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    If You're Trying To Exercise More This Year, Here Are 9 Things To Remember (From Someone Who Didn't Work Out Until College, But Genuinely Loves It Now)

    Some of these I learned the hard way.

    When it comes to fitness, everyone's journey has to start somewhere — and there's a lot to learn along the way.

    For me — a 28-year-old Italian American gal whose culture revolves around food — it took some trial and error for me to get going with my journey.

    The author taking a mirror selfie in a workout outfit
    Fabiana Buontempo

    I wasn't really an active child or teen aside from the dance classes and competitions I was involved with. Although my life outside of school revolved around dance, it wasn't enough to keep up with the big appetite I always had as a kid. (Us Italians live to eat instead of eat to live.)

    By the time I was a junior in high school and my body was going through typical hormonal changes, I realized I had to get a grip on my lifestyle choices. I not only started eating more whole foods, but I also started little by little enjoying fitness by going on walks and trying a workout class here and there. Nothing too extreme!

    Once I graduated college, I low-key considered myself something of a fitness buff because I ended up falling in love with all things cardio, strength training, Pilates, yoga... You get my point. I was eager to try it all and learn how to properly take care of my body.

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    Nowadays, for me, fitness and health are not just about having toned arms or watching every bite that I eat. They're way more about feeling strong, having more energy, building confidence in myself, and carving out time in the day for solely me. 

    Several years into my fitness journey, I have definitely learned a lot — some things I honestly wish I knew sooner. It took some minor injuries and plateauing in my routine to get to a spot where I feel really confident in my current fitness regimen.

    So whether you are just getting started on your fitness journey or you're an avid gym-goer, I hope you'll find at least some of these tips helpful.

    Keep in mind: I'm not a fitness expert in any way, but I did speak to those who are experts in the field so they could further back up what I'm about to share with you.

    1. To prevent any injuries, a mobility warmup is key before any sort of workout.

    Two hands pulling back on toes to stretch the foot
    Wera Rodsawang / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    Hear me out before rolling your eyes at the word "warmup" because I know, fitness pros can sound like a broken record when they preach that you need to properly warm up your muscles before exercising.

    A regular warmup consists of moves — such as jumping jacks or high knees — that get the heart rate up and the blood flowing. A mobility warmup helps prepare the joints and muscles that are about to be worked. 

    "Most of us are not actively moving our body in all different planes of motion on a regular basis," said Dr. Julia Morgan, DC, a sports performance chiropractor and kettlebell coach. "So if we're rushing to strengthen a muscle through a position we haven’t exposed it to, it increases risk of injury by getting that motion from other areas of the body."

    "Be intentional with your warmup. Use stretches and exercises related to the muscles and movements you will use in your workout," added Corey Calliet, transformation specialist and celebrity trainer to Michael B. Jordan.

    2. If you feel pain somewhere, it's almost always linked to something else.

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    I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I had an unusual clicking sound in my left knee. The weird click definitely sounded worse than how it felt. But either way I knew it wasn't normal so I visited a physical therapist to see what was up. 

    It turned out my knee cap was a little out of place (sounds more dramatic than what it was) and having a tight, weak quad muscle contributed to my knee issue. In order to correct this, I needed to work on activating, stretching, and strengthening my quad muscle. 

    Along your fitness journey, if you're feeling any sort of pain, it might be because your surrounding muscles are weak or being overused. For example, if you are feeling pain in your lower back when doing deadlifts, it's because you might not be engaging your core and glutes enough. I'm guilty of sometimes not engaging my core enough during strength training moves — hence why I've also experienced the pain or tightness in different areas. 

    Make sure to listen to your body and seek a professional if you're feeling unusual pain.

    3. You don't need to do superintense workouts every day.

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    Back in my early 20s, I took Orangetheory classes. For those who are unfamiliar, these circuit-style classes consist of moving from the treadmill to the rower to the weight room in one sweaty, intense hour. I would make myself feel bad if I didn't get in at least five classes a week — until that same physical therapist who diagnosed my knee issue said that thought process was a little out of hand. (Not her exact words but that's how she meant it.)

    She explained that doing intense, HIIT-style workouts every day can lead to serious injuries. And without proper recovery, it can also lead to hormonal and physical fatigue.

    Studies have also shown that those who do intense workouts three times a week don't see much improvement in body fat or blood pressure compared to those who work out with less intensity five days a week. It's something to think about before you make yourself feel bad for not going at the same intense rate every workout. 

    4. Know which muscle groups can be worked every day and which cannot.

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    This might be an obvious one but it can be confusing to know which muscle groups can be worked every day versus those that cannot be and why. It's easy to wonder how frequently you should be taking your favorite spin or barre class, or if it's okay to do a ton of crunches every night. 

