1. Invest in a good pair of training shoes, a supportive sports bra, and a workout outfit you love.
Finding a pair of comfortable, supportive athletic shoes is one of your first moves, Shauna Harrison, Ph.D., a group fitness instructor and creative director of fitness class booking app Zenrez, tells SELF. The best way to find the right pair is to try on a few in an athletic shoe or sports store and ask an associate for guidance—they'll be able to make sure you have the right fit and point you in the direction of versatile shoes that are great for a variety of workouts (rather than just running or just CrossFit).
You'll also want to find a snug, supportive sports bra and a couple of sweat-wicking tops and pants or shorts. "A few cute workout outfits that you feel comfortable in are a great investment because there is nothing like 'feeling the part' to get you motivated to get moving," Lisa Tanker, a certified personal trainer and fitness and lifestyle expert, tells SELF.
2. Start by scheduling just two workouts a week at convenient times.
"As you get started working out, think about long-term consistency. A great question to ask yourself is, 'How many days a week can you realistically fit into your life?'" says Tanker. She recommends working your way up to three to four days a week, but that doesn't mean you have to start there.
Begin by scheduling just two workouts a week, Tanker suggests. These can be as short as a 30-minute resistance training workout, Jen Comas, C.P.T., co-founder of Girls Gone Strong, tells SELF. Setting a realistic goal is key to sticking with it, and since you'll probably be sore after your first handful of workouts, this means you'll have a few days to recover in-between workouts. On your off days, simply get moving, which can be as straightforward as taking a walk, says Comas. As you build up your stamina and conditioning, increase the frequency and length of your workouts—try to add in a third day of working out around week four of your new routine, says Tanker.
It's also important to plan your workouts at the most convenient times possible—for example, if you know you're always exhausted at the end of a workday, it's probably not ideal to plan a 6 P.M. workout. You'll be more likely to end up skipping it. Conversely, if you're just so not a morning person, don't try to force yourself to make it to a 7 A.M. class. Set yourself up for success by picking days and times you can really commit to.
3. Buy some basic equipment to try at-home workouts.
If you're not quite ready to jump into a gym setting yet, consider getting started with some at-home workouts. We have a ton you can try—in fact, if you sign up for our October fitness challenge, you'll get a month of workouts emailed to you for free—or you can follow a reputable program like Comas' Girls Gone Strong, or start with single workouts like these beginner-friendly strength workouts. Comas also suggests posting on social media to ask what your friends are doing—you might even get a workout partner out of it.
While plenty of at-home workouts require nothing more than your bodyweight to complete them, you can also keep some simple equipment at home to work with, which gives you more options. "I recommend getting two pairs of dumbbells—one lighter set and one heavier set—and a jump rope. This provides a ton of possibilities, and requires very little space for storage," says Comas. (She says she found cheap dumbbells at a second-hand sporting goods store, and you can also find them at stores like Walmart and Target.) Tanker also suggests getting a mat to make abs exercises more comfortable, as well as a couple of looped resistance bands—you can find a pack for less than $10 online.
4. If you're looking into joining a gym, go in with a list of questions to ask before you sign up.
If you are ready to start working out at a gym, choose one that's close to your home or work—this makes it more likely that you'll actually show up. Once you pinpoint one that sounds like a fit, call to make an appointment with a membership advisor and see the gym before you dive in.
A few questions Tanker says you may want to ask: Are there month-to-month memberships, or do they only do year-long commitments? Do they offer a trial period for a week or two? What classes are offered? When is the gym busiest? When you're just starting out, walking into a packed gym can feel scary, so you may want to make sure its peak hours aren't the same as the only times you can work out, says Comas.
Before you commit, ask if the gym offers a free trial. Most gyms will give you a couple days or a week to try it out before you sign on the dotted line, which is a good way to make sure there's nothing that truly bothers you (like dirty locker rooms or too few of your favorite machines to ever get a spot during peak times) before you sign up.
5. Consider booking a session with a trainer, and see if your new gym offers a complimentary session.
Another question to ask at a prospective gym is whether they offer a complimentary personal training session when you become a member (many gyms do)—it's a great way to get comfortable with the training equipment and learn how the gym is laid out. If not, "you may also ask if it's possible to set up a session with someone that can show you how to use any equipment that you may have questions about," says Comas.
Even if it isn't free, you may want to consider booking one or two sessions with a trainer anyway to show you some exercises to get started with. They'll be able to teach you ones that are right for your current skills and abilities, make sure your form is correct, and help ease you into that gym flow.
