11 Most Common Workout Questions Answered

Why, hello there!

The goal of Nerd Fitness is to remove every barrier and excuse, both mental and physical, from helping you build a body you’re proud of and do the things you want to do.

Not that any of us would ever use excuses to skip exercise 🙂

A big part of that is having confidence: confidence to walk into a gym or start a workout and know exactly what to do. It means having the confidence that what you’re doing will help you reach your goals, and that the time and energy you’re putting in is worth it!

Think of this like the instruction manual that comes inside the case of a video game called Exercise.

Now available on all platforms!

Where do I start?

start road

“I know I should be exercising, but I don’t know what to do. Should I just strap on some shoes and go running? Get a gym membership? Yoga? HALP!”

We have a few key philosophies at Nerd Fitness:

  • Diet will account for 80-90% of your body transformation.
  • Pick a form of exercise you enjoy and do it often.
  • Strength training will make ALL aspects of your life easier.

So, if you are trying to lose weight and just getting started with exercise for the first time, your focus first and foremost should be on your diet. That will account for a strong majority of your change!

After that, you need to find something that you enjoy that gets your heart beating faster. If the thought of running makes you miserable, don’t do it. If the idea of going to a sweaty gym scares you, hold off! I don’t care how you exercise, just that you do SOMETHING. It all counts:

If you don’t like to exercise currently, then you haven’t tried enough activities yet. We are genetically designed to move – which means you need to find the type of movement that puts a smile on your face.

Lastly, we love strength training: We believe that a strong nerd is a healthy nerdThis can be as simple as doing some squats and push ups in your living room (like with the beginner bodyweight routine), or as intense as deadlifting 400+ pounds in the gym, doing gymnastics, and so on.

No matter what you are doing for your fun activity, and what type of life you plan on living, strength training even once or twice a week for 15 minutes can have a profound effect on your physique, heart, and happiness.

How does cardio fit in? I heard I need to do cardio to burn fat!

Can I let you in on a secret? I run a fitness site, and I don’t do cardio. Ever. The thought of running on a treadmill makes me ill. I pick up heavy things, and I do activities that are fun to me (hiking, kickball, parkour), etc. My cardio is built into my fun activities so it doesn’t feel like cardio.

If you enjoy running, RUN! That’s amazing. If you enjoy hiking, HIKE! But if you’re doing mindless cardio to lose weight, there are far better uses of your time – again, eating properly is 90% of the battle, and strength training can give you more bang for your buck on burning calories.

So, only do cardio if it’s an activity you enjoy. And regardless of what that activity is…strength training will make it better and more enjoyable.

Frequently Asked Workout Questions

Steve Ostrich

“Okay Steve, I’m ready to start strength training, you got me convinced to give it a shot. Now, WTF do I do?”

Good question, but don’t swear at me. My Gramma reads this! Strength training ultimately just means you put your body and muscles through a routine that pushes past your comfort zone, breaking down those muscle fibers and forcing them to rebuild. Thus, your body and muscles will adapt by rebuilding themselves stronger to be more prepared next time.

This is strength training in a nutshell.

Because your body is constantly rebuilding the muscle, it’s burning extra calories the whole time – this is why strength training is so fantastic; you get stronger, you burn extra calories, you keep the muscle you have and burn the fat that covers your muscles. Everybody wins!

“Do I need a gym membership?”

Nope! You can get a great strength training workout in while at home, or at a park, but obviously, also at a gym. Strength training can be picking up weights, or just doing movements using your bodyweight. My favorite path combines the two! Here are some workouts to get you started:

What does a good workout look like?

A good workout takes movements that recruit as many muscles as possible. Why do 15 exercises with machines when you can get the same (or better) results with ONE movement?!

A great full body workout has one or two exercises from each the following components:

“Okay, so I see the list of exercises, so what do I do now? Pick one? how many do I do? Do I rest between sets?”

You have two options here.

