How to Start Working Out as a Beginner

If you’re working out as a beginner, evaluating your current fitness level is a good place to start. This information can provide a baseline for setting realistic goals and tracking progress.  

There are five components of fitness, and it’s best to address all of them to create a well-rounded fitness regimen. This includes cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. 

There are many online resources to help you test these fitness parameters, but you should ensure that you’re using a reputable source. Look for one that gives you standard performance ratings based on age and gender so you can properly evaluate your fitness levels. 

For tracking body composition, you should use a weight scale and know your height to calculate your body mass index (BMI). Keep in mind, however, that muscle is denser than fat. If you’re not losing weight at the rate you wanted, it may be due to muscle development, which is a good thing!

What You Need to Know for Beginner Workouts

You should begin all your workouts with a warm-up: It helps to prepare your body for exercise, prevent injuries, and prime you for a longer workout.

The goal of a warm-up is to perform easy, low-impact movements. Swinging your arms and legs in a controlled rhythm or lightly jogging in place are good examples. Avoid stretching as a warm-up activity as it can be harmful to stretch “cold” muscles. Once warmed up, you can move on to cardio or strength-training exercises.

When engaging in cardio, you should know your target heart rate. This will help you monitor the effort levels required to safely maximize your workout. 

For strength training, it’s all about your form. Using weights that challenge you without risking injury is important, but incorrect form can reduce the effectiveness of your workout and cause injury.

older adult doing dumbbell exercises

You should always research how to position your body before trying a new exercise. If you have access to a trainer, they will be able to show you the correct form for each exercise, as well as variations to accommodate physical limitations.

When deciding on how much weight you should lift, you want to ensure that you will be able to complete all of your reps. Reps, or repetitions, refer to the number of times you complete a given exercise during a set or grouping of exercises. Women should aim for 10 to 12 reps and men should aim for 12 to 15 reps, each for three sets per exercise. A set should have five to seven different exercises to maximize the workout for different muscle groups. 

If you can’t make it through the above number of reps and sets, your weight is too heavy. If you complete your routine without feeling muscle fatigue, you should increase the weight incrementally until you do. 

Depending on the exercise, a good starting place for arm weights is three to five pounds for women and 10 to 15 pounds for men. As for legs, you’ll have to see what works best for your body with weights or resistance bands. 

You should try to work out your upper and lower body on alternating days to give your muscles enough time to recover. 

It’s a good idea to finish your cardio and strength training with some flexibility exercises. Flexibility is an important factor in the efficiency and safety of your workouts and helps to increase your range of motion and balance.

Slight discomfort when stretching is normal and indicates you’re pushing your limits, but stretching should never cause pain. As with strength training, good form is an important part of improving flexibility. If you are not in the correct form, you risk creating long-term injuries.

Beginner Workouts at Home

When beginning a new hobby (such as working out) it can be a good idea to invest minimally at first, then upgrade gradually as you participate more consistently. However, some people feel more committed to an activity when they have invested a significant amount of money. You should be honest about what works best for you.

The great thing about starting to work out is that you need very little equipment. Outdoor running, jogging, walking, or even a combination of the three can be an excellent way to get into a basic cardio routine. 

Not a runner? Try dancing. There are tons of online tutorials that teach an array of dance styles that will get your heart pumping and burn calories. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is also a great way to hit your target heart rate, especially if you’re trying to squeeze a workout into a tight schedule. There are tons of amazing videos available online that you can complete in the comfort of your own home.

Of course, cardio isn’t the only workout you should be focusing on. Calisthenics  – which is the use of your own body weight as exercise – is a free strength-training option that’s great for people who are just starting out.

Calisthenics exercises include planks, squats, lunges, pushups, situps, and pullups. Pullups may require investing in a pullup bar if you don’t want to go to or don’t have access to a local park or gym.

While you won’t develop huge muscles doing calisthenic exercises, they can be modified to increase in difficulty as you develop leaner and stronger muscles. An example of this would be to do one-leg squats instead of using two legs as usual. You can also add weights to provide more resistance.

When people think of flexibility, they typically think of yoga, and there are tons of free videos available online with full-length yoga sessions for varying levels. Many of them also offer alternative poses if you’re not flexible enough for a specific position. 

If you don’t want to do a full yoga routine, you can do simple stretches at the end of your workout, holding each one for at least 20 to 30 seconds while maintaining even breathing. This allows you to gradually stretch deeper.

female doing asuperman pose on the floor

If you’re looking for free or inexpensive options for beginner workouts, make sure to check out YouTube videos and apps from reputable sources.

If you want to invest a little more in your home workout, basic equipment such as pullup bars, dumbbells, resistance bands, and kettlebells can add extra resistance and motivation.

While not required for every exercise, you should also consider a yoga mat, exercise ball, and workout bench. These can help you perform variations to exercises that might otherwise be difficult to do properly. 

Working Out in Public

Working out at home provides a measure of comfort that most beginners prefer. However, working out in public spaces can supply you with all the necessary equipment, access to knowledgeable trainers, and a support system to keep exercising when you’re running out of steam.

One option, of course, is to go to the gym. Planet Fitness offers affordable gym rates starting at $10 per month – and it certainly isn’t the only gym with those competitive prices. You should do an online search for local gyms to see what’s available around you.

Gyms often offer various fitness classes, though you will usually have to pay an additional fee to attend. If you’re looking for fitness classes independent of gyms, you can find options through online searches, your local YMCA, libraries, and groups on Facebook and Meetup.

If you’re concerned about working out in public, it’s important to realize that you’re not alone. Many people, no matter their fitness level, often feel self-conscious the first few times they work out in a group setting. 

You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the people you’re with aren’t secretly judging you. In fact, they’re probably a great source of inspiration, tips, and helpful information. And you never know who’s drawing inspiration from you! Remember, everyone is at the gym for the same reason.

One way to build confidence before attending a class or gym is to become familiar with the type of exercises or machines you’ll encounter. Researching basic Zumba moves before attending a class can make you feel more prepared, while looking up how to correctly use gym equipment will not only make you feel more confident but will also ensure your safety.

How to Stay Motivated

Working out is by no means easy, and keeping to a routine can be difficult when you first start out. Setting goals can be a helpful way to keep you on track, and your primary goals should start off small and realistic. If you’re focusing on cardio, try adding five minutes every week. If you’re strength training, try adding a pound every two weeks, or as you feel comfortable.

Of course, it’s important to have long-term goals too. While most people work toward an ideal weight, try setting a more specific fitness goal, such as being able to do splits or a handstand, or deadlifting a certain weight. 

Goals can also help keep you accountable if you have a workout partner. Your gym buddy can help celebrate even your smallest accomplishments and build your confidence.

You should also support your workout routine by eating healthy and staying hydrated. This not only fuels your workout, but good habits usually beget more good habits.

Remember to take it one day at a time and be kind to yourself. You’re making a commendable step toward a healthier lifestyle and accomplishing your goals. Congratulations!