Exercise is an important part of life, especially for people who want to stay healthy. But it can be difficult to determine where to start if you want to exercise more regularly. What kind of exercises are good for beginners? How can you exercise if you have a disability that inhibits your movement or you can’t afford a gym membership? And how do you stay motivated when slacking off is so easy?
While it can be hard to know where to start, there are plenty of community resources and local fitness trainers willing to help people begin their exercise journey. We talked with several Baltimore-area fitness trainers about how to get into exercising regularly, the benefits of different kinds of exercise and how to work out even if you can’t do high-intensity training.
How to Start Exercising: ‘Any Movement is Good Movement’
Some barriers to incorporating exercise into daily life are mental—like the idea that starting to exercise regularly means that you have to start doing high-intensity workouts immediately.
Andrew Guerin, regional fitness director at Columbia Association, suggests that exercise can be as easy as taking a regular walk around your neighborhood and working your way up to more strenuous activities from there.
“My main thing is that [people who want to start exercising] should just start,” he says. “Any movement is good movement.”
Even something as simple as stretching every day can lead to long-term benefits. The article “The Importance of Stretching,” published by Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, notes that stretching can improve flexibility and can help to relieve tension on the muscles.
Another form of exercise with a low barrier of entry is yoga, which also focuses on flexibility and muscle strength. In addition to its physical benefits, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that yoga can also improve mindfulness and mental health. And there exist variants of yoga for all skill levels, such as chair yoga for those with more limited mobility and power yoga for those who want a more demanding yoga experience.
“With yoga, you’re moving, but you can also relax,” explains Colleen Bank, a mind body coordinator at Columbia Association. “You’re working your mind and your body.”
For those whose gym memberships have been collecting dust, Guerin suggests reaching out to a personal trainer at your local gym, as they can help create personalized exercise routines to get you started.
How to Stay Motivated: ‘Find What’s Fun’
So you’ve started exercising. You’ve already taken a big step by just getting started. But how do you keep up the good work when it can be so easy to stop?
Guerin suggests joining a class or a group program at your local gym or fitness center because they are scheduled for specific days. “You know how to schedule and prepare for [classes],” he says. “It’s habit-building.”
Bank adds that the community aspect of classes can also be an important motivator. People will often become friends with other regular participants in their group programs. “I tend to have the same people show up at my classes,” she says. “People rely on you, and you rely on them. You become motivated by the people around you.”
Jen Higdon, a personal trainer at the Merritt Clubs gym franchise, notes that Merritt Clubs gyms take advantage of this community mindset to help keep members engaged. Their Elevate programs involve staff keeping up regular contact with gym members to help them on their fitness journey and encourage them to stay consistent. Some group classes at Merritt Clubs even involve accountability buddies who hold each other accountable for regularly attending classes.
“It helps us have good retention with our members,” Higdon says. “It’s not just a fitness journey, it’s an overall journey, so we try to see what people need and help them along.”
Starting out with simple exercises actually ties into being able to sustain motivation for regular physical activity. Instead of forcing yourself to partake in difficult workouts you don’t enjoy, doing exercises you like and know you can do can help you keep up a regular routine.
“It’s about finding what’s fun,” Bank says. “Try different things, and see what sticks.”
Finding Exercises That Are Right for You
Not all exercises are created equal. Many have specific benefits for certain areas of the body, but there is no all-encompassing exercise that will improve every single part of it. In creating a fitness routine for yourself, you should determine the goals you want to work on, whether it’s losing weight, building muscle or focusing on your legs.
Here are some suggestions from fitness trainers for exercises that benefit different parts of the body.
Arms: Lifting weights is a popular way to build arm muscle. In addition to using free weights, Higdon says she enjoys using rigs involving cables and ropes. “I find they help keep clients stable,” she notes.
Exercises that incorporate the back, such as pushups and chin-ups, can also benefit the arms. Guerin notes that back exercises work arm muscles.
Legs: Squats and deadlifts are especially beneficial because they are compound exercises that work multiple muscles at the same time. Incorporating compound movements into regular workouts can lead to increased calorie burn and better cardiovascular health.
Core: Note that core stability and core strength are two different things. Core stability is more focused on balance, while core strength refers to the ability to withstand strain on abdominal and back muscles. “If you want to improve your core strength, you have to focus on your stability first,” Higdon says. “A lot of people think having a six-pack means you have a strong core, but that’s not necessarily the case.”
Planks, crunches and yoga poses such as the bridge pose focus on the core.
Flexibility: Yoga is especially helpful for those who want to be more flexible. Flexibility may seem like a vague concept, but it refers to the lengthening of specific muscles. While different from mobility, which is being able to move in and out of a range of motion, many flexibility exercises can also improve mobility.
Yoga poses like the calf stretch, quad stretch, shoulder stretch and cat cow are good for improving flexibility. Pilates also helps to build flexibility and core strength.
Full-body workouts: While there may be no one exercise that will fix every health issue, there are many activities that incorporate the whole body. Aerobic activities, like running, kickboxing and Zumba, can improve a variety of health issues including lowering blood pressure, alleviating pain symptoms from illnesses like arthritis and even improving one’s mood. Swimming is another full-body activity, notable for the fact that water exercises are generally easier on the joints than regular exercises, and can thus be more accessible for people with more limited mobility.