Perhaps your GP has recommended you exercise more, or you’ve had a recent health scare. Maybe your family’s been nagging you to get off the couch or you’ve decided yourself that it’s time to lose some weight.
How do you find the motivation, time and resources to get fit, particularly if you haven’t exercised in a while? How do you choose the best type of exercise? And do you need a health check before you start?
Read more: Health Check: how much physical activity is enough in older age?
- Overcoming barriers to exercise
- Yes, you’ll huff and puff. But it gets easier
- Thinking of yoga or simple stretches? Here’s what to expect
- Watch your joints
- The right diet helps power you along
- In a nutshell
- 5 Quick Workouts for Absolute Beginners
- The Perfect Strength Training Workout for Beginners
- Strength Training Workout for Beginners
Overcoming barriers to exercise
Understanding the effect a sedentary lifestyle has on your health often hits home only after a serious event such as hearing bad news from your doctor. For some people, that’s often enough motivation to get started.
Surviving a serious illness as a result of an inactive lifestyle, such as a heart attack or stroke, can also be frightening enough to provide a great deal of motivation.
So, if you have not exercised for several years or haven’t exercised before, a it’s a good idea to get a health check with your GP before starting.
Then you need to keep motivated enough to stick with your exercise program. You can track your training or fitness level and set some achievable goals to keep going.
Lack of time
Finding the time and effort to fit exercise into your daily routine is challenging. We know being “time poor” is a common reason for not exercising. And many people such as office workers, vehicle or machine operators have low activity levels at work and don’t feel like exercising after a long day.
Read more: Time scarcity is a slippery slope to inactivity
One way to get around these barriers might be to attend a group exercise session or join a sports club. If you find exercise boring, you can encourage a friend to join you or join an exercise group to make it enjoyable. If you played sport in your youth, that might provide an option.
Having a friend to exercise with or team mates to support you gives a sense of commitment so that you have to be there and will be challenged if you fail to show up.
You don’t need to join a gym with a lot of fancy equipment to get fit. There are many YouTube videos of safe routines that you can follow and adjust as you get fitter.
This one demonstrates a 15 minute cardio exercise routine that you can do at home.
You don’t need any special equipment to exercise at home along with this 15 minute cardio workout for beginners.
Many exercises – including squats, push ups and sit ups – don’t need special equipment. And rather than improving muscle strength with weights at the gym, you can fill milk bottles with water instead.
Yes, you’ll huff and puff. But it gets easier
You might be thinking about starting aerobic exercise like the cardio workout above, or walking, jogging, swimming or cycling. All need oxygen to provide energy over several minutes or longer.
When we perform aerobic exercise, our heart rate increases along with our breathing rate and depth. This is because this type of exercise requires oxygen to provide energy to keep going.
Read more: Health Check: what should our maximum heart rate be during exercise?
When we are not used to this type of exercise our body is inefficient at using the oxygen we breathe to generate energy for our skeletal muscles. That’s why when we start an exercise program we huff and puff more, get tired quickly and may not finish the exercise.
But if we keep exercising regularly, our bodies become more efficient at using oxygen and we become better at generating enough energy for our muscles to work.
Over weeks of regular exercise, the number and efficiency of our body’s mini-powerhouses – mitochondria – increase in each cell. This increases the energy they can supply to the muscles, exercising becomes easier and we recover faster from each session.
Read more: Explainer: what are mitochondria and how did we come to have them?
That’s why it’s important to continue and repeat exercise sessions, even after a shaky start or a few set-backs. Yes, it can be a big challenge, but aerobic exercise gets easier over time as the body gets used to providing the energy it needs.
Thinking of yoga or simple stretches? Here’s what to expect
Yoga is a great way to start an exercise program and you can perform it at various levels of intensity. Stretching and other moves improve flexibility and strength. Yoga also emphasises breathing and relaxation through meditation.
Yoga, like other forms of exercise, will be challenging to begin with. But it does get easier over the weeks as your body adapts. So, it is important to be persistent and make the exercise part of your routine with at least three sessions of up to one hour every week.
Read more: The yoga paradox: how yoga can cause pain and treat it
At the start, you may get sore muscles. While this can be uncomfortable, the soreness goes away after about a week. You can reduce this soreness by starting with low intensity and building gradually over the first month.
Once your muscles become used to the new movements, the soreness will be minimal as you progress.
Read more: Health Check: why do my muscles ache the day after exercise?
Watch your joints
We know being overweight or obese has detrimental effects on the heart, bones, joints and other organs including the pancreas, which regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels. Obesity can also affect brain health and is linked to poor cognition.
The good news is that regular exercise can help reduce these negative effects.