If you're not joining a gym, consider working with an online personal trainer. It's often less expensive, and usually easier to fit into your schedule if yours is already packed. But if you really feel like you need some hands-on instruction and form corrections, it may not be the best fit for you. Ask yourself these questions to figure out if an online trainer is right for you.
6. Sign up for workout classes geared specifically toward beginners.
If you're thinking about trying a class, seek out studios that offer beginner or intro classes—it's more likely that the intensity and speed will be dialed back and the instructor will give more in-depth instructions, so you're less likely to get lost. "Your fitness class should feel challenging, but not so difficult that you feel defeated," says Tanker.
If a beginner class isn't an option, pull the instructor aside ahead of time and tell them you're new (and voice any concerns)—they may be able to give you some lower modifications for exercises during the class. Don't be afraid to modify exercises on your own, too, and take breaks when you need them, regardless of what everyone else is doing—chances are they're focused on what they're doing, too. "We tend to want to try to keep up with everyone else instead of meeting ourselves where we are," says Harrison. Never feel ashamed for listening to your body and taking breathers when you need to.
7. "Date" different types of workouts until you find the ones you truly like.
There really are endless types of workouts out there, and the truth is that the best workout for you is the one you'll actually do. The number one way to find the best fit for you is through trial and error, even though it may feel daunting at first. "Try a bunch of different types of classes until you find what resonates with you. Something will!" says Harrison. Start with one you're initially drawn to, whether it's barre, boxing, Pilates, dance cardio, yoga, a strength class, you name it, and keep trying new ones from there until you find what you enjoy.
And, by the way, even though it has a reputation for being a good beginner workout option because it's easy (and relatively inexpensive) to get into, you don't have to pick up running to get in shape. "If the idea of running makes you cringe, start with something else," says Harrison. (And if you think you might not hate it, by all means, lace up and give it a go!)
The same trial-and-error process works for deciding on where and when you work out, too. If group settings aren't your thing, maybe you find that the convenience of at-home workouts are better for you, or that doing your own thing in a gym setting is most motivating. Morning workouts might be easiest to stick to, or maybe evening workouts are your thing.
8. Have a game plan for when you're not feeling motivated, like an accountability partner and a pre-packed gym bag.
Even if you're super dedicated to your new fitness goals, some days, motivation alone just doesn't cut it (and that's totally OK). That's where an "insurance policy" comes in. If you need a little help staying on track, Comas suggests asking a friend who also works out to be your accountability partner. You can fill them in on your workout plans and let them know when you follow through, and when you need an extra nudge, they can be a great source of encouragement. Of course, you can provide all of that for them, too.
Another strategy is to keep your gym bag packed and ready to go, and your next workout outfit set aside. If you're groaning at your 6 A.M. alarm before a morning workout, it's much easier to give in when you know you already have your things put together, so all you have to do is slip into your clothes and walk out the door.
9. Most importantly, identify your "why" and focus on your own journey—not someone else's.
This is a huge part of staying motivated, consistent, and positive when you're first starting to work out. "Identify why you're ready to incorporate a regular workout program into your life and reach your goals," says Tanker. This might take some digging, and it has to mean enough to you to fall back on when you feel like quitting. Maybe it's being able to keep up with your kids, feeling strong in your own body, or just setting aside time to focus on your own well-being.
Ultimately, fitness should be about your own goals and what feels right for you. "When you're embarking on your fitness journey, it can be easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing," says Comas. "Remember that we all move at our own pace, and to focus on what is best and most enjoyable for you and your unique body."
Getting in shape doesn't have to empty your bank account. Heck, Rocky only needed a slab of beef, a snow-capped mountain and a barn full of farm equipment to prepare for his fight against Ivan Drago and look at how well that turned out for him. With a few strategic equipment purchases (resistance bands!), some handy smartphone apps and free YouTube channels, plus a bit of imagination, you too can get healthy while keeping your billfold plump.
One thing you won't need is a gym membership. Unless you require specialized facilities that you can't find elsewhere, why are you going to spend $100-plus a month to use workout equipment that other people sweat on? There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost alternatives available if you know where to look.
Just a few square feet of clear floor space is plenty of room to perform push-ups, sit-ups and a variety of other calisthenics. Add any of the myriad bodyweight workout routine apps available on Google Play and the Apple App store and you can start getting shredded in the privacy of your own home. At least there you'll actually know where the hairdryer has been.
