The beginner’s guide to exercise: How to get started

Exercise. We all know we should do it, and we all know it benefits our health, our mental state and general wellbeing. But not all of us do it as consistently as we ought to. …


Exercise. We all know we should do it, and we all know it benefits our health, our mental state and general wellbeing. But not all of us do it as consistently as we ought to.

A large reason for this is finding the process of starting daunting: the vast perplexities of information overload comes to mind. There are so many options, so much erroneous advice, so much noise, that the idea of carving our own through it seems impossible. But it is more than possible.

Here we provide four steps to help cut through the noise and kickstart your working-out journey.

1. Define your goals and be specific about them

What do you want to achieve by exercising? Of course, you want to ‘improve your health and wellbeing’, that’s a given. But think about it a little more deeply. Is it your desire to increase strength? Your athletic performance? Or, is it the big one, the goal of 45% of adults: to decrease your body fat?

This is important to consider, as different types of exercise will be more suited to you, depending on your basic goal. For example, if your aim is to build muscle, a resistance training gym plan is going to be a certainty. If you want to lose fat, calorie-burning cardio exercises such as running are more likely to feature.

As a beginner, it’s going to be impossible to run a marathon within the first few months. Realistic goals will keep you motivated and help improve your fitness — start small and build up from there.

If your goals don’t excite you, they won’t motivate you. But it’s important to make them balanced. They need to be ambitious but realistic. Having an external event such as a wedding or holiday is often a good motivator, but even leading up to that, you’ll want to break it down further. Three month periods are the best way to do it, as they give you enough time to act, but they’re short enough to be clearly visible. Year long goals are good markers, but they won’t help keep you motivated day to day.

2. Discover what you like

Once you know your objective, start trying out different types of activities. This is because doing what you enjoy makes you more likely to stay consistent. There really is something out there for everyone.

To focus your search, make sure you pick activities that align with your goals. If you want to lose fat, running is a great place to begin. It requires no equipment other than a decent pair of running shoes, and it’s completely free — you just need a place in a tree-filled park or empty space.

Some people can’t bear running, however, and are much more comfortable in a gym, perhaps on a treadmill or a cross-trainer where they can even watch some Netflix at the same time. For weightlifting, some veer towards conventional bodybuilding, while others, less concerned with aesthetics, may enjoy the pursuit of powerlifting: lifting as maximum weight as possible.

Alternatively, there are a myriad of different classes you can take, all the way from Zumba, to Pilates. For a unique experience, there’s even ballet-style exercises (or barre) that are perfect for newcomers who want to try something a little different. These take elements from yoga and Pilates to create low-impact, high-intensity workouts, and can incorporate household objects like chairs, so you can do them at home if you’d prefer. Barre exercises can provide numerous other health benefits too — according to online personal trainer Naturally Sassy: “Completing these routines regularly will improve your posture, boost your cardiovascular endurance, and increase your metabolism. Barre has also been linked with improving bone density, which is key to preventing osteoporosis and similar conditions.”

3. Have a plan

Consistency is key, no matter what level of fitness you are. To feel the effects of exercise, you’ll need to do it regularly, so a plan is essential, which features a routine that includes attainable goals. One way to do this is to start with a programme of easy steps to follow. Then you can continue building on it as your fitness level improves.

For example, if your goal is to finish a 5k run, you can start by building a plan that includes shorter runs. Once you can finish those, increase the distance until you can run the whole five kilometres in one session. Starting with small achievable goals will increase your chances of success and keep you motivated for the long-term.

If you need help formulating a plan, there are hundreds of online personal trainers who can help you out. Personal training doesn’t have to be an all-in venture where you book seven one-to-one sessions per week. You can also employ them to guide you in making an initial programme. After it’s set, they’ll send you on your way, though you can continue using them as a consultant should you ever get stuck.

4. Take a look at your diet

Diet and exercise go hand in hand. Why? Eating the right foods has an enormous impact on your performance levels, as well as body composition. If you’re eating for fat loss, you need to make sure you’re in a calorie deficit (consuming less calories than you use).

For example, let’s say your maintenance level calories (the amount of calories you need to stay the same weight) is 2,000. If you were to eat 2,100 and run 5k, using up 400 calories, you would be in a calorie deficit of 300, which means that over time you would lose weight.

The maths side of this is simple, but the execution is difficult. It’s just important to understand the numbers going in so you’re not confused about how body composition works. Exercising to lose weight has a fine balance between eating enough to perform well, but also by maintaining a calorie deficit. This is achieved more easily by eating whole, satiating foods like vegetables and proteins.

Muscle gain is a bit more complicated, as there is no defined metric that means you are guaranteed to build muscle mass — you just need to be in a calorie surplus, eat plenty of protein and make sure your training is on point. This is why, generally, building muscle is more difficult than losing fat. If you’re looking for a quick fix, companies like Love Yourself can send you a healthy meal plan directly, or you could consult with a nutritionist.

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