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How to Start Working Out

Five Methods:Assessing Your Fitness LevelDesigning Your ProgramAssemble Your "Equipment"Getting StartedMonitor Your Progress

Alright, it's official. You've decided to start working out. Great! Your body (and mind) will thank you for it shortly. But how and where do you begin? On this page, obviously. Let's go!

Method 1
Assessing Your Fitness Level

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    Know just how in shape you are. You're on this page—good job! That's the first step. Mentally, you're where you need to be. But how about physically? You probably have some idea of what kind of physical shape you're in. But in order to find out where you're truly at (and to know how far you've gone), you'll need to record your baseline fitness scores. Do a little background work to get started:[1]
    • Your pulse rate before and after you walk 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
    • How long it takes you to walk 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
    • How many push-ups you can do at a time
    • How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
    • Your waist circumference as measured around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone
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    Talk to your doctor. If you're a rookie to the workout game, you may not have a great idea as to what you're truly capable of or what you should be doing. If this is the case, it's wise to consult a doctor. They will be able to point you in a reasonable direction of meeting your goals.
    • If you're a male over 45 or a woman over 55, it's not only best but it's imperative you talk to your doctor before beginning. Same goes if you have major health concerns. Talk to your doctor before something irreversible happens.[2] Not only is it for good measure, but it ensures your safety and health too.
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    Don't forget about your diet. If you're about to work out 5 hours a week, fantastic. The good news about that is for the other 163 hours, you can be as lazy as you like. But diet is a 24/7 thing. Though it's not mandatory, it's a good idea to start thinking about it now, along with your new-found exercise regimen.
    • Eating right and exercising are organically connected. Once you get into it, working out can give you that same rush a package of Oreos can. But there will be points where a 300-calorie-burning workout session will lead you to scarfing a 500-calorie piece of cheesecake. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. When you start exercising, monitor your food intake as well.
    • Eating junk will make it harder to exercise. It's not just a weight thing—it's how you feel. If you are serious about starting to work out, let the same attitude reflect in your diet. You'll feel a lot more ready to take on that run after a meal full of vitamins and nutrients than you would if you chowed down on preservatives and chemical additives.

Method 2
Designing Your Program

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    Choose a goal. This can be totally different for each person. Maybe you want to get buff, maybe you want to lose weight, or maybe you just want to fight off heart disease and diabetes. Whatever it is, it'll help you to have a clear goal in mind. With a clear goal, you can stick to it—and know if you're on the right path.
    • Think about what you want to be good at. Maybe you don't have a weight goal or a waistline goal, but you want to be able to run a 5k, no problem. What's more, if you have the desire to be good at it, you'll probably enjoy it. That's the key to staying with it.
      • With this methodology, your goal will be in your workout. Aim for something specific: a 5k in 30 minutes or 30 push-ups a minute, for example. This will be what you're working toward.
    • Think about what you want to be. Do you want to be 4 inches (10.2 cm) thinner around the waist? 15lbs (7kg) lighter? Lose 5% of your body fat? If it's easier for you, think in numbers.
      • If your goal is weight loss, know that 1kg (2.2 pounds) is 3,500 calories. You need to burn 500 calories a day working out (if you're on a balanced diet) to lose one pound a week.
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    Choose a balanced routine. If you're looking to be fit overall (who isn't?), you'll want to start a routine that keeps you on top of every aspect of your game—that means aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training. All three of 'em. [2]
    • Cardiovascular activity. Start out simple with walking or running. Do this for half an hour, five times a week. Try to stay on a level where you could carry a basic conversation, but definitely couldn't carry a tune.
    • Strength conditioning.Start doing 4 to 8 different exercises, making sure to work out different muscle groups. And don't go for weight—it's better to lift lighter and maintain the right form. Though cardio can and should be done 5 times a week, keep the weight training to twice. Your body needs time to repair itself, quite literally.
    • Flexibility training. You'll be surprised how much improving your flexibility can help you across the board. Every day of the week (or whatever you can fit in) do slow, sustained stretches for 10 to 30 seconds (at least according to the American College on Exercise).[2]
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    More importantly, choose something you don't hate. This deserves its own bullet point because it's that important. If you dread working out, you'll come up with excuses not to. You'll never stick with it and you won't meet your goals. Start with something you enjoy—as you get more fit, activities will become easier and you'll start enjoying more.
    • Going to the gym does not have to be your only option. If you like swimming, dancing, or hiking, great! These are all exercises, too. Think outside the box.
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    Pick a time that can become a habit. In order to integrate this into your lifestyle, you'll need to make it a priority. To do this, set aside a time at least a few days a week. Whether it's 09:00 or 21:00, write it down in pen. There's no getting around it.
    • Getting over the initial hump will be the hardest part. Soon enough, when 21:00 rolls around, your body will be raring to go and feeling antsy to get that endorphin rush.
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    Start small. Most of the time, when we decide to start a new workout routine it’s because we’re motivated to do it. It’s great to have motivation, but it can be a double-edged sword. Why? Because motivation can fool you into biting off more than you can chew. In the beginning, you want to start slow. This way you'll keep at it. Remember, the goal is to get in the habit of doing the workouts, not to do intense workouts.[3]
    • It's important to progress slowly when you're just starting off. It'll be easy to do more and it'll be easier to hurt yourself. Increase your time or intensity a bit at a time, making sure not to over-exert yourself. And if you have an injury or medical condition, make sure your routine is healthy and, above all, doable.[2]
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    Allow time for recovery. You'll have days when you're in the zone and dreading getting out of it. Then, you wind up in a puddle on the floor and your muscles feel like jelly for the next week. Avoid that. Give your body time between sessions to recover, even if your mind says, "Go, go, go." You may not be able to exercise tomorrow, but you'll be able to exercise in the long run.[1]
    • For strength training, it's very important to give your muscles time to repair themselves. Don't work out the same muscle group two days in a row—the muscles are literally ripping as you strengthen them. Let them heal.
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    Consider rewards and punishment. Sometimes the thought of being skinnier or being healthier isn't strong enough. These things are in the future and they're too abstract to grasp onto now. If intrinsic motivation is a problem, consider making it extrinsic.
    • Reward yourself. If you stick to your workout routine for a month, take a day-trip to your favorite spot. Go shopping. Take a nap. You've earned it.
    • If rewards don't do the trick, think about punishment. If you don't run that 5k 3 times this week, you'll donate $200 to Sarah Palin's 2016 presidential campaign. That ought to do it.