I'm partial to Sworkit on Android. This free app offers circuit training routines with easy-to-follow visual explanations of each movement for both strength and cardio sessions that use only your body weight. You can set pre-selected workouts for five to 60 minutes, focusing on specific muscle groups or the whole body. And if you pay for the $4 full version, you can create and save routines of your own design. You Are Your Own Gym ($5) offers many of the same services but on both Android and iOS. I'm not super hot on Sworkit's yoga section -- I find it hard to get into a flow when using it -- but that's where the free app Yoga for Beginners (available on Android) comes in. Designed specifically for people getting back into yoga, the app offers three classes each of Vinyasa, Hatha and Restorative yoga, all with clear and concise instructions and form demonstrations so you're not left guessing and potentially hurting yourself in the process.
Or, if you'd prefer to take a break from looking at your phone while you exercise but still want some instruction and guidance, YouTube is chock full of workout routines from some of the biggest names in personal fitness today. Whether you're blasting through circuits with Joanna Soh, strengthening your core with MadFit, flowing through yoga poses with Adrienne or performing pilates with Blogilates, there's an exercise video that can help you reach your fitness goals. These accounts are run by established and accredited fitness personalities with years of experience and extensive follower accounts, so you can feel assured you're taking workout advice from someone who actually knows what they're doing.
I've personally used Yoga with Adrienne on and off for years and found it to be very close to what you'd find at the local yoga studio. She explains not only how to perform each movement but also how those movements fit into the larger practice. The pacing is slow enough to not rush you from form to form but not so slow that you get bored waiting to move to the next one.
These are all perfectly fine options assuming you're a motivated self-starter. However, if you feel you need a bit more external motivation to get off the couch, Daily Burn could be right for you. This streaming service offers thousands of workout videos covering everything from yoga and barre to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and pilates, across ability levels. These videos stream through Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Firestick and Chromecast as well as through the company's mobile apps. There's new content added daily in the form of a 30-minute "Daily Burn 365" video, which goes live every morning at 9am ET (and is available on demand after that). Additionally, the site offers a calorie counter, weight and workout tracking and weekly fitness goals to keep you motivated. The service costs around $13 a month, but that's a steal compared to what you'd pay for a gym membership and group classes.
Maybe you'd like to get a bit of fresh air with your exercise (or just don't want your living room to smell like stale sweat when you're done). There is still no need to blow a wad of cash on CrossFit lessons. Check your city's Parks and Rec department for listings of local open spaces, as well as free or low-cost classes and volunteering opportunities. The Calisthenics Parks organization maintains a similar database of publicly accessible fitness stations, trail runs and outdoor exercise areas all over the world.
If you're looking for group classes or just a workout buddy, the FitLink community can put you in touch with running clubs and personal trainers, as well as help you develop your own workout routines for the next time you exercise solo. Also take a stroll through your local Eventbrite -- it routinely offers a variety of group health and wellness classes.
Get your soon-to-be-fit butt down to the local park, public pool, dog run or playground. As long as the children's area isn't swarming with kids and toddlers, which you can easily avoid by going in the early morning or late afternoon, you should have the run of the place. Those chin-up stands and monkey bars that kicked your ass during the President's Challenge are just as difficult as you remember them, if not more so, now that you're pushing an adult's weight around. As the video below from Art of Manliness demonstrates, there are plenty of challenging bodyweight exercises you can do in a playground.
Once you've settled on a workout regimen, it's time to get equipped. Luckily, you won't need much. If you're giving yoga a shot, sure, you could set down a beach towel or work on the bare floor, or you could get this sweat resistant yoga mat from Amazon ($16) so you're not turning your living room floor into a slip-n-slide the moment you get your chakras flowing. You can't go wrong with a set of generic gym towels ($22 for a 12-pack), plus they double as stretching aids and are cheap enough that you can afford to lose some in the bottom of your gear bag. And if you're just starting out with the practice and aren't yet as flexible as you'd like to be, pick up a pair of foam support blocks for $11.
A set of resistance bands, like these from Serious Steel ($110), can also prove helpful if you're looking to improve muscle tone and mobility. There are full sets on Amazon, but nothing says you can't buy them piecemeal at $10 a pop and just pick up more as needed as you get stronger. Plus, even at a hundred bucks, they're still a third of the cost of many adjustable dumbbell sets.
Should you want something a bit more robust than a set of people-sized rubber bands, take a look at the BodyBoss Home Gym 2.0 ($179). It combines a folding platform with resistance bands and sturdy handles that mimic the feel of bars and dumbbells. From squats to curls to cardio, the BodyBoss offers more than 300 separate exercises as well as hundreds of instructional videos. Yet, when it's fully folded, the BodyBoss is small enough to fit in a suitcase so you can even take it with you when traveling.
