workout essentials

There are many reasons to incorporate regular exercise in your day. Some people want to lose a few pounds. Others want to increase their energy levels so they can keep up with their kids or be more productive at work. Still others are looking to improve their overall health. Whatever the reason, once you've decided to start exercising, the first question that likely comes to mind is: "Where do I start?"

All the information and options out there might make you feel bombarded with tips, tricks and programs — all claiming to hold the secret to exercise and weight loss success.

Here's the truth: Exercise routines for beginners should be simple.

If you opt to start with something that takes a lot of time and equipment, or has a lot of complicated steps to follow, there's a good chance you'll grow frustrated and quit. You should choose a beginners' exercising routine that will encourage you to keep going and help you meet your goals, no matter how big or small they are.

How to Start Exercising

The American Heart Association recommends adults rack up at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week . If you're new to a fitness routine — or returning after a long hiatus — spending 150 extra minutes exercising each week can seem overwhelming. The best way to accomplish this goal without getting discouraged is to follow these tried-and-true tips for beginning an exercise routine.

1. Make a Plan

make an exercise plan for beginners

Starting without a plan in mind is one of the shortest routes to abandoning your fitness goals. Making fitness a habit requires you to commit to incorporating it into your daily and weekly routine. So, before you lace up your athletic shoes and hit the weights, ask yourself these two questions:

  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • How will I achieve that goal?

The first one is easy. Most people know why they want to exercise. But the second question is a little bit harder to answer. The best way to develop the habit of exercise is to choose something you enjoy. If you like walking, head out to your nearest park or nature trail. If you enjoy swimming, grab those goggles and go. If you're itching to dance, check out a group fitness class that will get you moving from head to toe.

Also, make sure to schedule your workout the same way you would set aside time for a doctor's or dentist's appointment. Just as you wouldn't cancel a visit to your doctor's office because your favorite show is on television, don't cancel your "appointment" to exercise, either.

Many people make the mistake of treating exercise as an extra luxury they incorporate into their day — if they have time. However, this mindset is a terrible way to develop a habit. If you want to incorporate exercise into your routine, treat it as a non-negotiable. If you do find yourself making excuses for why you can't keep your appointment, ask yourself if you need to choose a different activity or different timeslot in your day.

2. Slow and Steady Win the Race

walk 20 to 30 minutes a day

If you've never set foot in a gym, "slow" will look a lot different to you than it will to someone who's taken time off to recover from an injury. If you aren't sure where to start, consider walking for 20 to 30 minutes each day. The best thing about starting with walking is that it doesn't take a lot of equipment and it's something you can do virtually anywhere, which makes this option especially appealing for someone who wants to exercise during their lunch break. All you need to do is lace up a sturdy pair of shoes and head out the door.

If you're ready to hit the gym, one great way to start slowly is to join a group exercise class. Working out with others has a lot of benefits . It holds you accountable, and it teaches you correct form. If you're new to exercise, having others around to instruct you on the proper form can save you from injury down the road, as well as teach you how to get the most out of your workout.

Group fitness classes come with your YMCA membership, which means there's no excuse not to try one — or several. Each YMCA location offers different classes, so whether you're interested in yoga, Zumba, cycling, water aerobics, strength training or something else, you're guaranteed to find a class that fits your interests and your schedule.

3. Recruit an Accountability Partner

Ever heard of the buddy system? It works! Find someone else who can share your goals. It's a lot easier to keep your commitment to work out when there's someone else waiting for you at the gym. Not only that, but having a friend to talk to while you work out can make it more fun and take your mind off what you're doing. When you have fun, you're more likely to do it again.

If you don't have someone to work out with, the next best thing is to find a friend or family member who is willing to hold you accountable to your goals. Tell them specifically what your intentions are so they can help you stay motivated and check on your progress. Knowing your buddy will be asking about your progress is an extra incentive to keep you on the right track.

4. Start Diet Changes

Exercise is vital, but it's only one part of living a healthier life. You could spend all day in the gym, but if you're eating doughnuts and pizza every day, you aren't giving your body the fuel it needs to help you meet your goals. You're working against your body and the very goals you're trying to accomplish.

change your diet

When you decide to undertake an exercising routine for beginners, also begin incorporating healthier foods into your diet. No, that doesn't mean you should be living on a diet of water and kale. Just make some simple changes. If you need to, make them one at a time. For example, switch soda for water, or swap your cookies at lunch with a piece of fruit. Try these one or two swaps for a few days. Once you adjust to the change, find one or two more things to change out for healthier options. Over time, these small switches will add up to an overall more nutritious diet.

