We all have to start somewhere when it comes to fitness. Even the fittest guys in the gym, the fastest marathon runners, and your neighbor who always seems to be out riding his bike or hiking every mountain within drivable distance were beginners at one point. Whether you’ve been out of an exercise routine for months (or years) or you’re a novice just venturing into the world of working out for the first time, starting with beginner workouts is the best way to safely introduce or reintroduce your body to exercising. Beginner workouts also help you learn the basic movement patterns and exercises that will serve as the foundation for more advanced progressions and modifications you can take on as you get fitter and stronger.
The best beginner workouts address one or more of the five major areas of health-related fitness: Cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Building a weekly workout program that includes beginner workouts that focus on different components of fitness is the most effective way to get in shape quickly while reducing the risk of excessive soreness and injury. Below, we share the best beginner workouts to help you build muscle, lose fat, and improve your aerobic endurance.
“Cardio” generally refers to exercises that improve your aerobic endurance. Depending on your current level of fitness, a challenging cardio workout for a beginner may be as seemingly easy as a brisk walk. Any form of cardio — whether running, cycling, rowing, swimming, or using an exercise machine like an elliptical — will elevate your heart rate and cause you to breathe harder, in an effort to get more oxygen into your body and circulate to your working muscles. Cardio exercises improve your endurance and can improve your body composition by burning calories and increasing your metabolic rate while simultaneously building muscle mass in the muscles targeted by the mode of exercise you’ve chosen.
Sample Cardio Exercises for Beginners
- Incline walking
- Stair climbing
- Elliptical trainers
- Cycling outside or on an exercise bike
- Water running
- Jumping rope
- Jumping jacks
- Cross-country skiing
- Mountain climbers
- Marching in place
Begin with a light to moderate intensity, around a 5 on an effort scale of 1-10 with 10 being an all-out effort. If you’re choosing an exercise like jogging, it’s best to adopt the run/walk method. For example, walk for a few minutes, and then try jogging for 30 to 60 seconds. Then walk another 1 to 2 minutes before another 30 to 60-second jog. Aim for a total of 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your current fitness level. Regardless of the exercise modality you choose, beginner cardio workouts should be capped at 20 minutes or so initially. Gradually increase the duration of the workout along with intensity as appropriate.
There are many ways to build muscular strength and endurance. You can use resistance training machines, dumbbells, barbells, and weight plates, resistance bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, or even your own body weight. Even if you don’t have access to a gym, or simply prefer to work out at home or outside, there are plenty of excellent beginner strength training workouts you can do that will make you stronger, increase your muscle mass and definition, and reduce body fat. Beginner strength training workouts that use lower weights and a higher number of reps will increase your muscular endurance — their ability to persist during exercise without fatiguing — while workouts that use heavier weights and fewer reps increase the strength and size of your muscles.
Sample Beginner Total Body Bodyweight Workout
Complete two rounds of the following:
- 25 jumping jacks
- 15 bodyweight squats
- 20-30 second plank
- Walking lunges — 10 per side
- 10 push-ups (on knees if you need to)
- 30 seconds running in place with high knees
- 15 glute bridges
- 30 seconds Russian twist
- 10 lateral lunges per side
- 15 superman back extensions
- 15 bent-knee triceps dips off the edge of a bench or chair (straighten your legs if they are too easy)
Sample Beginner Total Body Strengthening Workout
For each exercise, use a weight you lift with proper form for the full range of motion for the number of reps given. The weight should feel challenging, especially for the last 4 to 5 reps of each set. Complete two rounds of the following:
- 30 seconds mountain climbers
- 12 squats with dumbbells at shoulder height
- 10 reps per side of step-ups with overhead press
- 12 reps of chest press with dumbbells
- 12 deadlifts with a barbell or dumbbells
- 20 stability ball crunches
- 12 reps of biceps curls
- 12 reps per side of bent-over single-arm rows
- 12 dumbbell tricep extensions per side
- 30-second planks
- 12 reps of bent-over reverse fly with dumbbells
Sample Beginner Resistance Machine Workout
Follow the instructions on each resistance machine in the circuit to adjust it according to your body size. Use a weight you can use with proper form and a full range of motion for 10 to 12 reps, but that feels challenging towards the end of each set. Complete two rounds of 10 to 12 reps of the following:
- Leg press machine
- Chest press
- Leg curls (for hamstrings)
- Lat pull-downs
- Assisted pull-ups
- Chest fly
- Shoulder press
- Cable machine triceps extensions
- Cable machine pallof press
- 30-second plank
The following are a few helpful tips for making your workouts successful as you start out:
- Warm up before each workout with a few minutes of easy cardio.
- Stretch before and after your workout to improve your flexibility and prevent soreness.
- Ease into things by starting out with alternating rest days and exercise days (three workouts per week). Gradually progress to 4-5 workouts per week.
- Listen to your body if you feel pain or excessive fatigue with any given exercise, stop immediately. Moreover, if you’re really sore after a workout, take an extra rest day even if you planned to work out the following day.
- Vary the exercises you do.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts.
- Remember, proper form is paramount. Always err on the side of lighter weights and fewer reps to ensure you’re able to execute the move correctly.
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