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How to start working out

How to start working out when you are new to fitness. A complete beginner's guide.

Do you have a fitness goal in mind? 

Do you want to lose 5 lbs or a certain amount of weight? 

Perhaps you'll like to have more energy and feel less tired throughout the day. 

Maybe you want to reduce your stress or become more productive at work?

That’s great —whatever your health goal is, exercise can bring a transformational change in your health, body, mind, and the overall life. 

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, enjoyable and very beneficial to every area of your health. 

The key is finding and doing the 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.

If you don't like to run or lift weights, you don't have to. There are plenty other exercises you can do and enjoy!

Trust me. 

However, I know adding exercise into your schedule takes sacrifices from other areas of your life, and sticking to it in the long-term requires perseverance and discipline. 

If you're thinking of beginning exercise but don't know where to begin, this piece is for you. Here's what you need to know about starting a new exercise program and sticking to it for the long haul.

Why Is Exercise Important?

Why exercise?

Exercise is essential in keeping your body fit and your mind healthy.

It's shown to greatly benefit one's health regardless of your age, sex or physical ability (1). 

It also bears both short and long term benefits. 

Here are just a few specific examples of how you can benefit from exercise. 

Lose weight, gain lean body mass, reduce fat, and lower your risk of many chronic diseases (2, 3, 4).

Regards to health specifically, 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 bold, but not entirely overstated. 

Exercise has helped countless people prevent and recover from certain types of cancer, arthritis, and other diseases (5, 6).

In fact, according to the International Journal of Epidemiology which studied mortality of nearly 1 million people, 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 mortality risk by 24% (7). 

This clearly shows just how a little bit of exercise can improve your health significantly and add years to your life (8).

Mental and emotional health is also no stranger to exercise benefits (9). 

It's scientifically evidenced that exercise can prevent and reverse depression, which over 3.3 million American adults suffer today (10).

The health benefits of exercise are hard to ignore.  

Exercise is incredibly powerful and can transform your life.

Takeaway: Making time to exercise can boost your mental health, lower the risk of diseases, and help you achieve a healthy weight.

There are various types of exercise, but two main types are cardio and resistance training

Cardio

Cardio

Cardio is any of type of exercise that raises your heart rate. 

If you think it's too broad, that's because cardio points to a really wide range of activities including swimming, running, biking, and bodyweight calisthenics such as jumping jacks, high knees. 

Even walking up the stairs can be cardio if you do it for an extended period of time. 

The purpose of doing cardio is to condition the heart, lungs, and your whole cardiovascular system, so they can become more efficient in delivering oxygen to your muscle cells.

Cardio when done regularly also decreases your blood pressure and resting heart rate. 

This is a good thing for your entire body. You can learn more about the benefits of cardio exercises here, and how it can improve your overall quality of life.

A well rounded fitness program usually includes cardio. 

Resistance Training

Resistance training exercises

Resistance Training is a type of exercise that includes training methods like weight training, strength training, and muscle strengthening.

Resistance training collectively helps to increase lean body mass and build strength by making your muscles work against force and resistance (11). 

Resistance training is based on the principle that muscles of the body will work to overcome a resisting force when they are required to do so. As a result, when you do resistance training repeatedly and consistently, your muscles become stronger and your body becomes leaner. 

The Physical Activity Guidelines for healthy adult Americans recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening activities at least two to three days per week (12).

There are several popular ways to apply resistance in your training:

  • free weights
  • weight machines
  • resistance bands 
  • own body weight

Regardless of how you go about adding resistance to your workouts, the common goal is to work your muscles to strengthen them. 

Exercise Program 

A good exercise program should have both strength and cardio training as they offer different benefits. 

Strength training improves joint functions, bone density, muscles, tendons and ligament strength, while aerobic exercise helps improve your heart health, lung fitness, flexibility, and balance.

Beginners are recommended to train 2 to 3 times per week to gain the maximum benefits (13). 

Thanks to many exercise program creators in the fitness industry, there are countless programs already have both cardio and resistance training built in.

You may recognize many of them. You may even have tried a few yourself in the past. 

Different Exercise Programs

Exercise programs: Calisthenics are basically weight-free exercises. They are also known as bodyweight exercises which 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 of 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 takeway: 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

Consult 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 workout 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

Make exercise part of your life

You know success is near when you go from trying to stick to your routine 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).

At the end, it's much easier to be persistent when it's what you do subconsciously. 

How Often to Exercise?

How often should you 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 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 for 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 an 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

7-day workout plan for beginners

Now, all professional advice we introduced in this post is nothing short of a great help, but to put all into one program can still be a heavy load of work.

To make it easier on 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.

Exercise Terms

Repetitions (reps): refers to the number of times you continuously repeat an exercise in a single setting called set. 

Sets: Set is a group of repetitions performed without resting. For example, 15 reps of 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. 

Workout Schedule:

Monday:  Flexibility + Cardio 

20-30 minute moderate pace jog or brisk walk if you can't run. 

Tuesday: Strength training circuit workout (bodyweight)

Walk briskly for 10-15 minutes to warm up, then, complete the following circuits.

Circuit #1: 3 sets alternating 10 lunges for each leg, 10 push-ups, 30 seconds plank

Rest: 1 minute after each set but not between exercises.

Circuit #2: 3 sets alternating 10 jumping jacks, 10 air-squats, 10 chair-dips

Stretch at the end. 

Wednesday: Flexibility + Cardio

20-30 minute moderate pace jog, swimming, biking or brisk walk if you can't run.

Thursday: Strength training circuit workout (bodyweight)

Walk briskly for 10-15 minutes to warm up, then, complete the following circuits.

Circuit #1: 3 sets alternating 10 lunges for each leg, 10 push-ups, 30 seconds plank.

Rest: 1 minute after each set but not between exercises.

Circuit #2: 3 sets alternating 10 jumping jacks, 10 air-squats, 10 chair-dips

Stretch at the end. 

Friday: Flexibility + Cardio

20-30-minute swimming, bike ride or moderate-pace jog.

Saturday: Foam rolling and stretching. 

This will be your muscle recovery day. Foam rolling reduces soreness and prevents tightness.

Sunday: Rest Day 

This 1-week workout plan is provided solely to help you get started. There are more plans, ideas, and exercise selections available for your use below. Please feel free to browse and incorporate some into your weekly plan. 

Flexibility

Bodyweight workouts

Free-Weights & Band Resistance:

Workout plans targeting specific body parts and for various skill levels.

Abs + Core Workouts:

Back Workouts for Beginners: 

Legs & Butt Workouts:

Cardio Workouts:

Body Type Specific Workouts:

Here are a few tips to get more out of your workout efforts. 

1. Stay Hydrated

Stay hydrated during exercise

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 amont now, aim that in the 4-week span. 

If you plan on working out outside in hot summer months, be sure to take extra water with you as hydration becomes more essential, even critical for your performance under the heat(19, 20).

Hydration is also not just about during your workout. It's just as important to keep yourself hydrated post-workout too for faster and proper recovery (21, 22). 

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

Proper nutrition

The best way to ensure your exercise program 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. 

Carbs provide fuel to your body pre-workout, while they work to replenish glycogen stores and assist the absorption of amino acids into your muscles post-workout (23) (24).

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 high-protein diet is over popularized in the modern society, over consumption 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.

3. Warm up

Warm-up

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 pefroamnce 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 inchworm. 

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 of 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 it's 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.

Instead 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 lifted.

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.

Final Thoughts

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!




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