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Whether you’re an athlete or an accountant, the same principles apply.

There is a lot of information about exercise out there, and if you’re just getting started, trying to figure out where to begin can be absolutely overwhelming. Even if you’ve been training for years, the latest trend or research paper could suddenly leave you second-guessing everything you’ve ever done or believed.

However, there are a few key principles that hold true regardless of how you train or what you train for.

As a fitness coach, the clients I work with all have different goals and experience levels; some are brand new to exercise and simply want to improve their health, while others have been training for years and want to take their strength and athleticism to new heights. But regardless of their current “level of fitness”, I always make it a point, first and foremost, to educate them on these three foundational principles — because while your goals and your training may evolve over the years, these three staples will always hold true.

You don’t need to work out for excessively long periods.

You can train hard or you can train long, but you can’t do both.

Excessively long workouts create a lot of fatigue that will deteriorate your movement patterns, and your technique is going to break down. That’s not only going to have a negative impact on that workout itself, but the poor technique you engrained in that workout will trickle into the next workout. “ — Dr. Joel Seedman

Take a push-up for example. Let’s say you can do 10 push-ups with good form before failing on the 11th rep. If you consistently do 1 or 2 high-quality sets of 10 push-ups over the span of several workouts, it’s going to become less difficult. Soon, 10 reps will feel easy and you’ll be able to do more and more push-ups in a single set.

Conversely, forcing yourself to do a hundred push-ups every time you trained would diminish the quality of your reps, place undue stress on your joints, make it more difficult to recover between workouts, and needlessly consume time that you could be spending doing something more productive.

Stimulate, don’t annihilate. Train hard, but don’t beat yourself into the ground. Remember that during your workouts, you’re breaking muscle down — so give yourself plenty of time and resources to build yourself back up in between.

You can’t outwork a bad diet.

There is no fat burner, no HIIT workout, and no amount of cardio or crunches that will give you six-pack abs if your diet isn’t where it needs to be.

This is unfortunately an area that’s been surrounded by a lot of conflicting information, so it can be hard to decide what you should and shouldn’t be doing when it comes to your eating habits.

While the specifics of all of our individual needs will vary, both the science and real-world evidence has consistently shown that simply centring each meal around a protein source, incorporating a variety of fruits or vegetables, and drinking more water can positively impact blood pressure, blood sugar, heart health, and fat loss.

If you’re just starting out, don’t get too enthralled with the nuances of calorie counting, macro tracking, and nutrient timing (these will come later as your experience and needs change) — consider making those three keystone habits a part of your daily routine and see what a difference small changes, when applied consistently, can make.

Don’t skip the warm-up.

Warm-ups do matter because they help mobilize tight muscles, strengthen weak muscles, and cause you to break a sweat before getting into your heavier, more demanding exercises.

A good guideline to follow is to think about mobilizing the muscles you can see in the mirror and activating the ones you can’t see. That’s because sedentary lifestyles have caused many of us to develop weak, inactive glutes and postural muscles of the upper back — which causes the hip flexors and shoulders to become tight.

Regularly pairing a few static stretches for your tight muscles with strength exercises for your inactive ones is a simple and effective way to improve your performance both in the gym and throughout your day-to-day life. Focus on the muscles you’re about to train to ensure they’re adequately primed.

An example of a good pre-workout stretching routine for the average person working a desk job may be:

  • Static hip flexor stretch: 30–60 seconds per leg

  • Dead hang from a pull-up bar: 30–60 seconds

  • Glute bridges: 10 reps

  • Band pull aparts: 10 reps

The Bottom Line:

Whether you’re a bodybuilder, Cross-Fitter, powerlifter, or you just simply want to be fit and healthy — focusing on high-quality workouts, dialling in your nutrition, and never neglecting your warm-up are three definitive ways to help you make progress today, tomorrow, and for decades to come.

Keeping to these simple principles and not trying to overcomplicate your fitness journey will not only bring you more consistent results but will help make the whole process so much more enjoyable!

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