How to Start Exercising When You Don’t Know Where To Start

Share This Post

The best exercise program is one you’ll actually do and enjoy. Here’s how to find it.

Once you have the right exercise program, you will:

  • Reduce your risk of heart disease
  • Reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen muscles and bones
  • Help manage pain from arthritis and other joint conditions
  • Improve mental health and mood
  • Increase your chances of living longer

First, some definitions. Then, what to do: step by step.

Aerobic activity (aka “cardio”) is exercise that elevates your heart rate and gets you breathing harder.

Resistance training is exercise that increases muscle strength, power, endurance, and size.

In order to maximize the benefits of exercise, you should get a combination of both types throughout the week.

How long you spend doing cardio depends on how intensely you are willing to work.

Moderate intensity activity is a step above your normal daily activities like cleaning the house and doing the laundry, as those things aren’t likely to raise your heart rate. A brisk walk or bike ride would fall into the moderate category. You should be able to talk when you’re engaging in exercise of moderate intensity.

Vigorous intensity activity is a step above moderate and means that your heart rate is even higher and breathing quite labored when you try to speak. Running or playing basketball would be considered vigorous.

As a rule of thumb, one minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, you should work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity OR 75-minutes of vigorous-intensity per week.

Resistance training is recommended twice per week and should work all your body’s major muscle groups. You can tax your muscles in a variety of ways, including external weights like barbells and dumbbells, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises.You can strength train on the same days you do cardio or you can alternate days.

How To Get Started

Is the latest Tracy Anderson method your best bet?

Should you venture into a CrossFit gym?

Maybe a Pilates apparatus is what you need?

Dust off that old step aerobics leotard and get your groove on in the living room?

There are a million and one options and often times when we’re presented with that many choices…yup, we do nothing!


Any Exercise is Better than None

Ultimately, the fact that you’re moving at all trumps exactly what you’re doing for exercise, especially in the beginning. When you’re first getting started, what you should be looking for is two-fold:

  • Finding a form of exercise that leaves you feeling better than when you started.

Staying injury-free (or not exacerbating existing injuries) is crucial. If you’ve ever experienced the high of starting a new form of exercise followed very quickly by the low of winding up injured, you know how true this is.

  • Enjoying that exercise enough that you to continue to do it on a regular basis.

The best, most scientific program is worthless if you don’t make it past the first day. Your enjoyment is paramount. If you don’t like doing it, you won’t keep doing it and then you get no benefits (Do not pass go, do not collect $200). So before you stress about whether “x” activity is aerobic or strength-based…

… worry first about whether you enjoy it enough to do it consistently and not dread every sweat sesh.

Getting Started with Cardio

Getting started with aerobic exercise is pretty simple, as you can just head out for a walk or jog around the neighborhood. Other easy forms of cardio are those that don’t require much/any special equipment, such as jumping rope, dancing, cycling, and swimming.

You likely already have everything you need to get started with these forms of exercise, so all that remains is picking one and doing it. While the recommendations are 75-150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, this does not mean you need to start there.

I recommend working your way up incrementally to this amount so that you don’t try to do too much and getting burnt out. Instead, assess where you’re starting, how much activity you currently get on a weekly basis, and shoot for an additional 20-30 minutes this week.

Don’t think you have that kind of time? Cardio can be done in bursts as short as 10 minutes at a time. So next time you’re waiting on dinner to cook and aren’t sure what to do with that time…now you know.

Getting Started with Strength Training

You probably came up with a pretty long list of cardio activities. These are often the ones that spring to mind when we think about exercise.

Strength-based options may seem daunting because they’re less familiar, so a great place to start is using your own bodyweight as resistance. You won’t need any equipment, just a patch of floor big enough to lie down. Even the most advanced athletes incorporate bodyweight training into their workouts. It’s very possible to feel challenged even when you’ve been exercising for years.

As a relative beginner, you might find that your bodyweight is enough – or even too much – of a challenge for you. That’s fine. You will only get stronger and more capable with consistent effort.

In this Bodyweight Exercise Cheat Sheet, I’m showing you 7 exercises that you can mix-and-match to put yourself through a total body workout no matter where you’re starting. Each exercise links to a demo video and gives you some options to make it harder or easier.

If you commit to doing these exercises twice each week in the format I suggest, you’ll be getting stronger and fitter with each workout. After a few weeks of practice, you may even find yourself itching for more and wanting to add some external weight to your routine!

For more in depth info about strength training (including a beginner dumbbell workout), check out this article: Strength Training Made Simple

Go forth and conquer

Now that you understand the benefits of exercise, the role it can play in a healthy lifestyle, and how to get started right away, just do it.

If the thought of going to a gym gives you the nervous sweats, I’ve got you covered! Check out the following articles to overcome your gym-timidation:

How To Not Feel Like a Newbie at the Gym

Getting Comfortable in the Gym: Equipment Edition

Getting Comfortable in the Gym: Etiquette Edition

Start where you are, with what you have, and be willing to explore your interests as they develop and change over time. If you feel like walking is the only activity you can commit to doing consistently right now, do that! Just be open to seeking out forms of exercise that become intriguing to you down the road (pun intended.)

Laura started training with me to bond with her daughter-in-law and was doing only cardio she started. Since beginning to strength train, Laura says, “I’ve noticed more muscle everywhere, I have a booty now, and I am in better shape! My doctor is happy with my exercise regimen because my good cholesterol has doubled since I started working out with Esther!”

Want someone to hold your hand every step of the way as you get started? Workouts made just for you, taking into account your fitness level, comfort, and available equipment? My Gone For Good weight loss method is exactly what you need. Click here to apply.

More To Explore

fREE: weight loss that lasts cheatsheet