6 Weeks to Fitness for Absolute Beginners

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Week 1 of 6

Woman on an exercise ball
Woman on an exercise ball. Bambu Productions/Getty Images

If you've taken a long break from exercise or you're just getting started, this six-week program is the perfect place to begin. You'll establish an exercise routine with simple, straightforward workouts that progress from week to week.

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

Prepare for Your Workouts

  1. See your doctor if you have any injuries or conditions.
  2. Record your vital statistics if you want to track weight loss progress.
  3. Prepare for your workouts. The cardio workouts are designed to be done on any cardio machine or outside. If machines aren't your thing, substitute your own workouts (videos, classes, outdoor exercise, etc.) or choose something else you might enjoy.
  4. Gather your equipment. For the strength workouts, you'll need a variety of equipment including dumbbells, an exercise ball, resistance bands, a medicine ball, and a mat. If you're new to strength training, familiarize yourself with the basics and how to choose your weight. 

Week 1 Focus...Monitoring Intensity

Intensity is an important aspect of your cardio workouts and learning how to monitor it can teach you how your body feels during different activities. There are a variety of ways to monitor intensity including:

Your goal this week is to focus on the intensity of your workouts. During each cardio workout, use one of the methods above to track how you feel and match your Perceived Exertion to the suggested levels. Most workouts will be at a moderate level, which means you're just out of your comfort zone (but not huffing and puffing). Pay attention to that this week to get a sense of your exercise intensity.

Day 1: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

These workouts are short and simple and should take you about 35-45 minutes.

Day 2: Walking and Stretch

Today you don't have a structured workout schedule to follow, but a simple walking workout and a seated stretch to relax your shoulders, neck, and back.

  • Workout 1: Find at least 10 minutes for a brisk walk today.
  • Workout 2: Seated Stretch  

Day 3: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Today your schedule is the same as Day 1, but with a new cardio workout. Today you'll choose either a 13-minute walking workout or a 10-minute cycling workout, but feel free to combine the workouts if you want something longer. 

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:

  • Use the stairs at least 3 times today
  • Use your lunch hour to take a 10-minute walk
  • Sit on an exercise ball while watching TV
  • Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes

Day 5: Walking and Stretch

  • Workout 1: Find at least 10 minutes for a brisk walk today.
  • Workout 2: Seated Stretch
    Length: 5-10 Minutes  

Day 6: Cardio, Strength and Stretch

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Week 2 of 6

Women stretching
Women stretching. Tara Moore/Getty Images

For week 2, you'll notice some small changes to help you slowly progress. You'll have new, longer cardio workouts and you'll be doing an added set of each exercise during your strength training workouts. 

As always, please modify the workouts to fit your fitness level, schedule, and goals and listen to your body, taking extra rest days as needed. 

Week 2 Focus on…F.I.T.T.

This week, your focus is on the F.I.T.T. principle, which guides us in setting up workout programs. This principle includes:

  • Frequency - This week, you're doing cardio 3 times and strength training 3 times, which follows the basic exercise guidelines for getting started and improving your health. We will progress throughout this program by gradually adding more frequent exercise.
  • Intensity - During the first few weeks, you'll focus on moderate intensity or about a Level 5-6 on the Perceived Exertion Scale. As you progress, you will gradually change the intensity levels of your workouts with interval training and other techniques.
  • Time - Your workouts started at about 10-20 minutes. Each week, we'll gradually add time to your workouts to build endurance and help you burn more calories.
  • Type - 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. Later in the program, you'll choose new activities to add to your routine.

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. This program will help you learn how to do that.

Day 1: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Your cardio workout this week builds on last week's basic workout with an added 5 minutes. Your strength workout is the same, but you'll do 2 sets of each exercise with a brief rest in between. 

Day 2: Walking and Stretch

Today you'll do your walking workout, but with an added 5 minutes. You'll finish up with the seated stretch for the back, neck, and shoulders.

  • Workout 1: Find at least 15 minutes for a brisk walk today.
  • Workout 2: Seated Stretch
     

Day 3: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Your new cardio workout today involves interval training with any machine or activity of your choice.

