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Total Fitness Newbie - Help Rebuild Me!

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Hi there. First post here, and seeing as I can't get into the 'Introduce Yourself' area because the tumbleweed there is blocking the way, I thought I'd just jump straight in here.


My story - I'm in the UK, I've just turned 40, I'm female, c.64kg, 5ft 5in tall and have been vegan for around 7 years or so (and pescetarian/vegetarian since the age of 12). I'm a professional musician, and tutor, although I'm currently off the teaching side of work (and under treatment and medication) with severe depression and stress (don't get me started on the state of education in the UK).


So, as part of my recover, and to build the best 'me' that there has ever been, I've joined a gym. I have enlisted the help of a personal trainer, but my current financial situation means that I can't continue this long-term. So, perhaps I could get some help here?


I'll post a photo later on, but essentially I'm looking to get rid of the layer of flab, and build lean muscle. During the small amount of time I've spent at the gym so far, I've realised that whilst it doesn't make me 'happy' (that's a long journey for me I think at the moment), it does give me focus, probably because it takes my mind off the 'nothing'. I can work out every day if needs be, I just need some sort of structure. Something which will get the best results in the shortest time (and is also healthy).


With the PT, all I've done so far is basic stuff - lunges, squats (with and without weights), leg presses, some sort of shoulder press (I did say I was a total newbie ...), burpees. Really just the basics. I've looked for some training info online, and the found this site, which advocates a method from 'Body By Science' (HIIT, but just once a week eventually it seems). I would like to work out every day though.




Regarding my diet, I've been doing the 7-day meal plan from that site too (http://veganfitness.com/free-7-day-vegan-meal-plan-ebook-inc-21-recipes-shopping-list/) which seems like way too much food. I have no clue about what macros I need, but I have downloaded MyFitnessPal to try and help me with this. I also have the Fitocracy app, as I literally have not used a gym before so don't know which machines do what.


My current 'training' plan so far as involved treadmill/cross trainer for 20 minutes, using the 'weight loss' programs with my Polar HRM (it seems to just stay at level 1, and warns me if my heart rate is too low/high and tells me to work harder/less if necessary), random squats/lunges, a few laborious lengths of the swimming pool (it's only 25m). I clearly need help.


Fingers crossed, this will be the start of an amazing progress for me. Hope to hear from someone soon!

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Congrats on starting getting into fitness, among other things it does help with confidence, self-image, and mood.


You got started with a P.T which is a really good idea as she can show you various exercises and teach you the correct form - very important!

No matter how long you've hired her, only 4 sessions with her would help you get started.

Ask her to get you familiar with machines as well, and how set them up properly.

Then ask her to make you a program you can do on your own for 2-3 months.

After that you'll have enough knowledge to know what you like / don't like and find a sound program on the web you can try, or just make up your own.


Don't work out everyday now.

If you're a new starter, your body needs to get used to exercise, adapt, and needs rest to recover and get stronger.

Always keep at the minimum 1 day/w of rest. Right now I think 2-3 days/rest would be better.


I suggest you do 2-3 weights sessions / week, and only if you fancy it and don't feel tired, maybe 1 cardio session (what you like really, walking, running, try as many things as possible and find your favourite ones).

Or maybe 2 sessions weights + 2 cardio sessions, up to you really.

You can do weights 1 day and then cardio the other day, or if you prefer do weights and cardio on the same session, in which case it's usually recommended to do weights first.


For instance in a week:

day 1 - weight - full body - 5 exercises, 1 per body part

day 2 - rest

day 3 - weight - full body - 5 exercises, 1 per body part

day 4 - cardio

day 5 - weight - full body - 5 exercises, 1 per body part

day 6 - rest

day 7 - rest




day 1 - weight - legs - 6 exercises

day 2 - rest

day 3 - weight - chest - 6 exercises + cardio

day 4 - rest

day 5 - weight - arms - 6 exercises

day 6 - rest

day 7 - weight - back - 6 exercises + cardio


Find what you like best and fits into your schedule and your life.

Keep a log to track your progress. Make sure you take things up as you get stronger, but do so slowly to avoid niggles and injuries. Keep things varied as well.

HIIT is effective but it is very demanding, even the fit dread a good HIIT session. Get into slowly.

Listen to your body : if you're genuinely tired, the best option is too have a short easy session, or just call it a day and go home.

You can always take that up later when you get fitter. If you stick to it, I bet you will


Food : don't worry about macros now (but just so you know - a balanced vegan diet that includes tofu/soy milk/beans on a daily basis might be around 15% prot, 65% carbs, 20% fat).

