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Exercise for Beginners
New to working out? Whether you’re dusting off your old gym membership for a New Year’s resolution or you’re working out for the first time ever, there’s good news for you: with so many options available today, you can pretty much pick and choose your fitness routine until it is completely customized to your body, your goals, your schedule and yes, your contempt for cardio. Regardless if you’re just ready to make a change for yourself, or your doctor insisted you started working out for your health, congratulations on taking the first step toward improving your mental health (thank you, endorphins!), strengthening your bones and muscles, lowering your risk of heart disease and obesity, and boosting your energy levels!
Adding physical movement to your daily routine doesn’t mean you need to spend hours at the gym or work yourself to exhaustion. Exercise for beginners can include any number of things—from playing a sport you enjoy to going for a walk outside to lifting weights at the gym. To exercise, you just have to move your body. However you choose to do that totally counts as exercise.
Benefits of Exercise
The benefits of exercise go far beyond weight loss, though that’s often the necessary motivator to get started. Any type of exercise burns calories; the more intense the exercise, the more calories that are burned. Calorie burn leads to weight loss and healthy weight loss brings its own benefits like lower risk of disease. Heart-pumping exercise strengthens your cardiovascular system and improves endurance making it easier to do everyday tasks like climbing stairs and lifting heavy objects.
The same can be said for bone density and joint mobility, two additional benefits of exercise. Having strong bones and flexible joints makes it easier to move about which is especially true as a person begins to age.
Consistent exercise can add years onto your life and can help prevent or minimize the risk of serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease as well as other health issues like high cholesterol, arthritis, and high blood pressure. Plus, when your heart begins to pump blood more efficiently, your circulation improves too.
The advantages of being physically fit don’t stop with just physical benefits either. Numerous studies have cited the mental benefits that come from exercise. Exercise triggers a feel-good chemical in the brain known as endorphins. Endorphins are responsible for reducing stress and improving your mood. And, of course, there is much to be said for feeling and looking your best. Self-esteem is directly linked to mental health.
Last but not least, working out helps to circulate oxygen and blood flow throughout your body. That strengthens your heart and your lungs giving you more energy throughout the day. Ironically, more energy during the day helps you sleep better at night!
How to Start Working Out
Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably already interested in working out. And if that isn’t the case, then hopefully the benefits of exercise are enough to talk you into getting started. It’s less important what you do for exercise and more important that you just do it.
Start by figuring out what you like to do. Was there a sport you played at one point? Tennis, rowing, swimming, basketball, dancing—those are all great places to start. Do you enjoy taking walks in the morning? Walking at a brisk pace is an excellent cardio workout. Do you prefer to workout with others or work out alone? Explore Team Workouts or consider starting out with small group training or 1:1 training!
Once you decide what to do, decide where you’ll do it. Do you need to buy equipment for an in-home gym? Start with the basics like dumbbells, a weightlifting bench, a jump rope, and an exercise ball. Do you prefer to exercise outdoors? Weather-permitting, the great outdoors offers plenty of options. Scope out nearby walking paths to walk, run or bike. Joining a gym is an option that can help keep you accountable with a personal trainer, group classes, or due to the simple fact that you’re paying money to be a member.
Doctors recommend that you spend at least 150 minutes a week doing cardio exercises. These exercises should be performed at a moderate level, but don’t worry if you’re not ready for that intensity right away. Eventually if you are working out at a more intense level—think running, cycling, walking at a steep incline—then you should do at least 75 minutes each week. In addition to the regular cardio, you should do some type of strength training two to three times per week. Not only does strength training help to prevent injuries, but it builds muscle mass which burns fat.
To summarize, here’s your plan of attack to start working out:
- Step 1: Think about a few things that you like to do or used to do. Narrow down the list by the activities that require movement and get your heart pumping.
- Step 2: Make a plan of how you can fit at least 30 minutes of this movement into your day. If you can’t fit 30 consecutive minutes in, then break it down into three 10-minute periods of movement.
