With the start of the New Year and many people making resolutions to diet and exercise it seems appropriate to discuss how often beginners should workout. When first dipping your toes in the exercise field as a beginner people generally have one of two experiences. Either you have to force yourself to workout 1-2 times a week or you're on the other end of the spectrum and jump right into working out 6-7 days a week. For the best results the more often you train the better. The caveat to this is that if you don’t recover fully you’ll soon burn yourself out. Once you reach burn out you will likely have an incredibly hard time starting back up. Many beginners burn themselves out because they simply try to train too often. Beginners can grow and make amazing gains with only 2-3 sessions a week consisting of mostly full body training. Each one of the training sessions can easily last for 45 mins to 1 hour. If you feel great after 1-2 months you can add in more training sessions but make sure to monitor how sore you are. Always remember that this needs to be sustainable for progress to continue forward. It’s incredibly beneficial to set goals that are attainable. Do not set goals that have a high probability of failure. This is where SMART goals come into play. What exactly are smart goals? I’ll list the definition and an example below.
Specific - I’d like to incorporate 30 minutes of walking into my day within the next month.
Measurable - This goal is easily measured by timing your walks
Achievable - Do you have 30 minutes every day to dedicate to a walk? If not, can you take two 15 minute walks or three 10 minute walks? Are you able to complete a full 30 minute walk? (If not it’s simply something you build up to by adding a little more time each day until you reach 30 minutes.)
Relevant - This goal is relevant to my health and fitness journey because it increases my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) resulting in higher calorie burn. It’s also a great way to get in some low intensity steady state cardio (LISS)
Time bound - I’ve set a time limit of one month.
Now that you understand SMART goals it’s important to utilize this method to get yourself started. Some tips for starting off your new beginner program:
Choose the amount of sessions you want to do per week/can conceivably stick to. Be realistic with yourself and be realistic with your goals. If you work 60 hours per week, have a family and other obligations it’s not realistic to set a goal of working out 6 days a week for 2 hours. In fact that may not be a realistic goal for many people. Try starting with a goal of 2 or 3 days per week for 30 minutes.
Focus on form and correct exercise technique. This is an important one. Learning proper form and technique will not only optimize your results but it will greatly reduce your risk of injury. Don’t just load a bar with 45’s and throw it on your back if you haven’t at least gotten basic squat form down. Don’t try to deadlift any weight at all if you can’t execute a hip hinge and your bending from your lower back. Lower the weight and get your reps in until you master form. I promise you are getting more benefit, both short and long term, than just pushing heavy for the sake of pushing heavy.
Identify the amount of cardio sessions you want to do per week (this is completely optional but incredibly beneficial to add in cardio sessions). To clarify, cardio is optional for beginners when it comes to getting in the gym and starting a program. It is, however, not optional for the overall health of your heart. It is also an important part of any well rounded training program. I would personally recommend if you only have an hour to workout that you warm up for 5 minutes with cardio of your choice, strength train for 40 minutes and end the workout with 15 minutes of cardio. Build from there.
Identify the days you want to workout. Pick the days that will be easiest for you to set aside the time for your workout. Perhaps your schedule is lighter on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe you work half days on Fridays. Pick the days that fit your life as it is now. These days can be adjusted and/or built upon when the need arises.
Example Beginner Strength Program
Monday: Full body 15 mins cardio
Wednesday: Full body 15 mins cardio
Friday: Full body 15 mins cardio
When choosing exercises make sure to pick exercises that are readily available to you at your location either at home or at your local gym.
Make sure to pick compound based movements because they provide a ton of stimulus. Compound movements require more than one muscle group working together to complete the movement and often replicate the way your body moves in your day to day life. Some examples of compound movements are squats, bench press, bent over rows, overhead press, lunges, deadlifts and push ups. All of these movements can be modified to a beginner level and are easy to progress as you get stronger.
Stick to rep ranges of 8-15. Remember to progress. When you can complete all 3 sets with 15 reps it’s time to bump that weight up a little.
I hope this was helpful and beneficial for anyone who has been confused about working out as a beginner. If you want to work one on one with coaches who have a vast knowledge of programming and love working with individuals of all experience levels, definitely reach out to us and schedule a consultation!
-Ryan & Stephanie