How to Start Exercising: A Beginner Plan and Tips for Success

Published October 14, 2022
woman doing squats with resistance band on her around her legs at home

Are you ready to take charge of your health? Starting a workout routine is a great way to improve your cardiovascular health, build muscle, reduce stress, and lose weight or prevent unwanted weight gain. You'll probably also notice that you sleep better and think more clearly after you start exercising. So why not spend a few minutes each day participating in fun activities that boost your overall wellness?

For some beginners, a feeling of intimidation or a negative past history with exercise is the roadblock that prevents them from taking that first step. Learning how to start exercising can feel overwhelming. But it doesn't need to be. Follow this step-by-step guide to set up a plan that helps you build confidence and reach your fitness goals.

3 Steps to Set Up a Beginner Workout Program

A few days before you start your workout program, set aside an hour or so to create a plan. These three steps will help you lay the foundation for long-term success.

1. Set a Goal

Why are you starting an exercise program? Your answer to this question will help you to set a goal.

Are you interested in improving your overall health? If so, guidelines suggest that you get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week plus muscle-strengthening exercises performed at least two days per week. Aerobic activities are those that get your heart rate up, such as a brisk walk or a bike ride. Strengthening exercises are those movements that make your muscles work harder than normal, like a push up.

Is weight loss your goal? If so, guidelines suggest that you get 300 minutes per week of aerobic activity to promote long-term weight loss and prevention of weight gain. Does that seem like too much? If so, don't worry. You are most likely to be successful if you are consistent. Setting a goal that is unrealistic can easily lead to frustration, feelings of failure, or burnout. So set a goal that seems reasonable and do-able for you right now. You can always adjust your goal later if you want.

2. Schedule Your Workouts

Choose the days during the week when you plan to work out. If your goal is to exercise 150 minutes per week, perhaps you want to divide that time between three days when you will go to the gym and take a class that gets your heart rate up and includes some muscle strengthening exercises as well. Or perhaps you prefer to do shorter workouts more often. For example, you might go for a walk every week day during your 30-minute lunch break.

Consider your work and home life schedules when making your plan. Then write out your schedule or put it into your calendar just like you schedule all of your other important appointments. Then print out your schedule and post it in a place where it can serve as a reminder of your commitment.

3. Seek Out Support

We all do better if we have the support of our friends and family. So connect with your loved ones and tell them about your new commitment to better health and wellness. Ask for specific ways that they can help. Consider any of these ideas or come up with your own requests.

  • Ask your spouse to watch the kids on days when you head outside for a brisk walk throughout the neighborhood.
  • Connect with a friend who has similar goals and schedule a gym meet-up several times per week.
  • Ask a family member to send you a text or phone call on the days when you have decided to work out. Either use the message as a reminder to complete your workout or use it as an opportunity to brag about your completed session.

Your support system will help you to stay on track when your motivation wanes and challenges arise. By asking for help, you help secure your chances for success.

Sample Exercise Routines for a Beginner

If you're not sure what to do during your workout, you're not alone. Many of us want to exercise but don't know how to put together a workout. Rest assured, your exercise routine doesn't need to be complicated to be effective. In fact, simple workouts are usually best when you are a beginner. Consider one of these options for at-home or the gym.

At-Home Workout for a Beginner

Spend 30 minutes walking briskly or cycling outdoors or on an indoor bike. Then grab a set of dumbbells. Complete 10 repetitions of each exercise:

As you become stronger, consider adding another set to the strength work. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise, then take a short break and do another 10 repetitions of each move. Work your way up to completing three sets.

At-Home Workout for a Beginner (No Equipment)

If you're just starting out, you may not be ready to invest in exercise equipment. That's okay! You can get a full body workout at home with no gear at all. Try this full body routine that raises your heart rate and builds strength at the same time. This double-duty workout helps you to get fit in less time.

Adult woman exercising at home during quarantine, doing push ups
  • 10 jumping jacks or side toe taps
  • 10 alternating lunges (use a wall for support if you need to for balance)
  • 10 bodyweight squats (or sit in a chair and stand back up)
  • 10 stair repeats (no stairs? Jog or march in place for two minutes)
  • 10 push-ups (Do this exercise standing against a wall or on the floor with knees down if necessary)
  • 10 abdominal crunches

Try to complete the series three to five times, taking short breaks between each exercise. Finish with a cooldown walk to bring your heart rate back to normal.

Gym Workout for a Beginner

If you have a membership to a health club, you may want to explore classes to meet your workout goals. Be sure to tell the instructor that you are new to exercise so that they can offer support and guidance to help you reach success. Try a few different classes to find one that you enjoy and look forward to.

If you don't like group exercise activities, use the cardio equipment and strength machines to complete your workout.

Complete 30 minutes on one or more machines:

  • Treadmill
  • Elliptical
  • Exercise Bike
  • Rower
  • Stair climber

Then use machines or free weights to complete 8-10 repetitions of each exercise below. If you're not sure how to do the exercise, look for instructions on the machine or ask gym staff for help.

  • Chest presses
  • Lat pulls
  • Shoulder presses
  • Cable rows
  • Body weight squats

Keep in mind that there are pros and cons to using free weights vs. weight machines. Free weights require you to use more muscles to stabilize your body. But it is also easier to do exercises incorrectly. Weight machines put your body in the correct position for each move, but require less effort to stabilize the body. When you are a beginner, machines might be a better option until you learn to do each exercise with proper form.

Tips for a Beginner Exerciser

When you start your beginner exercise routine, you'll probably be highly motivated and excited to get moving. But you can be sure that there will be days when you feel, tired, unmotivated and have a lackluster attitude about your new workout plan. There are a few things you can do to minimize the effects of motivation burnout and fatique.

  • Set workout clothes out the night before. If you wake up and see your exercise apparel waiting for you, you will be more likely to put it on and complete your session. If you plan to exercise at the gym after work, pack your gym bag and place it on the passenger seat the night before. Seeing your gear will remind you of your commitment.
  • Maintain regular daily activity. It's easy to feel sluggish when you first start to exercise. But you can undo the benefits of your hard work by spending the day on the couch. Stay active throughout the day as you normally would so that you reap the rewards that you earn with exercise.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. Your appetite might increase as you start to increase your activity levels. Honor your hunger by indulging in protein- and fiber-rich foods. Foods like fish, cruciferous vegetables, eggs, poultry, whole grains, and healthy fats help you to feel full and satisfied and also give your body the nutrients it needs to power through your workouts.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body needs plenty of rest to repair and rebuild after a workout. Priotize sleep and try to get 7-8 hours per night. A regular bedtime and a peaceful sleep enviroment will help you reach this goal.
  • Celebrate your success. As you reach milestones in your new workout plan (a week, a month or even just a few days of consistency), reward yourself and celebrate the accomplishment. Buy yourself new workout gear or a fun new outfit. Brag to your friends and family. Then look forward and set a new goal to keep yourself challenged on your wellness journey.
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How to Start Exercising: A Beginner Plan and Tips for Success