30-Day Quick Start Exercise Guide for Beginners

Woman running on treadmill in gym
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The easiest part of starting an exercise program is making the decision to do it. You're motivated, you're excited and the fantasy of a new, slimmer you is enough to inspire you.

The hard part is following through with your plans, a difficult task with so much confusion over how to get started.

This 30-Day Quick Start Guide takes the guesswork out of it, giving you a step by step exercise plan that will get you started on the right path to fitness, health and weight loss.

Getting Started

Planning and preparation are important when you're just getting started with exercise, but to be successful, you also need some momentum.

The more momentum you can create, the easier it is to stay motivated and that momentum comes with action. It's great to ponder your weight loss goals, think about motivation and work on your commitment to exercise. However, there's something to be said for taking action now, before too much contemplation drains your energy.

This 30-Day Quick Start Guide gives you just that kind of action with simple, progressive workouts that will help you get the most out of your first month of exercise.

Step 1: Record Your Measurements

If your goal is to lose weight, record a few basic vital statistics to track your progress.

Step 2: Get Your Doctor's Clearance 

If you have any injuries, illnesses or conditions or are on any medications, talk to your doctor to make sure it's okay to exercise.

Step 3: Prepare for Your Workouts

Your cardio workouts are designed to be done on any cardio machine. If you prefer other activities (e.g., running, cycling, fitness videos, group fitness classes), choose another option as a substitute.

For the strength workouts, you'll need various weighted dumbbells (e.g., 3-12 lbs), an exercise ball and a mat. If you're new to strength training, familiarize yourself with the basics and how to choose your weight.

Step 4: Your First Cardio Workout

Choose any cardio machine (treadmill, elliptical, bike, Stairmaster,  rowing machine, etc.), set it on a manual mode and find your warm up pace. For the bulk of the workout, you'll change the settings (incline, speed, resistance, ramps, etc.) every few minutes to work at a moderate level, ending with a cool down and using a perceived exertion chart to work at the suggested intensity levels.

  • 5 min - Warm up at an easy-moderate pace Perceived Exertion Level: 4
  • 5 min - Baseline: Increase speed, incline and/or resistance so that you're just out of your comfort zone, but able to talk. Perceived Exertion: 5
  • 2 min - Increase your incline, resistance and/or ramps until you working a little harder than baseline. Perceived Exertion: 6
  • 3 min - Reduce your incline, resistance, ramps or speed back to baseline. Perceived Exertion: 5
  • 1 min - Increase your incline, resistance and/or ramps until you working a little harder than baseline. Perceived Exertion: 6
  • 4 min - Reduce incline, resistance, ramps and/or speed back to a moderate level. Perceived Exertion: 4

    Total Workout Time: 20 Minutes

    Flexibility Workout

    After your workout, go through these 8 Whole Body Stretches.

    You have your first day, now it's time to plan your first week of workouts.  Here's an idea of how to schedule your cardio and strength training workouts.

    Your First Week

    Day 1

    20-Minute Cardio

    Day 2

    Basic Strength Training

    For this workout, you'll do one set of 15 reps of each exercise listed below, resting briefly between exercises as needed. Visit the Basic Total Body Strength workout for step by step instructions for each exercise.

      Day 3

      20-Minute Cardio

      Today you'll do the same 20-Minute Cardio as day 1, followed by the lower body stretches included in this Lower Body Stretching Workout.

      Day 4

      Basic Yoga

      For today's workout, you'll go through the following poses, holding each for 3-5 breaths. View full step by step instructions at Morning and Evening Yoga.

      Day 5

      Basic Strength

      Today's workout involves the Basic Strength exercises you did on Day 2. As before, perform 1 set of 15 reps for each exercise, resting briefly between exercises as needed.

      Day 6

      Beginner Intervals

      Today's cardio workout involves alternating work sets (working at a higher intensity) with rest sets using this Perceived Exertion Chart to monitor your intensity. This workout can be done on any cardio machine. Visit Beginner Interval Workout for detailed instructions.

      • 5 Min: Warm up at an easy pace. Perceived Exertion (PE): 4
      • 3 Min: Rest Set - Increase speed and resistance/incline to a moderate level. PE: 5
      • 1 Min: Work Set - Increase incline, resistance and/or ramps 1-5% to raise the intensity level. PE: 7
      • 3 Min: Rest Set. PE: 5
      • 1 Min: Work Set. PE: 7
      • 3 Min: Rest Set. PE: 5
      • 5 Min: Cool down. PE: 4

      On Day 1, you completed your first workout. During week 1, you got through a full week of cardio, strength and flexibility workouts and now you're ready to build on that success with progressively more challenging workouts.

      Your First Month

      You've gotten started on your first day and seen a sample of workouts for your first week of exercise.  Now, it's time to expand on that and look at an entire month's worth of workouts that give you  progressively more challenging workouts.

      Week 1

        Week 2

        During week 2, you'll continue with the same schedule, but progress with a few small changes to keep you challenged.  For your cardio, you'll do the same workouts with an added 5 minutes to build endurance and increase your exercise time.   Your strength training workouts include the same exercises, but you'll be doing 2 sets of each exercise for added intensity. Modify the workouts as needed to fit your fitness level and goals.

        Week 3

        This week, the changes to your workouts are more drastic with higher intensity cardio workouts, a new and more challenging strength routine as well as a new yoga workout to try.

        Your cardio workouts go up from 25 minutes to 30 minutes and the interval workout takes you to higher levels of intensity than before.  The strength routine includes new exercises and heavier weights. Modify the workouts as needed to fit your fitness level and goals.

        Week 4

        With 3 weeks of workouts under your belt, you'll maintain your previous schedule with a few small changes to keep things interesting.  You'll continue with your 30-minute cardio workouts, but try a new interval routine that includes making more frequent changes throughout the workout.  Your strength workout remains the same, but you'll add a second set challenge your muscles and to continue progressing.

          Week 5 and Beyond

          With four weeks of workouts completed, it's important to maintain the momentum you've worked so hard to create. The following options will help you continue on your new healthy path of making exercise a priority in your life.

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