Getting started is often the hardest part of any new exercise regimen, changing your habits can be very difficult. But the biggest issue for most people is not knowing how to start exercising.
What sort of exercises should you do? How often should you train?
Should you use equipment or stick to bodyweight movements?
Well, have no fear. In this article, we will provide a guide that will help answer any questions you have about starting an exercise program.
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Benefits of Exercising
- Cognitive & Mental Health Benefits – There is a lot of focus on the physical benefits of exercise, but not as much focus on the cognitive and mental health benefits. But this is a massive upside to exercise! Not only can exercise lead to a reduction in anxiety and depression, but it can also boost your cognition. Helping you to make decisions better, study better, and memorise things better. Exercise can also help with stress management, which is good for your mental health in the long term.
- Sleep Benefits – This is sort of following on from the previous benefit, but exercise can help improve your sleep quality. It does this in two ways; reducing anxiety and stress can help you sleep, while the act of exercise can tire you out. Sleep can also help you lose weight, which can improve sleep quality over time.
- Fat Loss Benefits – The most obvious one, exercising can help you to lose weight. Reducing body fat is a simple process (but not an easy one). All you need to do is create a calorie deficit, this is where your body is burning more calories than it is consuming. There are three main ways to achieve this: You can increase the calories that you burn (by exercising), you can reduce the calories you consume (by dieting), or you can combine the two.
- Muscle Building Benefits – Another obvious one, but exercise can increase both muscle size and muscle strength, depending on what your goal is.
Common Types of Exercise
There are many forms of exercise, and different types of exercise can benefit different people, or different goals. In this section, we will identify some of the common types of exercise, and highlight the positives and negatives of each.
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
You may be wondering why the first type of exercise on this list is called “non exercise”. NEAT represents all forms of activity that can’t be classed as formal exercise but still burn calories. For example, carrying a heavy bag of shopping from the car to your house isn’t really structured exercise.
It probably only lasts 5-10 seconds, and only burns a few calories. But it is still a form of activity. If you repeated that activity 500 times in a day you’d certainly call that exercise. NEAT represents all of these little activities: walking the dog, mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house, walking up the stairs. Even tiny activities like brushing your teeth or chopping vegetables for dinner.
Individually, these activities don’t count for much. But combine them together and they represent the majority of the calories you burn during the day. While you wouldn’t necessarily call any of this “structured” exercise, when you add all of these movements together they become the biggest form of exercise you do each day.
Low Intensity Steady State (LISS)
Low intensity steady state, or LISS for short, is a term for endurance exercise. A run or jog where you stay at the same pace from start to finish is a form of LISS. Running on a treadmill, cycling on a bike, or using a cross trainer without changing the speed for the entirety of the session are all forms of LISS.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
There are many forms of high intensity interval training, but they all share certain similarities. The idea is that you concentrate all of your effort into a short interval of time. Usually between 10 seconds and 30 seconds. After that short interval, you would have a rest and recovery period before repeating the intense interval.
Lifting weights, using resistance machines, performing bodyweight exercises. All of these types of training are forms of resistance. Interestingly, you can incorporate resistance training into HIIT as well as LISS.
Another form of exercise that many people embark on is flexibility. Yoga, pilates, or even just a simple stretching routine are all ways to improve flexibility. They can also help you to strengthen your muscles, and pilates in particular is quite good at improving cardiovascular fitness.
Balance is a particularly important aspect of fitness, particularly as you age. It is amazing how many young and healthy people could benefit from improving their balance. As with flexibility, a lot of balance training can come from yoga and pilates. Plyometrics training can also help to improve balance, but that really needs to be supervised by a trained coach. Though, simple agility work can be done independently.
Sport deserves its own section, because it is so diverse. Take a game of basketball, it can involve endurance training, it can also involve HIIT, and the basketball itself counts as a form of resistance. Many sports also involve unstructured intensity. You could be playing soccer with your team 4-0 up and you’re cruising. Barely even running. Or your team could be 3-2 down with 30 seconds to go and you’re sprinting towards the goal.
