6 Things Every Gym Newbie Needs to Know

The gym can be a pretty scary place for a newbie, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing.

I still remember what I felt like the first time I walked into a commercial fitness gym by myself.  At the time I was pretty overweight and my exercise knowledge was limited to what I learned from my high school football days – bench press, dips and squats.

I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of machines and constantly worried about being judged.  Obviously I’ve learned a lot since those days, but it took me years to learn a lot of things I consider very basic now.   That’s why I wanted to create this guide.  I want you to feel more comfortable in the gym so you can reap the rewards of a good workout.

Learn the Language

Reps, sets, super-sets, drop sets, isometric, concentric, eccentric…are we speaking English?  Yes, the gym has its very own language, and in time you will need to learn much of it; but for now lets talk basics.

  • Reps: Short for repetition.  A rep is considered doing an exercise 1 time.  For example, if you’re doing a bench press bringing the bar down and pushing it back up is considered 1 rep.
  • Sets: Think of sets as a grouping of reps.  If I do 10 reps on the bench press without rest that is considered a set.
  • Super-sets: Doing a set of two different exercises back to back without rest.  You might do a set of squats, followed immediately by a set of push-ups.
  • Circuit: A circuit is just like a super-set but with 3 or more exercises.
  • Concentric: By definition this is the part of an exercise where the intended muscle is working the hardest.  The upward lifting motion of a bicep curl is an example of a concentric movement.
  • Eccentric: The opposite of concentric
  • Isometric: This is the portion of the movement where you are simply holding the weight in one place.  It is usually the period between the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise.

Learn Proper Gym Etiquette 

Yes, there are unwritten rules in the gym and it’s important that you follow them.

  • Always put your weights back where they belong
  • Never workout in front of the dumbbell rack.  I suggest taking at least 5 big steps back from the rack
  • Never super-set  or do circuits during peak hours when equipment is at a premium.
  • Never walk in front of someone or try to talk to them during a set.
  • Always wipe down the bench after you use it, nobody wants to lay in your sweat.

Find a Workout Partner or Mentor

Let me be clear on this one.  Most people are more than happy to help you out in the gym, but be careful who you take advice from.  Often times I see people ask the biggest guy or the girl with the toned arms for advice.  Sometimes these people are really knowledgeable and are a great resource; sometimes they just have really good genetics.

I would suggest anyone that is new to strength training to hire a personal trainer.  There is nothing worse than having to abandon your new workout habit due to an injury brought on by poor exercise technique.  A personal trainer can show you how to do the exercise correctly and help accelerate your results.

If hiring a trainer doesn’t fit into your budget I would suggest speaking with one of your gym’s trainers and asking them what members have really good form and ask for an introduction.  Although trainers are in the gym to make a living and pay their bills, they understand that not everyone can afford their services and are happy to point you in the right direction.

Weight Loss Takes More Than Cardio

Probably the single biggest mistake I see newbies make is they head over to the cardio section, do 45 minutes on a machine and leave.  Strength training may not burn as many calories at the gym, but it can increase your metabolism over the next 48-72 hours meaning it burns significantly more calories in the long run.  I actually suggest saving your cardio for your non-lifting days because doing cardio before a workout can zap your strength and doing it after the workout takes away your muscles’ ability to recover.

Change Takes Time & Consistency

As a general rule of thumb it takes about 4-6 weeks for you to start seeing changes, 8 weeks for others to really notice, and 12 weeks before major change starts happening.  Obviously, that will be different for each person but the point is that nobody gets in shape after a week or 2 in the gym.  Another quick point that cannot be overlooked, you need to build up to a minimum of 3 hours per week for strength training if you really want to see results.  Going to the gym 3 days one week and not going the next week won’t get you very far, you have to be consistent.

Never Stop Learning

This list is a great starting point, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.  Here are few next steps you can take:

  • Join a group of like-minded people.
  • Learn how to cook new foods or find healthier versions of your favorites.
  • Remember that health isn’t just about weight loss or gaining muscle, it’s important to reduce stress, sleep well, and keep your mind active.
  • Remember that the ability to move and use your body is a blessing, not a chore – so have fun.


