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Below is a simple program designed to help beginners build a sustainable and realistic fitness foundation.

This three step introduction to exercise and nutrition is intentionally easy because the end goal is habit formation. Consistency takes priority over intensity here. Stick to these simple steps for at least one month before moving on to more complicated programs.

1

Track Your Food

Download a calorie counting app (Lose It, Cronometer, MyFitnessPal) and track everything you consume for at least two weeks. All food and drinks.

Don’t change your diet during the first week. Instead, pay attention to your daily caloric totals and the macronutrient contents of your meals. Train your eyes to identify what’s on your plate and how much water you’re drinking per day. It’s easier to implement good dietary habits when we can reflect on bad ones.

2

Do Easy Cardio

Find a 1-2 mile loop in your neighborhood and travel it 3-4 times per week by walking and/or jogging it.

Slowly decrease your total time each week by jogging more and more of the distance. The walk versus jog structure is irrelevant. Cap your time for each session at ~40 minutes and keep your intensity level in the moderate range. Consistency is the most important thing here. I strongly recommend you do this outside, but a treadmill is acceptable.

3

Add Resistance Training

Incorporate resistance training into your routine 2-3 times per week. Keep cardio days and resistance days separate. If steps one and two are initially overwhelming, add this step when you’re ready. But don’t leave it out. 

Below is a simple and effective full body workout to help get you started. Complete 3-4 rounds of this circuit in sequence, resting as needed. Each exercise should be performed for 30-60 seconds before moving on to the next. The entire workout should take less than 30 minutes. The only piece of equipment you’ll need is a suspension trainer or a pair of gymnastic rings. One is required.

Warm Up
Full Body Circuit
Cool Down
Easy Cardio - 5 minutes
Squat (Bodyweight or Goblet)
Foam Rolling (Optional)
Dynamic Stretching
Row (Ring Row or Suspension)
Static Stretching
Push Up (Standard or Modified)
Plank (High or Low)
Superman Hold

Next Steps?

Before moving on to more complicated programs, make sure the routine you’re following looks somewhat similar to the one below.

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday
Cardio
Resistance Training
Cardio
Resistance Training
Cardio
Rest
Rest

Regarding nutrition, build your meals around specific macronutrient portions and stick to a consistent eating schedule. I recommended the 4X4 strategy outlined in the nutrition chapter, but a variety of tactics can work. Dialing this in for your specific needs will take some trial and error. Be willing to experiment.

Cardiovascular conditioning can also be progressed in a number of different ways. If you’re focused on weight loss and the initial two mile strategy has been working for you, keep at it until your progress plateaus. An uninterrupted two mile jog is a great long-term goal here. If you’re looking for general cardiovascular fitness, all Fitstra resistance training programs include a variety of interval work as well as steady state times. Use these programs as they are or modify them to fit your needs. However you choose to implement cardio, be sure to keep it realistic and sustainable.

For resistance training, start the Fitstra Beginner program. Practice the included compound exercises with barbells, dumbbells, and your own bodyweight. Start with two days per week and maintain that frequency for at least a month, then advance to three. Keep running the Beginner program until you stop making strength gains. The Beginner program is covered in more detail below.

Resistance Training for Beginners

The following is an excerpt from chapter one of Fitness & Nutrition Programming for Beginners.  This introduction to resistance training should help new lifters understand why strength training is essential at the beginning and how to implement it most effectively. Check out the full book for more information.

“Before we dive into resistance training fundamentals, it’s important to first cover some guidelines for new lifters to ensure maximum beginner gains are made before moving on to advanced programs.

If you’re untrained or have little to no recent exercise experience, you’re basically superhuman and most standard resistance training rules won’t apply to you. As a beginner, you’ll make massive weekly leaps in strength, muscular size, and cardiovascular endurance. Good program design or bad, you’ll continue to improve. But the bad habits that initially worked well will eventually become ineffective and impede future growth. To set yourself up for long-term success, take advantage of this accelerated progress phase by properly learning the basics and implementing smart habits.

