30-Day Quick Start Exercise Guide for Beginners

Woman working out at home
Woman working out at home. vgajic/Getty Images


One of the easiest parts of starting an exercise program is making the decision to do it. Usually, there's something inspiring you to make a change in your life.

Maybe you tried on some pants and they were too tight or maybe you have something coming up - A high school reunion, a wedding, or some other event where you may see people you haven't seen in awhile.

Whatever it is, you're motivated, you're excited and the fantasy of a new, slimmer you is enough to inspire you.

Then the hard part comes in. Where do you even start? How do you set up a plan that you know will work for you?

And once you do, how do you follow through?

There is so much information out there, it can be very confusing to figure out where to start. 

This 30-Day Quick Start Guide takes the guesswork out of it, giving you a step by step exercise plan that will get you started on the right path to fitness, health, and weight loss.

Getting Started

Planning and preparation are important when you're just getting started with exercise, but to be successful, you also need some momentum.

The more momentum you can create, the easier it is to stay motivated and that momentum comes with action. It's great to ponder your weight loss goals, think about motivation and work on your commitment to exercise. Those mental strategies come in handy throughout the process.

However, there's something to be said for taking action now, before too much contemplation drains your energy. It's easy to spend too much time researching, reading, and exploring rather than actually doing the exercise.

This 30-Day Quick Start Guide gives you just that kind of action with simple, progressive workouts that will help you get the most out of your first month of exercise.

Step 1: Record Your Measurements 

This isn't necessary, of course. Some people may want to track their numbers, especially if your goal is to lose weight. Weighing on a scale is one way to track your progress, but taking your measurements will give you a little more information.

For example, you may be losing inches even if your scale weight doesn't change. In that case, monitoring your measurements every few weeks can tell you if, in fact, you are slimming down.

Step 2: Get Your Doctor's Clearance 

If you have any injuries, illnesses or conditions or are on any medications, talk to your doctor to make sure it's okay to exercise. Some medications may actually affect your heart rate, so it's important to know how that may relate to your workouts.

Step 3: Prepare for Your Workouts

The cardio workouts included in the program are designed to be done on any cardio machine. If you prefer other activities (e.g., running, cycling, fitness videos, group fitness classes), choose another option as a substitute.

For the strength workouts, you'll need some equipment:

  • Various weighted dumbbells - Some exercises require heavier weights will others will need lighter or no weight. Try to have a range of dumbbells. For women, 3 to 12 or 15 lbs and, for men, 5 to 20 or more lbs.
  • An exercise ball 
  • A mat

It will also help to learn the basics of weight training, especially how to choose your weight.

Step 4: Your First Cardio Workout

Choose any cardio machine (treadmill, elliptical, bike, stairstepper,  rowing machine, etc.), set it on a manual mode and find your warm-up pace.

For the bulk of the workout, you'll change the settings (incline, speed, resistance, ramps, etc.) every few minutes to work at a moderate level, ending with a cool down and using a perceived exertion chart to work at the suggested intensity levels.

This workout is really designed just to get an idea of how cardio feels to your body. Feel free to change the settings and adjust the workout to fit what you need.

  • 5 min - Warm up at an easy-moderate pace Perceived Exertion Level: 4
  • 5 min - Baseline: Increase speed, incline and/or resistance so that you're just out of your comfort zone, but able to talk. Perceived Exertion: 5
  • 2 min - Increase your incline, resistance and/or ramps until you working a little harder than baseline. Perceived Exertion: 6
  • 3 min - Reduce your incline, resistance, ramps or speed back to baseline. Perceived Exertion: 5
  • 1 min - Increase your incline, resistance and/or ramps until you working a little harder than baseline. Perceived Exertion: 6
  • 4 min - Reduce incline, resistance, ramps and/or speed back to a moderate level. Perceived Exertion: 4

Total Workout Time: 20 Minutes

Flexibility Workout

After your workout, go through these 8 Whole Body Stretches.

