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Exercise 101: Getting Started with a Fitness Routine (Part 1)

Written by:  Isa Carani, RD, CDE
Fit4D Nutrition Coach

This article is the first part to our guide on getting started with exercise. This week, we will talk about different kinds of exercises and how to get them, whether you belong to a gym or not. Tune in next week for Part 2, where we will talk about setting goals, fitting activity into your day, and how to choose the best type of activity for you!

You’re out of shape and you’ve heard it before, especially through the advice of well meaning relatives and friends.  Exercise is important for your health. You’ve made the attempt. You even have the membership fees to prove it.  You know the benefits and it’s not that you don’t want to.  You may have even made it your New Year’s Resolution! The next steps necessary to lose weight can come in conflict with personal barriers especially for individuals who are overweight and have tried exercising or are just starting an exercise program.  The following are solutions to help you get started on overcoming those exercise barriers.

Create a low impact workout routine

So you are motivated and ready to start. Where do you go from here?   A good place to start is using the following components of physical fitness for a well-rounded exercise program recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.


  • These types of exercises increase your heart rate and improve your ability to repeat a movement for a long period of time before exhaustion. Because people who are overweight are at an increased risk for injury to their bones or joints, non-weight bearing low-impact cardiovascular exercises are best. Several examples include biking, walking and water exercises such as water aerobics or swimming.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine as well as the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. Health professionals also recognize that three 10 minute cardio exercise segments are just as effective as activity for 30 minutes . This is good news if you are just starting a cardio routine. It makes it easier to gradually increase the amount of time you exercise.  Also, it is a convenient way of fitting in exercise on days you are limited on time and want to incorporate activity into your day.
  • Individuals who are overweight and have a difficult time with cardio exercises can use activities of daily living as a cardiovascular goal.  For example your goal may be to climb the stairs at home without pausing or running out of breath, or increase the frequency that you get up from your chair.

Muscular Strength

  • Use weights, elastic bands or your body weight as resistance to strengthen different parts of your body.  Research shows increased muscle mass increases metabolism, reduces heart rate and blood pressure and decreases risk for diabetes.
  • If you are struggling with the strength to perform everyday tasks like getting up from a chair, including a difficult everyday task as part of your workout routine to increase strength is a good place to start. For instance do between 10-15 reps of getting up and sitting down in a chair or on the floor.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control if you will be using weights or floor exercises start out with one set of 10 to 15 repetitions (reps) working the major muscle groups (back, shoulders, chest, abdominals, arms and legs) 2 to 3 days per week.  The amount of weight you use should allow you to complete the repetitions without sacrificing form and reduce risk of injury.
  • According to the American College of Sports Medicine if your goal is muscular strength do 8 to 12 reps.  If muscular endurance is your goal then do 10 to 15 reps of at least one set for each exercise.

Check out this video of Fit4D Exercise Coach Abby Herrick, RD, LD, RCEP demonstrating a strength exercise that you can do in your own home:


Please check with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.


  • Start off slow and focus on stretching the major muscle groups that support range of motion.  Research shows a greater increase in mobility and flexibility when holding the stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Although there is no evidence in reducing injury during or after exercise it does improve range of motion for daily activities. Extra weight may limit mobility and flexibility but by taking a few minutes before starting your day or right before bed, 2 to 3 days per week can be enough to improve flexibility.

Starting and Ending a Workout

Remember no matter what physical component you want to start with, it is always important to warm up and cool down for about 10 minutes. This should not be confused with stretching and should not be as intense as your cardio. Examples are marching in place while swinging your arms, walking, or imitating some of the exercises in your routine at a slower, less intense pace and without weights.  When you warm up your heart rate slowly goes up, blood flows to the muscles you are working and there is an increase in body temperature. When you are cooling down your heart rate and body temperature should be decreasing.  Although the evidence for health benefits in warming and cooling down is mixed, there is little risk in doing so and may help you prepare for your exercise and reduce injury.

Now that we’ve laid out the basics, it’s a good idea to think about where you would like to exercise. A gym is a great option because of the variety of equipment and staff on hand to help you out. The costs can be an issue, but some people feel that paying a monthly fee keeps them motivated to keep going! Others cannot afford a gym or do not live close to one. If that’s the case, there are other options.

Solutions at the fitness center

Are you unfamiliar with the equipment or where to begin? It’s important to know that everyone at one point is new to exercise, nor is there any reason to be embarrassed about being overweight.   If that’s you here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Hire a personal trainer. Even if it is short term, a personal trainer can help you become familiar with how to use the equipment or provide direction in creating a workout routine. Many gyms have trainers on staff. Not only is it helpful to have that guidance, but sometimes just having someone there can relieve some of the negative feelings or thoughts.  This brings me to my next suggestion.
  • Bring a buddy. Having someone there while exploring and becoming more familiar with the gym may be all the support and motivation you need to get through the first few days.  Many gyms will give you passes to share with friends or family. Use that as an opportunity to invite someone as you begin to adjust to your schedule or routine and become familiar with the gym.
  • Find the right gym for you. Some women are intimidated going to a unisex gym and would feel more comfortable exercising in a gym with other women. Maybe you prefer a smaller gym because the bigger gyms overwhelm you.  Or you might want variety in your exercise routine and enjoy what bigger gyms offer.  If your work hours allow you to only exercise early in the morning or late at night, then a 24-hour gym may be right for you.  You may also be interested in a community center where you can bring your family like a YMCA that offers a pool and a variety of activities. These are a few things to think about when searching for a gym that fits your needs. So before you sign up for a gym think about your lifestyle and what motivates you.

If going to the gym is not an option

If the gym is too intimidating or not an option, no worries, you can still get a good workout and achieve your fitness goals.

  • Exercise DVDs: These you can rent from your library, video store, download it or take advantage of your “on demand” options at home.  The types of exercise DVDs can range from strength training to yoga.  You can even read reviews online to help you in your purchasing decision.
  • Personal trainer at home: Having a personal trainer allows you to have someone there to guide and motivate you.
  • Video and audio chatting and other apps or websites with personal trainer via the internet are other options to meet your needs.  Below are examples of what’s available:
    • - great and reliable source for exercise and fitness information.
    • I pump and fitness builder -smartphone apps that help you create a variety of workouts and keep track.
    • – create a personal workout routine, exercise demos and printable workouts.
    • - to review a wide variety of exercise DVDs.

This week, we encourage you to add one type of activity to your schedule. For example, a walk in the park, gardening, or stretching along with a yoga DVD are great starting points. Remember not to start a physical activity routine without first talking to your healthcare provider.  Tune in next week for Part 2 – we’ll talk about setting goals and staying motivated to fit activity into your life!

If you’re just starting an exercise program, share with us what has been working for you.  What is your favorite combination of exercises?  Share your ideas in the comments section!

For more information:

A Little Bit of Exercise Makes a Big Difference

American College of Medicine exercise article archives

CDC Physical Activity Guidelines for Everyone

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1 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Maria Curcio, MS, RD, CDE
    January 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Thank you for taking the time to leave us your feedback. You are correct that motivation is a huge factor for making permanent lifestyle changes such as being active. We will be posting an article in March on keeping those New Years Resolutions and staying motivated. Congratulations on your hard work and warding off pre-diabetes. I will definitely let our diabetes coaches know about your encouraging story and refer them to your website. Thanks, and please visit us again soon!

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