Are you new to fitness and wondering about exercise for beginners?
Well you’re in the right place!
Today I’m going over the basics to keep in mind as you start any sort of exercise program. (Side note: You’re gonna do great!)
Everyone has to start their fitness journey sometime. No matter how devoted to fitness someone is, they probably have had to re-start multiple times for various reasons. I know I have.
I ran cross country and track back in high school. In an effort to rest my weary bones between seasons, I would take at least a couple of weeks off from running. And since I didn’t know anything about weight lifting or any other forms of exercise back then, I literally wouldn’t exercise at all during that time.
When I began training for the next season, I’d feel like I was starting all over. It was disheartening and not a lot of fun.
So today’s tips are a culmination of my personal experiences as an exerciser and my knowledge as a certified personal trainer.
Because even though starting an exercise program is challenging and tiring, it’s such an exciting time! And I want you to be successful!
So let’s go over the tips that’ll help you do just that.
Exercise for Beginners: 7 Tips for Getting Started
1. Go easy
Let this be the permission you need to take it easy.
When we start a new exercise routine, we tend to go full throttle. It’s like we’re trying to make up for lost time. But trust me, nearly killing yourself on your first few workouts is not going to make up for the others that you’ve missed – in fact, it may deter you from ever working out again. And may even land you injured.
So when it comes to exercise for beginners, going easy is not only allowed, but what I encourage. Lighter workouts are actually probably all your body needs at first anyway; those new to exercise will often see the biggest changes, even if a seasoned exerciser is doing harder workouts.
So do yourself a favor and take it easy at first. Run slow, keep the level low, or start with lighter weights. The fact that you’re out there, carving out time in your hectic day to exercise, is already pretty dang fantastic.
2. 3-4 days a week is okay
Likewise, you don’t need to exercise every single day either. For some people, any more than 3-4 days a week will simply feel impossible. They’ll miss workouts and then just feel guilty and discouraged.
When I have a client who’s new to exercise or restarting after a long break, I start them out with 3 days per week and transition to 4 days after a couple weeks. Psychologically, 4 days is a great goal because then you know you’re working out more than half of the days.
After you get used to making exercise a regular part of your routine, then you can increase the days even more. But there’s nothing wrong with being a beginner and having realistic expectations. 3-4 days a week is a great starting goal.
3. Short hard days, long easy days
This is a basic – but very important – guide to follow when it comes to exercise for beginners. And it means just what it says.
Once you work in harder, more rigorous workouts, make them your shorter days. Want to do a longer workout? Complete that one at a lighter intensity.
This will help you balance your workouts a little better, as well as give you more variety – thus benefiting your body more.
This basic principle applies to every type of exercise. For example, it makes more sense for me to plan out my speeds before going on run rather than just “go.” If I want to complete an 8 mile run, I’m going to make that a nice, easy pace. But if I want to do an intense workout where I get my heart racing, I may do a short HIIT workout or a tempo 3 mile run.
If you’re lifting heavy weights for strength and hypertrophy gains, you may only be able to do 6 reps per set. But if you’re aiming for muscle endurance, you should select a lighter weight and complete 12-15 reps. The same concept still applies.
4. Don’t work the same muscle groups back to back days
Muscle training 101: give your muscles a day off between training. So if you work your arms really hard on Tuesday, that means you shouldn’t train them again until at least Thursday.
This guideline applies to all muscle groups except for your abs. As I mention in my 30 day ab challenge, you can work them more often since they’re a unique muscle group. Read the post to learn more!
5. Don’t forget to stretch
Stretching is so so important for fitness. It helps prevent overactive (tight) muscles that can lead to imbalances and compensations – which in turn can lead to injury.
You should stretch both before and after each workout. Despite what many say, stretching before exercise is not only safe but recommended. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), through which I’m certified, has a post examining the findings of multiple studies on stretching. The studies all conclude that static stretching is safe if stretches are held for approximately 30-45 seconds. Since it takes about 30 seconds for a muscle to release and relax, I always recommend to my clients that they hold stretches for 30 seconds.
The post also says that the types of stretches one does are important as well and can be determined with movement assessments conducted by a personal trainer – just one of the many reasons why you may consider getting one.
