Looking to get into shape, but feeling lost in the sea of fitness terms and fads? Fear not! The basics are all laid out here in Fitness 101!
Whether you hope to lose weight, build muscle, outperform your 5K PR, or touch your toes for the first time in years, the answer is always the same:
But that’s much easier said than done.
For one, half of us will choose a fitness-related New Year’s resolution in any given year; yet 80% of us will fail. And when your fellow gym-goers’ biceps are the size of your thighs, it’s intimidating to work in a set with confidence and drive.
So, where do you begin?
How do you find the inspiration to begin a strength-training routine, hop on the treadmill, or survive your first-ever yoga session?
Class is in session. Welcome to Fitness 101!
Table of Contents
The Fitness Basics: Types of Training
Running, jogging, and even walking are among the most beginner-friendly exercises and can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and premature death. Yet, the research is clear: of 25,000 people surveyed, more than 50% either “barely tolerate” or “hate” running.
Luckily, getting active doesn’t have to mean a three-mile jog on the treadmill or a long walk in the scorching heat.
Other training options include:
Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise is any activity that targets your heart and lungs, driving your heart rate and breathing rate up throughout the exercise. This training style can encourage calorie-burning, improve your heart health, and even boost your immune system.
Aerobic alternatives to running include:
- Biking (outdoor or on a stationary bike)
- Battle ropes
- Jumping rope
- Dance, Zumba, and more!
The CDC recommends about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic training per week — or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise. That calculates out to about five 30-minute training sessions every week!
Divide it how you please; just keep those workouts exciting (i.e., biking on Mondays, jumping rope on Tuesdays, and so on).
Strength training spotlights the muscles, bones, and joints through either resistance training exercises (weighted) or calisthenic (bodyweight) training. By adding strength training to your program, you can help prevent age-related muscle loss, strengthen your bones, and boost your energy levels.
Examples of strength training workouts include:
- Weightlifting, powerlifting, or Olympic lifting
- Resistance band training
- Hill climbing
- Calisthenics (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, etc.)
- High-intensity sports
- smith machine training
In addition to 150 minutes of cardio per week, the CDC also recommends at least two strength training workouts every week. That means at least one set of 8–12 reps per muscle group with a heavy enough weight that the final rep is challenging (but not impossible).
Progressive overload is critical. When 12 reps at a certain weight become too easy, use heavier resistance during the next workout.
Other Athletic Improvements
If you want to transition into a well-rounded athlete, your training will likely go beyond the typical strength and aerobic exercise.
The six skill-related components of fitness can improve your performance on the field, in the gym, or even when doing activities of daily living (ADL).
You can improve the following with more specialized training:
- Agility: Ability to change direction and react quickly (ex: box drills, agility ladders, T-drills)
- Balance: Having complete control of your body (ex: yoga, stability board training)
- Coordination: Synchronizing your hand and feet movements (ex: jumping rope, juggling, tennis)
- Power: The combination of speed and strength (ex: box jumps, Olympic lifts, 3RM training)
- Reaction time: How quickly you can respond to a stimulus (ex: sprinting on a signal, running on uneven terrain)
- Speed: The ability to accelerate quickly (ex: interval training)
Feel free to add these to your training routine as you see fit. For example, if you hope to be lighter on your feet and less clumsy, try balance training.
The Best Workout Styles for Beginners
Whether you enjoy running, lifting, agility drills, or something in between, there’s a training style — or two — for every beginner out there.
Among the most beginner-friendly workouts are:
High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT is one of the most efficient aerobic training styles for beginners!
Not only can you improve your endurance in as little as 15 minutes, but it’s great for fat burning, too!. HIIT’s long-lasting metabolism effects are often credited as the “magic bullet for fat loss.”
Here’s how it works:
- 15 seconds of high-intensity exercise (of any kind)
- 60 seconds of low-intensity training
- Repeat for 15 minutes
Cycling can be just as effective for weight loss and cardio improvements as running. The only notable difference is that you can cover more distance in a shorter period of time (hello, scenery!) while also reducing the painful joint impact in the knees and ankles.
