Exercising five days per week doesn’t have to a chore for beginners. Working smarter, not harder, will help you build the stamina and endurance you need to gradually raise the intensity of your workouts so you can burn even more calories, improve your heart health and challenge your muscles. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise most days each week. Vary your workouts to make them fun and deliver the results you want.
Alternate resistance and cardio workouts if you’re new to exercise
Sample Workout Plan
Work out on Monday with exercises that include resistance. Start with dumbbells or milk jugs filled with water. Raise the gear setting on a bike and stand on the pedals. Walk up and down stairs, going up two at a time. Perform bodyweight exercises such as pushups (on your knees) and pullups (starting on a box) or use resistance bands or a kettlebell. Do 10 to 12 reps of each exercise and take a one-minute break before starting the next one. Your muscles should feel tired after each exercise, but not burning and totally fatigued after each set of 10 to 12 reps.
Let your body recover from your resistance training on Tuesday by doing low-impact, low-resistance workouts such as circuit-training with calisthenics, step aerobics, swimming or cycling using a low gear setting. Find a TV channel that offers free workouts you can follow, or find one online you can use. Do the exercises at your own pace, but keep your heart rate up. Make sure you can talk during your workout — if not, you’re exercising too hard.
Take a break on Wednesday to let your body recover from two days of unfamiliar muscle movements and let them grow stronger from the repair process. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, alternate between resistance and cardio workouts. Rest on Sunday and repeat the five-day schedule each week.
Set Your Pace
Beginners should not try to jump-start an exercise program with high-intensity workouts. These will fatigue you quickly and won’t allow you to build your strength as quickly as if you start out at a more moderate pace. Begin exercising at 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, or at a speed similar to a quick walk. Exercise at the highest pace you can sustain for 10 minutes or longer, with a goal of adding more minutes to each workout for the first few weeks, rather than raising your heart rate.
Add Some Resistance
Adding resistance to your workouts helps build muscle, increases your metabolism and creates a longer post-workout calorie burn. Add resistance to workouts starting with dumbbells that weigh anywhere from 2 to 5 lbs. (a gallon of water is 8 lbs. Try resistance bands or working on a home gym using enough weight or resistance to perform 10 to 12 quick repetitions of an exercise without fatiguing to failure. Use your body’s weight to create resistance by performing exercises such as pushups, chinups, couch dips and squats.
Include Some Cardio
Don’t try an intense aerobic workout if you’re new to exercise. Build cardio stamina gradually with longer, moderate-intensity workouts rather than more intense, exercise. Consider the amount of impact your exercise will have on your knees, shins and back — skipping rope, jogging and jumping jacks all raise your heart rate, but may be too tough to sustain for more than a few minutes. They may also raise your heart rate too high. Look for low-impact exercises such as swimming, biking, walking or using an exercise machine. Make longer workouts a priority over more intense ones.
Add Some Core Work
Building your core will help you do more exercises at a higher intensity later, and help you as you perform your day-to-day activities. Add five minutes of crunches, situps, bicycle kicks, hip raises and Russian twists to help build your abs and obliques.
Mix it Up
Your body will eventually adapt to whatever you’re doing, making it easier to do the exercises, but decreasing your calorie burn. Change your workout at least every two weeks. This is the idea between the P-90X “muscle confusion” pattern. For example, if you go to the gym, change the cardio machines you use every week, moving from a treadmill to an elliptical to a rowing machine to a stair stepper. If you’re at home, move from dumbbell exercises to low-resistance calisthenics (like jumping jacks and running in place) to bodyweight exercises (like pushups and pullups).
The Workout Pattern
Follow the basic workout format for the most effective session each time. Start slowly each workout to warm your muscles, stretch them and gradually raise your heart rate. Spend two or three minutes marching in place, skipping, swinging your arms and other movements that gradually elevate your metabolism. Perform your chosen workout at a heart rate you can sustain without having to stop every few minutes. After you workout, repeat these movements at a low pace to lower your heart rate. Stretch after each workout, holding each stretch to just past your point of comfortable range of motion for at least 20 seconds.