6 Weeks to Fitness for Absolute Beginners

Whether you've taken a long break from exercise or you're just getting started, this six-week program is the perfect place to begin. You'll establish an exercise routine with simple, straightforward workouts that progress from week to week.

The workouts provided are only suggestions and won't work for everyone. You can modify them as needed to fit your fitness level, schedule, and preferences.

Prepare for Your Workouts

Before you get started, there are a few key points to make sure you have addressed:

  • Consult with your health care provider. You should always talk to your doctor before starting or intensifying a workout routine, especially if you have any injuries or health conditions.
  • Gather your equipment. For the strength workouts, you'll need home workout equipment like dumbbells, an exercise ball, resistance bands, a medicine ball, and a mat. If you're new to strength training, make sure that you familiarize yourself with the basics and know how to choose the right weight.
  • Record your vital statistics. This information will be especially important if you want to track weight loss progress.
  • Prepare for your workouts. The cardio workouts are designed to be done on any cardio machine or outside. If machines aren't your thing, you can substitute your own workouts (videos, classes, outdoor exercise, etc.) or choose something else you enjoy.
1

Week 1

Woman doing a plank on field
@nimz via Twenty20

Focus on Monitoring Intensity

Intensity is an important aspect of your cardio workouts. Monitoring intensity can help you learn how your body feels during different activities. You can monitor intensity in several ways, including:

Your goal this week is to focus on the intensity of your workouts. During each cardio workout, use one of the methods above to track how you feel and match your Perceived Exertion to the suggested levels.

Most workouts will be at a moderate level, which means you'll be just out of your comfort zone but not huffing and puffing. Pay attention to how you do this week to get a sense of your exercise intensity.

Day 1: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

These workouts are short and simple and should take you 35 to 45 minutes.

Day 2: Walking and Stretch

Today you don't have a structured workout schedule to follow, but a simple walking workout and a seated stretch to relax your shoulders, neck, and back.

Day 3: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Today your schedule is the same as Day 1 but with a new cardio workout. Today you'll choose either a 13-minute walking workout or a 10-minute cycling workout, but feel free to combine the workouts if you want something longer. 

Day 4: Active Rest

There's nothing on your schedule today, but try to stay active by taking breaks, walking, stretching, and moving. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sit on an exercise ball while watching TV
  • Take the stairs at least 3 times
  • Use your lunch break to take a 10-minute walk
  • Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes

Day 5: Walking and Stretch

  • Workout 1: Take a brisk 10-minute walk
  • Workout 2: Seated stretchLength: 5 to 10 minutes 

Day 6: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

2

Week 2

Women stretching
Women stretching. Tara Moore/Getty Images

Week 2 brings some small changes that will help you slowly progress. You'll have new, longer cardio workouts and you'll be doing an added set of each exercise during your strength training workouts. 

You can modify the workouts to fit your fitness level, schedule, and goals. Listen to your body and take extra rest days as needed. 

Focus on F.I.T.T.

This week, your focus is on the F.I.T.T. principle, which guides us in setting up workout programs. This principle includes:

  • Frequency. This week, you'll be doing cardio 3 times and strength training 3 times, which follows the basic exercise guidelines for improving your health. You'll gradually add more frequent exercise as you progress through the program.
  • Intensity. During the first few weeks, you'll focus on achieving moderate intensity—about a Level 5 to 6 on the Perceived Exertion Scale. As you progress through the program you will gradually change the intensity levels of your workouts with interval training and other techniques.
  • Time. Your workouts started at about 10 to 20 minutes. Each week, you will gradually add time to your workouts to build endurance and help you burn more calories.
  • Type. It's important to do activities you enjoy, but you also want to cross-train and mix things up to keep both your body and mind engaged. You'll choose new activities to add to your routine later in the program.

When you workout at a sufficient intensity, time, and frequency, you'll start to see changes in your weight, body fat, endurance, and strength. Once your body adjusts to your current FITT levels, you'll need to manipulate one or more of them—and this program will help you learn how to do that.

Day 1: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Your cardio workout this week builds on last week's basic workout by adding 5 minutes. Your strength workout is the same, but you'll do 2 sets of each exercise with a brief rest in between. 

Day 2: Walking and Stretch

You'll do your walking workout with an added 5 minutes today and finish up with the seated stretch for the back, neck, and shoulders.

Day 3: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

Your new cardio workout involves interval training with any machine or activity of your choice.

