1. Stability is the foundation for all effective training programs

When I started working out, I had no idea that stability was the foundation for all effective physical activity. Stability is the alignment and flexibility of the musculoskeletal system. Without it, it’s impossible to have good form on most exercises.

I’ve always known I had terrible balance, but had no idea that had broader implications of how muscle tightness and instability would affect my form. I tended to skip exercises that highlighted my imbalance, such as single-leg exercises. Instead, I gravitated towards exercises with lots of weight that made me feel like I was getting in a good workout.

Years (and many injuries) later, I’m now relearning these exercises with proper form and technique. But this time, they’re accompanied by robust stretching and stability movements.

If you have an established workout routine that doesn’t include stretching exercises, or are considering starting a workout routine, be sure to include stability and stretching in your routine. Activities such as yoga, single leg exercises, hip-flexor stretches, and foam rolling are all beneficial.

  1. Form is much more important than weight

I used to think adding weight was the key indicator of success and progress in my workouts. Now I’ve learned that excellent form is much more important.

I see so many in the gym loading up the plates but they have terrible technique! Many of them don’t have the physique or stability to handle the massive amounts of weight they attempt on deadlifts, presses, flys or squats. As a result, they fail to get the results they want. They also risk serious injury or pain.

I used to squat almost 200 pounds. But I discovered I was doing it all wrong and relying too much on my quads instead of my glutes and hamstrings. After learning this, I started over entirely with a 25-pound weight. That was enough to get me shaking and sweating as I relearned the proper form. Once I got the technique correct, I was quickly able to build the weight back up.

When in doubt, always start with a lower weight and prioritize your form.

  1. Go with a knowledgeable friend or trainer

I’ll never forget the first time I tried weightlifting in the gym.

I was a college sophomore who had never lifted before.  All of sudden, I decided I was going to try and get ripped. I nervously went to the gym that night, looked around to see what other people were doing, and tried to copy them.

As I was struggling through a laying press with way too much weight, one of my friends came over and asked me if I knew what I was doing. I sheepishly admitted I hadn’t a clue and was just trying to copy people around me. He shook his head and proceeded to teach me basic fitness tips as well as proper form. He reduced my weights and told me to do my research before I showed up in the gym again. That was my first clue that working out wasn’t as easy as the college athletes made it look.

The truth is, working out is a lot like learning an instrument. It takes lots of practice and an understanding of theory, feedback, and instruction. Progress can be slow and frustrating. Plus, exercises can seem much more difficult than you expect, especially when being pushed to keep proper form.

If you’re considering starting a workout regimen, find a friend who can help guide you through the often-intimidating process of learning the basics. Or consider hiring a personal trainer to give you a solid baseline of understanding and technique before you attempt it solo. I’ve been working out for about four years now. Hiring a personal trainer to get me started was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I still benefit from their guidance and instruction.

  1. Diet is the hardest part

Your physical condition today is a perfect representation of your diet and exercise regimen. A solid 40 minutes of circuits at the gym will burn a few hundred calories. However, all those benefits can be quickly erased with an ill-timed donut that also contains a few hundred calories.

Likewise, a few drinks can easily negate any benefit from a solid weightlifting session. If you want to fully honor the work that you’re putting into your exercise regimen, it must be accompanied by the right balance of “Macros”.  Macros are the carbs, protein, and fats tailored to the types of exercise you’re doing. Getting the right mix is key to achieving your goals.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been able to achieve the type of abs I want. I have a weakness for ice-cream! But even small tweaks can make a huge difference.

Try cutting out cream in your coffee, mayonnaise on your sandwiches, or dividing your desserts in half. Certain foods affect your brain just like drugs – sugar is even more addictive than cocaine! Slowly weaning yourself off these addictive foods will yield tangible results in your body.

One thing I did to help me break my addiction to sugar and refined carbs was start a two-day fast. During the fast, I only consumed a nutrient-rich acai-based juice. The cravings were intense for the first day. I literally had vivid dreams of lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and ice-cream. But on the second day, the cravings subsided, and I was filled with a wonderful feeling of cleanliness. After that long fast, I only wanted to put fresh, healthy, and nutritious food into my body.

  1. Fitness is a lifestyle choice

When I started exercising, I thought fitness meant hitting the gym for an hour at the end of a workday. I assumed the rest of my life would remain unchanged. Yet, I’ve found that, as my commitment to my health has increased, it has changed my life’s focus. I prioritize my workouts, sometimes at the expense of extra hours in my workweek, social events, or a relaxing evening at home.

I’m less inclined to stay out late with friends because it disrupts my cycle of sleep and energy. I usually say no to comfort foods or drinks because I dislike how they make me feel. Once you get a taste of how good life can feel when you embrace a multi-faceted healthy lifestyle, it’s hard to go back. It’s a wonderful thing to be in tune with your body and discover that you can do things that you never thought possible.

If you choose this path (and I highly recommend you do), be prepared for implications that extend beyond what you may have planned for. Decide what sacrifices you are willing to make. (I’m still working on sacrificing ice cream for abs.)