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How-To Fitness: Beginner’s Primer

Jumping into exercise when you’ve been on a long hiatus can feel daunting. Some people joke they need an exercise program to get in good enough shape to begin an exercise program! It’s important to recognize that it’s okay to begin where you are and that you don’t have to go it alone. Support and strategies along the way are key. I’ll cover several aspects of the “beginner’s how-to” in future posts, but today let’s talk about 10 equipment and exercise options to get you started in building a fitness program.

Get a Good Pedometer.

This is one of the easiest fitness tools there is. It’s a small device to wear on your belt or wrist that will count how many steps you take on a daily basis. The better ones like the Fit Bit allow you access to an online community for motivational support, send you positive prompts when you do something well, and keep track of your activity over long periods of time. Additionally, your pedometer will be as useful for your fitness development five years from now as it is today. You can always use it toward ongoing and progressing movement goals. Initially, try to work up to 10,000 steps/day.

Get a Good Heart Rate Monitor.

I got my first Polar Heart Rate Monitor in 1998, and have used one ever since. As good as a pedometer is to increase fitness by getting more steps in, after about 3-4 months people either need to increase the exercise intensity or want to be able to do more in less time. Polar or Garmin heart rate monitors are like a personal trainer you wear on your wrist that tells you to speed up or slow down when you exercise.

Find Exercise Programs for Heart Rate Monitors.

There are plenty of books on heart rate training like Heart Rate Training by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly or Total Heart Rate Training by Joel Friel. Both books have options for walking, running, biking, etc. Your best bet, however, is to utilize the expertise of a personal trainer in creating a customized program based on your level of cardiovascular conditioning and fitness. A trainer can help you modify your program over time.

Try Resist-A-Band Resistance Training Programs.

I have this listed before suspension or body weight training because some people start out exercise programs with enough weight to lose that these other options can be harder for them to tackle at first. (I was one of these people!) When I weighed fifty more pounds, programs with recline rows or chin-ups just weren’t going to happen for me.   However, the newer resist-a-bands now have attachments that allow you to hook them to doors or beams, which gives you more exercise options.

Incorporate Suspension Training.

When I had no gym to work out at over one summer, I actually had the idea for a variation of the TRX Straps. I was getting bored just doing push-ups and crunches and couldn’t do many chin-ups at the time. I thought there had to be a way to hook cables from something and do pulling variations of push-ups (recline rows). I didn’t move on my idea, but some bored soldiers did and came up with TRX Straps. In addition to these, you can also use the similar Elite Rings or the Jungle Gym. These are a step between resist-a-band training and body weight training, since you are working with body weight but can make the exercise easier or more difficult by changing the angle of your body.

Try Body Weight Training Programs.

If you have the fitness level to do these kinds of exercises, body weight training allows you to perform upper body movements like push-ups, chin-ups and even hand stand push-ups. Lower body options include double/single leg squats, lunge variations, step-up variations and double/single leg bridge variations. Finally, you can do lots of options for the midsection like crunch and plank variations. If you are new to fitness, ease into some of these movements when starting to exercise. Consult a trainer, who can help you master proper form.

Consider a Total Body Combination of Options 4-6.

Whether or not you have access to a gym, you can combine resist-a-bands, body weight and suspension training exercise options and create total body exercise programs. For example, you could do a small circuit of TRX Recline Rows, Resist-A-Band Squats, Body Weight Push-Ups, Body Weight Lunges, Resist-A-Band Shoulder Presses, and TRX Lying Hamstring Curls. This is a home workout option that can go a long ways toward improved fitness.

Check out Strength-Based Group Fitness Classes.

Many readers are familiar with traditional group fitness classes like the step, floor, or cycle options. Many people, however, overlook strength classes on the group fitness schedule. I have been teaching group fitness for over ten years, and class options like Barbell Strength, Strictly Strength, F.I.T. and Total Conditioning (in order of increasing  difficulty) can be a great starting point for members who want to use strength equipment but are intimidated by the fitness floor. I have witnessed many success stories with members who started in these classes and progressed to more advanced resistance training programs on the fitness floor.

Take Advantage of Metabolic Coaching.

This is a great option at Life Time. Most fitness enthusiasts who have worked in exercise physiology labs will agree that the human body can make the greatest changes in cardiovascular function in 3-4 months. They will also agree that people will need different, individualized programs for best results. Metabolic Coaching takes advantage of this by having an Active Metabolic Test done every 30 days that is specific to your physiology. The assessments--combined with some simple nutrition changes--help members not only improve cardiovascular conditioning but lose lots of fat as well! Among the people I signed up in the last 90-Day Challenge, those who experienced the best fat loss results did the metabolic coaching program. 

Build in Resistance Training Using a Variety of Equipment.

I initially got into the fitness field because I wanted a free membership at my favorite gym. I am a health club personal trainer in part because I appreciate the benefits of all the “toys” offered on the fitness floor. In addition to the equipment mentioned in options 4-6 above, most gyms will include barbells, dumbbells, select-weight resistance training equipment, kettlebells, stability balls, BOSUs, etc. (The list goes on and on.) Just as there is a wide variety of equipment, there is just as much variety in different resistance training programs. Consider it fodder for your future fitness experiments!

Thanks for reading today. What have been your best lessons and investments in your fitness journey? What made a difference to you in “starting from scratch”?

Written by Corey Grenz, Personal Trainer

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader

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