Putting together exercise for beginners, especially when you are just starting your fitness journey, can be a daunting task. You type “exercise for beginners” into your search engines and are bombarded with 101 different ways to “torch fat” and get “shredded”, it’s always a plan that seems to need you to be some form of masochistic athlete hybrid! This leaves a lot of people asking themselves whether they can construct their own exercise for beginners plan.
At Faultless Fitness, we spend a lot of our time with people desperate to improve their health but who are feeling abandoned by professionals and leisure facilities alike. However, luckily for them, we are able to pick them up and provide them with a suite of suitable monthly ongoing training plans which are the perfect starting points and tailored to them.
Obligatory pitch over, exercise for beginners has the potential to be a double-edged sword. It’s healthy for you but you are hyper-aware that if you do too much or if it is the wrong sort you can land yourself in injury territory and burnout. This goes back to the fact that the best exercise is the exercise that you enjoy!
So, without further ado, I have decided to help all of you beginners out there, with a free article on how to structure exercise for beginners.
Like a good book, a great exercise plan always has a beginning, middle and an end. In this case, we want to have a warm-up, a resistance training component and a metabolic component. It is important to highlight that we are aiming this article at complete novices, therefore we are aiming to start the exercise at 3 sessions a week.
The first thing we need to do is take 15 minutes to make sure all of our systems are ready for exercise. With beginners, the chances they may be suffering from some form of hidden obesity-related issues are high. For instance, inactivity can cause weak or tight musculature. It can also result in hypertension and high cholesterol making arteries stiff and prone to rupture or release clots (sorry for the wake-up call). This means we need to make sure all of our arteries are softened and our muscles and tendons are nice and warm.
We use RAMP. This stands for:
Raise – Heart Rate & Energy systems
Activate – Key Muscle Groups
Mobilise – Joints
Potentiate – the body so it is ready for the movements required in the plan.
So, how do we do this when we are designing exercise for beginners? We pick an exercise that allows for the joint mobility you possess, this is because most beginners suffer from major muscle imbalances. Start off with 2-3/10 effort, and slowly over a 10-15 minute period, raise your effort to 8/10. This gets the heart rate raised safely and begins to activate larger muscle groups.
Pro Tip: DON’T RUN! Running is a highly complex and skilled movement. It involved both major and minor muscle groups to provide stability and force. If you are a beginner you will not have the strength to be able to cope with the constant impact forces, leaving you prone to injury over a continued 4-8 week training plan. Chose a low impact exercise like rowing, cycling and the cross trainer.
Next, we do dynamic stretches. Static stretches should not be done at the beginning of a warm up and to be honest, unless you are lacking in range of motion, there is limited evidence to suggest they should be done at all!
The dynamic stretches will have provided you with a way to potentiate the muscles and mobilise your joints. We are now ready to begin our exercise for beginners in earnest; TO THE WEIGHTS ROOM
Don’t be intimidated! Resistance training is the key to success for beginners. If you skip this you’re missing out a key component of your training programme.
Resistance training is what stops females from getting osteoporosis and both males and females from getting osteoarthritis. For those of you with hypertension, this part is key as the growth hormone released increases the elasticity of your arteries and starts to heal the damage done by hypertension. Not forgetting you, the people with pre or Type-2 Diabetes – resistance training is proven to increase your insulin sensitivity. This is how you should carry out your resistance training:
- Rule 1! KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid! Despite all the gurus advocating backwards triple flip handstand Bosu ball squats, just keep it simple. Choose exercises someone can teach you to do safely. Bear in mind most commercial gym staff won’t be strength and conditioning trained so will only know the fundamentals. What guru X said in their online video probably isn’t in the fundamentals curriculum.
- Goal Setting: Only work on one goal at a time. Also be realistic. Goal number one for exercise for beginners is to successfully prepare our body for exercise and maintain exercise frequency for the course of the plan. i.e. keep turning it up and get stronger.
- Volume: How many sets and reps? Everyone says different things here and it drives me nuts. It makes no difference unless you want to avoid injury. In your first 8 weeks, your muscles will barely change. What does happen, is that your central nervous system becomes better at controlling your muscles. With that in mind, we don’t need to make them work that hard by lifting monumental loads unless we want to tear a muscle or injure a joint. Equally, we don’t want to cause repetitive strain injury, boredom or tendonitis so high volume plans should be off the table. We recommend that 2 sets are more than enough to avoid dreaded muscle soreness. Anything above 8 repetitions but below 12 repetitions is the perfect number for exercise for beginners.
- How heavy should I lift? This isn’t really a big issue. The weight that you pick up is dictated by the number of reps you have chosen. This is due to a principle called the strength/endurance continuum. Basically, all you need to worry about is that by the time you reach three-quarters of the way through your set, the limb you’re using is starting to fail. By the time you finish the set, you should be unable to do any more reps.
- Rest times. Give yourself 1 minute to 2 minutes. Get this wrong and you won’t get the full set finished.
- The number of exercises? The length of the component? Basically, we want to get our full body worked out but keep the session as close to the hour as possible. 15-minute warmup, 30-minute resistance training component. Usually you’ll need 3-5 exercises.
That’s it for resistance training.
Metabolic Training Component
So, at this point, we’ve used our muscle glycogen (fuel) for resistance training, which means that unless we want to burn our muscle away we need to fuel up for our cardio session. The best way to do this is to sip on a drink containing carbohydrates or sugar throughout the metabolic session. Do not let me catch you with a coke.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t believe exercise is about burning fat. It is about improving our regulatory and metabolic systems, allowing us to burn more fat throughout the day. Most people train at intensities too high for using fat as a fuel source anyway. What we use cardio for is to improve our heart, vascular and brain health. We do our fat burning in the 23 hours of the day we aren’t at the gym, by making sure we eat correctly. That’s a different topic though!
When we are designing exercise for beginners we once again choose an exercise which is rhythmic and low impact, like cycling, rowing or the cross trainer, starting from a low intensity and building it up over a 5-10 minute period to reach 8/10 effort. Here we keep a steady pace for a total of 25 minutes before we drop back down slowly to 4/10 effort as our cool down.
So that is exercise for beginners! You can add a static stretching routine at the end of the cardio if you like to potentially reduce any muscle soreness. However, if you have done weight training and used your full range of movement you will have stretched the muscle and improved the range of movement regardless.
I hope this has helped you and please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!
Stephen Nash is the lead Exercise Physiologist at Faultless Fitness. With a wealth of experience in delivering clinical and sports interventions, he has helped scores of people achieve their health and sports performance goals.