Need Some Extra Guidance?

Trying to change your habits to live a healthy lifestyle can be hard and there are many options available.  That’s why I offer a free transformation call to help you determine what steps are best for you to take next.

If you know you’d benefit from having a coach working with you to achieve your goals click here to schedule your free call —->  schedule free transformation call

5 Simple Changes to Transform Your Body

 The Case For Simple

Let’s start with why most of us fail with our new diet and exercise plan within a few weeks, if not a few days.

According to experts, the reason we fail is that we try to make too many changes at once.  Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less says that when we focus on only 1 change at a time our chance of success is about 80%.  For those who choose to do 2 or 3 things their success rate drops to around 20% and those who attempt 3 changes at once succeed only 10% of the time.  That’s why, “A high percentage of people stop exercising within six months,” says Kris Berg, Ed.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Nebraska.  We become frustrated with trying to add all these changes to our already busy lives.

The solution itself is simple – switch from a quick fix mindset to a long-term health mindset by focusing on building healthy habits, one at a time.  Of course there is a lot of information and suggestions out there, but I’ve narrowed it down to what I call the “Core 5.”

The Core 5

1 | Take at least 20 minutes to eat your meals

2 | Eat only until you’re about 80% full

3 | Eat protein at each meal

4 | Focus on strength training

5 | Drink more water

Obviously, there are more than 5 habits you’re going to need to implement over time.  In my Small Habits Nutrition Coaching program, we actually teach 24 different habits over the course of a year.  However, for our purposes today, I want to give you the 5 that will have the biggest impact on most people.

One additional note before I give you more detail on each habit. You’ll notice that none of the habits are about taking anything away. We all know that water is better than soda, and we all know that fruits and vegetables are better for us than cookies and cake. We also all know that we hate feeling deprived and taking something away just makes us want it more. Instead our focus will be to add healthy habits. You’ll be surprised that your less healthy habits will naturally fade away once you start giving your body what it needs.​

Habit 1: Take at least 20 minutes to eat your meals

Back in my retail management days, I was petty proud of the fact that I could leave my store, grab something to eat, and scarf it down all in about 10-15 minutes flat. Turns out, that was a major part of why I weighed 245 lbs.

You might be asking why I feel that led to me being overweight. Well, it turns out that it takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to react to the release of the chemicals that control our hunger signals.  In other words, I could eat as much as I wanted in those first 20 minutes. Add to this the fact I was eating low nutrient-dense but high-calorie food from the food court, and it’s easy to see how I was overeating. Just simply slowing down, chewing your food more, and taking a break between bites gives your brain time to properly judge your hunger levels.

The idea of eating slowly helps you eat less is also backed by research.  In a study at the University of Rhode Island, researches served lunch on two different occasions to a group of 30 women – a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, yum!

For each meal the women were instructed to stop eating at a comfortable level of fullness.  One meal was to be eaten quickly and the other slowly by putting their utensils down between bites.

When the researchers looked at the amount of calories consumed for each meal they found:

  • when the women ate their meal quickly, they consumed 646 calories in only 9 minutes
  • when the women ate their meal slowly, they consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes

Habit 2: Eat only until you’re about 80% full

Now that you’re slowing down and giving your brain an opportunity to assess your actual hunger levels it’s time to do a little portion control. Many of us, myself included, grew up with this idea that we should clean our plate and eat until we felt full. Instead, focus on eating until you’re about 80-90% full. You’ll stay satisfied until it’s time for your next meal and you’ll cut out a few unnecessary calories.

