mode of exercise they want,” Fesette said.

Q: During the pandemic, a lot of people started using YouTube for working out at home. Why aren’t beginner fitness videos beginner for everyone?

A: I will take aside new people attending my classes and show them what the class will entail, so this way they know ahead of time what they are going to be doing. You’ve gotta give something more than one chance, like riding a bike. It’s going to take time to learn new things.

Q: What does beginner mean in the fitness world?

A: There are different levels of exercise, like with jumping jacks. 

Connie Fesette, the Group Exercise Director at SUNY Plattsburgh, shows us how we can modify a jumping jack to our individual exercise level. Video by APN Magazine on YouTube.

Q:What are some reasonable goals that people who are beginning to work out can set for themselves?

A: Very basic, start walking. Start with even 5 minutes, then gradually increase upon that. When it comes to diet, you need proper fuel in your car (and) the same principle applies to your body. Get the healthy options in your body first, then if you still want potato chips have them, but you won’t want as much. After you eat a meal, wait at least 20-30 minutes. It takes roughly that long to know if you are full. Stay moving after you eat, because it helps with digestion. 

Melissa LaMere has an undergraduate degree in physical education and a masters degree in exercise science. She started at SUNY Plattsburgh 15 years ago as the assistant director of the fitness center, then moved to assistant director of athletics, and is currently the assistant director of athletics and the director of recreation.

Q: What does beginner mean in the fitness world?

A: There really isn’t one size fits all. Exercise programming is an art and a science. American College of Sports Medicine is a fantastic resource, leading and cutting edge of what we know about exercise. You have to mix what we know about the science background and the art (and) the psychology of exercise as well. How do you motivate people? Beginner can be tailored to different people in different ways. Not everyone is at the same point in fitness. Like when it comes to an athletic team, every single person on the team would need a different exercise program, customized for them. You can’t put out one program and expect it will have the same effect on every single player. It’s all about searching things out and finding out what works for you. There are people who prefer to work out in the privacy and comfort of their home, because the gym can be intimidating, the setting and the equipment.

Sharona, who is a personal trainer in progress and is currently working on her certificate, is the creator of Sharona’s Hill workouts, which can be found on YouTube and Patreon. 

A video of a beginner indoor walking workout. Video by Sharona’s Hill on YouTube.

Q: Why aren’t beginner fitness videos/exercises beginner for everyone? Why do some people struggle?

A: Beginner videos aren’t for everyone because everyone’s journey is different. Someone who has never exercised before won’t be able to do the “simple” exercises, especially if they have gained some weight. It’s so much harder to do a “simple” squat, and it could even be dangerous as you are putting so much pressure on your joints.

Q: What are some reasonable goals that people who are beginning to work out can set for themselves? How can one set those goals?

A: Reasonable goals for beginners would be a daily step goal. Depending how much you take already, add around 2000 steps extra.  Walking is the best form of exercise! Not for only beginners, but for everyone. If you are completely new to fitness. Don’t go straight for five days a week because that can be too much and maybe something you wouldn’t be able to keep up with. Start with either one or two days, and once you’ve created that habit, add another day until you are comfortable. Rest days are as imported as working out days.  How to reach those goals is taking it easy. Very easy. Little step by little step. 1 minute is better than nothing. 

A Marvel themed beginner indoor walking workout. Video by Sharona’s Hill on YouTube.

As previously mentioned, when it comes to working out and getting in shape, for whatever the reason, an exercise program isn’t a one-size fits all. Whether it’s dancing, walking or lifting weights, sweat it out in whatever way works for you. 

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