10 Steps to Becoming Your Own Personal Trainer

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Information overload is a huge problem. Working out has been made to be more confusing than it actually is. But at the same time, it’s hard to know what really works, what doesn’t, what exercises you should be doing and how often you should train. For some people, it may be easier to just hire a personal trainer to worry about all those details for them. But if you want to strike out on your own -- either because you can’t afford a personal trainer or because you like the freedom of doing your own thing -- keep reading. Everything you need to know to become your own personal trainer is in the following slides. Get ready to take your workouts to the next level.

1. Set a Goal for Yourself

The power of a goal is not always in reaching it -- rather, it’s about having something to aim at. It’s the process of chasing a powerful goal rather than simply achieving it that’s important for your training and growth. To set a goal for yourself, the acronym SMART is a great place to start. Pick a goal that is SPECIFIC in terms of what exactly you want to achieve (e.g., “I will be able to do 50 burpees in a row” instead of “I want to get ripped”). Make the goal MEASURABLE so you’re able to consistently track your success. Your goal should be ACHIEVABLE. Rather than picking something so ambitious you can’t do it, pick a goal that is challenging but practical. Your goal must be REALISTIC, taking your health and life in the direction you want, rather than scattered and inconsistent goals that get you nowhere. And lastly, your goals must be TIMELY to set a sense of urgency in your training.

Related: 10 Essential Fitness Goals and How to Achieve Them

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2. Keep Yourself Motivated

Motivation stems partially from your goals and what you’re looking to achieve. Whether you want to lose body fat, gain muscle or improve performance, it’s important to understand why you want change. Get deep. The real reason why you want to lose five pounds might not be to look better in a bathing suit; it might be to have more confidence when visiting your in-laws or to improve your heart health. Be honest with yourself. Your reasons are your own. Once you’ve identified the “why,” keep a reminder of that close at hand. When you want to skip a workout, turn on a really motivating playlist. Or when you want to overindulge, keep a motivational image on your fridge. Being reminded of why you’re doing what you’re doing will help you stick to your plan.

Related: 20 Top Trainers’ Favorite Motivational Quotes

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3. Create a Workout Schedule

Three full-body strength-training sessions per week is plenty for most people to make significant improvements in body composition, performance and health. If you’re new to training, full-body workouts for each of the three is the way to go. Total-body training incorporates each of the major muscle groups more often than simply dedicating an entire day for your biceps and triceps. Since the entire body is being trained during each session, you’ll stimulate greater gains in muscular strength, burn more calories and train more efficiently around your busy schedule. Of course, if you’re more advanced you can create a workout schedule that targets different muscle groups in each workout, depending on your goals.

Related: 6 Training Splits to Help You Conquer Your Workout Plateau

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4. Design Your Workouts

Your workouts should be balanced for total-body development. To maximize efficiency, you should include an upper-body push (dumbbell or barbell bench press, overhead dumbbell press, single-arm press, push-up), an upper-body pull (dumbbell or barbell row, pull-up, lat pull-down, cable row, body-weight row), a lower-body exercise (deadlift, goblet squat, back squat, lunge, step-up) and a core exercise (plank, side plank, stability-ball crunches, captain’s-chair leg raise) during each workout. Perform three to four sets of five to 10 reps of each exercise, and do the static core exercises for three to four sets of 30 to 40 seconds.

Related: The Cardio Abs Workout

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5. Change It Up

It’s important to stay consistent with your training program for four to six weeks (especially if you’re a beginner). “Muscle confusion” might be a trendy term, but your body needs time to adapt to training and improve, not a consistent bombardment of new skills. Work on your routine for the next six weeks while progressively adding weight to improve strength or reps to increase endurance. Then decrease the number of sets by one or two for every exercise for an entire week to allow more recovery for the body. After the down week, repeat the program with a few new exercises. You might even want to throw in a few group exercise classes or fitness DVDs to keep your workout fresh and interesting. If you find yourself getting bored, you’re more likely to quit.

Related: 11 Simple Ways to Add Variety to Your Strength-Training Routine

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6. Track Your Progress

Before you start training, see a qualified personal trainer or dietician for body-composition measurements. A basic weight and circumference measurement and skinfold body-fat test will give you a clear picture of where you’re starting and a good point of comparison. If you have other measurable goals (add more weight to your deadlift, lose an inch from your thighs), make sure you take and record those as well. After four to six weeks, go back and remeasure your progress. While in the gym, carry a notebook with your workouts prewritten. Track all your lifts and strive to increase the weight a little bit each week. Over time, this progression will show you all the progress you’re making and reinforce your motivation. Smaller goals can still lead to big changes, when accomplished in succession. A notebook and body-composition measurements are vital to tracking your small wins.

Related: 11 Ways to Measure Your Progress on Your Fitness Journey

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7. Keep Learning

Fitness is an ongoing process, with your body constantly progressing and changing. To keep up with the changes and ensure progress, it’s important to continue learning and apply that new knowledge to your training. Periodically, consult with a local personal trainer to talk about progress and for new ideas to push yourself toward improvement. Look for NSCA, ACE or NASM certification and/or a college degree in kinesiology, physical education or another sports-related field under their qualifications.

Related: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career

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8. Don’t Forget Good Nutrition

Training smart and hard is important, but so is nutrition. After workouts you’ll need fruits and vegetables to aid in overall health and digestion, lean protein to support muscle repair, carbohydrates for energy recuperation and healthy fats to support proper hormone levels. Remember that your goals aren’t reached solely through what you do at the gym. Staying well hydrated and eating a healthy, balanced diet aids your progress just as much as your workouts.

Related: 11 Easy Post-Workout Snacks and the Science of Why They Work

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9. Emphasize Recovery

Your workouts during the week aren’t a free pass to drink more beer and eat pizza on weekends (though a little indulgence every now and then is perfectly acceptable; we’re all human, after all). Training breaks down your body, so it’s up to you to repair it during non-training hours. Fuel your body with high-quality food, and aim to sleep six to eight hours a night. Training hard is great, but to maximize your hard work you must do the little things like consistently eating healthy and sleeping well. It’s also important that not every single workout leaves you completely and utterly exhausted. There’s definitely a balance required between pushing yourself hard and taking time for active recovery. Take a low-impact workout class, go for a recovery run or foam-roll out sore muscles.

Related: Top 10 Moves to Help You Recover From Your Workout

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10. Remember: Consistent Effort Triumphs

More important than the intensity with which you attack a workout is the consistency with which you train. It’s better to stay consistent and exercise three to four times a week for months than to train all-out six times a week for a month then stop. It takes time to turn actions into habits (about 66 days, according to current research). And the body you want isn’t going to be built overnight. Consistency breeds long-term changes, helping you create a healthy lifestyle and stay in better shape for life. Keep your eye on the prize: Fitness is a lifelong journey, not a three-month blitz.

Related: Learn more from Jon Goodman’s book about personal training.

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What Do YOU Think?

Have you ever hired a personal trainer? Have you ever done any of the things mentioned in this list for yourself? What else have you done to help yourself achieve your fitness goals? Share your experience and advice in the comments below!

Related: The 12 Biggest Myths About Personal Training

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