I Need to Get In Shape! Where Do I Start?

I Need to Get In Shape! Where Do I Start?

I want to start working out!” Most of us have said this at one time or another, but actually starting a workout program can be overwhelming, especially if you have never worked out before.  Here are some helpful fitness tips to jump start your fitness routine, and keep you motivated to achieve and maintain your goals.


How To Begin

Keep it simple.  Follow the infamous FITT principle.  FITT is an acronym for Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type.  Here are some recommended guidelines for beginners, based upon the FITT principle:

Frequency: Aim for 3 times a week

Intensity: Work out at a rate equal to about 50% of your maximum heart rate (See Cardio section below to determine your heart rate)

Time: Start with 30 minutes per workout

Type: Mix it up.  Try cardio one day and resistance training two days each week

Set Realistic Goals

Goals should be S.M.A.R.T:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.  You are not going to look like athletes and models overnight.  After all, they didn’t get their bodies to look that way overnight either!  Set simple goals such as, decreasing your waist size by end of summer, or fitting more comfortably into pants that have been snug for awhile.  Having a specific goal keeps you less fixated on the scale, and more focused on how you look and feel.

Don’t be Intimidated by Others

Everyone has a starting point. Some of the other gym members may have already reached their goals, while others are still working toward them.  Either way, you’re all in the same boat!  If you don’t want to go alone, consider finding a “gym buddy”.  Gym buddies support, guide and motivate each other, while making the workout a more enjoyable experience.  You can bounce ideas off each other and work together to meet your goals.


Do Cardio

Cardio does not mean running a marathon.  For beginners, the goal of a cardio workout should be to reach an increased heart rate, for a desired duration. The Karvonen Method is a simple formula for beginners to determine their maximum heart rate.  To estimate your maximum heart rate, use the formula of 220 minus your age.  If you are 30 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate would be 190 (220-30 = 190).  Some cardio machines have sensors to determine this.  If you have a FitBit® or similar product, you can also use it to determine your heart rate. In your FITT goals, start at 50-60% of your maximum heart rate and try to maintain that for 30 minutes, with periods of rest.

A great example I recommend for beginners is:

  • Bike for ten minutes
  • Brisk walk on treadmill for ten minutes
  • Climb stairs on a Stairmaster® or similar product for ten minutes

Periodically monitor your heart rate during these exercises. Perceived exertion is an indicator for you to stop. If you are panting and cannot say hello to your gym buddy, you are probably working too hard. Remember this is a beginner’s program.


Do Weight and Resistance Training

Start simple on your resistance training days. Split those days into two groups – upper body and lower body. Utilize the machines.  Remember being sore is not uncommon, but be careful not to over-train.  Allow for proper intervals of rest.

Here are some examples of machines and techniques you can use.  Consult with your fitness center’s trainers if you are unsure how to use a machine.

Upper body

Shoulder Press/Military Press Machine

Seated Row Machine

Chest Press (Seated) Machine

Bicep Curl / Tri-cep extension

Lower body

Leg Press

Leg Curl

Free standing squat onto a bench

Lateral band walk (not only for patients)

Bridge (feel the glutes!)

Be Safe

Don’t let your workout turn into an injury.  Pay attention to your body and take the proper precautions, some of which are listed below:

  • Dress appropriately. Always wear sneakers and loose fitting, comfortable clothing.
  • Put your weights back, so someone else doesn’t trip.
  • When weight training, use a spotter! Help is a good thing. It’s also a great way to find a gym buddy, if you don’t already have one.
  • Use weight clamps. We like our toes, let’s keep them.

Have Fun

Venture out of your comfort zone and focus on your overall health and well-being. Sleeping will be easier and your overall mood will improve.  Physical results are gratifying, but the mental results will feel extraordinary.  At the end of the day, getting into shape should be a positive and enjoyable experience.


Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.  If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

 Johnathan D'AngeloJonathan D’Angelo, ATC, CSCS, CES is a Performance Coach at the Professional Athletic Performance Center