Tips For Starting (Or Jumpstarting) Your Exercise Regimen

Photo: mrhayata

How are your resolutions to get fit, exercise more, and lose weight going? If you need a nudge or some encouragement, check out my doable-with-a-busy-schedule approach to getting results.

Quick Start Guide

  • Start doing some form of exercise every day (walk around the block, take the stairs rather than the elevator); try to do more intense workouts at least at couple of times weekly (ideal is 3-5 times/week). 
  • If you haven’t already, set an achievable goal. You might decide that you’ll lift weights 3 days per week or walk 1 mile every day or run 20 miles per week. Or, you can aim for improving your mile time, or 100 yard freestyle time, or cycling speed. Still yet, you might want to sign up for a community walk, 5K, or charity bike ride. 
  • Try weight training to lose weight (it can increase your metabolism) and build strength, which helps to avoid injury
  • Get gear (clothing, shoes, equipment, and supplies) from local shops; you may pay more but you’ll be more likely to get the right gear the first time and you should be able to get training advice and/or tips on local groups that offer training support. 
  • Schedule your workouts as if they were appointments or business meetings, especially if you always seem to be pressed for time.
  • Rest, eat well, and drink plenty of water. Your body needs to recover in order to become stronger.

Track your progress from month to month (or whatever time period seems reasonable to you) by measuring your:

  • Weight and/or body size (chest, waist, thighs)
  • Resting heart rate (when you get up in the morning) 
  • Heart rate after climbing a bunch of stairs or running a mile or whatever activity you choose

These measurements should decrease though you may gain weight from having extra muscle or even increase in body size if you started with a thin body, based on my observations. (Consult a medical professional or trainer if you'd like personalized information on body changes).

To me, much of the exercise battle (besides finding time) is feeling confident about what you’re doing; if you need help putting together an exercise program, ask for help from an athletic friend or someone who works at the shop where you bought your gear, hire a trainer, buy a book on training, or check out an online training plan. To get you going and speaking intelligently about training regimens, here's some athletic lingo:

  • Interval Training: sets of sprints (going really fast for say 30 seconds to 2 minutes) with short periods of recovery (time to catch your breath before doing another sprint); others may describe interval training as  hard work for several minutes followed by recovery
  • Endurance Training: running, walking, swimming, or cycling for long distances, which may range from one to 100 miles depending on the sport, your fitness level, and goals
  • Strength Training: building stronger muscles by lifting weights, which I like to do through resistance training using non-free-weight-type machines (such as Cybex or Nautilus brand equipment)
  • Splits: your time at specific intervals of a race; for example if you are running a 10K, you might get mile splits telling you how fast you are running each mile so that you can increase your pace or relax a bit in order to conserve energy for the end of the race
  • Pace clock: a time-measurement device found on swimming pool decks indicating time within each minute in 5-second increments (usually with 1-second hash marks); for more swim-related lingo, see this Masters Swimming site
  • 5K/10K: distances of approximately 3.1/6.2 miles, usually for a foot race
  • Century/Metric Century Bike Ride: 100 miles/62 miles (give or take a few miles, depending on road layouts)
  • Drafting: riding close behind another cyclist, letting the other person block the wind in order to conserve energy (you are supposed to take turns being the lead person)
  • Open water swim: swimming event or training activity not held in a pool but rather in a lake, river, or ocean
  • Grade: steepness of trail or road that you are running or cycling
  • SAG support: people in motorized vehicles (often vans) who follow cyclists and provide support if someone needs help (has a flat tire or just gets tired); see Wikipedia for more cycling terminology
  • Heart-rate based training: training based on heart rate and using a heart monitor (seems lot a lot of math while sweating but apparently this method is helpful to many people) 
  • Road/Mountain/Hybrid Bikes: types of bicycles made specifically for the road, trails in the woods, and a mixture of surfaces (asphalt, ground, gravel), respectively
  • No Drop: bicycle rides where the pace is set for the slowest rider and/or other riders will wait at intersections for the slower riders
  • Taper: reducing your workout load and/or intensity before a competitive event in order to prevent your body from being tired on race day and have peak performance
  • Personal best: your best time for a particular type of race (5K road race; Century bike ride) or your best time for a specific race that follows the same path every year 

For those of you who have set a goal to participate in a community athletic event, here are my steps to success:

  • Find events in your area by visiting or looking for flyers at bike shops, gyms, and sporting goods stores
  • Look at race results from prior years to judge competitiveness of an event; don’t let speedy people deter you but it is helpful to get an idea of what times are within a normal range and/or when rest stops may be closed and SAG support ends. 
  • Register for events in advance in order to get a slight discount (usually $5 on a fee of $15-20) and guarantee a space in the event, if participation is limited
  • Sign the waiver, which seem scary but nearly all well-organized events will require you to sign a waiver indicating that you have trained for the event and understand the risks associated with participating
  • Get your registration materials, such as your race number (attach to your shirt with safety pins provided) or ID bracelet, cue sheet with directions and turns (bicycle rides), and goody bag with an event t-shirt (if included in race fee) and promotional items
  • Have fun!

