The Beginner's Guide to Starting a Workout

Published: April 2nd, 2013   |   Author: Nina Lincoff

You CAN get in shape—here's how!

Whether you're brand new to exercise or trying to get back into shape after a workout hibernation (it's okay!), getting started can be daunting. Don't worry, the most important thing you can do is to simply show up, whether it's at the gym or at home with a fitness DVD. "Just show up and do something—anything—consistently. If you establish that behavior change, you're much more likely to stick with an exercise program," says Meaghan Shea, MA, a personal trainer in New York City.  

"The biggest misconception about starting exercise is that you have to jump right into it and go hard in order to get results. In truth, most people fall off the wagon pretty quickly when they take this approach, either due to excessive soreness or lack of sustainability," Shea says. If the thought of getting decked out in spandex and sneakers to join a class of longtime fitness enthusiasts does not sound appealing, don't worry. "Start slow [with a beginner class] and with something you're comfortable with, and gradually progress from there. If you allow yourself to get good at just a few things, you'll be surprised how your confidence builds and that fear starts to go away," she says. 
Shea shared her advice on getting started and finding the best workout for you: 
1. Set Your Schedule
To make a plan you can really stick with, establish a consistent schedule that's tailored to your life. Exercising when it's right for your schedule means fewer excuses when you think you don't have time. "You have to make time and make exercise a priority in your life," Shea says.
2. Go Group
"Beginners are often fearful of group classes due to lack of personal attention, but many classes today have great instructors and the added benefit of providing extra motivation," Shea says. The biggest advantage of group classes can be found in the group as a whole—it's a built-in system of support and accountability. If you get to know your group members, they'll notice if you skip out on a workout.  
3. Make Goals
"A select few people actually like the process [of working out], but having a specific goal to achieve provides motivation for everyone else," Shea says. Consider making "SMART" goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
"Once that's in place, find a way to assess progress. Wherever you are today, you should be able to measure your improvements over time," Shea says. Whether that's watching the pounds drop on a scale, taking your heart rate every month after running a mile, or simply walking up a long flight of stairs and feeling how it gets easier, you'll be able to tell if you're making progress on your SMART goals.
4. Get Personal
With a personal trainer, that is. If you're 100 percent new to exercise and want a little extra support (especially with tricky machines!), a personal trainer may be a good investment. "A personal trainer is important when starting out in order to learn correct exercise technique and get educated on the best approach to reach your goal," Shea says. A personal trainer can help you find exercises that will achieve your specific physical goal, be it based on weight loss, strength, endurance, or flexibility.
5. Make Screen Time
While workout DVDs may not have the same effect on motivation and proper technique as a group class or a personal trainer, there are still benefits. "They make getting in a workout easier since you don’t have to leave your home," Shea says. Look for DVDs that are specifically targeted for beginners and provide detailed breakdowns of moves. If working out at home is your only option, stick to a schedule and try to work out in a place where you won't be distracted by dirty dishes or piles of laundry.
Get Started!
The best part about starting a new exercise plan is that there are plenty of new and fun workouts to choose from. Just be sure to steer clear of some of the more intense fitness trends like CrossFit and Insanity, which are definitely not for beginners, Shea advises. "Beginners should look for workouts that can be scaled to their fitness level and incorporate major movement patterns of daily life – such as squatting, stepping, lunging, hip hinging/bending, pushing and pulling," she says. 
Regardless of how much or how little you start off doing, remember that even the shortest spurt of exercise is better for your body than sitting at home on the couch or working all night at your desk. Time to get moving!
Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.