How to start exercising when you are new to fitness.
Do you have a fitness goal in mind?
Do you want to lose 5, 10, or even 20 pounds?
Perhaps, you are looking to have more energy and feel less tired throughout the day.
Or it may be that you want to reduce your stress or become more productive at work.
Whatever your reason is, exercise can bring tremendous benefits to your health.
Easy to say, hard to do. I know.
Working out is hard, sometimes not fun, and even painful in the beginning.
But that’s only if you’re going about it the wrong way.
In fact, working out is quite the opposite. It should be fun and enjoyable. It doesn’t have to involve pain and misery all the way.
The key is to find an exercise that you enjoy. As you’ll learn here, there are many different types of exercise.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to working out.
Why Is Exercise Important?
Being active regularly is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy and fit.
Exercise is essential for a healthy body and mind, regardless of your age, sex, and physical health.
It also bears both short and long term benefits.
Here are just a few specific examples of how you can benefit from exercise.
Exercise will help you lose weight, gain lean body mass, reduce fat, and lower your risk of chronic diseases (1, 2).
Michael R. Bracko, chairman of the ACSM put it perfectly.
Exercise is the magic pill that can literally cure diseases including some heart diseases.
It’s a bold statement but not entirely overstated.
Exercise has helped countless people prevent and recover from certain types of cancer, arthritis, and other diseases (3).
In fact, studies show 30 minutes of daily moderate-intensity activity reduces the risk of early death by 19%.
Taking up a notch, 7 hours per week of moderate activity can reduce the early mortality risk by 24% (4).
It’s a testament to how exercise can improve your health significantly and add years to your life (5).
Mental and emotional health is also no stranger to exercise benefits (6).
It’s scientifically evidenced that exercise can prevent and reverse depression. This is a huge win considering over 3.3 million American adults suffer from it today (7).
These health benefits of exercise are hard to ignore. It’s one thing you can do that’s incredibly powerful and transformational in so many ways.
There are various types of exercise, but two main types are cardio and resistance training.
Cardio is any type of activity that increases your heart rate.
If you think it’s too broad, that’s because of cardio points to a really wide range of activities. These include swimming, running, biking, and calisthenics such as jumping jacks and high knees.
Even walking up the stairs can be cardio if you do it for an extended period of time.
It helps you torch calories, burn fat, and lose weight, but those are not the only benefit of cardio.
Cardio conditions the heart and increases your lung capacity. It also helps make your heart more efficient in pumping blood.
Moreover, cardio has been liked to a reduced risk of many health risks. Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer to name a few.
Resistance Training is a form of exercise that develops strength and muscular endurance. Some examples of resistance training include pushup, chin-up, chest press, and squats.
Resistance training is based on the principle that a muscle must work to overcome its resistance force.
As a result, you develop muscular strength when you repeatedly perform resistance training.
There are several popular ways to apply resistance training.
- free weights
- weight machines
- resistance bands
- own body weight
Regardless of which types of resistance your training use, the common goal is to work your muscles to make them stronger.
A good exercise program should combine both resistance training and cardio.
Beginners are recommended to train 2 to 3 times per week to gain the maximum benefits (8).
Different Exercise Programs
Exercise programs: Calisthenics are basically weight-free exercises. They are also known as bodyweight exercises that require no gym or exercise equipment and performed at a medium intensity. This can be anything from burpees, squats, planks, and push-ups.
They are extremely beginner-friendly and adaptive to various fitness levels. Performing 30 minutes a day of bodyweight workouts can help you get the benefits of both cardio and strength training.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training): This type of exercise program alternate short bursts of high-intensity movements with low-intensity movements followed by a short rest period. The 7-Minute Workout Challenge and Tabata Training are two great examples of HIIT workout.
Balance training: This type of training strengthens muscles and helps develop your balance. Stability ball exercises are a good exercise for this type of training.
Flexibility: Flexibility training helps with muscle recovery, reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injuries, and improves range of motion. Examples would be both static and dynamic stretching and yoga. If getting your body moving again is your goal, start here to work on your flexibility and prepare your body for a more elevated activity later on.
The activities mentioned above can be done independently or together. What’s important is to find a fitness program that best suits your needs and goal.
I’ve learned over time that choosing an exercise plan is also about your personality, likes, and dislikes too.
I feel an enormous satisfaction out of going through a fast tempo HIIT. I can hit both cardio and resistance training doing it and get a good sweat in 30 minutes.
I love it.
Some may enjoy a longer stretch of flexibility and muscle-stretch movements by practicing Yoga moves.
Also, it’s about lifestyle choices too.
Working out at home? Bodyweight workouts and strength training with resistance bands offer convenience as they require no additional equipment other than light-weight bands.
The takeaway: You can do a variety of different types of exercise to get in shape. Find what works for you and mix and match workouts to really create a complete plan for your needs and goal.
How to Start Exercising
Now that you know there is cardio and strength training, and there are different programs out there that you can explore.