Also, strive for balance. While it's completely OK to indulge in the occasional bowl of ice cream or slice of pizza, make it your goal to eat a balanced diet overall. If you're willing to make the switch, healthy food can be just as delicious and satisfying as the not-so-good-for-you options.

5. Don’t Expect Perfection

You will have days where you skip a workout, or eat that extra slice of pizza. Even professional athletes don't stick to their goals 100 percent of the time. And that's OK. When you're beginning a new fitness routine, you're going to have days where you struggle. If you miss a day, pick it back up the next day. The worst thing you can do is adopt an "all-or-none" mentality and throw in the towel the first time you fail.

When you set your fitness goals, also set the 80/20 goal. This goal says you will commit to making good choices 80 percent of the time, and that you will be flexible and gracious with yourself the other 20 percent of the time.

6. Ask for Help

One of the best ways to learn how to start exercising is to ask for help. While the internet certainly has a wealth of valuable information, it can be overwhelming to sort through all the advice to figure out what's best for you. Working with a personal trainer can provide you with valuable information about the best workout for your body and health. A trainer can also help you learn how to use the various pieces of equipment in the gym, as well as help you set fitness goals and expectations based on your age, abilities and limitations.

The YMCA also offers the MyFitness program , which introduces you to our fitness facilities and provides you with some help establishing exercise goals. It comes with your YMCA membership, so joining this program is a great way to start your journey to successful fitness.

gym staff gateway region ymca

Don't be shy! If you don't opt for either of these more personalized options, take advantage of the gym staff who are out on the floor. It's their job to answer questions about how to use a specific piece of equipment or which exercises benefit certain muscle groups.

7. Be Patient

Your goal should be to develop long-term habits, rather than obtain short-term results. If all you can do right now is walk for 15 minutes each day, start there. And don't give up. After a few weeks, once 20 minutes doesn't seem so hard, add five or 10 more minutes. If you're lifting weights, focus on your technique and making sure you have proper form. As you become more used to these exercises, you can add more weight and reps.

patience with exercise routine

Pushing yourself is part of improving, but be careful not to push too far. Take the time to develop your plan and your strength. Contrary to popular belief, it shouldn't be your goal to be in pain after a workout. Yes, it's normal to experience some minor muscle soreness as your body adjusts to your new routine, but if you're in so much pain that it hurts every time you move, you've overdone it.

When you're working out, also take the time to incorporate a thorough warm-up and cool-down into your routine to prevent injury. And, make sure you are allowing yourself breaks. Don't take weeks at a time off from being active, but if your routine includes regular gym days, make sure you allow yourself periodic rest days for your body to maintain the strength you need to continue. On days you don't go to the gym, incorporate a walk, a tennis game or some other activity that keeps you exercising in other ways.

8. Pay Attention to Your Body

We are big fans of challenging yourself to try new things. However, it's always essential to listen to your body and know your limitations. For example, if you have bad knees, it may not be realistic to spend an hour each day running. A no-impact workout, such as water aerobics, may be a better option for staying engaged and interested in your workout. After all, you're not going to work out at all if your knees are hurting too much.

There's nothing wrong with protecting your body. Taking time to understand what exercises help your body — as well as which can cause pain for you specifically — helps you avoid injury and stay strong in your goal to become more active. And remember, if you aren't sure what will be helpful, don't be afraid to ask for help.

9. Change it Up

The old saying "variety is the spice of life" rings true when it comes to fitness. If you do the same workout every day, you'll lose interest, and your body will stop responding. If you've set the habit and have incorporated regular gym time into your routine, the best way to keep your body guessing is to include a variety of strength training and cardiovascular exercises.

change up exercise routine

If you're still working on developing a routine, the best thing to do is challenge yourself with different activities. For example, if you use the treadmill one day, move on to an exercise bike the next day. Or, if you've walked on the treadmill on a Monday, head outside and challenge yourself to a trail on a Tuesday.

