First things first, when starting an exercise program there are a few things to take into consideration.
- Make an appointment with your doctor to find out if there are any restrictions he/she might recommend, ensuring your safety before beginning a program.
- Surround yourself with positive friends and family. It is important to have the right mindset when starting an exercise program as well as to have extra motivation from the people you love!
- Buy any necessary equipment you may need (such as resistance bands, floor mats, dumbbells, Swiss ball, etc.) if you are planning on working out at home.
- If not working out at home, join a suitable gym. It is essential to find a gym that is close to either your home or your work and has an atmosphere that suits your needs. A gym full of steroid-pumping “meatheads” might not be the right place for you to start.
- Establish your own health and fitness goals. It has been proven that writing down and establishing goals helps to keep people honest about their progress and success. It is also a good idea to post them where you can see them daily and reaffirm the goals every other week to make sure you are on track!
- Purchase a notebook of some sort to keep track of your exercise routine, the weight you are using, the sets and repetitions you are performing, your statistics (such as weight, measurements, bodyfat, etc.), and your nutritional habits!
Getting Started: Part One - The Warm-Up!
The warm-up phase is one of the most important things you can do before exercising and should not be overlooked. It is designed to help you to avoid injuries due to tight muscles. The warm-up is used to loosen up your muscles through raising your core body temperature with light movement. Stretching is also an important component and should be done after your body temperature is elevated.
An example on how to begin your warm-up phase would be to do some moderate paced walking on a treadmill at about 3.0 mph without any incline for around five to ten minutes. You could also use an elliptical machine with light resistance for five to ten minutes as well. Elliptical machines are recommended for people with bad knees because they put less stress on the knee joints, but work up slowly on them because they can be difficult to use at first. Using a stationary bike with low resistance is another way to warm-up, and for people with back problems, using the seated stationary bike is very beneficial due to the back support offered from the chair. As you get used to working out, resistance, speed, incline (if available), and/or length of time can be increased to challenge your body a little more before beginning your routine!
After you have completed about five to ten minutes of moderate cardiovascular warm-up, you should take about the same amount of time doing some light stretches. It is important to target most of your major muscle groups, or at the very least, the muscles you plan to use during your exercise routine. Here is an example routine you could use:
- Knee Hugs (used to lengthen and loosen lower back and hips) – start by lying on your back and use your hands to bring your knees up towards your chest. Inhale and slowly lower your knees towards the floor until your hands are completely straight. Exhale and bring your knees back up towards your chest once again. Repeat five to ten times.
- Hamstring Curls (used to isolate and tone the back of the thigh) – start by lying on your stomach with your elbows underneath your head as a pillow. Draw your abdominals in (inhale and suck belly button in towards spine) and lightly squeeze your glutes. Exhale and bend one knee up to 90 degrees. Inhale and lower the leg. Repeat with each leg five to ten times.
- Lying Quad Stretch (used to stretch the front of your thigh) – start by lying on the floor with your legs outstretched behind you. Bring one leg up towards your buttocks and lightly grasp the foot with your hand, slowly bringing it in closer to the buttocks. Try to keep your body completely flat against the floor and hold this for a few seconds before relaxing and repeating with the other leg. Perform five to ten on each leg.
- Shoulder Stretch (used to stretch the shoulders) – stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart and knees slightly bent. Bring your right arm across your chest and grasp your left shoulder. Keep your shoulders loose and use your left hand to push the right elbow towards your left shoulder. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat on the other side. Perform three to six on each side.
- Single Arm Wall Stretch (used to stretch the chest and arms) – start by standing side to side with a wall approximately three feet away. With your arms straight, bring your arm up to about should height with your fingertips pointing backwards. Gently turn away from your arm so that you can lightly feel the stretch in your chest and down your arm. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat with the other arm. Perform three to six times on each side.
Getting Started: Part Two - The Workout!
Preparing Your Routine!
Now that you are properly warmed up, it is time to start your exercise routine! Before using any weight training machines, you should find a weight that is comfortable for you and tires you out after about 10 – 15 repetitions. Repetitions are how many times you actually perform the movement. You should perform 2 – 3 sets (how many times you perform a series of repetitions) and give yourself at least 30 seconds to a minute of rest in between each.
There are a few other factors you should take into consideration before beginning a routine.
- How many days a week are you willing to spend on weight training? Are you going to work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday? It is recommended for beginners to exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes to get benefit from the program. You need to give yourself one day of rest from weight training to allow your body to recuperate.