Method 3
Assemble Your "Equipment"

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    Have the knowledge. Not only do you have to be equipped with the ability and the machinery, but you have to have a grasp on what it is you're doing. Here are some basic terms you should start incorporating into your vocabulary:[2]
    • Maximum Heart Rate. A basic starting point is 220 minus your age. For your specific maximum heart rate, consult a professional. Do you know yours?
    • Set. This term is used during weight training. It's the same exercise repeated a specific number of times. You might hear someone say, "I did three sets of 12 on Monday and 4 sets of 10 on Wednesday."
    • Repetition or "rep." This is the number within the set. As in, "I did three sets of 10 reps each."
    • Warm up. This is not the same as stretching. Warming up is doing very light exercise, like walking before a run. It increases blood flow, heating up your muscles. Stretching should come in at the end of your work out.
    • Cooldown. Never do a full-stop; your body will have no idea what happened. Instead, go at a reduced speed for whatever activity you were doing, cuing your body that it's nearing relaxing time. Stretching is often part of a cooldown, for the record.
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    Get the right shoes. You need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout you’ll be doing. And yes, it does matter. A shoe made for running is very different in a number of ways from a shoe made for basketball or tennis. Even walking shoes differ from running shoes.
    • Running shoes have no lateral stability built into them because you don’t move your feet laterally when you run. You’re only going forward. A running shoe is built to give you support and stability as you move your foot through the running gait cycle. Basketball and tennis shoes both need to be stabilized laterally. That's because you move your feet side to side a lot when playing these sports. runners land more on their forefoot while walkers have a heavier heel strike. So for running you want a shoe that has more cushioning on the forefoot, while walking shoes should have stiffer rubber to support the heel.[4]
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    Make it easy with the extras. Sometimes it's the little things that help the most. Get some nice workout clothes—something you feel good in. Invest in an iPod or MP3 player to make the time go faster. Another possibility is a dog, but there's a lot less guilt involved about shoving an iPod into a drawer and forgetting about it.
    • If you're hitting the gym, get a good water bottle and towel. Having items set aside for this specific purpose somehow makes it easier to get going. You feel more invested and you have concrete reminders of your efforts.
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    Consider home equipment. Gyms are, by no means, for everyone. And for those of us that don't live in perfect weather 300 days out of the year, home equipment may be the easiest solution. Think about investing your dollars into one or more of the following:[2]
    • Treadmill. An easy way to get in the cardio is to invest in a treadmill. Start at a walk for that 30 minutes a day that's recommended and up it from there.
    • Free weights. To strength-train, purchase some barbells or dumbbells (for beginners, choose the latter). Some sets are adjustable, making it a one-stop shop, regardless of progress.
    • Other strength training equipment. Think about medicine balls, weight stacks, and flexible bands or rods. They're good ways to change up your routine, especially if you're starting to get bored.
    • Exercise ball. With this one, make sure you have a grasp on what you're doing before you get on the ball and just end up having a bouncing good time. If you don't do it right, you could either hurt yourself or not end up working the muscles you intended.
    • Exercise videos and DVDs. Some DVDs and videos are tripe, so watch it (or get recommendations) before you go about the routine. Once you find one you like, nail down the proper form by working in front of a mirror if possible.
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    Join a gym. For a monthly fee, you'll have access to rooms full of equipment, classes, and possibly a trainer. Everything you could possibly need will be at this location. It couldn't be much easier, especially if you find one close to work or home.
    • That is, as long as you actually go. Sign up for a class—having the same weekly schedule will make it easier to stick to. Or train with a trainer or friend -- when someone else is expecting you at 2 PM, you have the added pressure of letting them down.
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    Find a team. Okay, so you don't literally need a team, but something akin to that is a good idea. Join an intramural volleyball team or a rock-wall climbing group. Having other people to break a sweat with you makes it a lot easier—and the time passes by more quickly, too.
    • If a team sport is a bit too much to ask, get a buddy. Even if they can just accompany you to and from the gym (but not necessarily during), great. They'll hold you accountable and make the pre- and post-workout more enjoyable.