  1. A typical strength training routine will have you doing something like 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps of an exercise, waiting 60 seconds between each set, and then moving onto the next one.
  2. You can do them one set of each exercise and then quickly move onto the next exercise, and so on. Then do it all over again. That’s called a circuit.

FOR EXAMPLE, here’s how I would do a barbell squat:

  • Warm-up set: 45 pounds (just the bar!)
  • Set 1: 5 reps of 100 pounds.
  • Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Set 2: 5 reps of 100 pounds
  • Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Set 3: 5 reps of 100 pounds
  • Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Set 4: 5 reps of 100 pounds

Then you move on to the next exercise.

Meanwhile, a circuit looks like this:

  • Exercise 1: 10 bodyweight squats
  • No rest, go right to…
  • Exercise 2: 10 push ups
  • No rest, go right to…
  • Exercise 3: 10 dumbbell rows
  • No rest, go back to…
  • Exercise 1: 10 bodyweight squats
  • Repeat!

When you do all exercises in a row like this, you will get tired more quickly than if you rested 60-90 seconds between each exercise, and your heart will get more of a cardiovascular workout. The circuit is designed to burn slightly more calories, while the strength routine (surprise) will befit you slightly more in strength and muscle building.

Either plan, #1 or #2 will work. What’s important is that you pick one and start!

“How often should I strength train? Every day?”

Our advice is to strength training 2-4 days per week depending on your goals and schedule. Generally, avoid strength training the same muscle groups two days in a row.

  • If you do a lot of push ups today, wait at least 48 hours for your chest and triceps muscles (the major muscles used in a “push” movement) to recover before doing lots of them again.
  • If you do barbell squats in the gym, you should wait at least 48 hours to do them again.
  • If you do a TON of pull ups, don’t do them again tomorrow!

Now, if you do a workout in which you do a lot of lower body exercises (and only lower body exercises) today, you can work out tomorrow and do all upper body exercises, because you’re working out different muscle groups! However, we generally recommend that beginners don’t do this, and instead work out your whole body, and then take a full day off – on your day off you can do the fun fitness activity you picked above!

“I’m scared in the gym, and I don’t know how to do many of the exercises listed above. Can I just use the machines? It’s much tougher to screw those up.” 

I loathe machines. They take up most of the gym space, they force your body to move unnaturally, and they do most of the work for you. Body weight exercises and free weights are much safer, healthier, and better for you in the long run. I promise you.

But that might scare you, so we’ll work up to it. I’d rather have you in the gym doing machine exercises than not exercising at all. HOWEVER, each week I want you to transition from one machine to a comparable free weight or body weight exercise. Here’s how you can transition from machines to free weights.

Our Strength Training 101 series has tons of great information on proper form of exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press.

“How do I know what workout plan to follow? I’m overwhelmed.”

Here’s the truth: Pretty much ANY workout plan will get you results. Seriously. Just remember two things:

  • Diet is 80-90% of the battle. If you follow a strength training plan and eat healthier, your body will change.
  • Pick a plan and stick to it. The best plan is the thing you actually do with consistency.

We have a number of free workouts on our resource page here, or you can check out more detailed workouts along with diet advice and a character leveling system in the Nerd Fitness Academy.

“I’m not seeing progress, what am I doing wrong?”

When we strength train, we are trying to lift more weight (or do more repetitions) than we did last week. For this reason, if you aren’t getting stronger and adding more weight to the bar, or doing more repetitions, you aren’t going to see progress.

WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT: Write down your workout. Since strength training only works if you progressively increase the difficulty each time, you need to know how you did last week and what you need to do this week to improve.

  • If you can do 3 sets of 9 push ups this week, next week go for 3 sets of 10.
  • If you deadlifted 225 lbs this week, next week go for 230 lbs.
  • If you could do 2 pull ups this week, next week go for 2.5 pull ups.

How can I find a more advanced version of the exercise I’m doing?

As stated above, the goal with strength training is called “progressive overload.” You want to consistently pick up heavier weights or challenge yourself with increasingly more difficult movements. Our bodies adapt quickly, and if we pick up the same weight or do the same number of reps, our bodies adapt and we get less and less benefit from the same amount of work.