- Step 3: Decide where and with who you’d like to work out. Many gyms offer a complimentary personal training session where a trainer can help get you started. You can also choose to work out on your own outside but make a back-up plan in case the weather isn’t ideal.
- Step 4: Write down your goals. Whether it’s to lose weight or to make those 30 minutes a day a priority, writing it down will help keep you accountable.
- Step 5: Track your progress. There’s nothing that will motivate you more than seeing how far you’ve come. If you work with a personal trainer, they will track this for you, but there are many smartphone apps, like the Anytime Fitness app, that will guide you in keeping track.
- Step 6: Get moving! If you’re just starting out, try a few things! You might surprise yourself and find out new things you like to do, like HIIT (high intensity interval training) or swimming. Just make sure to not overdo it when you’re first starting out. Stay in tune with your body and know that fitness is a journey so don’t expect to get in shape overnight.
Having a realistic plan is one of the best ways to stay consistent. Intentionally carve out time in your schedule to get that recommended 30 to 60 minutes of exercise. If you don’t intentionally set that time aside, you will find it difficult to find time throughout your day. A beginner workout plan should include both cardio and strength training. Choose your cardio of choice and make a commitment to do it three to five times per week. It can be as simple as getting out for a long walk or taking a 60-minute workout class that you enjoy. On strength days, plan to spend about 45-60 minutes lifting weights for a total body workout.
Start by Creating a Workout Routine You Can Stick With
A typical workout routine will include a five to 10-minute warm-up; options can include dynamic stretching, brisk walking or a light jog. As tempting as it may be, don’t skip the warm-up; the warm-up is what prepares your body by loosening your joints, warming up your muscles and getting your heart ready to pump more blood.
Once your body feels loosened up and ready to go, increase the intensity of whatever cardio exercise you’re doing. Keep up the moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes before changing gears and cooling down. If you’re wearing a heart rate monitor, moderate intensity should register at 50-70 percent of your heart rate zone.
Give your heart rate time to slow down after those 30 minutes by doing a thorough cool down. Change the speed you’re walking, bicycling or running at, and catch your breath. Once your heart rate has slowed to a regular pace, you’re ready to move on to stretching.
Ending your workout with five to 10 minutes of stretching helps deliver oxygen to your muscles that worked hard during the exercise. Static stretching (stretching and then holding the position) is effective for reducing next-day muscle soreness and stiffness. Foam rolling is another beneficial addition to your post-workout routine as it helps to ease muscle pain and prevents lactic acid build up which can make your muscles feel sore.
Once you’re finished with your entire workout routine, it’s time to fuel your body. Your post-workout meal should be eaten within 30 to 45 minutes after exercising. Choose foods with carbs and protein for energy and muscle repair.
Types of Exercise
Cardio and Aerobic Exercise
If you’re interested in working out to lose weight, cardio is probably the first thing that comes to your mind. Cardio can feel like a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to! You can take something you actually like to do, like taking walks or taking a dance class, and turn it into cardio. In fact, cardio is simply defined as any activity that elevates your heart rate into your target heart rate zone. If you’re breathing heavier, sweating, or your heart is beating faster than usual, chances are you are doing some type of cardio whether it’s intentional or not!
Benefits of Cardio
Studies have proven that cardio and aerobic exercise prevent a whole host of health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure. It also helps maintain a healthy weight which in itself prevents several health complications and diseases. This type of exercise also strengthens your heart muscle so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood, which reduces the risk of heart attacks and heart disease. The benefits don’t end there either! Getting your body moving and your heart pumping has been proven to reduce stress by boosting endorphins, one of your body’s feel-good chemicals. It’s also been proven to help you sleep better at night while giving you more energy during the day.
How Much Cardio Should You Do?
Examples of Cardio Exercise
The list of exercises you can do to get your heart rate up is endless. Narrow it down by figuring out what’s practical for you to do on a regular basis. If you have doubts that you’ll get up at 5 a.m. during the week to head to spin class across town, then you probably won’t.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What type of movement do I enjoy doing?