How to Get Started
Step #1 Goal Setting and Assessment
No matter what form of exercise you want to follow, you always need to start off the same way. You need to identify your goal, set a realistic timeframe, and assess your current fitness. There is no point in trying to run a marathon in a month if you can’t currently run round the block without feeling faint. If you are a complete beginner, then we’d advice avoiding a HIIT workout. You’re just not going to be fit enough to complete it properly.
Step #2 Increase Your Steps
Increasing your NEAT is a great way to start out if you haven’t exercised in a long while. Scheduling more house and yard work will also make you popular! One of the best ways to increase NEAT is to walk more. Walking 10,000 steps per day can be very challenging, but if you get a step counting app on your phone, you could identify your current average and try to build on that.
Step #3 Adding Cardio and Resistance Training to Your Routine
Walking can improve your cardiovascular fitness, and after a while, you’ll be ready to embark on some LISS exercises such as running, cycling, or using cardio equipment. It may also be a good time to add some resistance exercises into your week. Even if it is as simple as some bodyweight squats or lunges. After a few weeks, you’ll be ready for sport or possibly even some HIIT.
Of course, everyone is different and will have different starting levels of fitness (even if you haven’t exercised for five years you may still be in better shape than an 89 year old). You will have to be honest with yourself and pick an intensity that suits your needs and abilities.
A piece of advice that applies to everyone though, don’t overdo it!
Sample Workouts for Beginners
In this section, we will provide a sample workout routine for a beginner in three categories. Low Intensity Steady State, Resistance workout, and High Intensity Interval Training.
Workout #1 Low Intensity Steady State (LISS)
Of all the workouts on this list, this is by far the simplest. The beauty of low intensity steady state is that it is uncomplicated. The idea is that you are running, swimming, cycling, or whatever at the same speed for a period of time.
So, a LISS workout for beginners is going to just be “run, swim, or cycle” for as long as you can at a certain speed. There’s not much more to it! The main thing that you should pay attention to is finding the right pace for you.
In fact, you may find that the best way to get into LISS is to actually use some intervals. Run at a gentle pace for as long as you can, then slow down and walk until you get your breath back. Then you want to start running again. Repeat this process for 30 minutes. Then you can increase the length of time you do it for, or you can try to increase the amount of running you do in that 30 minutes.
Your first session could look like this:
Warm up with a walk/gentle jog for 5 minutes
- Start running at a brisk pace for as long as you can
- Once you feel like you’re running at 80% effort (you would struggle to hold a conversation while running) you can stop and start walking
- Walk until you feel like you’ve recovered enough to run
- Run at a brisk pace for as long as you can
- Repeat until you have exercised for the full 30 minutes (or you’re too tired to continue)
- Cool down with a slow walk/gentle jog
This can be done for any form of cardio really. Cross trainers, treadmills, resistance bikes, regular bicycles, rowing machines, swimming. The idea is to eventually be able to train for long periods of time at the same pace throughout.
Workout #2 Resistance Workout
A resistance workout is one of the greatest ways to build muscle as well as burn calories. Interestingly, resistance workouts are also able to improve your cardiovascular health. You can either perform a resistance workout using gym equipment or you can perform a bodyweight workout (or a combination of the two).
In this section, we will provide three workouts for beginners:
- A bodyweight only workout
- A home-based workout with minimal gym equipment (1 x kettlebell, 2 x dumbbells, 1 x workout bench)
- A gym-based resistance workout
Bodyweight Workout 3 x per week
- Squats 3 x 12-15 reps
- Lunges 3 x 10 reps (each leg)
- Push Ups 3 x 12-15 reps (can be performed on knees if you can’t perform regular ones)
- Mountain Climbers 3 x 20 reps
- Squat Jumps 3 x 10 reps
- Long-Arm Crunches 3 x 10 reps
Home-Based Resistance Workout 3 x per week
- 1 x Medium Weight Kettlebell,
- 1 x Pair of Medium Weight Dumbbells,
- 1 x workout bench
If you can’t find all the equipment, then just do what you can and try to incorporate bodyweight exercises from the previous workout (i.e. push ups instead of bench press).
