This Is Everything You Need to Know to Start Exercising at Home

Put simply, the best type of exercise for beginners is probably the one you’ll actually do. Without sounding flippant, the likelihood of keeping up a type of fitness you hate is minimal. But if you find a form of exercise you love – be it strength training, Pilates, cardio home workouts (or working towards an aesthetic goal with exercises for a bigger butt, for example) – it’ll feel easier to carve some time out in your week for it.

a person posing for the camera: Get going on your fitness journey with this full expert guide on how to workout safely, fuel your training with proper nutrition and recover well.

© LumiNola
Get going on your fitness journey with this full expert guide on how to workout safely, fuel your training with proper nutrition and recover well.

And to set the record straight, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve never exercised before, are a newbie to home workouts or were a keen gym aficionado before the year of never-ending lockdowns, everyone gets nervous trying something new.

In fact, we all have those days when a workout feels like starting from scratch. The secret is to not let those feelings stop you from getting started. To quote Hillary Duff’s seminal movie, A Cinderella Story: ‘Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.’ Amen, Hilz. Amen.

So, whether you’re googling ‘exercise for beginners’ because that’s what you are, a genuine beginner, or if you’re returning to your exercise mat after some time out, we’ve pulled together all the info to help you smash your goals.

What exercise should a beginner do?

The million-dollar question but, ultimately, the choice is yours. If you’re new to exercise, one of your main priorities should be finding an activity that makes you feel like you could conquer the world.

Having a go-to repertoire of workouts that make you feel really good, is a key player in retaining motivation and preventing workout boredom, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

9 best bodyweight exercises for beginners

Bodyweight exercises are great for getting to grips with movements before adding extra challenge with weights. Not only can you nail your form perfectly, it’ll help you build confidence too. These nine bodyweight exercises are great for beginners to get comfortable with, first.

1. Air squat

a) Standing with feet hip-width apart hinge at the knees to come into a squat position – making sure your knees track over your toes and don’t extend past.

b) With the weight in your heels push back up to standing, squeezing your glutes at the top.

2. Dead bug

a) Lie on your back with your arms above your shoulders and legs in a tabletop position.

b) Keeping your arms straight, stable and strong, alternate lowering and lifting each leg, ensuring your lower back remains melted into the floor (don’t lower as far if your back starts to curve).

3. Crunch

a) Lie on your back, knees bent and feet tucked under a weight (or get your partner or flatmate to stand on them), stretching your arms out in front.

b) Using your core to lift you, reach for your knees with a short, swift movement – lifting only your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor. Reverse and repeat, feeling the burn in your upper abs.

4. Downward dog

a) From kneeling position, curl your toes under and press back against the balls of your feet.

b) Now, lift your hips up towards the ceiling until your body makes an inverted “V.”

5. Glute bridge

a) Rest your upper back on the floor and place your feet hip-width apart, knees bent at 90º, so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.

b) Squeeze your glutes and lower your hips – that’s your starting position.

c) Drive through your heel to return to the top, pausing for 3 secs before slowly lowering down. Repeat.

6. Lunge

a) Keeping your back straight, engage your core muscles and place your hands on your hips to stay balanced.

b) Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend your knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Allow your back heel to lift, but don’t let the knee touch the floor.

c) Step back to the starting position, then repeat on the opposite leg.

7. Reverse lunge

a) Keeping your back straight, engage your core muscles and place your hands on your hips to stay balanced.

b) Take a big step backwards with your right foot and bend your knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Allow your back heel to lift, but don’t let the knee touch the floor.

c) Step back to the starting position, then repeat on the opposite leg.

8. Push up on bent knees

a) Get into plank position, with your hands under but slightly outside of your shoulders. Drop your knees to the floor so that your body forms a high diagonal from shoulders to hips.

b) Keeping your elbows tucked close to your body, lower down until your chest nearly touches the floor. Your upper arms should form a 45-degree angle when your torso is in the bottom position of the move. Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time.

If your hips sag at any point during the exercise, your form has been broken. When this happens, consider that your last repetition and end the set.

9. Sit up

a) Lie down on your back. Bend your legs and place feet firmly on the ground to stabilise your lower body. Cross your hands to opposite shoulders over your chest or place them behind your ears, without pulling on your neck.

b) Curl your upper body all the way up toward your knees. Exhale as you lift.

c) Slowly lower yourself down, returning to your starting point. Inhale as you lower.

The best HIIT plan for beginners

Instagram is filled with people espousing the benefits of HIIT workouts. From increased fitness to fast results, it’s a great way of exercising that maximises short bursts of effort. If you’re prone to snoozing the ol’ alarm or struggling to work out for longer than 20 or 30 minutes before getting distracted (or pulled away), HIIT could be just the thing for you.