10. Don't Compare Yourself to Others

Everyone has a different body and different abilities. Comparing your body and your skills to someone else leads to discouragement, which ultimately leads to quitting. When you resolve to begin an exercise routine, also decide to ignore those around you and choose what works best for you.

Choosing to work out in a judgment-free space offers people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to focus on their bodies, without comparing themselves to others. If you have decided to work out at a gym, consider choosing an inclusive one, such as the YMCA. Beginning an exercise program in this kind of atmosphere can make a significant impact on your ability to stay strong and meet your goals.

Starting Exercise Safely

When starting an exercise routine, it's essential to develop safe practices to avoid injury. If you have health issues or you haven't been active in some time, we recommend you consult with your doctor to determine whether you have any limitations.

Once you are ready to begin, incorporating these rules into your workout will keep you safe and help you avoid injury.

start your exercise routine safely

You should also spend some time making sure you have the right attire, especially shoes. The appropriate shoes for just about any exercise — except swimming — should be new and should fit properly. While there are shoes specifically for running, walking, cross-training and more, you'll want to find a shoe that allows for diverse activities, but still offers the support you need for the activity you do the most. Having the right footwear can make a difference in what you can accomplish, so don't skimp on this one.

But don't stop at your feet. What you wear does matter in the gym. No, we aren't talking about high-end items. But we are talking about wearing properly fitting clothes made from fabrics that will keep your body temperature even. If you're working out inside, sweat-wicking, breathable material will keep you cooler and comfortable during a workout. On the flip side, if you opt to head outside for a walk or run on a chilly afternoon, you might want to select an insulating material.

Exercise Routines for Beginners

If you're looking for some inspiration for how to start exercising, we've got you covered. Experts generally agree combining strength conditioning, flexibility training and cardiovascular activity is the best way to achieve overall physical fitness . You don't have to try to fit all these into every workout, but striving for some combination of these within your week is a great goal to have. Not only does combining these elements improve your workout, but it also keeps you interested with plenty of options for changing things up.

rules of strength conditioning for beginners

1. Strength Conditioning

There are two rules of strength conditioning: Don't lift more weight than you can handle, and never work on the same muscle group two days in a row. Instead, choose one exercise for each muscle group. Then, find a weight at which you can comfortably — but not easily — perform anywhere from eight to 12 repetitions, also known as a "set." As you become more comfortable, you can increase the weight you are using, as well as how many sets you do. Over time, you can add additional exercises for specific muscle groups you want to target as well. Check out these tips for getting started .

2. Flexibility Training

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends incorporating flexibility training, or stretching, into a fitness routine to protect and improve range of motion . In other words, it helps keep your joints healthy and your muscles loose. You can do flexibility training through an organized yoga or Pilates class, or by doing a variety of stretching on your own. If you're not sure what kinds of stretches are beneficial, check out these suggestions from the American Heart Association.

3. Cardiovascular Activity

The goal of cardiovascular activity is to raise your heart rate, which you can do through a variety of forms of exercise. Some of the most common include walking, running, jogging — outside or on a treadmill — swimming, playing a sport such as basketball or soccer or engaging in an aerobic fitness class, such as Zumba.

You should aim to spend anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes a day , four to five days a week, engaging in cardiovascular activity. While you would ideally be able to fit all this time into one session, there is also some benefit to breaking it up into smaller 10-minute segments throughout the day. You can even work up to that amount gradually, especially if you're struggling to find time to fit an exercise routine into your schedule or you have not engaged in regular exercise previously.

Let the Gateway Region YMCA Help You Meet Your Fitness Goals

meet your fitness goals at gateway region ymca

By incorporating regular exercise into your day, you are making a conscious decision to improve your overall health and well-being. Besides improving your physical health, exercise also boosts your emotional health, making it one of the best ways to take care of yourself and the people around you.

Interested in incorporating fitness into your routine, but aren't sure where to start? If you live in the greater metropolitan St. Louis area, the Gateway Region YMCA is a great place to turn. Whether you want to start on your own or with a trainer, in the gym or in the pool, we have the facilities and the staff ready and waiting to help you turn your fitness goals into a reality.

When you join the YMCA, you aren't only joining a gym. You are becoming part of a community of people who believe in the physical and mental benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. In this community, you will find the help and accountability you need every step of the way.

Don't wait another day to begin your fitness journey. For more information, check out the individual offerings at one of our local branches.

Category: Exercise