When beginning a strength training program, it’s important to start slowly and progress gradually to allow your muscles to adapt to the challenge. Combination moves that work the upper and lower body can save you time during your workout, and more creative moves leave room for adaptation and adding weight as you grow stronger. Try these strength exercises for beginners.
Push-Up with Alternating Rows
Get in a modified push-up position on your hands and knees. Place a dumbbell next to each hand. Perform a push-up, then grab the weight with your right hand and pull it towards your chest. Return the weight to the ground, grab the other weight with your left hand and repeat. Continue with one push-up and then a right and left row. To make the exercise more challenging, perform a standard push-up, or keep the weights in your hands so that they support you as you lower to the ground.
Squat with Shoulder Press
Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Your palms should be facing each other, and the dumbbell should be close to touching your shoulder. Bend the knees to sit back in a squat position, as if you were sitting back in a chair. Raise to the starting position, and then push the weights overhead until your arms are fully extended. Lower the weights back to shoulder level and repeat. To make the exercise less challenging, begin without weights. To make it more challenging, increase the weight of the dumbbells and squat more deeply so that the thighs are parallel to the ground.
Step your right foot to the right. With your left leg extended and your left foot still flat on the floor, bend the right knee to sit back into a squat position. Return to the start and repeat on the left side. Increase the intensity by holding a dumbbell in each hand. You can also add an upper body move by performing a front raise with the dumbbells as you lunge from side to side.
Position yourself on your elbows and toes on the floor so that your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your heals. Hold for 15 to 60 seconds. Add movement to your plank to make it more challenging. Alternate lifting the right and left leg off the floor, or alternate reaching your hands out in front of you to touch the floor.
Cardiovascular exercise doesn’t have to take the form of distance running or lengthy sessions on machines. Incorporate these moves into any workout to increase your heart rate and burn calories.
Planks strengthen the upper body and the core, and variations can make them challenging cardio workouts. While in a plank position on your hands, jump both feet out to the sides and back together for plank jacks. Do mountain climbers by alternating steps forward and pulling in the knee towards the chest. Jump both feet forward to land between your hands for a plank tuck. Adding these jumps and tucks with the lower body will quickly increase your heart rate.
Adding a jump to any move makes it more difficult and increases your heart rate. You can turn a lower body strength move into a cardio workout by jumping between repetitions. Jump into the air as you stand from a squat or jump as you switch feet during alternating lunges.
A classic athletic training move, you can use quick feet to boost the cardiovascular benefit of your workout. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and squat down a little by bending the knees. Quickly shuffle your feet, but stay in one place. The lower you squat during the shuffle, the more challenging it will be for your lower body muscles and your cardiovascular system. Incorporate 30 to 60 seconds of quick feet any time you want to add a quick burst of cardio.
Kick with a Runner’s Lunge
Using all the major muscle groups to move the body up and down is a good way to increase the heart rate. From a standing position, lift the right knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, and kick your foot out in front of you. Lower the leg and extend it behind you as you plant the toes of your right foot on the ground while bending the left knee into a runner’s lunge. Your hands should touch the ground next to your left foot. Move more quickly and add a small hop on the left foot as you kick to increase intensity. Repeat the kick and lunge on the right side for 30 seconds before switching legs.
Cardiovascular exercise improves heart health and burns calories making it an essential part of your fitness program. Start with exercise that is at the right intensity for your fitness level. As your fitness improves, you can increase the time or intensity to continue challenging yourself. Get started with this at-home, beginner cardio workout.
Perform each of these low-impact exercises for 60 seconds. One round of these exercises completes a 6 minute workout. Do two to five rounds. As your fitness improves, incorporate the tips for increasing intensity for a more challenging workout.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend at the knees as you sit back like you are about to sit in a chair. Raise to the starting position. Concentrate on squatting quickly up and down to get the heart rate up versus lowering into a deep squat position.
Intensity tip: Jump into the air each time you push out of the squat position.
March in place
Raise the knees high. Keep the stomach pulled in and pump the arms.
Intensity tip: Transition to a jog in place.
Take a big step to the right and then step back to the left. Repeat the side step as quickly as possible.
Intensity tip: Hop side to side.
Walk forward and back
Walk forward four steps and then walk backward four steps. Pump the arms as you move up and back.
Intensity tip: Push the arms up and down overhead as you walk. Transition to jogging forward and back.
Kick your right foot out in front of you and then the left foot. Begin with low kicks, about shin height.
Intensity tip: Raise the knee high with each kick and extend the leg parallel to the floor. Add a hop with each kick.
Start with your arms at your sides. Bend the elbows and raise your hands up to shoulder level. Push both hands out in front of you with your arms parallel to the floor. Bend the elbows and bring the hands back close to the shoulders. Then raise your hands up over head. Return to the starting position. Repeat pushing the arms out in front and overhead. The more quickly you move, the more challenging the exercise.
Intensity tip: Add lower body movement like front kicks or jogging in place.
Motivation fuels your desire to make the small changes necessary to reach your long-term goals. The sources for your motivation may change and at times it can feel like it’s disappeared completely. When you hit a low point, it’s important to find ways to stay motivated.
Make a list of your positive changes.
Don’t allow frustrating weight loss and strength training plateaus make you lose focus and overlook your progress. Make a list of your positive changes. Include everything from exercising three times a week and drinking less soda to improved mood and more energy. All of these small changes matter, and when you see them all on paper, they become a source of motivation.
Pick one exercise to measure your progress.
Select an exercise that is timed or measured by repetitions and requires no equipment. Wall sit, plank, or push-ups are good examples. If you make it part of your regular routine, this one exercise can be enough to show your progress and keep you motivated. Advancing from a 15 second wall sit to 90 seconds or from 5 modified push-ups to 10 standard push-ups proves your hard work is paying off. Seeing these results can keep you from throwing in the towel when it feels like your progress has stalled.
Give yourself the day off.
If you’ve been working hard to reach your goals, but your motivation is wavering, you may need a break from your routine. Even the most committed exercisers need a break to rest, relax, and revisit goals. If your program has been strict, you might consider giving yourself a cheat day.
Reducing your calorie intake will help you lose weight, but it is only one part of healthier eating. Nutrition must be a priority to give your body the fuel it needs. Eat meals and snacks that are balanced in protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fat. Include a variety of plant-based foods to increase your intake of dietary fiber and phytonutrients that protect health.
While a rigid training program keeps some motivated, the lack of variety can cause others to give up. Make your ultimate goal to move more, and try different workouts to identify your fitness style. Structured exercise isn’t for everyone, and it is not a requirement for improved fitness. If you dislike the gym, move more by hiking, taking dance classes, or practicing watersports.
Rest days should be a part of any fitness program. The body needs time to rest, recover, and refuel itself so you can make gains in both cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. Work hard during your exercise sessions, and allow yourself a break one day a week.
Calm Your Mind
It’s true that exercise can relieve symptoms of mild depression and improve self confidence, but take an extra step to incorporate activities that focus on your mental health. Take a brain break, and meditate on your goals for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Add yoga to your routine to ease stress and improve flexibility.
You probably know that restful sleep gives you the energy to exercise and helps to regulate hormones that influence hunger and cravings, but getting 7 to 9 hours a night is a challenge. Improve your sleeping habits by tracking how much you currently get, and set small goals to go to bed 10 minutes earlier each week. Create a restful environment that promotes sleep. Stop screen time at least an hour before bedtime, and engage in an activity that relaxes you like meditating, journaling, or sipping decaffeinated tea.