Habit 3: Eat protein at each meal

No matter your fitness goals you need to eat more protein. Although the amount you need will vary depending on your activity levels and goals, a range of 0.65-1g of protein per pound of body weight is a great starting point. For example: I weigh 180lbs and do strength training 4 days per week. This means I aim for approximately 180 grams of protein per day.What makes protein so great? I could write an entire article on that subject, but here are just a few reasons:

  • Protein helps synthesize important hormones, including hormones that make us happy and relaxed.
  • Protein supports our immune system.
  • Protein boosts our metabolism; it helps us lose fat and stay lean for life.
  • Protein helps us feel more satisfied with our meals. This is important if you’re trying to eat to 80% full.
  • And most importantly: Protein helps build and repair almost every tissue in our bodies.

Need help figuring out how to fit better nutrition into your schedule? Check out our Small Habits Nutrition Coaching program.

Habit 4: Focus on strength training

Everywhere you look there is a focus on steps, calories burned, and cardio-based exercise. Many people are under the belief that cardio is the best way to burn fat.

I lost 80 lbs and barely stepped foot onto a cardio machine or did any running. I had a client who lost over 50lbs and cut his body fat percentage in half without a single day of cardio.

I’m not saying you should avoid cardio – I personally enjoy jumping in the pool for a few laps, hitting the heavy bag, or working the battle ropes. What I am saying is strength training at least 3 hours per week will help:

  • build lean muscle,
  • increase your metabolism,
  • and shape your body more effectively than cardio alone.

Habit 5: Drink more water

According to Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD here are 5 reasons we should drink more water.

  • Drinking water helps maintain the balance of body fluids. Zelman says “The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature.”
  • Water can help control calories. Water actually serves 2 purposes here. It’s replacing higher calorie options, and it aids in helping us feel full so we eat less.
  • Water helps your skin look good, reducing the signs of aging
  • Water helps your kidneys. Body fluids transport waste products in and out of cells. The main toxin in the body is blood urea nitrogen, a water-soluble waste that is able to pass through the kidneys to be excreted in the urine, explains Steven Guest, MD, a Kaiser Permanente nephrologist.
  • Water helps maintain normal bowel function. When we don’t drink enough water our colon actually pulls it from our stool so we don’t get dehydrated, the bad news is that leads to constipation.

In order to get all the benefits of water and stay hydrated, aim to drink at least ½ your body weight in ounces of water. For a 180lb person that would be 90oz of water per day.

How to Implement These Habits

Now that you know the Core 5 habits and why each is so important, let’s talk about how to best implement them. As we discussed earlier, more is not better and even with healthy habits it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.Because the habits are meant to build upon each other I suggest keeping them in the order I gave them to you. Practice each habit for a week or two, until you feel you have a pretty good grasp on it. It’s not important that you have the habit mastered before moving on, only that you are able to do it more often than not and it’s becoming a part of your normal routine.

The goal isn’t to just do one thing at a time, it’s to only focus on the consistency of 1 behavior at a time. For example, you’re not going to wait until week 3 to start eating more protein or week 5 to add strength training. Instead, in week 1 you should aim to get in some strength training, drink more water, and add protein to each meal. However, the habit you’re concerned with is taking 20 minutes to eat your meals. If you accomplish that, you succeeded, even if you didn’t make it to the gym that week. Once you finish a habit it doesn’t just drop off and go away. You will continue to make that habit a part of your daily activity but for tracking purposes you will track your consistency with your new habit.

Looking For Additional Solutions?

Most people already know that they need regular exercise and good nutritional choices to achieve their health & fitness goals. They just need smart solutions for making all of that happen — even when life gets crazy.

With the Small Habits Nutrition Coaching program you’ll receive one-on-one coaching to learn the skills that will help you fit big health goals into your busy daily routines.


Santa Bench Pressing

Stay Fit During the Holiday Season

The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of our family and friends.  It’s also the time of year we tend to be the most stressed and have too many tasks on our to-do lists.

Here are some common situations and how to handle them…


  • Buy candy for trick-or-treaters that you don’t like.  
    Having a bag full of your favorite candy around the house is just too tempting.  Instead choose to buy candy that you don’t like and you’ll be less tempted to dip into the stash.
  • Beware of the co-worker trap
    Many people, in an effort to get rid of their candy will bring it to work. The hope is that you and your other co-workers will eat it all up.  Instead ask them to hide it in their desk drawer – out of sight, out of mind.
  • Chew sugar-free gum
    “Studies have shown that gum chewing can also help [you] relieve stress, mentally focus on tasks, satisfy a sweet tooth, overcome the urge to eat candy, and help manage hunger pangs to hold you over until your next meal,” says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.