Here is a quick guide to how to take your first step and prep yourself for staring an exercise program.
1. Consult With Your Doctor
The first step to any exercise program is to consult with your healthcare professional and get a physical examination before you begin.
This is very important especially for those are new to exercise and are not used to hard physical activities. And if you are a male over the age of 45 for male or female over the age of 55, this is especially so, says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
An early examination helps detect any existing health conditions that could put you at risk of injuries during exercise.
Your physician can also help communicate any limitations you may have to your fitness trainer and further customize your plan to meet your particular needs and goal.
Even with medical conditions, with careful planning, many are able to work out and get helped by exercise. So don’t be afraid to discuss your fitness goals and your conditions to your physicians and health and fitness professionals.
Stephanie Siegrist, MD in N.Y. comments “I can’t think of any medical issue that would get worse from the right kind of exercise.”
2. Setting Realistic Goals
Another component to exercise success is to have a plan with actionable steps and attainable goals.
The key here is to have a step-by-step plan to follow towards your goal.
For example, if you want to lose 20 lbs in 12 months, your action plan should look something like walking 5 miles 3 days a week and perform 30-minute resistance training 2 times a week.
You may also want to break your weight loss goal to “lose 5 pounds in 3 months”, and you work to accomplish every step you set for yourself.
The idea is to start at your pace and slowly work up to the ultimate goal you have for yourself. (I love this beginner’s guide to running 5k from shape.com)
After all, no one will accomplish losing 20 pounds without first losing 5 pounds. No one has run a 20 km race without finishing a 5 km race.
Start with an immediate goal in mind, and make that your milestone and motivation. Most importantly create many victories in your life to drive yourself to a bigger success and achievement.
3. Make it Your lifestyle
You know success is near when you go from trying to stick to your routine being part of your lifestyle. It’s just what you do day in and day out.
So, don’t fail to make exercise a part of your lifestyle.
Instead of driving or riding public transportation to work or school, ride a bike or walk.
Instead of meeting up with your friends every Tuesday and Thursday over donuts at a cafe, make the gym your usual meetup spot.
This will help you stick to exercise in the long haul, and is a lot easier when exercise becomes part of your daily routine. After all, you can’t forever rely on your will power to carry you through to the end.
Studies concluded that replacing an unhealthy behavior with a new healthy habit is a great approach to maintaining it in the long term (14).
In the end, it’s much easier to be persistent when it’s what you do subconsciously.
How Often to Exercise?
If you are asking how much exercise it takes before you can see improvements in your health, you are asking a good question.
How much exercise to do depends on your current fitness level and health goals. I know that doesn’t help you whole a lot, so here is a general guideline.
Per the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking and full-body muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week (15).
This means your strength training workouts need to target all major muscle groups including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
How you reach 150 minutes a week of cardio is up to you according to their guideline.
For example, 150 minutes a week of exercise can be reached with 5 separate 30-minute sessions or 50 minutes 3 times a week. They are equally beneficial according to studies.
Although the target is to fulfill the recommended workout volume, taking it slow and gradually increasing the intensity as you build more strength is vital to your success. Be sure to align your workout intensity to your current fitness level and not overtrain your body.
Lastly, resting between workout sessions is essential to your overall exercise success.
It prevents avoidable injuries such as muscle strains and fractures.
Takeaway: 150 minutes a week of exercise is recommended, but align your session length and frequency to your fitness level. Also, allow ample recovery time to avoid overtraining and prevent injuries.
If you are ready to start (and need a starter plan), grab the 7-day exercise plan below.
7-Day Exercise Plan to Begin
Now, all professional advice we introduced in this post is nothing short of great help, but to put all into one program can still be a heavy load of work.
To make it easier for you, we created a sample 7-day exercise plan for you to get started. This includes cardio, flexibility exercises, and resistance training; all forms of exercises recommended by health experts.
Feel free to adjust this workout plan to fit your fitness level.
Before we start, let’s go over some exercise terms and what they mean.
Repetitions (reps): refers to the number of times you continuously repeat an exercise in a single setting called to set.
Sets: Set is a group of repetitions performed without resting. For example, 15 reps of a squat for 2 sets mean you do 15 squats without taking a break. This is a set. Take a rest and do another round (set) of 15 squats. Now you completed 2 sets.
Intensity: Exercise intensity is how hard you are exercising. This term is most often used to describe the aerobic activity. Faster tempo leads to high intensity. Slower movements mean lower intensity.
Rest: Rest is taken between sets. Rest periods vary depending on the intensity of exercise and depending on the exercise program, rest may only be taken as needed or after a round of several exercises.
Now that we went over the terms, let’s get to the workout.
