Starting from Scratch with Exercise

Find out how to get started with a fitness routine.
Published November 5, 2015

If you're new to exercise, or returning to exercise after a long break, sometimes it can seem a daunting mission: knowing what to wear, where to go, and which exercises to do, can all seem too much. But rest assured, the only crucial piece of equipment you need is your body.

Joining a new gym can be a scary prospect, particularly for beginners, but once you cross the threshold you'll find other people who once felt exactly as you do. Many gyms offer a trial session, and it's a good idea to get a feel for the place first. Once you're there, ask about having a private training session. Most gyms will show you around the equipment and give you a good guide to suitable exercises to help you achieve your goals as part of your membership, or you could pay for a personal trainer to work with you on your first couple of sessions to make sure you are working out correctly.

If you prefer to get started alone, then the treadmill is a good starting point for your aerobic training. Begin with a brisk walk, and as you get fitter, start to add in some hill walking. The elliptical machine is also a great piece of equipment for a low-impact workout and you can train arms and legs simultaneously. Once you feel confident, try out new machines and change frequently, as this will stimulate new muscle groups. There are usually plenty of trainers around to ask for help if you're unsure how to use a machine.

You will usually find instructions on the resistance machines, so have a look around for instructions if you don't feel comfortable asking for help.

A beginner can start by working biceps, triceps, buns and thighs using fixed resistance machines. As you gain confidence and strength, start to work through all the machines before moving onto free weights.

Working out from home is often a less daunting, and cheaper, option. The benefits are time and money saved, but you do need to stay motivated and committed to your training program. A good starting point for beginners is the simplest form of exercise—walking! Walking is a great way to burn fat and calories while shaping up your legs and bottom. 

For resistance training, simple exercises such as squats and lunges for the lower body, and push ups and dips for the upper body, can be performed any time, any place, anywhere. A good idea for getting started at home is to invest in an exercise DVD that highlights cardio and strength-training workouts. For equipment, you could use water bottles for dumbbells and a resistance band.

What to wear
The most important item to think about is your footwear. It's not necessary to go out and buy the most expensive shoes on the shelf. But it is important to wear comfortable, supportive, nonslip sneakers—and if you're walking or running you will need good cushioning to protect your joints from impact. 

A good sports bra will prevent discomfort and sagging breasts (high-impact exercise in particular can stretch the ligaments that support the breast tissue). If you're exercising outdoors, specially designed sportswear will wick sweat away from the body whereas cotton T-shirts will stay wet and can make you feel too hot, or too cold as you slow down. 

For outdoor training, layer several items so you can change your clothes as your temperature rises and falls. It's important to feel comfortable, so wear non-restrictive clothes and make sure there are no ties or strings that could get caught in equipment.

And finally...
It can be difficult to arrange meal times around your new exercise regime, so try to plan ahead. You don't want to exercise on a full stomach, so avoid meals for at least an hour beforehand. If you're hungry and haven't eaten for a while (for example if going to the gym after work), then try a small energy-boosting snack such as a banana and a small handful of nuts at least half an hour before, or a pear and some string cheese. After your session, eat your main meal. Leave half an hour or so for the circulation to return to normal, and as a rule, try to eat at least a small snack with protein within an hour after exercise. 

As a beginner, any exercise you manage is a bonus. Try to start out every other day for 20 to 30 minutes, and build up the time to 3 to 5 times a week for 40 to 60 minutes. Remember to warm up your body first and cool down and stretch afterwards.

Congratulations on getting started and good luck on your journey to a fitter and healthier you!