Whether it’s for work or to visit family most of us will spend considerable time in a car, airplane, and/or hotel this holiday season.  Without a plan, that usually means eating out and skipping workouts, but with a little planning you can stay on track.

  • ​Pack your own convenient options
    Items such as fruit, nuts, and beef jerky make great on the go snacks.  If you’re like me and prefer something a little more filling, then consider a meal replacement bar or shake.  (My personal choice is the AdvoCare Meal Replacement Shakes or AdvoBars)
  • Invest in portable workout equipment
    With a suspension trainer such as the TRX, elastic bands, and a few body weight exercises you can get a great workout in pretty much anywhere.
  • Workout in small bursts
    Whether it’s work, vacation, or spending time with family it can be difficult to head to the gym for an hour at a time.  The good news is that studies show that three 10-minute workouts are just as effective as a single 30-minute workout.  Opt for full body movements such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and mountain climbers or use the TRX/bands to add extra resistance.

    Start with just 5 reps of each exercise in a circuit, rest for a minute and repeat the circuit for 2-4 rounds.  If it’s too easy, then just up the reps or reduce rest time.

  • Keep your workout equipment in plain sight
    In the same way you are likely to eat your co-workers candy if it’s sitting on their desk, you are more likely to use your exercise equipment if you put it somewhere that it’s in your way.
  • Plan your meals but leave a little wiggle room
    In a perfect world you’d have one of the hotels with the full kitchen and a nearby farmers market.  You’d also have scouted out the nearby restaurants and figured out the healthiest options and called ahead to see if preparing them the way you want is possible.

    Alas, that is a perfect situation and things almost never go perfectly.  For those times make the best choice you can with what you have available and don’t stress about it.

  • Remember it’s vacation
    Unless you are traveling for work, your trip is probably about seeing family or just getting away.  It’s okay to indulge in some of your favorite foods while on vacation.  Just be mindful about the portion sizes and try to balance it out by eating healthier meals the rest of the day.

Family Dinners & Holiday Parties

Many of us will find ourselves at the mercy of other people’s cooking and a desire to indulge in all those tasty sweets. Fortunately, you don’t have to give up those sweets or risk offending someone by not eating their food to avoid packing on pounds. Just follow these tips and you’ll be good to go!

  • Make sure you eat a breakfast packed with protein & fiber to ensure you are not starving at the dinner table.
  • Get a workout in before you eat, the closer to the meal the better as your body will be able to utilize most of the calories.
  • Bring your own dish so you’ll have at least one healthy option.
  • Eat a 2:1 ratio of meat to carbs (i.e. 2x the amount of turkey as macaroni & cheese).
  • Load up on veggies, especially anything green.
  • Drink plenty of water before and during the meal to help you feel fuller.
  • Take at least 20 minutes to eat and wait another 15-20 minutes before getting seconds. It takes about that long for your body to signal that you’re full.
  • Eat until you are satisfied but not completely full (#6 helps you with this one).
  • Go ahead and enjoy the sweets but only get a small piece of each. Most of the time we just want the taste and overestimate how big of a piece we really need.
  • If you do, however, have a trigger food that you know you won’t be able to just eat a little, then avoid that particular food.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink.
  • Go for a family walk after dinner.
  • Schedule your workout for the following day on your calendar and remember some gyms may close early around Thanksgiving and Christmas so plan ahead.

Looking For Additional Solutions?

Most people already know that they need regular exercise and good nutritional choices to achieve their health & fitness goals.   They just need smart solutions for making all of that happen — even when life gets crazy.

Clients in the Small Habits Nutrition Coaching program receive one-on-one coaching to learn the skills that will help them fit big health goals into their busy daily routines.