To avoid pain to the knee and other joints, try gentle exercise or swimming before taking on anything more vigorous if you are obese or overweight. from www..com
But if you are overweight or obese, taking up exercise can place great strain on your joints, particularly the articulating surface, the cartilage surface of bones that contact each other. So hips, knees and ankles can become inflamed and painful.
So it may be best to include exercise that reduces weight bearing, such as exercise in water or using a stationary exercise bike or rowing machine. Once you’ve lost some weight and your cardiovascular function has improved, then you can add more walking or jogging to your exercise program.
The right diet helps power you along
A healthy diet you can maintain in the long term is a very important part of any fitness routine. Not only can it help you lose weight, it can also provide the right type of fuel to power your new exercise program.
Read more: Health Check: what’s the best diet for weight loss?
Getting plenty of fibre from fruit, vegetables and whole grains will help to reduce weight and keep it off while exercising.
Sugar, especially the type found in fizzy drinks and sweets, are low in nutrients and increase the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. So cut down on refined carbohydrates like some breads and rice, sugary cereals and refined pasta since these include sugars we are trying to avoid and have had their fibre removed. Replace them with oats, carrots or potatoes.
It’s best to avoid fad diets, which tend to be restrictive and difficult to maintain. They can lead to a yo-yo effect where you lose weight only for it to return.
Read more: Food for fitness: is it better to eat before or after exercise?
In a nutshell
Once you’ve decided to start exercising, and had a medical check if needed, start slowly and build your exercise routine up over weeks and months. Make it interesting and enjoyable, perhaps by working out with a friend or group. Set some achievable goals, try to stick to them and don’t give up if you have a set back.
Weight loss and getting fit requires different approaches for different people so find what works for you and make it part of your lifestyle. Increase the intensity and frequency of your exercise gradually from a minimal three times a week for 20 minutes to longer, more intense sessions more often.
5 Quick Workouts for Absolute Beginners
When you’re out of shape, starting a new fitness routine can be hard. You might feel embarrassed by your body, or perhaps you don’t even know where to begin. Don’t let your lack of experience or know-how prevent from adopting a healthier lifestyle, though. Getting into shape will not only increase your life expectancy and ability to tackle day-to-day activities with ease, but it will also improve your overall quality of life and leave you feeling confident and happy.
Believe it or not, taking that first step toward a healthier you is easier than you think. We’ve created a quick workout that is designed for absolute beginners. Not only are these moves simple enough to perform in the comfort and privacy of your own living room, they don’t require any sort of equipment, and they can easily be modified to meet any fitness level. Remember, it is always a good idea to get a doctor’s permission before starting any new fitness program. Take that first step today!
Equipment Needed: yoga mat
What to Do: Review the videos below and perform each exercise for the amount of reps suggested.
5 Quick and Easy Workout Moves for Absolute Beginners
1. The Modified Plank– The plank pose is a personal trainer favorite because it is simple enough to perform anywhere, and it works your body’s entire core. It also can help to elongate the spine, strengthen the arms and wrists, and increase balance. Hold the pose for 15 seconds, and then release. Repeat 2x.
Looking to target those abs some more? Try our At Home Beginner Ab Routine.
2. The Superman Pose– The Superman Pose targets the three main muscles that run along the spine and helps to prevent injuries, improve posture, and eliminate back and neck pain. Repeat the exercise 5 times.
3. Side-Lying Leg Lifts– Side-lying leg lifts are easy for anyone to perform and target the hips and outer thighs. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.
4. Assisted Squats– This beginner move is a modified version of traditional squats and targets the muscles of the lower body, including the thighs, hips, and butt. It is also effective at building core strength and strengthening the bones, ligaments, and tendons of the lower body. Repeat 10-15 times.
As you increase the strength of your lower legs, you might also like to try our Sexy Legs Workout for Beginners.
5. Modified Pushups– Like traditional pushups, modified pushups target the arms, chest, shoulders, and core. Repeat 10-15 times.
Side-Lying Leg Lifts
In order to reach your healthy goals, you will also need to incorporate cardiovascular and flexibility exercises in addition to the above workout moves. Our Running Tips for Absolute Beginners and our Yoga Workout for Beginners can help get you started.
Don’t forget the importance of proper nutrition. Try our Ultimate Grocery Shopping Guide to help you navigate through the grocery store with ease.
Be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Pinterest to be the first to try out new workouts and view our latest fitness resources.
The Perfect Strength Training Workout for Beginners
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You’ve probably heard that you should do strength training workouts. And maybe running a few miles or hopping on a spin bike just fits your personality more. That’s fine! But the benefits of strength training are just too good to pass up—and crucial to living a long, healthy, and injury-free life.