- Where can I do this movement? What kind of facility or equipment is required?
- How often can I realistically fit this into my life? Is the time, effort, and money required sustainable for my lifestyle?
Outdoor activities like running, walking, rollerblading, bicycling and swimming are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get exercise. Alternatively, coming to the gym will help keep you accountable, you’ll find all types of cardio equipment from treadmills to ellipticals and rowers to stationary bikes.
If you’re pressed for time or a gym membership doesn’t fit your budget right now, you can do plenty of workouts at home with a little creativity or with the help of technology.
Cardio exercise can include:
- Climbing stairs
- Playing a sport like basketball or football
- Circuit-style weightlifting
- Jumping rope
- Bodyweight exercises like squat jumps, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, etc.
Weightlifting or strength training is an important component to your workout plan. People who are trying to lose weight often overlook weight training because it doesn’t elevate the heart rate quite like cardio does. However, even though it doesn’t burn as many calories per session, it does build muscle which burns more calories at rest. In other words, it increases your resting metabolism. Not only that, but stronger muscles and bone density help you to perform cardio exercises more effectively and safely.
Strength training should be performed two to three times per week. You can alternate between an upper body workout and a leg workout, or you can do total body workouts every other day. There should always be a day of rest in between lifting days, especially if you’re concentrating on the same muscles. That rest day is important so that your muscles begin to repair themselves after you break them down during your workout.
A gym will have everything you need for weightlifting including dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, benches and weight machines. But you can get this basic equipment at home as well or you can do bodyweight exercises which doesn’t require any equipment at all.
If you’re new to lifting, start with a dumbbell workout where you can work your biceps, triceps, shoulders and pectorals for a total upper body workout. Push exercises (moving weight away from you) will work your chest while pull exercises (pulling the weight down toward you) with a machine will target your upper back.
As far as lower body workout, you may find it easier to execute using a machine, but you can certainly do bodyweight exercises too. Bodyweight exercises include moves like air squats, lunges, wall sits, and calf raises. You may want to start with bodyweight exercises or at least a lighter weight until you get the movement down. The main muscles you will target with these exercises are your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves.
Having a strong core isn’t just about having Instagram-worthy abs. With every movement you make, your core is at the center of it all. Both your upper and your lower body are connected to your core making this part of your body an area you should frequently target with exercise. This part of your body includes the front, sides and back of your midsection; it is responsible for your entire body’s stability and balance.
Because many of us have sedentary jobs where we sit all day, we tend to have a weakened mid-section resulting in poor posture and back strain. Core exercises strengthen your abdominals, pelvic muscles, lower back and hip, allowing you to perform everyday movements in the gym and out of the gym with greater ease.
Last but not least, you should incorporate a stretching routine to your workout. Stretching before a workout will help to warm up the muscles and help you mentally prepare for the workout ahead. Muscles that are loosened and warmed up are less likely to suffer injury. This is especially important for high-impact workouts like sprinting, high-intensity interval training and jumping. Regular stretching will make you more flexible; flexibility allows you to move with a better range of motion improving your workouts.
Dynamic stretching is the best type of stretch to do before a workout. Unlike static stretching, which is stationary, dynamic stretching uses movement. This type of warm up prepares you for whatever exercise you’re about to do.
End your workout with static stretching. With a static stretch, you will hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds before releasing. Stretching after exercise neutralizes and greatly reduces muscle tension.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t notice anything besides sore muscles when you first begin to workout. It will take your body time to get used to strenuous physical activity, but the good news is, it means your body is working, and if your body is working, it’s changing. Speaking of change, once your workouts begin to plateau or feel too easy, it’s time to change it up. Either switch to a new exercise entirely or find modifications to make the exercise more intense. You can add weight or reps or speed. Otherwise your body will become used to the exercise and won’t have to work as hard to perform it.
Soon enough, your body will adapt to working out and while your workouts should always have a degree of difficulty, exercising will get easier. With consistency, you will find that you can do things you never thought you could do at one point!