How should beginners start?

First, set a goal for yourself and have a clearly defined reason to train. Interested in bodybuilding? Great. Want to improve strength so you’re better on the Pilates reformer? Fantastic. There’s no wrong answer here. Be sure to know what you’re working towards. All programs need direction.

Next, focus on building a solid foundation of strength. Strong muscles increase our growth potential and improve the quality of non-lifting activities like running, climbing, dancing, etc. All aspects of your life will improve if you can move with less effort. 

Strength is easy to improve at the beginning because initial weakness isn’t caused entirely by a lack of muscle mass. Instead, a novice’s inability to lift heavier loads is typically caused by poor neuromuscular coordination and a lack of motor control. This means beginners have enough muscle mass to lift relatively heavy weight, but their brains aren’t good at communicating with their muscles to produce consistent, controlled force. By treating strength as a skill and practicing it often, new lifters can learn to be strong and simultaneously build a significant amount of new muscle mass with a modest level of effort. That’s a training win-win.

The learning phase for strength is intentionally very simple. Beginners should – 

  • Focus on non-periodized, full body workouts that are performed 2-3 times per week. 
  • Each session should contain 3-4 working sets per exercise. 
  • Each set should contain 5-8 reps with a challenging weight.
  • Avoid failure and leave 1-2 reps in reserve per set most of the time.
  • Aim to add a moderate amount of weight (5-10 lbs) to your lifts weekly. 

These suggestions mean you can basically do the same workouts every week and only need to focus on adding small amounts of weight when appropriate. Reducing initial program complexity helps beginners develop proper form, spatial awareness, and an understanding of their physical capabilities.

The Fitstra Beginner program follows these suggestions and the first two weeks are listed above. This sample section contains two different weeks where workouts A and B alternate each day. There are only eight different compound exercises in the A/B split, making it an easy routine to learn. Stick to this strength protocol or one like it for at least the first two months and limit high-rep sets that target hypertrophy. There’s a good chance you won’t significantly increase muscle size during this eight week period anyway. The increased volume from high-rep sets may cause muscle damage (inflammation often mistaken for hypertrophy) and unnecessary fatigue, impeding growth.

Why is this strength phase so important?

The more strength you build at the beginning, the heavier your subsequent high-volume work can be. This will help you build more muscle. Think of the strength phase as a slingshot that takes an initial investment of time and energy to build but allows you to rapidly progress when released. Become as strong as possible before you change program variables like rep ranges or exercise frequency.

Finally, early equipment and exercise selection should mirror the program you’re going to follow. If you decide to work with the Fitstra Beginner program or one similar to it, you will use a barbell for many of the exercises. Start with the bar from day one or introduce it as soon as you build enough strength, coordination, and confidence. You’ll feel more comfortable with this piece of equipment each time you use it. In any fitness setting, learning to use the tool is just as important as learning to move the weight. Some studies indicate that external cuing is more beneficial than an internal focus for beginners. This means novice lifters should visualize the bar path and prioritize form rather than trying to activate a muscle. As movements become more familiar, focus on contracting the muscles being worked in each exercise.

Because there’s not an exact duration for the beginner phase, closely monitor your weekly progress to determine when you’ve reached an intermediate experience level. This point is typically defined by a strength plateau. When you’re comfortable with the pieces of exercise equipment in your program and stop improving from the same basic workouts, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. Some may reach this point after a few months, while others might continue progressing over a year.

Listen to your body, do what’s best for you, move on when you’re ready, but don’t rush things. An extra month spent solidifying your foundation with the possibility of minimal returns is much better than moving on too soon. Don’t leave easy gains on the table.

You now know how to start your resistance training journey. Great. But how do you progress from beginner to intermediate? What is a periodized program? How many reps and sets should you do per workout? To answer these questions, let’s start with the basics.”

For more resistance training information, read Fitness & Nutrition Programming for Beginners.  

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