“Basic strength training is key to develop a strong muscular foundation,” says Joel Freeman, Beachbody Super Trainer and creator of the LIIFT4 program. “Bones gives our body structure, but muscles are what allow us to move and well.”
It’s not always the most fun or glamorous when you start weight training (hi, DOMS). But if you do it correctly, then you’ll have the strength to really do the things you love, says Freeman. “And most importantly, increasing the amount of muscle in your body also aids in increasing your metabolism, which means you’ll burn more calories throughout the day,” he says. “That’s a win-win.” (See: What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights)
Ideally, a strength workout should include eight to 10 exercises targeting the major muscle groups. This total-body routine does exactly that and can be performed a few times a week to maintain and build strength all over. (Want a full month of strength programming? Try this four-week strength training plan for women.)
Start small with your weights, and increase as needed: “Choose a weight that’s just heavy enough to complete 10 reps, and by that eighth rep, you feel really happy it’s almost over,” says Freeman. “This will ensure you’re challenging your muscles so they can grow and get stronger while also burning the max calories in every workout.” (Once you master form with your bodyweight and light weights, check out this beginner’s guide to lifting heavy weights.)
Ready to give it a try? Follow along below to get a great strength training workout in that’s totally beginner-friendly.
Strength Training Workout for Beginners
How it works: Do 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps of each exercise. Repeat it two or three times a week on alternate days. (If you think this is still too hard—no shame!—instead, try this super-basic strength training plan that uses workout balls, light dumbbells, and bodyweight moves to build a strength base.)
You’ll need: Two sets of dumbbells (3 to 5 pounds and 8 to 12 pounds) or a set of resistance bands.
1. Dumbbell Chest Press
Muscles worked: Chest, shoulders, triceps
How to do it: Lie on a bench, elbows bent 90 degrees out to sides; straighten arms up and return. Keep the weights centered over the middle of the chest. (Do these on the floor instead of a bench to keep from hyperextending arms below the chest, which can place a lot of stress on your shoulders.)
Why you should: “Your chest is one of your largest upper-body muscles, and when it comes to chest training, the chest press reigns supreme,” says Freeman. “It’s a compound movement, meaning that it’s also working your anterior deltoids and triceps throughout the movement.” (See: How to Execute a Perfect Dumbbell Bench Press)
2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Muscles worked: Upper back
How to do it: Stand with legs hip-width apart and place one hand on the bench, opposite arm holding weight below shoulder; draw elbow up toward ribs and lower. Keep back flat and stand with a 45-degree bend at the hips.
Why you should: “The single-arm dumbbell row is a great compound upper-body movement targeting your upper back, lats, and traps while your biceps and shoulders assist throughout,” says Freeman. “Standing during this exercise is also a great way to get some extra core work in as well. Just remember that there should be ZERO momentum or swinging—slow and steady wins the muscular race!”
3. Biceps Curl
Muscles worked: Biceps
How to do it: Stand with arms extended in front of thighs and one dumbbell in each hand with palms facing forward. Slowly curl weights toward shoulders, then lower to starting position.
Why you should: “This is the best isolation exercise for your biceps,” says Freeman. The key here is to nix all momentum; don’t swing to get the dumbbell up. “Think about trying to pin your elbows at your sides and lift the dumbbell up completely with your biceps,” he says. “Stop at the top before your elbows move away from your sides—meaning if the weights touch your shoulders you’ve gone too far.” (Here are more tips to master the biceps curl.)
4. Triceps Extension
Muscles worked: Triceps
How to do it: Stand with legs hip-width apart. Lean forward from the waist, elbows bent 90 degrees at your sides; straighten arms behind you.
Why you should: “The triceps extension is a great isolation move where you don’t need a lot of weight to feel the burn,” says Freeman. Similar to the biceps curl, the key here is to think of your elbow as a hinge pinned at your side. “The only thing that should be moving is your elbow to straighten your arm, squeezing your triceps at the top and return.”
5. Lateral Raise
Muscles worked: Shoulders
How to do it: Stand with arms down by your sides, palms in. Raise straight arms (with pinky leading the way) to shoulder height.
Why you should: “Well-built lateral delts are what give you that nice rounded shoulder look, and the lateral raise is the best exercise to isolate this muscle,” says Freeman. “Just like any isolation move, it’s all about control to execute this move properly.”
6. Basic Squat
Muscles worked: Legs, butt
How to do it: Stand feet a bit wider than hip-distance apart, toes turned slightly out. Keeping weight in the mid-foot and heels (not the toes), sit back and down. Keep knees in line with toes and focus on keeping chest lifted. Lower until thighs are parallel to the floor, if possible.
