Probably the hardest part of working out is getting started. When you’re used to a mostly sedentary lifestyle or only sporadic workouts, gathering the energy to get off the couch on a regular basis can be a daunting task, especially if you have a busy schedule. But getting started is also one of the BEST decisions you can make for yourself. If you can push yourself to do it, eventually it will just become habit and you’ll wonder how you ever got by without regular exercise! Just the fact that you’re reading this post says a lot!
Before we begin, quick disclaimer: You should NOT begin any workout program without first consulting your physician to make sure you are healthy and have no contraindications. Do not perform any exercises that you are uncertain of how to perform without guidance from a professional. Please consult a trainer or other professional when learning how to do any exercise, use any equipment, or choose an appropriate weight/resistance.
Now that we have that out of the way…this program is designed for beginners and in particular anyone who has never exercised on a regular basis (at least 3 times per week for at least 3 months), or for those of you who haven’t exercised on a regular basis in quite some time and need to ease back into working out. This program has 3 phases — the pre-workout phase, the technique/stabilization phase, and the final phase. The goals emphasized in this program are proper technique, adherence, and health benefits. This is not a weight loss program, although you will likely experience positive body composition changes such as decreased body fat and increased lean mass.
Pre-Workout Phase – Week 1 & 2
The pre-workout phase is 2 weeks and helps prepare your body for increased activity. For this phase, you are going to walk (or bike, or do some other form of steady-state exercise) for 30 minutes three days a week. The intensity should be moderate, but not difficult. You want your heart rate to increase, but you should be able to maintain a conversation for the entire 30 minutes. Remember, if you’re not working, you’re not improving!
Following are some exercise options. This is definitely not an exhaustive list.
- Brisk walk around the neighborhood
- Brisk walk on the treadmill (e.g., about 3.5 mph)
- Bike ride around the neighborhood or on the stationary bike
The most important thing is that you find something you enjoy doing and can maintain for 30 minutes. Some things that might help you fight boredom include listening to music or to an audio book, exercising with a friend, or even talking to someone on the phone (but remember to keep up your pace!).
What 3 days of the week you choose are entirely up to you, but definitely choose them ahead of time. It’s important to have a schedule in place that you are committed to following. That’s not to say it can’t be flexible, and you should always have a backup plan in case something comes up. But the best way to never get started is to keep putting it off — the “I’ll do it tomorrow” attitude. My suggestion is that you choose something like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Leaving a day in between not only gives you time to rest, but it makes it easier to transition to the next phase where we add two days of strength training. Also, choose a “backup day” in case you have to miss one of your scheduled days. For example, say your backup day is Sunday. If your friends want to have their monthly girls night this Wednesday, then you can move Wednesday’s workout to Sunday.
Your calendar may look something like this:
Technique / Stabilization Phase – Week 3-6
In week 3, we’re going to add in your first strength training workout. The cardio that you’ve been doing for the first 2 weeks should remain the same. All of the strength workouts can be performed either at home with minimal equipment (bands, dumbbells) or at a gym.
Before I get to the workout, here’s some instructions:
- Adequately warm up your muscles with 5-10 minutes of cardio, hip circles, and arm circles.
- The workout is broken up into 3 circuits, each with 3 exercises. Perform all exercises and sets of each circuit before moving on to the next circuit.
- Rest 30-60 seconds between sets. Take breaks as needed.
- If you need more of a challenge, progress the exercise using a suggestion below or by increasing either your reps or resistance. If you’re feeling really good by the end, do a bonus round of your 3 favorite exercises!
- Remember, the sets and reps suggested are just a guideline. Listen to your body! If you’re not there yet, that’s ok. You’ll get there in time. If you need more, add more reps! Don’t be afraid to increase your reps to 20 or even 25, or to add more weight.
- Stretch for 10-15 minutes after every workout to aid in recovery and help prevent injury.
Stand from Bench: This is basically a squat, but using a bench or chair. Make sure the bench or chair is low enough to the ground so that your knees are at a 90 degree angle when your seated. Sit on the bench with your knees and hips at 90 degrees, ankles directly below the knees, and torso straight. Engage your core and maintain a neutral back. Without using your hands, lift up to stand, squeezing the front then back of your legs. Without using your hands and with keeping your chest lifted, lower back to a seated position. To progress, remove the bench and do a regular squat. You can also add weight by holding a dumbbell or barbell.
Birddog: Start in table top with hands and knees on the floor under your shoulders and hips, respectively. Maintaining a neutral spine, lift one arm and the opposite leg (e.g., right arm and left leg) straight out so that they are perpendicular to the floor. To progress, start in plank position. Lift one arm and/or one leg straight out.
Bicep Curl in Wall Sit: Place stability ball against a wall and your back against the stability ball. Roll down to a squat/seated position. The stability ball should be in the middle of your back. Bicep curl from this position.
Your calendar for week 3 may look something like this:
In weeks 4-6, you’re going to add a second day of strength training and increase your cardio. In weeks 4 & 5, keep the days of your cardio the same, but increase the time to 40 minutes. In week 6, add a fourth day of 30 minute cardio. Also in week 6, if you haven’t already, try increasing your sets to 3 sets of each exercise.
Your calendar for week 4 & 5 might look like this:
You calendar for week 6 might look like this:
If working out 6 days a week seems daunting, you can also put your 30 minute walk on a strength day. You might do something like this: Tuesday – Strength 2 + 30 minute walk before bed.
If you’ve made it through week 6, you’re on a really good path! In fact, you’ve just hit the US HHS’s recommendations for physical activity. And I think it’s time for a reward. Buy yourself some new gym clothes, that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing, or this season’s must have lip colors. You’ve earned it!
Final Phase – Weeks 7-10
You’ve made it to the home stretch! You’re almost through with your beginner workout program and will be ready to move on to more intermediate exercise routines in just a few weeks. Your calendar is going to stay the same, but your strength exercises are going to build on what you’ve just mastered and you’ll increase your sets to 3 (if you haven’t done so already). Also, challenge yourself during cardio by increasing the intensity! You can add some jogging intervals to your walk, increase the incline on the treadmill, or peddle faster or add resistance on the bike or elliptical.
Don’t forget to create a spreadsheet using the charts above to keep track of your workouts and progress. Record the number of sets and reps for each workout and how much weight you used (or for cardio, the speed/intensity). Write down any notes you want to remember for your next workout. Typically, I make each row an exercise and each column a date. I record sets, reps, and weight in the box corresponding to each exercise and date.
Feel free to like, comment on, or share this post if you found it interesting or helpful! I love hearing about your progress!!