My Favorite Post-Workout Meal | Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite post-workout recipes from the Precision Nutrition Gourmet Nutrition cookbook.


 Why You Should Eat It

Not only is pumpkin a delicious dietary addition, it contains a synergistic blend of phytonutrients, rich in carotenoids.  But that’s no reason to eat high-sugar pumpkin pie!  Instead, try this Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal.  This delicious pumpkin recipe is a great breakfast treat, full of slow digesting carbs and healthy fats.


1/2 cup Low-fat milk (I use unsweetened Almond milk)
3/4 cup Water
1/2 cup Old fashioned large flake oats
1 pinch Cinnamon
1 pinch Nutmeg
1/4 cup Pumpkin (canned)
1/4 cup Almonds (sliced)
Splenda or Stevia to taste

1 scoop Vanilla whey protein (about 25g protein)
1/4 cup Water


In a small pot bring milk and water to a boil over medium heat.  Add the oats, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is absorbed (approximately 7-10 minutes), stirring occasionally.  Once liquid is absorbed, stir in pumpkin, almonds and Splenda and set aside.  Combine 1/4  cup  of water with whey protein in a separate bowl.  Mix with a fork until protein is dissolved.  For a smoother consistency, mix powder with water in blender or food processor and blend until protein is dissolved.  Pour protein mixture over oatmeal and serve. Serves 1 large or 2 small.

Nutritional Information (per serving)

Calories: 575 (large) | 287.5 (small)

Fat (g): 22.7 (large) | 11.4 (small)

Saturated (g): 2.1 (large) | 1.0 (small)
Monounsaturated (g): 12.5 (large) | 6.3 (small)
Polyunsaturated (g): 5.4 (large) | 2.7 (small)

omega-3 (g): .3 (large) | .1 (small)
omega-6 (g): 5.1 (large) | 2.6 (small)

Carbohydrates (g): 50.5 (large) | 25.3 (small)

Fiber (g): 12.1 (large) | 6.1 (small)
Sugars (g): 10.6 (large) | 5.3 (small)

Protein (g): 42 (large) | 21 (small)


Weight Loss Success in 2016: Small Business Samaritans Interview 

I was recently featured on the Small Business Samaritans radio show to talk about weight loss success strategies for 2016.

Some of the topics I covered:

  • The one important thing you need to do in 2016
  • 2 key factors to help you lose weight
  • Should you count calories?
  • The simple trick I use to get my personal training clients started off right.

You can listen to the interview below.  I have also provided a transcript in case you are unable to listen to the audio.



Hi, I’m Phillip Saxton with small business Samaritans Star radio program standing together brings rewards. I’m with Stephen Box,
owner of Stephen Box Fitness and Nutrition Stephen has a mission of making fitness and nutrition simple for others, helping to make each life he touches better tomorrow than today. We’re going to discuss some key important observations that all of us can take into the 2016 New Year. Welcome, Stephen

>> Stephen:
Thanks for having me Phillip

Stephen, if you have one important message to share with people for 2016 what would it be?

well, Phillip, this time of year especially can be busy for people trying to get everything done before the holidays traveling, attending parties, and spending time with family. I’d really like to encourage people to take some time for themselves. The number one reason people give me for not working out and not eating right is a lack of time. You have to really put your workouts and your meal prep days on your calendar and treat them just like any other appointment.  Even if you only have 10 minutes you can get a pretty good workout, and that’s a lot better than doing nothing.

Stephen, I like the fact that you combine fitness with nutrition. Both are important in improving ourselves. What is one of the key factors in helping us lose weight?

You’re absolutely right about that – about both being important, Phillip. Two of the core habits I teach my clients in my nutrition coaching program
is eating slowly and stopping at eighty percent full. Most of us end up overeating because we’re not aware of just how full we are due to eating too fast. It takes our brains about 20 minutes to get the signal from our body to stop eating, and for that reason I really recommend that people take about 20 minutes to eat their food. Along those same lines, once you teach yourself to slow down you really have to focus on listening to your body. When you stop eating you should feel satisfied but not really full -that’s about 80%.