Why you should: “Squats have become the more popular of all lower-body exercises, especially if you’re looking to grow your glutes!” says Freeman. But keep in mind: “Safety is a must in this exercise to avoid injury, specifically to the lower-back area. If you’re newer or returning to exercise, it’s often best to start with bodyweight only and focus completely on flexibility and proper form. If you can’t go that low without dropping your chest forward, then keep working on your flexibility.” Once your form is on-point, you can start to add weight. (This video has more basic squat tips.)
7. Front Lunge
Muscles worked: Legs, butt
How to do it: Stand with feet together and a dumbbell in each hand by sides. Step forward with the right foot, lowering until both knees form 90-degree angles and back knee is hovering off the ground. Push off the front heel to step back and return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Why you should: “Also great for the legs and booty, lunges can also wreak havoc on your knees if done incorrectly,” says Freeman. “This is a challenging move and can easily be felt using only bodyweight.”
Muscles worked: Abs
How to do it: Lie faceup on the floor. Bend opposite elbow to knee, then switch sides.
Why you should: “Bicycle twists are great to engage multiple areas of your core, especially the obliques,” says Freeman. “The main error that many people make with this core exercise is pulling on your neck. To avoid this, try placing your fingertips right behind your temples and keep your elbows open, instead of closing them in towards your head.” If you do feel any neck strain, it means you’re trying to lift higher than your core has the strength to and you’re compensating in your neck. “Lower your range (meaning: don’t try to lift as high off the ground) and slow down your twists instead,” says Freeman. “You’ll still feel it!”
Muscles worked: Lower back, butt
How to do it: Lie facedown on the floor and lift opposite arm/leg; switch sides. Keep your gaze down to the floor to maintain proper postural alignment.
Why you should: “This is a wonderful lower-back exercise, which is a must to help prevent lower-back injuries,” says Freeman. When set up on your stomach, think about planting your toes into the floor and not letting them come off the ground at any time. This will also help you engage more glutes as well. When lifting your chest off the floor, you really don’t have to lift very high. Just focus on squeezing your booty as you lift, and you’ll also be engaging the lower-back muscles.
- By Sarah Richards and Lauren Mazzo
Different exercises will require different weights, but there are some markers that can help guide you towards the right resistance, whether you’re using dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Go for a weight that feel heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy that you sacrifice your form. For example, if you’re doing 15 reps, you should feel pretty fatigued by the time you hit rep 15. If you can breeze through all your reps, though, that’s a sign you should up the weight.
7. Stick to the same moves each day when you’re starting out.
While seasoned lifters may choose to do different exercises every day during a week-long period (and repeat the same moves the following week), there’s no need to follow this type of program when you’re just getting comfortable, says Davis. “Stick to the same basic moves two to three times a week to build a basic level of fitness and strength,” says Davis. “Why complicate things if you don’t have to? Great results can be made by repeating the same workout but increasing weights as you become stronger.” Switching things up can help you avoid a training plateau, explains Davis, but so can increasing weights while doing the same exercises.
8. Fit in a post-workout stretch if you can.
Now that you’ve got the training part down, it’s time to stretch it out. (Can you say ahhh?) Stretching while your muscles are warm can help improve your flexibility, says Davis, not to mention it just feels phenomenal after you’ve pushed yourself hard. A light cool-down is also great for calming the nervous system. While dynamic stretches should be your go-to during a warm-up, the cool-down is where static stretching comes in—this means holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds. These four passive stretches will do nicely.
9. Refuel with water, carbs, and protein.
After a tough sweat, it’s important to rehydrate your body: “Drink lots of water and thank your body for what it was just able to accomplish,” says Davis. A balanced post-workout snack is also a good idea. Go for one with carbs refuel your glycogen stores (one of your body’s main energy sources) and about 10 to 20 grams of protein to help build and repair your muscles. “Don’t overcomplicate it,” says Davis. If you’re lifting and weight loss is one of your goals, though, it’s still important to keep calories in mind—a post-workout snack shouldn’t be more than 150 to 200 calories. Here’s a guide to how many calories you should be eating for weight loss.
10. Take rest days when your body tells you to.
It’s OK to be a little sore. Your muscles might feel achy or tired the day after a tough training session thanks to DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. When you strength train you’re causing microscopic damage to the tissue that will be repaired, that’s how you build stronger lean muscle. Speaking of repair and recovery, though, rest days are important. “If you constantly break down muscle without a recovery period, you won’t give the muscle fibers a chance to repair and build back stronger,” explains Davis.
At the end of the day, you have to focus on how you feel. “Listen to your body,” says Davis. “It tells you when it needs a day off.” As a rule of thumb, take a rest day if your perceived pain is above a seven on a scale of 10, Davis advises. Or, focus on a different body part (say, if your legs are sore, focus on upper-body moves). Can’t stop, won’t stop—at least, till your next rest day.
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