Need a refresh on HIIT training for women? We’ve got you covered.

Our WH exclusive four-week HIIT plan is a great way to get fitter and stronger at home, no home gym equipment required. Follow along as PT Gauri Chopra’s plan takes you through three workouts a week, along with other activities for your ‘rest’ days. The workouts are 20 minutes each and cover an upper body, lower body and cardio and core session, each. Get around the full HIIT plan or click the image below.

calendar: four week home hiit plan

four week home hiit plan

The best gym exercise for beginners

If you’d like to be able to work your way around gym equipment with a bit more confidence, this gym workout for beginners will be right up your street. With gyms currently shut, you’ll need two dumbbells, a barbell and a kettlebell at home to make this one work.

If you’ve got the kit, do the workout (designed by mega Third Space PT Andy Vincent) once a week. You’ll need to do three circuits (complete rounds) of the workout, resting for two minutes in between each one.

Engage the mind-muscle connection by focusing your attention on the targeted muscle to really feel the burn and maximise effects.

The best strength training plan for beginners

She’s the PT with over 690k followers online and one of our MVPs. You guessed it: Alice Liveing.

Because she’s so great, she designed an exclusive to WH strength training plan to get beginners comfortable with regular sessions and foundation movements. The plan is four weeks long and you’ll need two free weights (e.g. dumbbells or two filled up water bottles) to complete it.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Text, Font,

Text, Font,

The best running plan for beginners

Running needn’t be overwhelming nor made more difficult than simply trying to put one foot in front of the other for as many times as it takes you to reach the end.

Try this four-week run plan to get you running for thirty minutes without stopping. Want a sneak peek? This handy infographic gives you the rundown.

a screenshot of a cell phone: women's health four week run plan

women’s health four week run plan

The best walking plan for beginners

Walking is one of the best ways to begin a fitness journey. It’s low impact which means it’s kind to your joints and totally free (yippee!) to do. Whether you want to increase your step count or get to grips with regular walks, this four-week plan designed by PT Sam McGowan was designed for total beginners. Explore the full plan or click through on the image below.

calendar: walking for weight loss

walking for weight loss

The best yoga exercise for beginners

Yoga can be a tricky one not least because so many of the names are in Sanskrit and perhaps you’ve let your Sanskrit slide since school. Didn’t we all.

But, joking aside, don’t let the spiritual nature of yoga keep you from partaking, it’s an excellent, low-impact way of increasing mobility and strength and it can be done from the comfort of your very own living room. Get in!

Try this yoga for beginners guide to get more acquainted with the terms or, if your goals are more body composition based, yoga for weight loss might be the best shout for you.

The best swim exercise for beginners

Maybe you like the sound of all the low-impact, cardio benefits associated with swimming? Then try this five-week beginners swimming fitness plan.

‘Attempt this five-week fitness plan of nine sessions. 3–4 swims per week would be a great balance and will help you to continue improving your technique,’ says swim coach Dan Bullock.

One to earmark for when the pools reopen.

Answering 7 common exercise for beginners questions

1. How can a beginner start working out at home?

Not only is working out at home great for those just getting in the game, but it’s also one of the only ways to exercise given the current pandemic restrictions.

A good way to kick off your new exercise routine is by getting involved with a plan. An even better way is by taking part in the specially designed Women’s Health x FIIT plan – Sweat and Reset. Part of the FIIT premium subscription, the 10-week plan contains four workouts per week and is suitable for all levels of fitness. Featuring different types of workouts – cardio, strength, and mobility – it’s a one-stop-shop for new exercisers to get their fix.

Not only are there home workout apps to help you get going, there’s also a plethora of YouTube videos designed especially for at-home beginner workouts.

Don’t worry, we’ve found the ones that are worth your sweat:

But, and this is important, warming up is crucial to keep you injury-free. If you want to avoid shin splints, hip pain, painful knees and other potential injuries then make time for a quick warm-up at the top of your workouts.

Try out these dynamic stretches that mimic common workout moves or 3 minute warm-up for runners.

2. How do I know what weights to use?

This is an important question to answer. Lift too heavy and you run the risk of injury; lift too light and you’ll limit your gains. There’s also the slight issue of home gym equipment being harder to find than willpower on a Sunday morning.

That said, though, as a beginner isolating with exercise kit, it pays to perfect the technique of each movement before loading up. And, even then, you may want to practice dumbbell exercises until you feel confident enough in your form to invest in a barbell.

Remember, the best exercise for beginners is what feels right for you –it’s not all about how heavy anyone else is lifting, but what you’re doing that counts.

Did you know, research from McMaster University found that lifting lighter weights for more reps resulted in similar gains to lifting high loads for fewer reps?

