Why is it Important to Ease Into an Exercise Program?

Have you ever decided that you wanted to get into shape or work your way toward a new fitness goal and then went all in only to lose motivation shortly thereafter?

Perhaps you started out excited and enthusiastic and then veered off of your diet, programming, or maybe even got injured.

Whether you’re thinking about starting a new workout program or setting up new fitness goals, it’s important to ease into an exercise program for a few main reasons.

Less is more

Group of millennial sportive people doing squatting exercise at gym studio.

Exercise is a way to apply stress to your body in order to get it to adapt to a specific stimulus – meaning different types of activity based on your personal goals.

If you want to make the most out of a workout program, then it may be best to think of exercise as a tool that you can manipulate in order to elicit the results that you want.

Giving it your all is great… as long as you work your way up according to your fitness level.

Everyone generally has a different fitness level, even when it comes to team sports.

Just because one person can run a mile easily after training for a few weeks doesn’t mean that you’ll progress at the same rate.

We all have different lifestyles, routines, genetics, personal preferences for the types of activities that we enjoy, and varying diets.

So it stands to reason that each of our bodies will probably react differently when it comes to exercise.

This is why it’s important to pay attention to your limits and start from where you’re at, not where you want to be.

If you’re starting out with a goal to get stronger, that means don’t go in and try to lift as much weight as you possibly can, as this could lead to potential injuries.

Instead, the best approach is to do a little bit at a time and gradually increase the amount of activity that you’re doing in addition to making it more challenging as your body adapts.

You can do this by using the principle of progressive overload.

Progressive overload

Close up view of a weight stack at the gym

Whenever you’re undertaking a fitness goal, it’s important to start with a light to moderate amount of intensity and work your way up slowly.

This will give your soft tissues and central nervous system time to adapt to the new stress being applied to your body.

All stress isn’t bad.

Exercise is a type of stressor that can be applied in moderation to elicit results by improving your level of fitness, body composition, and metabolic health.

When you exercise, you’re sending a message to your body that it’s working and needs to become more efficient at what it’s doing so that next time it won’t have to work as hard.

This is where progressive overload comes in. If you do too much at once, it can cause too much stress, and ultimately set you back.

For instance, if you’re not used to running and decided to go for a 3-mile run it might feel like your legs are going to fall off and your lungs are going to explode.

Although that wouldn’t be the case, the shock to your body wouldn’t feel great and could cause more harm than good.

By using progressive overload, you gradually increase the level of difficulty from a level that you can handle to a slightly more challenging level as the activity gets a little easier over time.

In doing so, it keeps your body adapting and improving.

If you do too much and cause excessive wear and tear too soon, you may run the risk of actually setting yourself back by hindering your recovery.

And let’s face it, nobody wants to get stuck in a cycle of healing rather than improving.

Neglecting progressive overload can lead to a loss of motivation, fatigue, a depressed immune system, and injuries.

Give yourself time to adjust

Nerdy overweight couple resting on top of exercise balls

Easing into a workout program gives you the time that you and your body need to physically and mentally adjust to a new routine.

Working out too intensely for your fitness level can actually lead to boredom and training plateaus.

If you start out doing more than you need to at the beginning of a workout program, it leaves little for you to adjust along the way, which can result in boredom and a decline in adaptation.

By giving yourself adequate time to make small changes in your lifestyle, you’re likely to see greater results and be more consistent in the long run.

One of the best things you can do in starting a new program is to take baby steps and add a little at a time.

You can gradually modify the amount of work you’re doing by changing up your routine every 2-4 weeks. There are several workout variables that you can manipulate, such as:

  • The amount of weight you’re lifting
  • Number of sets you’re doing per exercise and per workout
  • The number of reps per exercise, per set, and per workout
  • Number of workouts you’re doing per week or month
  • Your rest periods between sets and workouts
  • The tempo you’re using on a specific exercise
  • Exercise selection
  • And the list goes on…

Choosing to manipulate one variable at a time allows your body to adapt safely in order to get the most out of what you’re doing and reap the best results.

Trying to make a lot of changes at once can be overwhelming and overload your system in a detrimental way.

When you take it slowly and make gradual changes, it gives you time to make improvements that you can build upon.

Rushing into something new may seem exciting and start off as a great idea. But it can lead to overdoing it and sabotaging your recovery.

Easing in will give you time to recover from the new stress being applied to your body.

Our bodies are smart, and they want to get better and adapt to new situations.

So, you can keep your body responding, i.e. getting results, by continuing to introduce different variables in order to facilitate adaptation.

This is one of the reasons that goal-setting can be so helpful in achieving your fitness goals.

Set achievable goals

Close up view of a slim woman wearing extremely large jeans to demonstrate weight loss

It’s understandable that when you first start you may have your ultimate goal in mind.

However, working toward your final goal without setting smaller and more attainable goals along the way can potentially sabotage your progress and success.

By setting smaller, more achievable, and realistic goals you can keep yourself on track and build confidence along the way.

Smaller goals could be:

  • Doing 3 workouts in a week
  • Jogging for 1 minute and walking for 2 minutes for a total of 20 minutes
  • Focusing on your form for one exercise
  • Doing 12 workouts in a month
  • Working out with a personal trainer once a week for a month

Your goals will be based on what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.

If you want to get stronger and be more athletic then perhaps finding a coach could be one of your smaller goals.

Maybe you’re just trying to be more consistent with your workouts. Then finding a workout buddy or joining a group class and making a gym friend could be another smaller goal.

Focusing on improving your technique or form is another way to work toward your fitness goal incrementally.

This will benefit you way more than just going all out and trying to do as much as you possibly can so that you walk out of the gym feeling destroyed.

If you only focus on your ultimate goal, it can be discouraging when things don’t work out exactly as planned.

So, ensuring that you have smaller things you’re working toward on your way to your big goal can increase your likelihood of success by giving you milestones to focus on along the way.

Start slow and build gradually

Regardless of whether you’re trying to lose fat, build muscle, increase your endurance, or just want to improve your overall fitness it’s important to start slow and build gradually.

It will help you to stick with it by building consistency, enhancing your confidence, and producing better results in the long run.

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Vlad is a dad, entrepreneur, traveler, and die-hard fitness fanatic. With over 15 years of experience, he enjoys helping others live healthier lifestyles through his writing and education.

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