  • Workout 1: Basic intervalsLength: 21 minutes
  • Workout 2: Basic strengthEquipment Required: Light dumbbells, an exercise ball or chair, and a mat—Length: 2 sets of each exercise, 10 to 20 minutes
  • Workout 3: Soothing stretch

Day 4: Active Rest

There's nothing on your schedule today, but try to stay active by taking breaks, walking, stretching, and moving. Here are some ideas:

  • Do crunches or pushups while you watch TV
  • Play an active video game like the Wii Fit Plus
  • Stretch for a few minutes before bed
  • Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes

Day 5: Walking and Stretch

Day 6: Cardio, Strength, and Stretch

3

Week 3

Dumbbells at the Gym
Dumbbells at the Gym. Marc Romanelli/Getty Images

This week, you'll see some big changes in your schedule. You'll be upping the ante by splitting your cardio and strength workouts, giving you 3 days of cardio and 2 days of strength training.

By splitting your workouts, you can give more energy to each routine, which can help improve your performance and do more with your exercise time.

Focus on Tracking Progress

One of the most important things you'll do on your exercise journey is to track your progress. Knowing where you are and how you're improving is essential for staying motivated and knowing you're on the right track. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Health improvements. Exercise can do more for you than just help you lose weight. It can also improve your health. You might sleep better, have more energy, or feel like your daily tasks are easier. Think about what you'd like to improve (e.g, being able to walk up the stairs at work without passing out, being able to play with your kids or grandkids without getting tired, etc.) and make a note of it in your weekly checklist. Each week, check to see how far you've come.
  • Strength and endurance. It's motivating when you see and feel yourself getting stronger. Keeping track of how many sets, reps, and how much weight you're using each week can tell you if you're getting stronger. You might also notice exercises are getting easier.
  • Weight loss. Weight loss is another common gauge of how you're doing with your workout, but remember that weight loss is often slower than you might expect and it can take weeks or months to see significant changes. Weighing yourself, taking your measurementsgetting your body fat tested, and/or noticing how you look or how your clothes fit can help you keep track of your progress.
  • Workouts completed. You might decide to focus less on the results and more on your fitness journey. Setting a goal to complete a certain number of workouts each week can help you stay focused on the process while celebrating your accomplishments.

Day 1: Cardio and Stretch 

Today's cardio workout builds on previous workouts, taking you up to 30 minutes of continuous exercise. 

Day 2: Total Body Strength and Yoga 

Today's strength training workout offers more exercises than previous workouts, which means more intensity and challenge. For this workout, you'll perform 2 sets of 15 reps of each exercise, resting 20 to 30 seconds between sets. 

  • Workout 1Total body strengthEquipment Required: Dumbbells, a barbell (substitute dumbbells if needed), a step or bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band—Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30 to 45 minutes
  • Workout 210-minute yoga (optional)

Day 3: Active Rest 

There's nothing on your schedule today, but stay active by taking breaks, walking, stretching, and moving. Here are a few ideas:

  • Walk around the house every time a commercial comes on during your favorite TV show
  • Walk 2 laps around the parking lot at work before you start your day
  • Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes
  • Wear a pedometer throughout the day and try to get at least 5,000 steps

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch 

Today's new interval workout increases your workout time to 25 minutes and it also takes you a little further out of your comfort zone. 

Day 5: Total Body Strength 

  • Workout 1Total body strengthEquipment Required: Dumbbells, a barbell (substitute dumbbells if needed), a step or weight bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band—Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30 to 45 minutes

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch 

4

Week 4

Woman drinking water
Woman drinking water. Robert Daly/Getty Images

You get a breather this week to take some time to settle into your new workout schedule. You'll do the same workouts as last week with no new routines, challenges, or changes.

Give yourself time to master the exercises, get into the habit of showing up for your workout, and reflect on how the routine is working for you.

Focus on Rewarding Yourself 

Staying motivated to exercise isn't always easy, but rewarding yourself for accomplishing your goals can help. This week, your goal is to figure out how to reward yourself. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Download new music
  • Plan a future trip or adventure
  • Schedule a massage, facial, or other spa treatment
  • Spend some time doing your favorite activity
  • Take some time to read a book, listen to music, or relax

How will you reward yourself this week? Plan it now so you can look forward to it all week long.