Whatever you do, be persistent even when you get waylaid by outside obligations; you'll be amazed at the cumulative, beneficial effect of exercise.

These ideas are based on my experiences as an AAU swimmer, high school track team member, occasional runner, and wannabe faster cyclist. It is helpful to get professional training advice or even consult a physician before starting your own regimen.

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Guest's picture

I love the links you provided.

It's amazing what something simply like walking for an extra ten minutes can do over time. Taking little steps helped me to get back on the exercising bandwagon.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks Grace, and glad you are back to exercising -- my regimen is not particularly strict or organized but I try to keep at it. There is a lot of informatiion out there about training but much is really technical and not so relevant to the non-elite, non-world-class athlete.

Guest's picture

I recently started commuting home from work by bicycle (about a 5 mile ride). The hills are still kicking my butt, but I do pretty well overall. I need to make some improvements to my bike (slick tires and maybe some panniers to carry my work items - the pack is killing my back). It started as way to cut costs, but I'm finding it is also slimming my waistline. I also plan to incorporate some of the ideas you mention.

Guest's picture

I think your tip about scheduling workouts like it's an appointment is crucial. I have it on my calendar as "training" so that whenever a client / co-worker sees it, they don't try to get me to cancel in order to better accommodate them.

Guest's picture

I use as a tracking tool for both diet and exerscise. It is free and easy to use and I find the food database much more complete than other free nutrition sites.

Guest's picture

I recently posted my impressions of Fitday here:

I'll be posting a follow up in the next day or so, but my experience so far has been positive.

Guest's picture

Very timely post indeed. I've been anxiously awaiting the big snow melt in the city, since I don't like running in the ice & snow. The snow is finally all gone, and I've been getting out walking & running more. I'm trying to get out at least once a week, in combination with some other exercise another time a week.

One site I use is, as that helps me, you guessed it, map my run. I don't always follow the same route every time, as I like exploring my neighbourhood, but I like to know how far I've run. It's especially helpful if I'm walking around as well.

While I don't necessarily need the "goal" of training for a 5k run or anything, I just like the fact that I get out of the house, and enjoy the nice weather and sunshine. I use my runs as a stress reliever, so going for a quick jog after work is very helpful to me.

Kudos to all of us for getting off our duffs and moving again.

Guest's picture

Very good tips.

Another super easy way to build cardiovascular fitness, metabolism, and burn fat is "Tabata".

It's named after the Japanese research who did the study. Details on it are a bit fuzzy in my mind but I remember the basics. He had two groups. The first did 60 minutes of steady state cardio 5x a week for 6 weeks. The second group did a full-body exercise 20 second as fast as they could then rested 10 seconds, then did it 20 seconds again, rested 10, etc, for 4 minutes. He measured body fat, RMR (resting metabolic rate), and V02 max (a measure of fitness) before and after. I guess you can see where I'm going here, the 4 min/day group lost more body fat, had higher metabolism, and a higher level of fitness! This study is often quoted by HIIT proponents but I think it should be noted that you don't have to sprint or anything like that to replicate what was done in the study.

Here is what I do (and coach my wife into doing). Get two dumbells (or anything heavy and equal weight) in each hand. She uses 5lb dumbells, I use 20s. The movement is a "thruster" which is a lot like the olympic lift clean and jerk, but just the jerk. You put the weights at your shoulders, squat down deep and push your arms up as you come up. Do this as fast as you can 20 seconds, rest 10. Repeat 8 times and you will be sweating profusely and your arms/legs burning. Easy and takes 4 minutes a day and proven to be more effective than 60 minutes of slow/boring cardio!

Long comment, my apologies.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the links and for the info on Tabata. I am interested in the idea that short bursts of intense activity can make a significant difference in measures of fitness.

In my swimming days, I knew a guy who decided to ditch the overload of workouts (2-3 hours in the pool, going 5+ miles each day) and proposed alternative workouts -- he and a buddy were featured in Sports Illustrated (late 80s) with their ideas, though I am not sure if the swimming world adopted his proposed method. Still, from what I recall, he improved his times with less time.

Guest's picture

I agree whole heartedly with the idea of setting up workout times as appointments. I like to call them dates however. I have a very good friend that I like to go swimming with at least 4 times a week. We eat a healthy lunch together, do our work out, and then eat a healthy dinner afterwards. Setting up my workout time as a date with my friend really makes me want to work out. Whenever we have to skip a day, it makes me sad that I will be missing out on such a wonderful afternoon!

Guest's picture

For me, they are a huge waste and mostly hype. And a lot of the stuff there isn't really all that much of a bargain. I belonged for a year - 15 years ago - the result was I bought a lot of stuff I didn't really need. And whenever I'm there I see people buying a lot of nutritionally dubious food, lots of convenience items, and a whole lot of stuff that they do not really need.

Now I go once a year with someone who has a membership and maybe buy paper towels. I save more money by just shopping wisely, menu planning and not buying things unless I have to do so.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the tips, those are going to help me greatly when helping my sister in begining her workout routine.

Guest's picture

In order to make exercise my daily habit I set a time, start small and progress latter once my body is used to daily exercise, I slowly start to increase the amount and intensity of my exercise.