The other day someone approached me asking how to get started with a fitness program, and so I thought I would cover some of the basics in this week’s column. I highly recommend seeking the help of a qualified fitness professional to get you going if your budget allows it, even if it’s just a single session to get you on the right track, after which you can then carry on independently. The program should incorporate some form of resistance training, cardiovascular conditioning, and flexibility training. While I am not a nutritionist, I will tell you that diet plays an important role and should not be overlooked, however, this column will only focus on the above three components of a balanced routine. The following recommendations will take for granted that the subject is in good health and injury free. A physical examination should be completed prior to beginning an exercise program.

I’m not going to discuss specifically what exercises to do since that is unique for each client, but instead on how many repetitions, sets, intensity and frequency a novice should start off with. For a true beginner, I always start with a full body workout three times a week of eight to ten resistance training exercises, performed with approximately twelve repetitions per set. It is imperative to rest a day in between resistance training when working the entire body, and to understand each exercise including what it works, as well as how to perform it properly before moving to a heavier weight load. Then as you gain muscular strength and endurance, the weight should be increased accordingly, striving for full exhaustion by the twelfth repetition. After a couple weeks, the program should increase from one to two sets, in essence doubling the routine. Remember, this is just a basic program designed to get the beginner off to a good start. When meeting with actual clients, I always conduct a health assessment as well as a health history before beginning, and we incorporate a goal setting segment into the first workout, which I then design the program around.

Many of the women I encounter express concern over gaining too much muscle, and so don’t push themselves to their full potential. Well, I am here to tell you that if you can do more than 20 repetitions of any particular resistance training exercise, the weight probably isn’t heavy enough. It is important to push yourself to your maximum by choosing a weight that tops you out on the last repetition. In other words, you should not be able to do any more reps after the last one in the set, and if you can, then you probably need to increase the weight on your next session. Your last rep could be 10, 15 or whatever your program calls for, depending on your goals. The important thing to remember here is that you work to your full potential.

Resistance training works your skeletal muscle, but you must also work your cardiac muscle—your heart. That is where the cardiovascular (sometimes called aerobic) exercise comes in. I usually start a beginner off with 20 minutes of cardio three times a week. This can be done on the same days as the resistance training or on the days in between. Again, it is important to work to your full capacity, assuming you are risk free and not on any medications that can give a false heart rate reading. As a general rule, without going into the exact formula for determining training heart rate, you should feel that you are working, but still able to talk during the exercise. If you are so out of breath that you can’t speak, then you are probably exercising too intensely. Cardio can consist of anything that elevates your heart rate, like walking, jogging, jumping rope, swimming, bicycling, etc.

Finally we come to the flexibility portion, otherwise known as stretching. It is important to stretch each body part that was exercised, whether with resistance training or cardiovascularly in order to maintain elasticity in the muscle. Simple stretches can be held for 15 to 30 seconds each to meet minimum recommendations and maintain flexibility.

Remember to use progression and good judgment when undertaking a new fitness program. I highly suggest undergoing a medical exam coupled with the assistance of a fitness professional before beginning. So what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to get started!

Author's Bio: 

Melissa Allen, CPT, BS, CES is a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist and health coach, as well as the owner of Optimum Condition—Mobile Personal Training & Exercise Therapy. Melissa offers customized online fitness plans for people all over the U.S. as well as free coaching for the Medifast/ Take Shape for Life weight loss program. Please contact her with any questions or comments by visiting her website at