You have your first day, now it's time to plan your first week of workouts.  Here's an idea of how to schedule your cardio and strength training workouts. 

Your First Week

Day 1

Day 2

For this workout, you'll do one set of 15 reps of each exercise listed below, resting briefly between exercises as needed. Visit the Basic Total Body Strength workout for step by step instructions for each exercise.

Keep in mind that it's normal to be sore after lifting weights for the first time, or if it's been a long time. If you find you're very sore the next day, you might need to take an extra rest day and back off of your strength workout the next time.

Day 3

Today you'll do the same 20-Minute Cardio as day 1, followed by the lower body stretches included in this Lower Body Stretching Workout.

Day 4

For today's workout, you'll go through the following poses, holding each for 3-5 breaths. View full step by step instructions at Morning and Evening Yoga.

  • Standing Catch Stretch
  • Sun Salutations
  • Hanging Back Stretch
  • Warrior I
  • Warrior II
  • Modified Triangle
  • Spine Twist
  • Corpse Pose

Day 5

Today's workout involves the Basic Strength exercises you did on Day 2. As before, perform 1 set of 15 reps for each exercise, resting briefly between exercises as needed. If you feel that's too easy, you can always add another set or use heavier weights.

Day 6

Today's cardio workout involves alternating work sets (working at a higher intensity) with rest sets using this Perceived Exertion Chart to monitor your intensity. This workout can be done on any cardio machine. Visit Beginner Interval Workout for detailed instructions.

  • 5 Min: Warm up at an easy pace. Perceived Exertion (PE): 4
  • 3 Min: Rest Set - Increase speed and resistance/incline to a moderate level. PE: 5
  • 1 Min: Work Set - Increase incline, resistance and/or ramps 1-5% to raise the intensity level. PE: 7
  • 3 Min: Rest Set. PE: 5
  • 1 Min: Work Set. PE: 7
  • 3 Min: Rest Set. PE: 5
  • 5 Min: Cool down. PE: 4

On Day 1, you completed your first workout. During week 1, you got through a full week of cardio, strength and flexibility workouts and now you're ready to build on that success with progressively more challenging workouts.

Keep in mind that the schedules are only suggestions. You may want less cardio, more rest days, or you may even want to stick with the same workouts for a more than a week. Take this 30-Day Quick Start as a place to start and adjust the schedule so that it fits what works for you.

Week 1

Week 2

During week 2, you'll continue with the same schedule, but progress with a few small changes to keep you challenged. 

For your cardio, you'll do the same workouts with an added 5 minutes to build endurance and increase your exercise time. Your strength training workouts include the same exercises, but you'll be doing 2 sets of each exercise for added intensity.

Modify the workouts as needed to fit your fitness level and goals.

Week 3

This week, the changes to your workouts are more drastic with higher intensity cardio workouts, a new and more challenging strength routine as well as a new yoga workout to try.

Your cardio workouts go up from 25 minutes to 30 minutes and the interval workout takes you to higher levels of intensity than before.

The strength routine includes new exercises and heavier weights. Remember, if these changes feel too fast, keep the same workouts for as long as you need. When they start to feel easy, you know you're ready to move on to more challenging workouts.

Week 4

With 3 weeks of workouts under your belt, you'll maintain your previous schedule with a few small changes to keep things interesting.

You'll continue with your 30-minute cardio workouts, but try a new interval routine that includes making more frequent changes throughout the workout.

Your strength workout remains the same, but you'll add a second set challenge your muscles and to continue progressing.

Week 5 and Beyond

With four weeks of workouts completed, it's important to maintain the momentum you've worked so hard to create. The following options will help you continue on your new healthy path of making exercise a priority in your life.

From here, you should have an idea of how your body responds to exercise and how much you can handle, physically and mentally.

It's a good idea to keep an exercise journal so you can track your workouts and get an overall view of how things feel. Knowing when to push and when to back off is something you learn with experience.