7 Steps to Creating a Workout Routine for Beginners
Whether you’ve decided to come back to exercising after a long hiatus, or you’re just getting ready to leap into fitness for the first time, welcome to your new adventure. But with so many workout routines for beginners, where do you begin?
With a wealth of options, it can be challenging to take those first few steps (or crunches, lunges, or planks). That’s where some planning comes in. Knowing what’s in store makes it much easier to navigate your new fitness path.
“Unfortunately, there are many people who walk into a gym and simply don’t know where to start,” says Aaron Leventhal, C.S.C.S., former professional soccer player and owner of Minneapolis-based Fit Studio. “That’s completely normal. But not having a plan also tends to increase your risk of giving up. Do yourself a favor and take the time to sit down and figure out where you want to go from here.” Here are seven steps to get started.
Step 1: Scheduling and Goal Setting
Although it’s tempting to jump right in and do as much as possible, that approach can lead to an “all or nothing” result, and it’s easy to burn out quickly. Instead, Leventhal suggests putting together a schedule for the next 30 days.
As part of that, determine what kind of achievable goals you’d like to see in a month. Aim for positive, realistic results. For example, maybe your goal is to climb the stairs at work without being out of breath at the top. Or you might aim to go from bodyweight exercises for strength to using free weights.
“You want to think about progression,” he says. “Having measurable improvements along the way is motivating. That’s better than simply saying, ‘I will do 30 days of workouts,’ but not including why you’re doing it. Know your first goal marker.”
Step 2: Dynamic Stretching
When you begin putting your plan together, it’s helpful to set aside at least 30 minutes per day for your workout. If you do cardio classes, you may need a longer block of time, but a half-hour is a good target with a workout routine for beginners as a baseline.
Allow at least five to 10 minutes as well for dynamic stretching, which means stretches you do to warm up for the activity you have ahead. Unlike static stretches, where you hold still in a stretch, being dynamic involves slow, controlled movements. For example, you may do slow arm swings before strength training, or hip rotations before getting on the treadmill.
Step 3: Choosing Your Cardio
You hate the treadmill but love the elliptical. You love a dance-type class but feel blah about biking or the rowing machine. Good news: There are tons of options when it comes to improving cardiovascular health, so chances are, you’re going to find something you love.
Just be sure you start at a good level for beginners — walking is a fantastic option that you can progress quickly — as opposed to something like HIIT, which should be added only after you’ve built a solid fitness foundation, according to Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., Los Angeles-based marathon and triathlon trainer and author of Lift to Get Lean.
“Many people want to start jumping right away, but when you expose your body to high intensity work too soon, you’re creating a metabolic overload and an injury risk,” she says. “When it comes to cardio, less is more. Take your time, build up gradually. I promise it will pay off.”
Aim for two to three times per week for a longer cardio session of an hour but if you don’t have time for that, you can break it up into smaller segments. For instance, you can do 10 or 15 minutes blocks of brisk walking throughout the day. If that seems daunting, focus on what you can do and gradually build up to 150 minutes a week.
Step 4: Bring in Strength Training
For many beginning exercisers, “strength training” can sound like you’re expected to hit the weight racks and start doing deadlifts and bench presses. While those are definitely fun options for a bit later in your workout mix, the first aspect of strength to focus on when you’re starting out is bodyweight training.
The resistance with bodyweight exercise is gravity, rather than a dumbbell, barbell, or other weight. That means you can do these moves anywhere and progress by adding more reps rather than adding more weight. Once you’re comfortable with bodyweight moves however, feel free to progress to weighted movements.
When putting together a workout routine, aim for two to three times per week and focus on full-body moves that also work your core. Fortunately, there are tons of options, and some of the best for beginners include squats, planks, pushups, and lunges.
Step 5: Find a Program (or a Mix of Programs) That Works for You
For many who are just beginning their workout adventure, it can be particularly helpful to use a program that’s already a 30-day block, and also geared toward beginners.
Look for one that combines both strength and cardio, and ideally begins with dynamic stretching. For example, Xtend Barre is a 30-day, 30-minute per day at-home workout that checks all of these boxes.
One big benefit of finding a program like this is consistency, which is crucial for getting into a habit, Leventhal says. When you have a program that you’re following — whether it’s a streaming at-home workout, a mix you’ve created yourself, or working with a personal trainer — you begin to make that exercise time into a regular part of your schedule, rather than something you need to squeeze in when you have an “extra” half hour.
Step 6: Build in Recovery
Whether you put together your own cardio and strength program or follow a specific program, don’t skimp on recovery time. More is not always better when it comes to exercise, especially for beginners.
It takes time for your body, and even your mind, to get used to more activity, and rest is an essential part of getting results. After all, you don’t build muscles when you’re lifting weights — that’s when you break them down. You build them during the repair process.
You’ll likely find that as you get fitter, you’ll bounce back a little faster after a workout. Even if that’s the case as you come up on your 30-day mark, build in that recovery time as a way to prevent injury and maintain your gains.
Step 7: Celebrate Your Progress
If you made a plan but haven’t started a workout yet, congratulations for taking the first step! If you’re on day three and you’re making time to work out despite a nutty schedule, congratulations for making this a priority!
If you really, really, really didn’t want to exercise today but you did anyway, congratulations for breaking through that mental plateau!
Every single day that you make yourself and your health a priority is a win. Celebrate that, because that’s what progress is all about. Most of all, keep going!