  • Workout 2: Basic Strength
    Length: 2 sets of each exercise, 10-20 Minutes
    Equipment Required: light dumbbells, an exercise ball or chair, and a mat.
  • Workout 3: Soothing Stretch
     

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 game, like Wii Fit Plus
  • 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

Day 5: Walking and Stretch

  • Workout 1: Find at least 15 minutes for a brisk walk today.
  • Workout 2: Seated Stretch
     

Day 6: Cardio, Strength and Stretch

3
Week 3 of 6

Dumbbells at the Gym
Dumbbells at the Gym. Marc Romanelli/Getty Images

This week, you'll see some big changes in your schedule from previous weeks. We're upping the ante by splitting your cardio and strength workouts, giving you 3 days of cardio and 2 days of strength training. By splitting your workouts, you can give more energy to each routine, which may allow you to improve your performance and do more with your exercise time.

Week 3 Focus On...Tracking Progress

One of the most important things you'll do on your exercise journey is to track your progress. Knowing where you are and how you're improving is essential for staying motivated and knowing you're on the right track. Some ideas:

  • Weight Loss - Weight loss is a popular way to gauge how you're doing, but remember that weight loss is often slower than we expect and it may take weeks or months to see significant changes. You can measure this by weighing yourself, taking your measurementsgetting your body fat tested, and/or noticing how you look or how your clothes fit.
  • Workouts Completed - Another way to track your progress is to focus less on the results and more on the journey. If you want to lose weight, you know you need to exercise regularly. Setting a goal to complete a certain number of workouts each week may help you stay focused on the process while celebrating your accomplishments.
  • Health Improvements - Exercise can do more for you than just help you lose weight. It may also help you sleep better, give you more energy or make daily tasks easier. Think about what you'd like to improve (e.g, being able to walk up the stairs at work without passing out, being able to play with your kids or grandkids without getting tired, etc.) and make a note of it in your weekly checklist. Each week, check in with yourself to see how far you've come.
  • Strength and Endurance - It's motivating when you see and feel yourself getting stronger. Keeping track of how many sets, reps and how much weight you're using each week can tell you if you're getting stronger and notice when exercises get easier.

Day 1: Cardio and Stretch 

Today's cardio workout builds on previous workouts, taking you up to 30 minutes of continuous exercise. 

Day 2: Total Body Strength and Yoga 

Today's strength training workout offers more exercises than previous workouts, which means more intensity and challenge. For this workout, you'll perform 2 sets of 15 reps of each exercise, resting 20-30 seconds between sets. 

  • Workout 1Total Body Strength
  • Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30-45 Minutes
  • Equipment Required: Dumbbells, a barbell (substitute dumbbells if needed), a step or bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band.  
  • Workout 210-Minute Yoga (Optional)
     

Day 3: 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:

  • Wear a pedometer throughout the day and try to get at least 5000 steps
  • Walk around the house every time a commercial comes on during your favorite TV show
  • Walk 2 laps around the parking lot at work before you go in
  • Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch 

Today's new interval workout increases your workout time to 25 minutes and it also takes you a little further out of your comfort zone.  

Day 5: Total Body Strength 

  • Workout 1Total Body Strength
  • Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30-45 Minutes
  • Equipment Required: Dumbbells, a barbell (substitute dumbbells if needed), a step or weight bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band.

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch 

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Week 4 of 6

Woman drinking water
Woman drinking water. Robert Daly/Getty Images

This week, we're taking a breather to allow you some time to settle into your new workout schedule. That means you'll do the same workouts as last week with no new routines, challenges, or changes. It's important to give yourself time to master exercises, work on showing up for your workouts, and figure out how things are going. 

Focus on...Rewarding Yourself 

Staying motivated to exercise isn't always easy, but it helps to reward yourself for accomplishing your goals. This week, your goal is to figure how to reward yourself. Some ideas:

  • Schedule a massage, facial, or other spa treatment
  • Download new music
  • Take some time to read a book, listen to music, or relax
  • Plan a future trip or adventure
  • Spend some time doing your favorite thing

How will you reward yourself this week? Plan it now so you can look forward to it all week long.

