There are so many reasons to start working out. Regular exercise not only makes us feel better, be healthier, and think more clearly, but it’s also part of being a good steward of the one body we’ve been given. We only get the body we have right now — why NOT take care of it as best you can?
Like many kids, when I was growing up I stayed fit riding bikes up and down our street with my brother, horseback riding, or otherwise running around our huge backyard. In high school, I took up running; in college, I finished two half marathons; and now I still run in addition to lifting weights and swimming.
Needless to say, I love working out. I love it for the challenge it brings, the way it makes me feel, and the confidence it gives me about my body. I love being strong, fast, and fit.
Beginning to workout for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, can seem intimidating. But keeping in mind a few important steps will help you jump right in and create a workout schedule you’ll actually want to stick to.
Determine your goals
Determine why you want to work out. Do you want to lose weight? Improve overall health? In addition to general goals like these, you may have specific fitness-related goals, like becoming more flexible; gaining endurance so you can run one, two, three or more miles; or gaining strength.
Coming up with a clear motive for working out will help you to exercise intentionally and with a “finish line” in sight.
Find an exercise or sport you love (or at least, don’t hate too much)
Find an exercise you love — or at least one you don’t despise. You don’t have to love it all the time, but choose something that will be 1) conducive to achieving your goals; and 2) something you enjoy enough to stick with it even when you don’t feel like working out.
A few ideas:
- Strength training (lifting weights)
- Fitness classes, such as those you’d find at a local YMCA
It also helps to come up with a combination of a few different exercises to incorporate into a workout program. This will not only help you gain overall fitness, but will also mix things up so you aren’t doing the same thing over and over again, day after day.
For example, I used to run six days a week — that’s it. Some people can do that and be perfectly happy, but eventually I got bored. My workouts got stale and I lost motivation. For the last few years, I’ve mixed running with strength training and swimming laps. The variation has not only helped me gain strength and endurance and avoid injury, but I also look forward to each workout, rather than dread the monotony of slogging another few miles on a treadmill like I did the day before.
Come up with a plan and stick with it
Once you’ve determined your goals and have a few exercises in mind, come up with a plan that 1) works for your schedule; 2) is reasonable; and 3) allows for sufficient rest.
You may be able to find pre-written workout programs online, and those are often very helpful and a great way to structure a workout program that will help you reach your goals. But ensure that it works for your schedule. Plan to workout on a day and at a time that you KNOW you’ll be able to finish a workout — that will increase your chances of being consistent.
Create a plan that is reasonable (by reasonable, I mean one that increases the level of difficulty gradually so that you will be gaining strength, endurance, and fitness) but not at the expense of your health and well-being. Adding too much too soon is a surefire way to end up with an overuse injury (speaking from experience!). Create a schedule that is well within your abilities.
That said, be sure to allow for sufficient rest. This is especially important after particularly challenging workouts. Exercise pushes your muscles to their limits; rest is when your muscles recover and get stronger.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or accountability
If you’re struggling to come up with a plan you can stick to, there are many resources online to help you find structure and consistency in a workout plan. A trusted friend, family member, or fitness professional can also serve as part of a great support system to help you stay accountable and complete the workouts you set out to do.
Working out isn’t always easy or enjoyable, but it’s worth it for the many ways it will change your life for the better.