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."