Which means we need to make things tougher!

  • If you are training with barbells or dumbbells, simply add more weight or do more repetitions as you get stronger.
  • If you are training with bodyweight movements, you need to increase the difficulty of the movements once they become easy.

How does one make bodyweight movements more difficult?

  • By adding weight if you are doing dips or pull ups.
  • By elevating your feet when doing push ups.
  • By switching the exercise, such as working towards pistol squats instead of normal bodyweight squats.

By changing the angle or amount of bodyweight you’re manipulating with an exercise, you can make it tougher! Check out our “Playground Workout” to see how to scale some exercises!

What if I want to do cardio AND strength training?

Go for it! Feel free to strength train and then do cardio (only if you enjoy it!!) on your off days. Maybe you strength train on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday, and you do fun activities that get your heart racing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Feel free to do interval training or sprints on days you’re not strength training to kick start your weight loss. Or yoga. Or Parkour. Or live action role-playing! Whatever makes you happy.

Get started

Storm Trooper starts exercising small by taking small steps

The absolute best thing you can do for yourself is to start. Today.

  • Make a change to your diet, even if it’s a small one.
  • Do some push ups and see how you feel tomorrow, even if you’re not sure the form is perfect.
  • Go to a gym and try squatting for the first time, even if it’s just the bar.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

That’s right, we hit you with historical quotes, fitness knowledge, and cat videos here on Nerd Fitness. Boom.

Educate yourself with the least amount of information possible that gives you enough confidence to start. That might mean reading 15 articles on the barbell squat before finally going to a gym and trying it…or it might mean reading ONE article and trying it.

But what’s important is that you start.

Don’t become an underpants gnome!

What other questions do you have about getting started? I tried to cover as many bases as I could here, but I’m sure there are some questions I left out!

-Steve

PS: If you’re somebody who wants more info, workout plans to follow, and specific advice on adjusting your diet and building habits, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy. This is our flagship course that helps beginners on their first year of fitness. Join over 13,000 Rebels currently enrolled!

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photo source: Stephan Boudy: Question Mark, Kristina Alexanderson: Storm Troopers

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  • Blastoid Prime

    Please also consider team sports as an exercise activity. More people means more fun, and being part of a team also adds some accountability. If you have already promised to play a game on Thursday, there’s no way you’ll let them down! There are team sport for everyone: soccer, beach volleybal, badminton, frisbee etc.

  • Jeff P

    Man, I really need to stop reading these soon after getting to work… I get all amped up and ready to take on any activity, but instead I’m stuck at my desk with a burning desire to go out and grab the nearest tree for pull ups or something.

    Seriously though, great info and as always very motivational. Even though I am pretty experienced at working out, its good to be reminded of the basics and the reasons that I started on this path in the first place.

  • Jbk

    Hi Steve, your article has perfect timing I’m 6’4″ 290lb. weight training 3days, walking 4miles at 3.5 mph 2 days a week and eating 2100 calories day. Is this to low or am I over training or both my goal is fat loss my energy is dropping any advise or criticism would be great

    Thank you

  • Jbk

    Sorry, for posting an advise request instead of just a comment

  • Marine

    Hi! I guess you’re a male, and considering your build and activity 2100 cal seems pretty low. I’m a 5’2″ 140 lbs female and I eat 1800-2000 cal per day, and I lose some weight. You’re not overtraining though, but if your energy is dropping you should add up some food, and if you had cut the carb maybe consider adding some (sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice). You know, weight loss is not just a matter of calories, it’s also a question of quality and nature of the food: real, paleo-like food is a good way to start. Check your rest as well, sleep, and be sure to be well hydrated. And be patient! Good luck!

  • Jbk

    Hi!, Marine I am male
    I thought my hunger would let me know when to eat
    More I will follow all of your suggestions

    Thank You !!!

  • Kenyatta University

    Now I can relate with this topic. More information can be found on On this portal.