Make sure you cook your own unprocessed food - legumes, veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains - with the right portion sizes and things will take care of themselves.

Say 1 portion fits into the palm of your hand, a meal could be : 1 portion beans, 1 portion rice, 2 portion veggies + small bit of fat for cooking.

If you want to lose weight, give even more place on your plate to veggies.

If you feel hungry between meals, snack on fruit and nuts, but careful as nuts brings plenty of calories.

Listen to your appetite.


To monitor your progress: take pictures and monitor your weight once a week or every fortnight to see how you're doing.

Don't be too hung up on numbers, looking and feeling better does not necessarily mean weighting less.


Keep your fitness varied and challenging, and have fun

If you do that with the right eating habits, you'll be pleased with your results.

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I know quite a few individuals youve done well on the body by science plan, that being said, the feel like crap all the time, as superslow training well leave you systemically fatigued for up to several days after (as I recently found out again).

Ive been training in HIT style for over 20 years now, I believe its the most productive and efficient way to train, but to make it work, you need to learn how to manage the stress of your workouts (and all other stresses in your life).


Best of luck


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi again.


Thank you for the advice and comments - it's heartening to know that there's support here. After a bit of a blip period where I missed the gym for a week, I started up again last night, this time following a plan (more about that in a bit). In PT sessions so far we've covered legs, shoulders/back, arms/chest, core/abdominals. Each session was worked to failure (almost to the point of passing out) and I was in some level of discomfort for 3-7 days afterwards (the worst being the core). Whilst it was good to be shown around the gym, using some machines, learning what burpees/box squats/mountain climbers were, I think I was actually pushing myself too hard with the trainer, so I've decided to take a different route.


Last night I started on the Jamie Eason Livefit Trainer (http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/jamie-eason-livefit-trainer.html), and managed to do:


Wide Arm Pushups (3 set, 12 reps each) - from knees only, and I could barely manage 6 six inches of movement from starting position, but it's a start!


Flat Bench Dumbbell Flies (3 sets, 12 reps each) - meant to be on cables, but the machine was busy, so used 2kg dumbbells (I could't find the 1kg at the point).


Close Arm Pushups (3 sets, 12, 9, 8 reps respectively) - these were very difficult for me. Again, from the knees, but I could barely move. Perhaps next time I should start against the wall for all pushups until I build up strength.


Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension (3 sets, 12 reps each - Started off with the 2kg dumbbells again, but they were too heavy, so I eventually located 1kg dumbbells which I managed to complete the exercise with.


Triceps Pushdown (3 sets, 12 reps each) - 10kg weight, as the 5kg was incredibly light. I feel more secure using machines as opposed to free weights at this stage, as injury/bad form seems less likely.


(1 minute rest between each set, and each exercise.)


I used the Bodyspace app (from the bodybuilding.com site) for this, which helps me immensely. I like being able to check the instructions and videos before carrying out each exercise, plus the prompts to take a photo and log motivation/energy levels (increasing my physical/mental awareness is good). Unfortunately, I somehow seem to have missed an exercise (the dumbbell chest press), but I'll not beat myself up about it. The best thing is, I felt a sense of achievement having completed yesterday, and also I'm not crippled today so am looking forward to going back the gym for day 2 shortly. This plan has 4 days gym, then 3 rest days at the end of the week, which suits me well as the gym is much busier during the weekend, and I need something to occupy my weekdays to stop me sitting on the sofa and staring into space.


I'm taking your advice and not dwelling on the macros too much at this stage - my focus is just getting to the gym and having enough food to keep my energy up. My diet is pretty good anyway - very little processed food (just ketchups and veggie burgers really - I make pretty much everything from scratch), but I think I could do with upping the protein. I'm looking into getting a protein powder to take after workout, especially during this early phase of training, and also trying to eat small meals more often, rather than waiting until I get really hungry and eating big meals (which is what I currently do).


Onwards and upwards.

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Great stuff , fitness is a matter of trying different things and finding what suits your level and life style the most.

It seems you found a plan that works for you.


Workouts should be a bit demanding and fun. Keep a log of of your workouts and try to do a bit better every week, while always keeping good form. When you can't do better, it's probably time to change your routine and do something different.


Machine feel safer indeed, make sure you set them right. I recently discovered - after 4 years of gym - that you could change the seat settings on leg extension


Go for walks or an easy bike cycle in your days off.

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