A Week's Worth of Fitness Workouts for Absolute Beginners

Woman stretching at the office
Getty Images/Chris Craymer

If you're a beginning exerciser or its been a long time since you worked out, you may be wondering exactly where to start.

How much cardio should you do and what about strength training? How do you fit it all in while avoiding getting too sore or, worse, getting injured?

Your first step is learning the basics on how to set up a workout program. Luckily, you don't have to figure it out yourself. Experts have already figured out the most important components to creating a quality exercise routine and that involves focusing on F.I.T.T.

Focus on…F.I.T.T.

The F.I.T.T. principle is what guides us in setting up a complete workout program, whether you're doing cardio, strength training or both. Using this principle, you can manipulate different aspects of your workout to make changes, progress to higher levels and keep things interesting.

These are the principles used in creating the workouts listed below.

Here are the principles of F.I.T.T. and how we change them throughout the program:

  • Frequency - This obviously refers to how often you exercise. If you check out the program below, you'll notice you're doing cardio three times and strength training three times, which follows the basic exercise guidelines for getting started and improving your health. Over time you can add more frequency to your cardio workouts as you build endurance and get more comfortable with exercise.
  • Intensity - This refers to how hard you're working. As you get started with this week of workouts, your focus will be on working at a moderate intensity, or about a Level 5-6 on the Perceived Exertion Scale. This is for your cardio workouts. As you progress, you can gradually change the intensity levels of your workouts with interval training.
  • Time - This refers to how long your workouts are. Your cardio workouts below are 20 or more minutes. Each week, add a few minutes to your cardio workouts to progress without working too hard. 
  • Type - The type of exercise you're doing (e.g., running, walking, etc.). It's important to start out with activities you enjoy, but it's also important to cross-train and mix things up to keep both your body and mind engaged. One you establish an exercise habit, consider trying a variety of activities to keep things interesting.

    When you workout at a sufficient intensity, time and frequency, you'll start to see changes in your weight, body fat, endurance, and strength. When your body adjusts to your current FITT levels, it's time to manipulate one of more of them.

    As always, please modify the workouts to fit your fitness level, schedule, and goals and listen to your body. If you feel extra sore or tired, take a rest day. If you feel you're not being challenged, increase the intensity, duration or frequency to work harder.

    The workouts are only suggestions and won't work for everyone, so please modify them as needed to fit your fitness level, schedule, and preferences.

    Your First Week of Workouts

    Day 1: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

    Your cardio workout this week is 25 minutes long although, as mentioned, you should workout at your fitness level. If you need to start with 10 or 15 minutes just to see how things feel, feel free to do that.

    You'll also have a very basic strength workout that you'll do either before or after your cardio workout - It's your choice.

    The strength workout involves doing 2 sets of each exercise with a brief rest between sets. If you need more guidance in your weight training, learn more about how to choose the right amount of weight to lift.

    You'll end with a relaxing 5-minute stretch. You may be tempted to skip it, but the stretch is just as important as the cardio and strength training. It eases tension and allows your body to get back to its pre-exercise state.

    • Workout 1: 25-Minute Cardio
      Type: Cardio
      Length: 25 Minutes
      Level: Beginner
      Equipment Required: Any cardio machine
    • Workout 2: Basic Strength
      Type: Strength Training
      Length: 2 sets of each exercise, 10-20 Minutes
      Level: Beginner
      Equipment Required: Light dumbbells, an exercise ball or chair, and a mat.
    • Workout 3: Basic Stretch
      Type: Flexibility
      Length: 5 Minutes
      Level: Beginner
      Equipment Required: None.

      Day 2: Walking and Stretch

      Today is kind of like a recovery day and a chance for you to do some light cardio. While structured exercise is great for you, moving more every day can also contribute to your overall calorie burn. Today you'll do that and finish up with a seated stretch for the back, neck and, shoulders.

      • Workout 1: Find at least 15 minutes for a brisk walk today.
      • Workout 2: Seated Stretch
        Type: Flexibility
        Length: 5-10 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: None.

      Day 3: Cardio, Strength and, Stretch

      You have a different cardio workout today that involves some light interval training.This involves pushing you just a little out of your comfort zone, but not too far. Just enough to start to test your limits. You can do this on any machine or activity of your choice. As before, your strength workout stays the same as the previous workout and, of course, don't forget to end with a stretch.

      • Workout 1: Basic Intervals
        Type: Cardio
        Length: 21 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: Any cardio machine
      • Workout 2: Basic Strength
        Type: Strength Training
        Length: 2 sets of each exercise, 10-20 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: Light dumbbells, an exercise ball or chair, and a mat.
      • Workout 3: Basic Stretch
        Type: Flexibility
        Length: 5 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: None.

      Day 4: Active Rest

      There's nothing on your schedule today, but try to stay active as much as you can by taking breaks, walking, stretching and moving. Some ideas:

      • Play an active exergame - Wii Fit or anything that gets you moving.
      • Do some crunches or pushups while you watch TV.
      • Turn off the TV early and stretch for a few minutes before bed.
      • Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes.
      • Roll around on an exercise ball.

      Day 5: Walking and Stretch

      Again, today is like an active recovery. You'll simply find time to walk, all at once or spread throughout the day, and then stretch.

      • Workout 1: Find at least 15 minutes for a brisk walk today.
      • Workout 2: Seated Stretch
        Type: Flexibility
        Length: 5-10 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: None.

      Day 6: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

      Your workouts today are the same as on your first day. If you're feeling sore or fatigued at this point, you may want to take an extra rest day or only do two days of cardio and strength training. This is where the experimentation comes in as you figure out what your body can and can't do.

      • Workout 1: 25-Minute Cardio
        Type: Cardio
        Length: 25 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: Any cardio machine
      • Workout 2: Basic Strength
        Type: Strength Training
        Length: 2 sets of each exercise, 10-20 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: Light dumbbells, an exercise ball or chair, and a mat.
      • Workout 3: Basic Stretch
        Type: Strength Training
        Length: 5 Minutes
        Level: Beginner
        Equipment Required: None.

      From here, you have a basic structure of a weekly workout program. Use the F.I.T.T. principle to progress from week to week, adding more frequency, higher intensity, heavier weights, longer workouts, or different types of workouts.

      Continue Reading