  • pyrewoman

    Ah diet, diet, diet. Such a tricky word. I eat fairly healthy. Not a lot of fast food and my calories are reasonable ( I was tracking on sparkpeople which led to debates on too many calories, not enough calories, eating back your calories-it was mind boggling so I just quit counting altogether and started eating healthy food and cutting out the junk)..but seriously I was not moving nearly enough so I started working out 3-5 days on the treadmill 45 mins a clip. I wasn’t losing a lot of weight. Honestly, it was a struggle and I was working my butt off and not seeing results (inches or weight) THEN something amazing happened. I started making myself drink 2 large (34 oz) bottles of water every day, rain or shine, on top of whatever else I drank that day (tea, coffee, etc) even if I skipped a workout. It was amazing what a difference it made. I was fuller longer and it cut the nighttime snacking down to almost nothing. Diet is important but it’s a scary complicated and restricting word. Water is a magic word and seems to provide a domino effect without feeling like you’re sacrificing anything. It’s an excellent place to start if things get too overwhelming like they did for me.

  • Sammy

    If I’m supposed to rest my muscles 48 hours between strength training sessions, why is it okay to use those same muscles 24 hours later for a cardio workout?

  • Ben Stark

    Great post. It felt great reading that it’s okay to do the exercises I like to do. I have to let a little secret, I like doing cardio work and do it nearly every day. In fact my day wouldn’t feel complete if I did bike or row for at least 40 minutes at some point during it. I do lift weights and lift heavy weights but I also like having freaky endurance. However, I always felt like I had do that in secret afraid of judgment if my fellow members found out I did that. Good to know it’s okay to like it. Thanks!

  • Jbk

    Hi,
    Thats a great question, Sammy
    I have thought about that to.

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  • Cheyenne Riggs

    Because strength and endurance work the muscles out in different ways

  • http://www.briody-fitnessnhealth.com Coach Briody

    Great article! Getting starting is the hard part… But once your in the game its addicting..

  • http://www.gotthemessage.net/ Got The Message

    Your article about strength training is very informative and
    addresses many of questions that beginners have. Aspiring minds want to know about developing workout plans, when to train, what strength training actually is, etc. This article is good but I believe you should improve the structure of your article. As fitness journalists, we must be wary of the way we use bullet points, bold font and other formatting tools. If we are not careful, our audience may miss the main points of our articles. However overall I believe you did a great job.

  • http://www.2macnutrition.com Mike McDaniel

    One thing to keep in mind when determining the speed your workout proceeds at is that rest periods between your sets of 30 seconds or more has been shown to maximize increases in your muscle size. If you were to increase the duration of your rest periods to 3 and 5 minutes in between sets you are more likely to increase muscle strength and power but less cardio benefit probably.

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  • Jason

    Hi guys,
    I am new to the gym and weight lifting and I am looking to put on size, as in lean muscle.

    I am 19, 6’2 and 84kg (185lbs). Could you suggest the best method and fastest way of putting on this size as my knowledge is limited when it comes to this topic.

    Many thanks.

  • cawin

    same here

  • Matthew Underwood

    Great article. I completely agree that you don’t need any equipment or a gym membership to start working out. I actually prefer body weight workouts to strength training. I have a post on my blog about it here. Going for a long walk, doing jumping jacks, or some push-ups can go a long way. The most important thing is to develop a routine and make it a habit.

  • kaitlyn

    my father has told me that in order to loose love handles and get bigger butt I need too loose weight. Or do cardio. Will this make me loose the butt I have now????

  • kaitlyn

    I have a question for you. my father had said in order to loose my “love handles” I need to do cardio. But as a girl, I have a big butt and do not want to loose that in the process. What can I do???????

  • ayleen_31

    also, when you do cardio the blood flow to tour muscles increases and helps it recover (soreness reduces)

  • GaPeach

    Thank you for such matter-of-fact & informative information! This really helped me feel that my goals are achievable, and took off lots of pressure.