Stephen that’s really great advice for 2016. Many people go on a calorie counting program. Is that something we should do?

Actually, no, the biggest problem with counting calories is they’re inaccurate to begin with. Because of the way calories are determined, the results can be off by as much as 25%. To put that into numbers, say you’re a male who eats 2,000 calories per day. Assuming that you are absolutely perfect
at your calorie counting, which is pretty much a task in and of itself, you could still end up being off by as much as 500 calories either way per day. Over the course of a week that’s a full pound or 52 pounds a year that you would expect to lose that you wouldn’t.

Wow! That is really an interesting calculation. Do you have more information on this on calorie counting that you can make available to people?

Actually, I do. For those interested, I have a free ebook on my website that will provide them with information about a better way to determine their portion sizes. Combine that with eating slowly and stopping at eighty percent full will serve them a lot better than counting calories.

Stephen, why don’t you give your website out now so that those people that are listening – if you’ve got a pencil or you can pull over if
you’re in your car take down this information

yeah it’s www.trainwithbox.com

train with box
t-r-a-i-n with box B-o-x dot com, very easy to remember.
Stephen, in order to live a more healthy life and lose weight, fitness programs must be tied to nutrition and exercise plus controlling how you eat. Where do you start when you’re working with a client?

Well, first Phillip, you’re absolutely right.  Everything does tie in together. That’s why we focus more on behaviors vs outcomes. When I say outcomes I mean things that don’t really that you don’t really have any control over. Say you want to lose 20 pounds but you really only have twelve pounds to lose. You end up doing really unhealthy things to try to lose that extra eight pounds. With behavior-based coaching we focus on the things we can
control – like what foods we eat, how many days we work out, or how intense our workouts are. From day one we start building those habits that become behaviors. Once you change from an outcome-based mindset to a behavior-based mindset, everything else really falls into place pretty easily.

Stephen this is really great information, and we’re going to continue this in another segment. But in the meantime will you give your telephone number out so that folks will be able to call you

absolutely it’s 678-288-4745, 678-288-4745

this is Phillip Saxton with Small Business Samaritans, Star Radio program

Want to lose weight? Stop aiming for perfection!

“The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.”  -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist. In school I would judge my performance by how many questions I got wrong instead of how many I got correct. This of course led to me caring a lot less about a class in which I was a “C student” vs an “A student”.  In retrospect it seems silly to be upset missing say 3 out of 10 questions instead of celebrating the 7 you got right.

A lot of us look at nutrition the same way. We set out with these lofty expectations to eat perfectly all the time and the first time we give in to a craving we decide to go all in and destroy our diet.

That’s part of the reason diets as we think of them don’t work. That conversation, however, will have to be for another time.

What if, instead, we started our scale at 0% and worked to improve everyday? What if you eat no vegetables now but were able to add just 1 serving per day? Well if you set a goal of doing 8 servings per day, you’d be pretty disappointed that you only ate 1 serving. However, if you think about the fact that you went from 0-1, that’s freaking huge! Now you can work your way up to 3, 5, 7, or whatever as slowly or quickly as you want, and it’s all improvement over what you were doing.

​The same concept applies to eating things that aren’t as healthy for us.  Let’s say you eat cookie every day.  How much impact would cutting back to every other day have on your health and your waistline?

Most of us would try to cut the cookies out completely, and then we’d have a bad day and next thing we know we’d be laid out on the couch covered in cookie crumbs and wouldn’t remember how it happened (or is that just me?)

How To Use It In Practice

I prefer to focus on adding vs taking away since the primal part of our brain doesn’t deal well with having food taken away. My suggestion is to think of 1 healthy habit you want to accomplish. Decide what is the biggest version of it that you can do for sure. For example, you may want to work out 5 days a week, but realistically you know you can do 2 days. Commit to those 2 days and if you manage extra days, then that’s awesome – but no pressure since the goal isn’t to be perfect but better.