Abs + Core Workouts:
- Ab Workouts for Women: 25 Best Moves To a Tighter & Stronger Core
- Quick 8 Minute Abs Workout for Women
- 5 Best Core Exercises for Women to Get a Flat Tummy
- 15-Min Abs Workout Routine to Blast off Belly Fat & Firm up Your Core
Legs & Butt Workouts:
- 10 Best Leg Exercises to Tone Your Thighs and Butt
- 5 Best Mini-Band Exercises to Completely Transform Your Butt & Thighs
- 9 Best Exercises to Target Your Inner and Outer Thighs
1. Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
According to Joe Dowdell, CSCS, the right amount of water consumption per day for everyone is different. For your appropriate amount, he suggests you multiply your weight in pounds by 0.5 to 0.7.
If you drink anywhere near that amount now, aim that in the 4-week span.
My favorite drink for hydration is coconut water. It is full of natural electrolytes, so it’s perfect for rehydrating during workouts.
2. Proper Nutrition
The best way to ensure your exercise program’s success is to keep your diet clean. It not only supports your overall health but also fastens your muscle recovery and proper progression.
The key here is to eat a well-balanced diet. All macros (carbs, protein, and fats) are needed for sustained energy and optimal performance.
Protein also has an essential role in workouts and recovery.
Protein is used to protect your muscles from breaking down during exercise, repair tissue damage, and build muscle mass. It also promotes muscle recovery after your workout.
Although a high-protein diet is over popularized in modern society, overconsumption leads to excess calories in the same way carbs and fats do. Be sure to check out this post on how much protein to eat based on your weight, height, gender, and age.
Fats have been a hot debate in the past decade, but we are finally coming out of the low-fat diet era, thanks to the more concentrated focus on healthy balanced meals in the diet community. Healthy fats are not only part of a balanced meal, they are essential in fat burn but also in the preservation of muscle fuel for sustained energy throughout your workout.
We’ll cover pre-workout and post-workout nutrition in a future article.
The benefits of warming up your body before the main workout get overlooked too often, but they are critical for your muscle health and injury prevention.
Just as properly warmed-up body can lead your athletic performance to a peak level, unstretched and under-prepared body can put strains on your performance and body. Take 5-10 minutes before your workout to prep your body for the workload ahead.
It does everything from warming up your core temperature to improving flexibility and range of motion. It can also aid in post-workout recovery and reduced muscle soreness.
If you are not sure where to start, simply incorporate some aerobic exercises like jump jacks, high knees, and inchworms.
Alternatively, you can warm up by doing easy movements of the exercises you are planning to do. For example, walk to warm up before you run or perform in-place lunges before dumbells lunges.
4. Cool Down
Cooling down is another important aspect of the workout as it helps your body return to its normal state.
After exercising, your heart is still beating faster than normal, your body temperature is higher.
Spending the last 5 to 10 minutes of the workout for cool-down aids in restoring your normal blood circulation and restating the breathing patterns. It even reduces the chance of muscle soreness.
Cool-down ideas can be anything from a light walking after aerobic exercise to stretching after resistance training. The idea is to bring your body back to its pre-exercise state.
5. Pay Attention to Your Body
Just because hard work is required to reach your goal doesn’t mean you should be performing beyond your capacity from the beginning. I’ve seen many begin training hard and quit completely a week later.
If you’re not used to working out, be mindful of your limits and build your pace rather than attempting to accomplish all in a short span.
It’s good to remember that working out harder and faster is not necessarily better.
take it slow, and focus on maintaining your routine in the long run. Consistency is truly the key here.
Also, if you when you feel any pain or discomfort while exercising, stop and rest before continuing. Pushing through the pain is not a good idea, as it can cause injuries.
Know your limits. Work on your pace and build your routine and consistency.
6. Staying Motivated
Find a way to stay motivated. Whether that is keeping your workout fun, switching your routines around, or setting a prize for reaching your goal, find something that’ll keep you motivated throughout your journey.
Like the sample exercise program shown above, you can easily mix up activities if you feel repetition makes you stagnant.
Other ways to keep your exercise fun is to join a gym and take a group fitness class like yoga and Pilates. Changing scenarios and keeping yourself challenged is a great way to stay motivated.
Another way to boost your commitment level is to track your progress.
What you track is not the most important here. You can log your run time, distance, or even weight lifting.
Anything that helps you track your progress to not only see how far you have to go but more importantly how far you’ve come is a motivational factor.
It’s the distance between where you started and where you are now that can really encourage you to move forward each day.
Embarking on a new exercise routine or regimen can be hard, but keeping your goals in sight and objectives clear can help you stick with your program for the long term (and see your success comes to life!)
Luckily, exercise is not one size fits all. You can choose your form of exercise out all activity options, and it’s picking and doing what you enjoy that counts.
The goal is to start at your current level and begin developing your fitness level, allowing proper rest time in between for recovery and injury prevention.
Logging is a proven way to stay motivated and helpful in measuring your small and big victories and successes along the way.
So, if you are ready, grab your water bottle and let’s get started! Also, don’t forget to eat a healthy diet too!