The 8 Best Beginner Exerciser Tips (from a Clinical Exercise Expert)
Interested in beginner workouts? Take these proven steps for long-term exercise success.
My 90-year-old patient in cardiac rehabilitation exercised in exactly the way you would expect a 90-year-old to exercise on his first day. It was a true beginner workout: he moved slow, with the lowest resistance, and rested frequently.
He came back for his second day of cardiac rehab and reported:
"I feel so much better. After just one day of exercise, I already have more energy!"
He was a total rock star. He was exceedingly proud of his work, no matter how slow he moved or how often he stopped to rest. And at 90 years old, he improved significantly. There are so many lessons to be learned from him.
• Exercise truly is medicine.
• The human body is amazing, and can adapt at any age.
• Lifting yourself up, applauding yourself for every effort you make regardless of size, is a catalyst for change.
More than 10 years as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist convincing people to exercise more taught me some important lessons in the psychology of exercise.
Follow these 8 proven tips for beginner exercisers to achieve long-term exercise success.
1. Know Your “Why”
The biggest motivator to begin exercising and stay on track is your “why.” Think about these 2 things:
a. Why do I want to exercise? It could be to -
Control blood pressure
Strengthen your heart
b. For what reason? It could be -
To feel confident in my body
To run around with my children/grandchildren for as long as I can
To feel more calm and happy
To be able to travel and check things off my bucket list
Be mobile and active in my later years
Think long and hard about your answers and write them down. They will be the drivers and internal motivators to stick to your new exercise routine. Refer to your answers often.
2. Forget About What You “Should” Do
Okay, here me out. Yes, of course we gain the most heart health benefit when we exercise at least 20-60 minutes on most days of the week, as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
However, we have a movement crisis in this country! We move way too little and it’s destroying our health. Inactivity causes high blood pressure, overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes and so much more.
Luckily, we’ve discovered the vast health benefits of ALL movement, from engaging in low-intensity hobbies to exercising for just seconds.
That is why the Surgeon General in 2018 updated the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans with some important additions:
“Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.”
It turns out that interrupting sitting with 5 minutes or less of standing or light-intensity walking every 20-30 minutes can improve blood sugar control in overweight women. A brief 3-15 minutes of exercise after a meal can also improve post-meal blood sugars.
Just a few 4-6 seconds of higher intensity exercise a day has shown to improve fat metabolism, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure, and may even counteract age-related decline.
Look to the blue zones for motivation. They are 5 locations around the world with the highest percentage of people that live to 100. One thing they have in common is that they “move without thinking about it.” They aren’t known to be gym rats but are known to move a lot. They garden, do chores by hand, and ride their bikes to get places. Take it from blue zones communities – every single time you move matters.
So would I love for you to exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes? Of course!
Would I be happy if you started to garden more, chase your grandkids, or take the stairs instead of the elevator? Absolutely!
So wash dishes by hand, park farther away from the store, walk to the end of the block. If anything, these small efforts can boost your energy just enough to motivate you to do more exercise.
It all counts. Just get moving.
3. Start Slow, Start Low
Nothing will squash your motivation to exercise more than overdoing it in the beginning. When starting out, no amount of exercise is too little or length of time too short. In the beginning, it’s less about physical benefits and more about building confidence and motivation for the long haul. The physical benefits will take care of themselves.
First, always start with a warm-up before any cardio or resistance training. It will prepare your heart and muscles for exercise and help prevent injury. A warm-up could include 5-10 minutes of stretches and slower paced walking or biking.
After your warm-up, aim for an exercise intensity that feels fairly light. You can determine this using The Talk Test.
If you can do 10 or more minutes – wonderful! If not, shorter intervals can be helpful.
A beginner cardio workout might look something like this.
Your body will likely get used to this very quickly (like my 90-year-old patient’s body did)!
4. Listen to Your Body
If your body is telling you to slow down, take a break, or today is not the day, listen! There is no shame in doing fewer minutes of treadmill walking than you set out to do. Again, if you do too much, not only will you be sore or tired, you will feel less inclined to try again on another day.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling great and energy is high, take advantage of those days. Do a few extra minutes on the bike, an extra lap around the track, or a few more wall push-ups.
During exercise if you experience any symptoms such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, pain in the arms, neck, back, or jaw, stop right away. Learn more about symptoms that could be caused by your heart and how to respond.
5. Remove Barriers
Make sure the road to more exercise is as smooth as possible by removing any potential barriers:
Address Causes of Low Energy
Fuel your Body with Nutrient Packed Plant-Based Foods
Drink Plenty of Water Throughout the Day
Address your Stress. For just a few minutes a day practice a mindfulness technique such as the Five Senses Exercise, or practice meditation or a deep breathing exercise.