3. How much exercise should a beginner do?

The good news? When it comes to exercise for beginners, you do not need to be working out every day. In fact, if you are, you could be doing yourself more harm than good.

‘Every time you strength train, you cause microtears in the muscle,’ says Astrid Swan, NASM-certified master trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp in West Hollywood, CA. ‘The muscle needs time to heal, and as it heals, it grows and you see results.’ Which means?

By following the same exercise programme or working out the same part of the body day in, day out, you won’t get more fit or pocket extra gains. Instead, you’ll be likely to plateau, lose workout motivation or cause an overuse injury.

So, what’s the magic number of workouts you should be aiming for?

‘I recommend to my clients [not generally beginners] to work out hard five times a week, taking a day between for a lighter workout and a full day of rest,’ says Swan. ‘My advice is to work out hard and then let the body recover. You will see results faster and be happier with your efforts from working out.’

Disclaimer: If you’re starting your exercise programme from sitting, this ideal is something to work towards not feel disheartened if you can’t already. It’s all about the journey, remember, not the destination.

The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

Or, a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week, plus strength exercises.

The general rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity, says the NHS. So bear this in mind when planning your week to ensure you’re not doing too much.

For beginners, three to four sessions per week are more than enough to start feeling fitter and ingraining exercise as a fundamental part of your lifestyle.

4. Is working out 10 minutes a day enough?

Consistency > everything. If you can commit to working out ten minutes a day then we’re happy. It’s about making the most of those ten minutes and working up to hit the NHS’ weekly exercise recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week.

The NHS’ ‘Active 10‘ programme helps to get you walking for 10 minutes a day – the brisk activity has been slated to deliver a number of benefits, from reduced lower back pain to high blood pressure decreases and a clearer mind in the short term.

5. How will I know if I’m exercising too much?

Once you settle into a groove, exercise can feel like magic especially when the endorphins kick in. But there is the risk that over-exercising will undo all of your hard work: Playing havoc with your adrenals and muscle growth. So, how do you know when enough’s enough?

‘You have to let your body heal from the work you’ve been doing all week. Your muscles need a chance to desensitise and get used to the progression you’ve already made. If you push your brain too hard at work, you burnout. It’s the same with your body,’ Barry’s Bootcamp trainer Jemma McKenzie-Brown previously told WH and TBH she’s totally right.

The signs of overtraining to watch out for include:

  • Finding it hard to wake up
  • Irritability
  • Low motivation
  • Lack of concentration
  • Higher stress levels than usual
  • Having a hard time falling and staying asleep
  • Sustaining injuries – even a niggle

6. What should I do after a workout?

Stretch. It. Out. Try lead consultant osteopath at The Mayfair Clinic Michael Fatica’s five favourite stretches post-exercise for beginners:

Calf stretch:

Stretch the calves by placing one foot in front of the other and bend the front knee. Keeping both heels on the floor, lean forwards with the body until you feel a stretch in the back leg. You can place your hands on a chair in front of you for support.

Stand with one heel off a step – perhaps the last step at the foot of your staircase – and hold for approximately two minutes on each leg.

Kneeling lunge

Kneel on the floor in a lunge position and gradually bend the front knee to move your pelvis towards the floor, stretching the front of your hip region. As before, hold each side for approximately two minutes.

Seated hip stretch

Sit on a chair and put your right foot on your left knee, then pull your right knee towards your chest. Try to keep your low back flat to protect it. Repeat for the left leg. Hold the stretch for approximately two minutes each side.

7. Do you need to have a protein shake after a workout?

Er no. But, the more into your workouts you get – which believe us, won’t take long – you may want to consider switching up your nutrition to better fuel your training.

One way to do this is to track your macros. Eating according to your macros, also known as ‘counting your macros‘ is basically a way of balancing your protein, carb and fat intake to ensure your body can best build and repair muscle, maintain optimal hormone production and simply stay active. And yes, you can still eat chips on it. Result.

If counting macros is a bit much for you, aim to incorporate some form of protein into every meal. It’ll keep you fuller for longer and help with muscle building and repair. The NHS suggests UK adults should aim for 50g of protein per day but if you’re working out vigorously for more than 150 minutes per week, it could be a good idea to up this to 1.2-1.5g per kg of bodyweight. E.g. if you weigh 70kg, you’d aim to consume anywhere between 70 and 105g of protein a day.

To hit your protein requirement, protein shakes can be a great option to be enjoyed as a moderate addition to an already healthy diet – not as a substitute for actual food. But, if you’re struggling to hit your quotas, then investing in a protein powder that helps you get there is a-ok. Especially if you have serious goals in the gains department.

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