Method 4
Getting Started

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    Build up gradually. As you progress, you'll find that your routine is just too easy. It may be tempting to be content with that, but push yourself. When you notice that you can go harder, do so. Doing what you couldn't do before will feel good.
    • Though it'll take a bigger chunk out of your schedule, allow your body plenty of time to warm up and cool down. For the actual workout, listen to your stamina: Do what you can and progressively work to more, about 60 minutes of exercise 5 or so days a week.[1]
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    Get creative. Maybe your workout routine includes various activities, such as walking, bicycling or rowing. But don't stop there. Take a weekend hike with your family or spend an evening ballroom dancing. It all counts.
    • As you explore activities, you'll most likely find something that tickles your fancy. When you do, latch onto it. Was swing dancing surprisingly enjoyable? Great! That's one more hour each week you'll stay moving. The more the merrier, after all.
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    Listen to your body. Realistically, if you're starting a new workout routine, you're gonna get worn out. At the beginning it's very important to know what you're capable of and listen to your body. If you hurt yourself, there's no more getting in shape.
    • If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. You may be pushing yourself too hard. While that may be tempting for faster results, you'll get zero results if you're down for the count.

Method 5
Monitor Your Progress

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    Stick with it. That is to say, don't miss workouts. If most of us are being honest our workout history looks like this: workout for a couple of months. Get sick and stop. Spend a couple months getting back to where we were. Life gets hectic and stop. Spend a couple months getting back to where we were. See the pattern? Yep, no progress. So whatever you do, stick with it. Otherwise you'll get nowhere.
    • You'll be amazed at how much easier it is when you do (or how much harder when you don't). And when things are easier, you're more likely to do them. The second you start skipping, it's all downhill (or uphill, depending on your perspective) from there. So don't.
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    Switch it up. Awesome -- you're out there and going. Now your biggest problem is plateauing and getting bored. You'll know when this is happening -- your motivation is waning even though your skills may not be. The same gusto just isn't there anymore. The answer? Do something different.
    • If you've been running that same 5k five days a week, take it outside. Find a new trail, start running at night, or start for a 7k. If that's not enough, pick up a new activity entirely. A yoga fan? Try pilates. Always wanted to try kickboxing? Go for it. You're ready.
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    Make new goals. When you feel it's time, reassess your fitness level. What are you capable of now that you weren't before? What's your heart rate like during these activities? Odds are everything's better—time for a new challenge!
    • It's all about staying motivated. Have you gotten really close to your weight loss goal? Great! Now let's start thinking about muscle definition. Have you been hiking that one trail without fail and with ease since you started? Time for the harder one. This new you needs new goals. In time, a new goal will be a reward. After all, look how far you've come.


  • Starting an exercise program is an important decision. But it doesn't have to be an overwhelming one. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can establish a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.


  • Always see your physician before starting an exercise program.

Article Info

Categories: Motivation to Exercise