Day 1: Cardio and Stretch

Day 2: Total Body Strength

  • Workout 1Total body strengthEquipment Required: Dumbbells, a barbell, a step or weight bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band—Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30 to 45 minutes

Day 3: Active Rest

There's nothing on your schedule today, but you can stay active by:

  • Declaring a "no TV" night and play games with your family
  • Seeing how many activities you can do today without sitting down
  • Sitting on an exercise ball while working on the computer 
  • Taking a 20-minute walk

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch

Day 5: Total Body Strength

  • Workout 1Total body strengthEquipment Required: Dumbbells, a barbell, a step or weight bench, an exercise ball, and a resistance band—Length: 2 sets of 15 reps, 30 to 45 minutes

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch

5

Week 5

Woman running on treadmill
Woman running on treadmill. Blend Images - Erik Isakson/Getty Images

You're getting to the end of the program and, after last week's rest, you're increasing the challenge this week with brand new workouts and a bonus exercise day. You'll be exercising 6 days this week (though you can always take an extra rest day if you need it).

Focus on Stress Relief

This week, focus on your stress levels. Specifically, how stressed are you, and are your workouts helping relieve some of that stress? Whether you're doing intense cardio or a relaxing stretch, exercise may help relieve tension, improve your concentration, and give you the energy to accomplish more each day.

How do you feel after your workouts? Do you feel energized and ready to face the day? If so, you're on the right track. If you feel drained, that can be a sign that you're doing too much and may need more rest. 

Day 1: Cardio Medley and Stretch

Today's cardio workout takes you through a 40-minute routine using a treadmill, elliptical trainer, and a stationary bike. 

  • Workout 1Cardio medleyEquipment Required: Treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike (or any 3 cardio machines)
  • Workout 2Basic stretch

Day 2: Total Body Supersets and Yoga

Today's strength workout takes you to the next level with new (and tougher) exercises and a brand new format that adds intensity and saves time.

  • Workout 1Total body supersetsLevel: Beginner/Intermediate—Equipment Required: Barbell (can sub dumbbells here if needed), various weighted dumbbells, a step or bench, and an exercise ball—Length: 40 to 60 minutes
  • Workout 2Morning and evening yoga

Day 3: Active Rest

There's nothing on your schedule today, but try to stay active as much as you can by taking breaks, walking, stretching, and moving.

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch

Today you get a brand new interval cardio workout that involves both hills and sprints to push the intensity to a Level 8 on this Perceived Exertion Chart.

Day 5: Total Body Supersets

  • Workout 1Total body supersetsEquipment Required: Various weighted dumbbells, a step or platform, barbells, and an exercise ball—Length: 40 to 60 minutes

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch

Today's workout is simple and straightforward, moving between Level 5 and 6.

Day 7: Bonus Cardio

This week, you're increasing the challenge by adding a bonus cardio workout. Choose any activity and work at a steady, moderate pace for at least 20 minutes. 

6

Week 6

Woman lifting weights
Woman lifting weights. John Lund/Marc Romanelli/Getty Images

Congratulations for making it this far! It isn't easy to start an exercise program, and it's even harder to sustain it. You've done just that by sticking with the program.

You're wrapping up this week with the same schedule and workouts you followed last week.

Focus on What's Next

It's important to maintain the momentum you've worked so hard to create. One way to do that is by thinking about what's next. You can continue with the same routine or you can change up your workout or learn about exercise progression.

Day 1: Cardio Medley and Stretch

  • Workout 1: Cardio Medley—Equipment Required: Treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike (or any 3 cardio machines)—Length: 40 minutes
  • Workout 2Basic stretch

Day 2: Total Body Supersets and Yoga

  • Workout 1Total body supersetsLevel: Beginner/Intermediate—Equipment Required: Barbell (can sub dumbbells here if needed), various weighted dumbbells, a step or bench, and an exercise ball—Length: 40 to 60 minutes
  • Workout 2Morning and evening yoga

Day 3: Active Rest

Even though there's nothing specific planned today, get creative about finding ways to stay active throughout your day.

Day 4: Interval Cardio and Stretch

Day 5: Total Body Supersets

  • Workout 1Total body supersetsEquipment Required: Dumbbells, a step, barbells, and an exercise ball—Length: 40 to 60 minutes

Day 6: Cardio and Stretch

Day 7: Bonus Cardio

Stick with the same bonus cardio you did last week or choose something new.

Was this page helpful?