You’re doing a solid job of tracking your food and making nutritional adjustments that work well for you, so now you want to step it up and incorporate some exercise into your routine for added weight-loss power.
Here’s the problem: It may feel like there are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible starting points. How do you choose the best way to jump in? The wealth of options — from group fitness classes and gyms to personal trainer sessions and online workouts — can make many people feel like giving up before they’ve even begun.
The trick is to think simple and gradual. You’re looking to make exercise into a new lifelong habit that will last after you hit your goal weight, and that requires the same strategy as changing up your food: consistency, predictability and starting where you are.
Particularly if you’re carrying extra weight, high-impact exercise can be tough on your joints when you’re just starting to get into working out, says fitness expert Jimmy Minardi of Minardi Training. That makes walking an ideal starting point, especially if you get outside to do it.
“Studies have shown that outdoor exercise is associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, while decreasing tension and depression,” he says. “That can make you more likely to repeat the activity.”
An important strategy is to schedule your walks in terms of time and location adds Marie Urban, a regional group training coordinator and personal trainer for Life Time. That keeps walking from being yet another task you might not get to during the day and makes it into more of a priority.
Huge goals are great, but when you just start working out, you need goals that are achievable quickly. For example, aim to walk two times this week. Or walk a block more tomorrow than you did today.
You might prefer to use time as a marker instead, adding 3 minutes to each walk until you get to an hour. These short-term goals give you a sense of progress, which is crucial for staying motivated.
“Pick a short distance and amount of time and build on it day by day,” suggests Urban. “My recommendation is to do something every day. Doing something like walking every day establishes a fitness routine and you will feel a difference in your body. This will motivate you to increase your time or distance and you’ll begin to make time for fitness rather than placing it on the back burner.”
After you’ve created a consistent walking routine you enjoy, begin to vary your walks for more intensity, Minardi says. If you’re walking outside, try alternating 3 minutes at a slow pace and 3 minutes at a faster pace. If you’re indoors on a treadmill, you can do this easily by increasing and decreasing the speed, as well as adjusting the incline.
For example, Minardi suggests, doing a 2-minute warmup and then increasing the incline every minute up to 10 degrees, and maxing out at 4 miles per hour. Then adjust back down until you’re at your starting point.
This is also when you can begin to incorporate some strength training into the mix a few days a week. That might include holding hand weights as you walk, Minardi says, or doing a few bodyweight exercises after you’ve warmed up by walking. As you get more comfortable with incorporating these kinds of moves, you can start to explore more strength-training options, like using free weights, resistance bands or gym machines.
A large part of what keeps people from exercising is they think of working out as, well, work. They might view exercise as punishment for what they ate or as a chore that needs to be checked off the list. But that means they haven’t found the sweet spot that comes with actually enjoying the sensation of movement, believes personal trainer Angelo Grinceri of P.volve.
“Pick up a fun activity,” he advises. “The best part about getting back in shape is feeling better when doing other things.” For instance, he says, he recently started playing tennis and feels like his game is on target when he’s consistent with his fitness regimen.
In other words, having a training goal — beyond losing weight and beyond those initial small goals — is important for the long term. Maybe that means signing up for a 5K walk six months from now or going for a bike ride with your kids instead of taking in a movie. No matter your future goals, though, be kind to yourself about getting there, Grinceri suggests.
“Stop judging yourself and start small,” he says. “What can you barely do? Great, start there. Start with a basic plank, a basic hip hinge. When you’re exhausted, stop. Then get back to it the next day.”