- Are you going to do a full body routine or are you going to split muscle groups? For beginners, it is usually better to stick to a full body routine until you learn the basics and gain a better understanding of which exercises work which muscle groups.
- What are your weight training goals? Are you trying to build muscle or increase your muscular endurance? Both have a specific repetition and set range for maximal results. To build muscle, you would want to do lower reps (3-6), higher sets (3+), and higher weight. For muscular endurance, you would need to do higher reps (12-15), lower sets (1-3), and lower weight that allows you to get to fatigue at the end of the set. It is recommended for beginners to start off with muscular endurance to learn the exercises and proper techniques as well as to get an idea of what your body can handle.
Here is a sample routine for a beginner looking to lose weight and build muscular endurance! Remember to always keep a bottle of water on hand in case of dehydration. It is also a good idea to bring your own towel (or rent one from your gym) so that you can wipe down the machines after you are done using them. Don’t be afraid to adapt the program to better suit your needs. It is also a good idea if you are a member of a gym to seek out a personal trainer if you are not sure you are doing the exercise correctly. Good luck and may you achieve the goals you set out to attain!
Chest Press Machine (focuses on the chest, shoulders, and triceps) – start by setting the handles to mid-chest level. Keep your hands about shoulder length apart and elbow bent at 90 degrees. Keep your back flat against the seat and take a deep breath as you slowly push your arms out straight without locking your elbows. Once your arms are nearly straight, stop and hold for a second before exhaling as you slowly lower the arms back to the starting position of 90 degrees. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Leg Extension Machine (focuses on the front of your thigh) – start by sitting in the chair and adjusting the pad by your feet to a little above the ankles. Inhale and then slowly straighten your legs out as you exhale. It’s important not to extend your legs completely straight as it is bad for the knee joints. After extending the legs to a point with a slight bend at the knees, inhale once again as you slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Seated Row Machine (focuses on your upper back) – start by sitting facing forward with your chest on the padding of the machine. Your arms should be straight in front of you at about shoulder height (if they are not, adjust the seat accordingly). If available, place the knee pad on top of your knees so that they cannot move during the movement. Grab the handles in front of you with your palms facing forward and then take a deep breath. Exhale as you pull the handles towards your chest. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades in your upper back together during the movement. As your elbows reach the side of your chest, inhale as you slowly let the handles return back to the starting position. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Leg Curl Machine (focuses on the back of the thigh) – start by lying on the machine on your stomach and place your feet underneath the pad. The pad should line up about ankle height right behind your legs. Grab the handle bars in front of you which should eliminate movement from the rest of your body. Take a deep breath and then exhale as you slowly raise your legs up to 90 degrees. Hold for a second, and then inhale as you slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. Be careful not to hyperextend your legs on the way down! Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Bicep Curl Machine (focuses on the front of the arm) – start by sitting in the seat so that the padding is about chest level (adjust the seat accordingly). Place your arms down on the pad and grab the bar in front of you. Keep your back straight and take a deep breath. Exhale as you slowly bring your arms up to 90 degrees and squeeze the biceps at the top of the movement. Inhale as you slowly lower the bar back to starting position leaving a slight bend at the elbow so you don’t hyperextend them. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Triceps Extension Machine (focuses on the back of the arm) – start by sitting on the machine so that your chest in level and against the padding (adjust accordingly). Grab the handles in front of you with both hands facing each other (your arms should be at 90 degrees) and take a deep breath. Slowly exhale as you extend your arms out in front of you until you have a slight bend at the elbow and hold. Do not straighten your arms out all of the way to avoid hyper extending them! Inhale as you slowly bring your arms back to the starting position. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Abdominal Crunch (focuses on the abdomen) – start by lying on a mat with your back on the floor. Keep your feet flat on the floor and have your knees slightly bent. Lightly touch the side of your head with both hands and focus on a spot on the ceiling. Take a deep breath and then exhale as you slowly lift your head towards the ceiling until the bottom of your shoulder blades is left touching the mat. Squeeze your stomach tightly and be careful not to extend your neck forward by trying hard to keep it as straight as possible. Inhale as you lower your head back down to the floor. Perform 2-3 sets of 20 - 25 repetitions with 30 seconds to a minute of rest between each set.
Ivan Nikolov (2010, December 29). Cardiovascular Carido Warm-Up Exercises. Retrieved from https://www.criticalbench.com/cardio_warm_up_exercises.htm
Mayo Clinic Staff (2010, December 29). Stretching: Focus on Flexibility. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/HQ01447