Are you new to working out and have no idea where to begin? Did you take a hiatus from the gym and are ready to get back into the swing of things?
We hear you — it’s hard to start. And the last thing you want to do is go too hard, too fast. There’s a risk of injury, and, more importantly, discouragement. We commend you on starting anew, and we’re here to help.
Below, we’ve crafted an effective 20-minute workout for beginners. It starts with a cardio warmup followed by three sets of strength exercises for a well-rounded, full-body routine.
Aim to do the whole sequence two times per week to start. After a few weeks, up the ante with a longer routine, more weight, or both.
Ready, set, go!
2 minutes: Cardio warmup
Complete one minute of each of the following exercises to get your heart pumping and muscles loose.
Low-impact jumping jacks
To perform, simultaneously step your right leg out and, with your right arm bent at a 45-degree angle, bring your right hand above your head. Return to the start and repeat on the left side. Go as fast as you can while maintaining good form.
Run and jump in place
To perform, stand with your arms bent at your sides and complete these moves in sequence:
- right knee up
- left knee up
- right heel to backside
- left heel to backside
18 minutes: The moves
After you’re good and warm, do the following five exercises with 30 to 45 seconds of rest between each exercise and 30 seconds of rest between each set.
A precursor to the squat, a bridge takes the pressure off your lower back but allows you to work the same muscles: your core, glutes, and hamstrings. Remember to go slow and stay controlled, and squeeze your glutes at top for maximum benefit.
- Start by lying with your back on your mat, knees bent with feet on the floor and palms facing down at your sides.
- As you inhale, push through your feet and raise your butt and back off the ground. At the top, your body should form a straight line between your knees and shoulders.
- Slowly lower back down to the ground and repeat 10 reps for 3 sets total.
Another precursor to a standard squat, performing this move against the wall provides extra stabilization while still allowing you to strengthen your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
- Position yourself with your back on a wall and feet a large step out in front of you.
- Lowering down against the wall, squat down until your knees reach a 90-degree angle.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then extend your legs and return to start. Repeat 10 reps for 3 sets total.
45-degree incline row
Strengthening your back muscles is important to improve your posture and perform many daily activities. Rowing at a 45-degree angle like this will also challenge your core, an added bonus. Choose lightweight dumbbells — 5 to 8 pounds — to start.
- Hold one lightweight dumbbell in each hand with your arms extended. Hinge at the hips until your upper body reaches a 45-degree angle.
- Keeping your neck in line with your spine and your gaze straight down, pull your elbows straight back and squeeze between your shoulder blades.
- Extend your arms back to the starting position, and complete 10 reps for 3 sets total.
Incline dumbbell chest press
Another exercise that improves posture and makes daily activities easier, the chest press strengthens your pectoralis muscles. Start with 8- to 10-pound dumbbells and ensure you’re really feeling your chest engaging.
- Position the incline bench at a 30-degree angle.
- Hold the dumbbells, positioning them at the sides of your chest.
- Extend your arms and push the dumbbells straight up until your elbows lock.
- Return to start, completing 10 reps for 3 sets.
Standing overhead dumbbell press
A great foundational exercise for your upper body and core, the standing overhead dumbbell press works on your strength and stability. Start here with lightweight dumbbells — 5 pounds — and add more weight if needed.
- Stand with one dumbbell in each hand, bending your elbows to position them right above your shoulders with your palms facing forward.
- Ensuring your core is engaged and your spine stays neutral, extend your arms and push the dumbbells upward until they touch above your head.
- Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells back down, stopping when your upper arms are just below parallel with the ground.
- Repeat the extension, completing 10 total reps for 3 sets.
Bonus: Cool down
Stretching or foam rolling after your workout will help your body recover quicker and minimize soreness the next day or two. Try our foam-rolling routine here to give your body some TLC.
Stick to foundational exercises until ready
As a beginner, working on building strength can be intimidating and overwhelming. By focusing on a short, simple routine with foundational exercises, you’re sure to make quick progress and feel more confident by the day. Increase your sweat equity today!
Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.