CrossFit is one of the hottest workout trends, emphasizing almost every aspect of training — strength, cardio, agility, balance, and more.
There’s always something new and exciting in your workout of the day (WOD). The CrossFit community also thrives on camaraderie and helping each participant improve their health, an in-built support system.
Similar to HIIT, circuit training can improve your head-to-toe health. This training style infuses minimal rest and quick transitions through a set cycle of exercises (push-ups, squats, planks, etc.).
It’s a fantastic time-saver, and it translates well to everyday life!
5 Best Beginner Fitness Tips
Are you ready to step foot into the gym and revitalize your health?
Follow these five must-know beginner tips:
Set Small, Realistic Milestones
It could be months before you lose 50 pounds or double your current bench press PR. So, from the mental perspective of training, it helps to set smaller milestones along the way.
For example, begin with a goal of five pounds of weight loss. Once you achieve that and experience the confidence boost, set your next goal at ten pounds.
And so on.
Focus On Performance
It’s easy to become obsessed with the number on the scale. However, in the early days of training, it could take weeks or months to witness your progress in the mirror or on the bathroom scale.
Focus on your performance success instead.
When sets become easier, you can handle more weight, or you can run a mile faster, you’re already improving your health!
Find Activities You Enjoy
Statistically speaking, most people will give up on their fitness goals, either due to boredom or a lack of motivation.
The best way to overcome this is by choosing physical activities you enjoy. If you dislike biking, row instead. Or replace traditional weightlifting with something more exciting, like CrossFit.
Focus on Diet & Hydration, Too
Exercise alone isn’t enough to drop down to a healthy BMI or cut your risk of diabetes or heart disease. A healthy diet and proper hydration are equally as important to your overall health.
Don’t Do Too Much Too Soon
When that fitness kick arrives, training will be the only thing on your mind. However, your body, muscles, and joints need time to recover.
Dedicate at least two days a week to “rest.” Also, avoid back-to-back training days where you focus on the same muscle groups.
Fitness Terminology Cheat Sheet
Regular gym-goers sling around confusing fitness jargon all the time. Of course, this can make you feel like an outsider when following along in a group fitness class or while conversing with fellow health junkies.
To help you prepare for those casual chats, here’s a fitness 101 cheat sheet:
- Rep: Short for repetition; the number of times you perform an exercise (i.e., three push-ups would be three reps)
- Set: A grouping of reps (i.e., two sets of five reps would mean doing five back-to-back reps, taking a rest break, and doing another set of five)
- HIIT: Known more formally as high-intensity interval training; a cardio method that alternates between all-out effort and less intense training; for beginners, a 1:4 ratio is best for endurance and fat loss
- Plyometrics: Sometimes called “jump training;” ideal for building power (i.e., jump squats, skipping, box drills)
- Core: The muscles responsible for balance and stability; most often referencing the abdominal and lower back muscles
- 1RM: Short for one-repetition maximum; an estimate of how heavy of a weight you can lift for one all-out rep
- PR: Stands for a personal record (i.e., if your previous best mile time was 9:00, a new time of 8:30 would be your new PR)
- Maximum Heart Rate: The highest your heart rate should safely go when training; approximately 220 minus your age
- Target Heart Rate Zone: The ideal heart rate during exercise to maximize the health benefits; ideally 50–85% of your maximum
This list represents the must-know terms on day one. With each workout, you’ll add new slang to your vocabulary, like “jacked,” “split,” and “cutting.”
Once you have the inspiration to exercise and a health club key fob ready to scan, there’s only one step left on your journey to a new you:
Finding room in your busy schedule for a 30-minute workout.
Need a little extra guidance?
Before you commit to any exercise routine, make an appointment with your physician, a nutritionist, or a personal trainer. These experts will ensure you pick a program that’s both safe and appropriate for your experience level.