Day 1: Cardio and Stretch

Day 2: Total Body Strength

  • Workout 1Total Body Strength
    Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30-45 Minutes
    Equipment Required: dumbbells, a barbell, a step or weight bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band

Day 3: Active Rest

There's nothing on your schedule today, but try to stay active as much as you can. Some ideas:

  • Accumulate at least 20 minutes of walking today
  • Declare a 'No TV' night and play games with your family
  • See how many activities you can do today without sitting down
  • Sit on an exercise ball while working on the computer 

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch

Day 5: Total Body Strength

  • Workout 1Total Body Strength
    Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30-45 Minutes
    Equipment Required: dumbbells, a barbell, a step or weight bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch

5
Week 5 of 6

Woman running on treadmill
Woman running on treadmill. Blend Images - Erik Isakson/Getty Images

This week, you're getting to the end of the program and, after last week's rest, we're increasing the challenge yet again with brand new workouts and a bonus exercise day. This means you'll be exercising 6 days this week, although that's always optional. 

Week 5 Focus On...Stress Relief

This week, I want you to focus on your stress levels. Specifically, how stressed are you and are your workouts helping relieve some of that stress? Whether you're doing intense cardio or a relaxing stretch, exercise may help relieve tension, improve your concentration, and give you the energy to accomplish more each day.

Think about how you feel after your workouts. Do you feel energized and ready to face the day? If so, you're on the right track. If you feel drained, that may be a sign that you're doing too much and may need more rest. 

Day 1: Cardio Medley and Stretch

Today's cardio workout takes you through a 40-minute routine using a treadmill, elliptical trainer, and a stationary bike. 

  • Workout 1Cardio Medley
  • Equipment Required: Treadmill, Elliptical, and Stationary Bike (or any 3 cardio machines)
  • Workout 2Basic Stretch

Day 2: Total Body Supersets and Yoga

Today's strength workout takes you to the next level with new (and tougher) exercises and a brand new format that adds intensity and saves time.

  • Workout 1Total Body Supersets
    Length: 40-60 Min
    Level: Beg/Int
    Equipment Required: barbell (can sub dumbbells here if needed), various weighted dumbbells, a step or bench and an exercise ball
  • Workout 2Morning and Evening Yoga

Day 3: 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.

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch

Today you get a brand new interval cardio workout that involves both hills and sprints to push the intensity to a Level 8 on this Perceived Exertion Chart.

Day 5: Total Body Supersets

  • Workout 1Total Body Supersets
    Length: 40-60 Min
    Equipment Required: various weighted dumbbells, a step or platform, barbells, and an exercise ball

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch

Today's workout is simple and straightforward, moving between Level 5 and 6.

Day 7: Bonus Cardio

This week, we're increasing the challenge by adding a bonus cardio workout. Choose any activity and work at a steady, moderate pace for at least 20 minutes. 

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Week 6 of 6

Woman lifting weights
Woman lifting weights. John Lund/Marc Romanelli/Getty Images

Congratulations for making it this far! It isn't easy to start an exercise program, and it's even harder to sustain it. You've done just that by sticking with the program.

We're wrapping up this week with the same schedule and workouts you followed last week, so there are no major changes to worry about. 

Week 6 Focus On..What's Next?

It's important to maintain the momentum you've worked so hard to create, so think about what's next. One option is to continue with the same workouts, or use the ideas below to keep progressing:

Day 1: Cardio Medley and Stretch

  • Workout 1Cardio Medley
    Length: 40 Min
    Equipment Required: treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike (or any 3 cardio machines)
  • Workout 2Basic Stretch

Day 2: Total Body Supersets and Yoga

  • Workout 1Total Body Supersets
    Length: 40-60 Min
    Level: Beg/Int
    Equipment Required: barbell (can sub dumbbells here if needed), various weighted dumbbells, a step or bench, and an exercise ball
  • Workout 2Morning and Evening Yoga

Day 3: Active Rest

You know what to do here.

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch

Day 5: Total Body Supersets

  • Workout 1Total Body Supersets
    Length: 40-60 Min
    Equipment Required: dumbbells, a step, barbells, and an exercise ball

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch

Day 7: Bonus Cardio

You can do the same Bonus Cardio you did last week, or choose something new.

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