Are you working out at home and have access to a spare doorway? Then you're in luck because you can easily convert that doorway into a pull-up station with this upper body workout bar from Iron Gym ($30). Depending on how you hang it on the frame, it can also serve as a push-up stand or sit-up anchor. Or, if you want to get fancy, check out Monkii Bars 2 ($199). These suspension straps can attach to practically anything -- door frames, tree branches, playground equipment and what have you -- and leverage your own body weight as resistance on more than 300 exercises. Working in conjunction with the iOS/Android app, you can follow along with both time- and rep-based routines; track progress; and gain access to new, free workouts delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Should you choose to train in the great outdoors, you'll do well to pick up a few extra pieces of equipment. Workout gloves, like this set from Trideer ($14), are a must. You don't know where those monkey bars have been. You'll also need to stay hydrated, so be sure to pack a water bottle. Kleen Kanteen offers stainless steel bottles ($15-plus) that are practically indestructible under normal conditions. I picked one up in 2011 and it's still my daily carry. Or if you want a lightweight plastic option, Nalgene has a BPA-free widemouth bottle for just $10.
If you're planning to exploit your local playground or schoolyard as a training area, you might as well go all out and get yourself a rainbow-colored beaded jump rope ($7-plus), you know, like from elementary school. Skipping rope is a great way to develop your coordination, cardio and stamina. And if you'd prefer to not just skip to your lou, give Jump Rope Training from Crossrope a try. Available on both Android and iOS (and syncable with both Google Fit and Apple Health), this instructional app works with the company's Infinity Rope system ($88-plus). Those ropes enable more accurate workout tracking but can get pretty pricey. Even so, the app is free, and you can easily follow along even if you don't have $88 for the smart ropes.
Finally, you're going to need a bag to tote this stuff around in. A lightweight drawstring bag, like this one from BeeGreen is just $10, but is large enough to carry everything you'll need for the session.
When you think of exercise, you may imagine strenuous activities such as running or biking — the ones that make you breathe hard, turn flush and drip with sweat. But aerobic activity is only one type of exercise, and although it is critical for boosting fitness, there are actually three other types of exercise that are also important: strength training, balance training and flexibility training.
Each type of exercise is important in its own way, and doing all four types is the way to maximize your fitness and prevent injury, experts say.
"While aerobic exercise is very important, it's not as effective for overall health" when done alone compared with when people include all four types of exercise in their routine, said Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota. "They all kind of go together" and complement each other, Laskowski said. [How to Start an Exercise Routine and Stick to It]
For example, strength training makes muscles stronger, which, in turn, helps to support and protect joints — and this could help prevent injury during aerobic exercise. Meanwhile, balance exercises use muscle strength in a coordinated fashion to stabilize your movements, and can reduce the risk of injuries such as ankle sprains, Laskowski said.
In addition, you could be very fit aerobically, but "if you're not flexible, you're still going to pull something when you're training," said Kelly Drew, an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine. Flexibility also helps you do strength training, because it improves your range of motion around your joints, ensuring you can perform lifts and other strength moves effectively, Drew said.
To dig up the most important information on these exercise types, Live Science spoke with experts and reviewed the latest scientific research. Below, we’ve linked to our detailed articles about the four types of exercise. Each article discusses the benefits of the particular exercise type, as well as how much you need to do and how to avoid injury during the activity. Finally, we'll provide ways to incorporate all four types of exercise into your workout regimen.
Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming or dancing, are activities that work your cardiovascular system — they get your heart rate up and make you breathe harder. This type of exercise can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and may even lower the risk of cancer. Full story: Here's what you need to know about aerobic exercise.
Strength exercises, such as weight lifting, push-ups and crunches, work your muscles by using resistance (like a dumbbell or your own body weight.) This type of exercise increases lean muscle mass, which is particularly important for weight loss, because lean muscle burns more calories than other types of tissue. Full story: Here's what you need to know about strength training.
Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body's position. This type of exercise is particularly important for older adults, because balance gets worse with age.But balance exercises can be beneficial for everyone, including people who have gained or lost a lot of weight or those who become pregnant, which can throw off your center of gravity, Drew said. Full story: Here's what you need to know about balance exercises.
Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and may improve your range of motion at your joints. They can improve your flexibility, and reduce your risk of injury during sports and other activities. Full story: Here's what you need to know about flexibility exercises.
Putting it all together
Ideally, you should include all four types of exercise in your workouts. But that doesn't mean you have to do four separate workouts, Drew said. You can combine some exercises together, like strength and balance training. For example, you could do bicep curls while standing on one leg. Some workouts, such as yoga, incorporate strength, flexibility and balance exercises.
A sample workout might include running or walking briskly for 30 minutes on a treadmill for aerobic exercise, then doing strength and balance exercises combined, and finishing by doing some static stretches, Drew said. "Your exercise program should include a bit of all four [types of exercise]," Drew said