    Technically speaking, depending on your fitness level and the intensity of your workouts, some muscle groups can be trained on back-to-back days, according to strength coach Dale Santiago

    "[For] large muscle groups such as the back, chest, and legs, rest days should not be back-to-back. These muscles require rest since they fatigue quicker and recover slower due to limited blood supply," he said. 

    So this ultimately means that you might want to avoid doing pushups and chest presses on back-to-back days. However, if your legs are sore from an intense leg workout, going for a long walk the following day to circulate blood flow to those sore muscles is a great idea. 

    "Secondary muscles — those assisting the primary muscle in a movement — tend to recover faster as they were recruited to a lesser degree," added Calliet. So to maximize results, be mindful of the different muscles you're training and wait for them to recover before training them again. 

    To further explain this, in a chest press, the large muscle group being worked is the chest, while the secondary muscles assisting are the triceps and front delts. 

    5. When doing strength training, consider using lighter weights if you feel your form getting compromised.

    A woman lying on a yoga mat holding dumbbells in each hand
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    It's easy to be eager to lift heavy weights in the gym because you feel yourself getting stronger. I'm guilty of this too. However, if you're doing an exercise where the weight is too heavy and your form is compromised, you're not doing yourself any good. If you're doing a bicep curl with an extremely heavy dumbbell that is causing you to swing your entire body to lift the weight, are you really isolating the bicep muscle? No. 

    Instead, go for something a little lighter and pay close attention to your form. It was when this clicked for me that I started to really to see results and I slowly but surely increased my weight overtime while engaging the right muscles. 

    6. Pay attention to your protein intake if you're trying to gain muscle.

    Someone drinking a protein shake
    Peter Berglund / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    I'll do my best to not sound like one of those annoying gym rats, but protein is key! If you're putting in all that hard work at the gym, you need to eat an adequate amount of protein throughout the day to maintain muscle mass and promote muscle growth. 

    Protein is full of amino acids, which are the building blocks of strength. To know how much protein you need, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests consuming between 1.2 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight of protein daily (or about 0.54 to 0.9 grams per pound). 

    For me, I always make sure each of my meals has some sort of protein in it — whether it's a nutrient-dense smoothie in the morning or a protein-rich meal with veggies for lunch and dinner. Sometimes, if I have an early dinner and I'm a little hungry later in the night, I'll mix some protein powder with almond milk and a banana to fill me up and show my sore muscles some love. 

    7. Variety in your workout routine keeps things interesting — and will keep your muscles guessing.

    A group of people in a workout class doing a move with one foot on a medicine ball
    Vgajic / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    Not only will variety in your workouts keep your muscles guessing, but it will also keep things fun and interesting for YOU! Let's face it: If you're bored of the same old routine that you're doing every day or multiple times a week, you might be more tempted to throw the whole fitness thing out the window. Take your time finding workouts that you actually enjoy and ones that push you out of your comfort zone, because your body is capable of doing amazing things. 

    I had to try a variety of workouts over the year to find what I like best. Through trial and error (and many free workout classes for new clients), I discovered that I am not a fan of running or cycling but I do love HIIT-style workouts and strength training. More specifically, I don't like mountain climbers but I love how challenging burpees are. Ultimately, I still choose to do challenging workouts but when figuring out which exercises to do, let's just say that I might not sign up for a spin class anytime soon. 

    8. Rest days don't necessarily mean just lounging around on the couch.

    A person lying on a couch under a blanket with just their legs sticking out
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    Something I wish I knew sooner was how crucial recovery days are. I'm not going to lie. I used to think recovering from days of intense workouts meant solely skipping the gym and allowing myself to "rest" on the couch in front of Real Housewives of New Jersey. Sure, Teresa Giudice can be a part of your recovery routine. But even better is pairing that Bravo marathon with a walk, some foam rolling, or stretching. An active recovery day is beneficial for your body and sore muscles to increase blood flow

    To get a little more technical, I also learned that while exercising, we are tearing the muscle we are working. So actively recovering those muscles by doing all of the above allows for the muscles to repair themselves, which equates to muscle gains. 

    9. Overall, it's important to know that exercise can be frustrating or difficult at times. You might be unmotivated some days to move your body or you might feel overwhelmed choosing which workout regimen is best for you. I've found that it's important to listen to your body and that exercise should be enjoyable and ultimately make you feel good.

    The author posing in front of a mirror with workout clothes on doing a peace sign
    Fabiana Buontempo

    I definitely have days when I'm lacking motivation or I feel like I didn't give my all to a workout, but I continue to do so because I always love how strong and empowered I feel after a sweat session. Good luck with your journey. We're all in this together!

    Do you have any helpful fitness tips to share? Tell me in the comments below!