6. Eat enough
When it comes to exercise for beginners, many sources often forget to address one very important point: eating enough.
This is because most people assume that people are looking to lose weight. Whether that’s your goal or not, you’re going to struggle a lot if you’re not eating enough.
Exercise takes a ton of energy. Personally, I know when I’m on a regular training routine I need a lot more sleep. My body is very, very up front with me about this.
And weight loss isn’t all about eating less. When you’re beginning an exercise routine, you need to be eating plenty of the right foods. Your body needs slow-digesting carbs (think brown rice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal) just as much as it needs healthy proteins (fish, chicken, lentils, beans, and tofu).
Yes, weight loss in it’s simplest form still comes down to more calories out than in. But you’ll never be able to sustain a tough exercise program without enough fuel.
So if you notice a large energy decrease and you’re getting plenty of water and sleep, make sure you’re eating enough of those healthy, sustaining foods!
7. Don’t be afraid of looking new – we all start somewhere
And probably my biggest exercise for beginners tip is this: don’t worry about anyone else.
I used to have a hard time on easy run days. I felt like everyone I passed was looking at me, thinking, “That’s the fastest she can go?”
It’s ridiculous, but I know I’m not the only one who’s ever felt that way.
I’ve had moments like that in the gym too, where I walked over to the dumbbell rack, selected weights, settled myself on a bench, and began an exercise. I’d feel like the entire world was looking at me, whispering, “How embarrassing that she can’t lift heavier,” or, “She’s doing that exercise completely wrong.”
It took awhile to build my confidence up. To remember that it’s okay to take it light. I am where I am, and that’s fine.
So please take that knowledge with you as you get started.
You are where you are, and that’s a perfectly fine place to be.
Now that we’ve covered the basic tips to know, let’s get more focused! What are you interested in specifically? Running? Strength training? An overall balanced workout routine? Check out these posts to get started!
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You’ve motivated me to start working out again!
Wooo!! I’m so glad!
Thanks for the Post! It motivated me to start exercising again!
Ahhh yay! You’ve got this!!
Hi Cedar, I love your posts/blog. I just moved back to Mystic and rejoined the YMCA. I love it there and yet I’m having a hard time getting there. I get up early in the morning. That’s not the problem. I’m just not crazy about going out in the cold at 5:30 a.m.. It’s an excuse, I know. I want to make morning workouts a habit. Get up at 5:30, workout 6-7, and be to work at 9. Any suggestions on how I can get over the “excuses” and make the morning workouts a habit?
Thank you so much! And that’s so exciting – the YMCA in Mystic is such a beautiful gym. I 1000% feel you with the cold and gloom. We’d been having a good bit of nice winter weather here in Texas, but the cold and clouds have finally set in. It’s extremely unmotivating. When it comes to exercising in the morning, it’s all about creating as few obstacles as possible. Pick out your clothes the night before so they’re ready to throw on, and have your gym bag packed and ready to go. Especially with the cold, load up the layers over your gym clothes before you walk outside. Drink a glass of water before leaving so you’re well hydrated and energized. Make yourself a workout schedule so you have specific cardio/exercises you need to do each day – it’s an appointment you can’t miss! And consider taking a class or two at the YMCA. Then you really will have an appointment that requires you to get there right on time. And don’t forget to make specific goals for yourself. Having something you’re working towards makes your “why” a bit more clear as you battle the cold each morning 🙂
This is a great post! I really need to start exercise for my health! Thanks ?
Thank you Francesca! And yes! Exercise is beneficial for so many reasons. Starting out light with regular walking is a great place to begin.
I actually like doing stretch its been helping me to clear my mind and forget the negative stuff. Good article.
Good point! Stretching is great for both the body and mind. Thanks Jeremy!
Hi, I think your article is really helpful! I’m new to exercising and totally agree with starting easy.
Thanks Kathleen! Congrats on your new fitness journey – you’ve got this!!
These are great tips for beginners. It’s funny how many don’t eat enough to support their exercise and fitness goals. These tips may seem simple, but they’re really all anyone needs to stay fit and healthy.
Yes! In the past it’s unfortunately all been about eating less. While that may be needed to a point for certain health goals, you have to eat enough to simply have the energy for exercise.