Get Enough Sleep. There are actionable steps you can take to improve the quality of your sleep.
Exercise at Home if the gym is too far or intimidating. Be sure to set goals and schedules for home exercise. See number 8 below.
Exercise for FREE. You don't need equipment to exercise. Stepping out your front door provides the best opportunity for free exercise – walking! Also, your own body weight is one of the best pieces of exercise equipment - great for at-home beginner workouts!
Keep it Brief. Don’t have time? Do 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes. Don't ever forget these words - Even a mere 5 minutes of exercise is good for your health and is better than zero.
Build it into your Day. Do you have to walk three blocks to get from your car to your place of work? Speed up your walking pace. Are you waiting for the water to boil? Do 10 wall push-ups or some DIY biceps curls.
Make it Fun! Check out some ideas to make it fun!
6. Match Your Personality
Exercise does not have to be torturous. Consider your personality and interests to choose a form of exercise, or exercises, that fit you best.
One of my clients that was new to exercise thought outside the box and made exercise fun. She discovered an upbeat hip hop dance class on YouTube and bought tappers to clip to the toes of her shoes and learned how to tap dance.
How about you?
Love spending time with your young kids or grandkids? Invite them to a game of hopscotch, tag, or a round of shooting hoops. They will NOT say no!
Do you like to dance? Try out a Zumba or other dance fitness class. Better yet, blast your favorite music at home and get moving!
Do you enjoy a challenge? Invite a loved one to a friendly walking challenge or create your own!
Are you outdoorsy? Surround yourself in nature and hike, explore a new park or trail, or walk along a beach or nearby lake.
Are you fast-paced? Consider higher intensity exercises like brisk walking intervals or a spin class (gradually build up to these).
Or, are you more “slow and steady”? Maybe a steady paced walk or bike ride around the neighborhood will suit you.
Always wanted to learn how to do the salsa or hula? Now’s the time! Join a class or look up some video tutorials.
And don’t forget:
Play your favorite, upbeat music. Create playlists if possible.
If you still need a distraction, listen to a podcast or audio book, or even watch TV.
7. Track Your Beginner Workouts
Tracking how much you move each day serves 2 purposes:
Awareness: If you aren’t aware of how little you move, you won’t have incentive to change. Being aware of how much you move (or don’t move!) each day will help you measure the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in terms of daily movement.
Motivation: Tracking your activity is highly motivating. You will likely find yourself wanting to increase your numbers, whether it is steps taken per day, or distance biked, pounds lifted, or number of minutes on the elliptical.
Fitness Trackers can track how much you move, how far you walked, your heart rate, and can help you set goals and remind you to get moving.
Fitness Trackers include:
Tracking apps, like MyFitnessPal, Google Fit, JEFIT Workout Tracker, or Leap Fitness Step Counter. My favorite is Strava, which tracks my biking miles.
Hardware Fitness Trackers, like a Fitbit.
Fitness Trackers installed on your smart devices, like Samsung Health, LG Health, and Apple Health.
Pedometer – an inexpensive device that clips onto your waistband or shoe to count your steps.
Remember, continuous fitness monitoring tends to cause better results compared to intermittent monitoring. Also, always have a goal. Studies show people take more steps when they use a pedometer along with a personally set goal.
Which brings me to my last point…
8. Create Goals, No Matter How Small
As you can see, you are more likely to succeed on your health journey when you create health goals. Follow these 2 steps:
1. What does my ideal self (and health) look like?
Paint a picture of what you and your life look like 1 or 2 years from now. How do you look and feel? What does your health look like? How do you spend your time?
Write your answers down and refer to them often.
2. Create realistic weekly exercise goals that will incrementally move you towards your ultimate goal of the “ideal you” 1 or 2 years from now.
You are more likely to meet your goals when you create SMART Goals:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Actionable
R – Realistic
T – Time-lined
Write them down and, as a bonus, share them with a loved one so they can help hold you accountable to achieving your goals.
The thought of starting a beginner workout routine can be daunting! However, when you do the right things from the start, you will set yourself up for long-term success.
Easing into exercise slowly and listening to your body is important for long-term exercise adherence.
Prepare your mind for exercise. Know your “why,” take into consideration your personality, and create appropriate goals that will motivate and inspire you. These steps will make sticking to your beginner workouts in the long run much easier.
Be sure to follow #fatiguedtofit on Instagram or Facebook for beginner bodyweight workout ideas. If you are looking for more accountability and guidance to get you started, consider my Heart & Diabetic Health: Restored program which also includes easy workouts for beginners that can be done at home.
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. This is not a replacement for medical advice and is to be used for informational purposes only.