Exercise for Beginners: How to Get Started With Cardio

Get Started with Cardio

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You already know that cardio exercise is important for a number of reasons.  It helps you burn calories and lose weight, it keeps your heart and lungs healthy and it gives you energy.

The real question is, what's the best way to get started if it's been a long time (or ever) since you've exercised?  Here's your step by step guide for getting started with cardio.

Getting Started With Cardio

  1. Choose an activity that you enjoy - This is the single most important thing to do, since no one wants to spend their time being miserable.  The best exercise for you is the one you'll actually do, not the one you think you should do. Walking is a great place to start since it doesn't require special equipment and you can do it anywhere, but you can try any activity that involves some type of continuous movement like cycling, swimming, running, aerobics, rowing, stairclimbing, dancing, etc.
  1. Set Up a Simple Schedule -If you're just starting out, you may not know how much exercise your body can handle.  I recommend beginners start with about 3 days of exercise with a rest day in between just to get a feel for how your body (and mind) responds to exercise. 
  2. Begin with a 5-10 minute warm up of light cardio to gradually increase heart rate.
  3. Increase your pace and intensity to slightly harder than comfortable (about a Level 5 or 6 on this Perceived Exertion Scale or you can use Target Heart Rate to monitor intensity) and go as long as you comfortably can. Begin where you are, not where you want to be. You may only be able to exercise for a few minutes at a time, but that will change quickly if you're consistent.
  4. End each workout with a cool down of light cardio and stretch the muscles you've worked to relax and keep your muscles flexible.
  5. Each week, increase your workout time by a few minutes until you can work continuously for 30 minutes a session.
  1. Don't worry about distance or pace. For the first few weeks, focus on showing up for your workouts and building time. You have plenty of time to work on your speed and distance.
  2. After 4-6 weeks, change your routine by adding another day of exercise, increasing your pace/intensity, adding a new activity and/or increasing the amount of time you exercise.

    Tips for Better Workouts

    • Make sure you have quality shoes for your chosen activity.
    • Start slowly. Doing too much too soon can lead to injuries and misery.  Do what you're comfortable with and slowly push your limits each workout.
    • Try new activities. Once you get used to working out, change things up.  Doing the same thing can lead to plateaus, boredom and injuries.
    • Be ready for exercise by feeding your body regularly throughout the day and by staying hydrated.
    • Take extra recovery days if you feel sore or tired.

    How Hard Should You Work?

    When doing cardio, you should learn how to monitor your intensity to make sure you're working effectively.

    You can do this in a variety of ways:

    • The Talk Test - This one is simple - If you can talk easily while you're exercising, you can probably push harder.  If you can talk in short sentences, you're right at a moderate pace.  If you're breathless, you're well out of your comfort zone.  That's fine if you're doing interval training, but you don't want to spend your whole workout at that level.

    Variety will keep your body and your mind challenged, so after the initial conditioning period (about 6 weeks of consistent workouts), vary your workout intensity and time. Each week, do a long, slow workout--45-60 minutes at the lower end of your THR and one short one--20-30 minutes at the higher end of your THR. Your other workouts can be between 30-45 minutes, in the middle of your THR.

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