- Goblet Squats 3 x 12-15 reps
- Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 8-12 reps
- Split Squats 3 x 10 reps (each leg)
- Kettlebell Swings 3 x 6-10 reps
- Flat DB Bench Press 3 x 8-12 reps
- DB Single Arm Rows 3 x 10 reps (each arm)
- DB Standing Push Press 3 x 12 reps
- Bent Knee Ab Crunches 3 x 20 reps
Gym-Based Resistance Workout 3 x per week
- Seated Leg Curls 3 x 12-15 reps
- Goblet Squats 3 x 8-12 reps
- Kettlebell Deadlift 3 x 6 reps (if your form is good enough you can perform barbell instead
- Leg Extensions 3 x 12-15 reps
- Bench Press 3 x 8-12 reps
- Lat Pulldown 3 x 8-12 reps
- Seated DB Shoulder Press 3 x 8-12 reps
- Plank 5 x 10 seconds
Workout #3 HIIT
There are many variations of high intensity interval training workouts. But the easiest to follow is a Tabata workout. TABATA is very simple, all you need is a Tabata timer, which can be downloaded for free from the app store.
Tabata works like this. Pick an exercise, preferably a compound movement (an exercise that works multiple muscles at once). Then you are going to perform it at 100% effort for 20 seconds. Once the 20 seconds are up, you are going to rest for 10 seconds. Then you immediately start performing the exercise again at 100% intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this eight times for a total of 4 minutes.
Rest for 3-5 minutes between each exercise. So, 4 minutes of Tabata (8 x 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest). Rest for 3-5 minutes then pick a new exercise.
Tabata Workout 3 x per week
- Mountain Climbers Tabata (8 x 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest)
- Kettlebell Swings Tabata (8 x 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest)
- Push Ups Tabata (8 x 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest)
- Squat Jumps Tabata (8 x 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest)
Home Exercise Equipment
What equipment you buy for your workouts depends on several factors. How much space you have, what your budget is, and what sort of workouts you want to perform. If you are planning on doing LISS workouts you’ll need a good set of running shoes, and a cardio machine if you want to exercise indoors.
For bodyweight workouts you don’t really need much equipment, that’s kind of the beauty. But workout clothes, an exercise mat, and a decent stopwatch would all be useful. It is entirely possible to perform a bodyweight workout without buying anything though!
Resistance workouts require the most purchases (though it can still work out cheaper than purchasing a treadmill or exercise bike). The sky is your limit here. You can buy home gyms, squat racks, full sets of weights, barbells, the list goes on and on. But here are a few items that you should definitely consider:
- Workout bench with incline setting
- Adjustable dumbbells
- Light kettlebell, medium kettlebell, heavy kettlebell
Common Mistakes & Tips
Here are five common mistakes that people make when exercising, and five tips for avoiding/fixing them.
- Doing too much too soon – This is such a common mistake because most people who want to get in shape are either very excited, or very stressed. They want to achieve results as quickly as possible and overestimate how much they can do. This often leads to either burnout or injury. Plan out three sessions to do per week, make the sessions short, and productive (use our workouts above if you want) and once they’re done congratulate yourself and rest up.
- Chasing Perfection – It is such a simple trap to fall into. You search out the perfect workout, you look for the perfect dumbbells on Amazon, you research the perfect diet. You spend 3 hours creating the ultimate exercise playlist. All of this takes 3 weeks. Just get up and go! That being said …
- Your Form is Sloppy – While perfection is unattainable, you should still ensure that you are doing a good job. Check out each exercise before you perform it, and make sure you are doing it safely and with good form. Don’t use too much weight. Don’t hurt yourself.
- Not Having a Goal – You don’t need to agonise for six weeks on the perfect goal (we’ve already addressed the pitfalls in that mentality). But if you don’t have any goal then what is your motivation? How do you know if you are succeeding or not? Create a couple of realistic goals and set a timeframe to achieve them in.
- Not Recording Your Workouts – At the end of each session write down the reps you did, the weight you used, the distance traveled (if you are doing a cardio session) etc .. and leave a quick note about how tough or how easy the session was. This will help you to assess how well you are doing, how far you’ve come, and what intensity to train at during the next session.
There you have it, a guide on how to start exercising. Hopefully, this article has helped inspire and guide you. If so, then all you have to do now is identify your goals, decide which workouts to follow, and get the equipment you need to succeed. You’ve got this!