Starting Your Fitness Journey: How to Exercise When Out of Shape

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Starting Your Fitness Journey

Picture this: you’re sitting on your couch, a bag of chips in one hand and the TV remote in the other. The idea of starting an exercise routine seems about as plausible as winning the lottery. But deep down, you know it’s time for a change, a fresh start towards a healthier you. Don’t worry; you’re not alone in this struggle. In this blog, we’re going to take a friendly and supportive journey into the world of fitness for those of us who are out of shape.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, lace up those sneakers, and embark on a transformative journey that will help you kickstart your fitness routine, even if you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years.

Acknowledge Your Current State

Before we dive headfirst into the world of fitness, it’s essential to lay the groundwork by acknowledging where you are right now. This first step might seem simple, but it’s incredibly powerful.

When you’re out of shape, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of self-criticism. You might think, “Why did I let myself get like this?” or “I’ll never be fit again.” But remember, we all start somewhere, and the journey to a healthier lifestyle begins with self-acceptance.

Think of it this way: if you were giving advice to your best friend, would you berate them for their current fitness level? Probably not. You’d be encouraging and supportive. So, why not offer yourself the same kindness and understanding?

To put it simply, it’s time to stop beating yourself up over past choices and accept your current situation with an open heart. Acceptance is the first step towards positive change, and you’ve already taken it.

I remember feeling overwhelmed and frustrated when I first decided to get in shape. I had let myself go for a while, and self-criticism was my constant companion. But when I started embracing where I was at that moment, it became a lot easier to move forward.

Set Clear and Realistic Goals

Now that we’ve established self-acceptance as our foundation, let’s talk about setting goals. Goals are like a roadmap for your fitness journey. They give you direction, motivation, and a sense of purpose.

But here’s the trick: your goals should be clear, realistic, and achievable. Let’s break down what that means.

  1. Specific: Your goals should be detailed and precise. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” try, “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next three months.”
  2. Measurable: Make sure you can track your progress. Use numbers or concrete milestones to measure your success.
  3. Achievable: Set goals that are within your reach. While it’s great to aim high, setting unattainable goals can lead to frustration and disappointment.
  4. Relevant: Ensure that your goals align with your overall fitness objectives. Ask yourself if they are meaningful and make sense for your situation.
  5. Time-bound: Give yourself a deadline. Having a timeframe creates urgency and helps you stay focused.

By setting SMART goals, you’ll have a clear sense of what you want to achieve and how to get there. This process turns vague aspirations into actionable steps, making your fitness journey more manageable and less daunting.

Choose the Right Type of Exercise

Now that you’ve embraced where you are and set clear goals, let’s explore the world of exercise. It’s crucial to choose the right type of exercise that suits your needs and preferences. After all, the best exercise is the one you enjoy and can stick with.

Think of exercise as a menu with various options. You don’t have to force yourself to do something you hate just because it’s trendy or someone else is doing it. Here are some common types of exercises to consider:

  • Cardiovascular (Cardio) Exercises: These get your heart rate up and improve your endurance. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Cardio exercises are great for burning calories and boosting your mood.
  • Strength Training: Building muscle is essential for a healthy body. Strength training can be as simple as bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats or using weights at the gym. Don’t worry; you won’t bulk up overnight – it’s about toning and getting stronger.
  • Flexibility and Balance: Activities like yoga and Pilates are fantastic for enhancing flexibility and balance. They also promote relaxation and stress reduction.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your choice of exercise should align with your interests, physical condition, and any potential limitations. If you’re just starting, consider low-impact exercises like walking or swimming, which are gentle on the joints and provide an excellent entry point into fitness.

Ultimately, the goal is to find an activity that you look forward to, making it easier to stay consistent and motivated in your fitness journey.

Create a Consistent Routine

With your goals set and the type of exercise chosen, it’s time to build a consistent routine. Consistency is the key to success in any fitness endeavor. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Start Small: If you’re just beginning, don’t overwhelm yourself with daily workouts. Begin with 2-3 sessions a week and gradually increase the frequency as your stamina improves.
  2. Set a Schedule: Treat your exercise time like any other appointment. Choose specific days and times to work out, and stick to that schedule as closely as possible.
  3. Mix It Up: Variety can prevent boredom and keep you engaged. Alternate between different types of exercises or try new activities to keep things fresh.
  4. Recovery Matters: Allow your body time to rest and recover. This is when your muscles repair and grow stronger. Overtraining can lead to burnout and injuries.
  5. Adapt to Life’s Changes: Life can be unpredictable. If you miss a workout or two due to unforeseen circumstances, don’t beat yourself up. Adjust your schedule and get back on track when you can.

A consistent routine helps your body adapt to the new demands of exercise, making it easier to progress toward your fitness goals. Remember, it’s not about perfection but about making exercise a regular part of your life.

Warm-Up and Cool Down

Before you jump into your exercise routine, it’s crucial to prepare your body and reduce the risk of injuries. Warm-up and cool-down exercises are your best friends in this regard.


A proper warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles, making them more pliable and less prone to injury. Here’s a simple warm-up routine you can follow:

  • Start with 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity like brisk walking or gentle jogging.
  • Perform dynamic stretches that mimic the movements you’ll do during your workout. For example, arm circles, leg swings, or hip rotations.
  • Gradually increase the intensity to prepare your body for the main workout.


After your workout, a cool-down helps your heart rate return to normal gradually and prevents muscle soreness. Here’s what you can do:

  • Slow down your activity level for 5-10 minutes. For instance, if you were running, walk briskly.
  • Perform static stretches to elongate and relax the muscles you worked. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds without bouncing.

These warm-up and cool-down routines might seem minor, but they can make a significant difference in your overall exercise experience. Plus, they help to establish a healthy exercise habit.

Listen to Your Body

One of the most crucial aspects of starting and maintaining a fitness routine is learning to listen to your body. Your body communicates its needs and limits through sensations and discomfort. Here’s how to pay attention:

  1. Discomfort vs. Pain: During exercise, you might experience discomfort, like muscle fatigue or mild soreness. This is normal and a sign that your body is working. However, sharp or intense pain is not normal and should not be ignored. If you feel pain, stop and assess the situation.
  2. Breathing: Pay attention to your breath. It should be steady and manageable during exercise. If you’re gasping for air, it might be a sign that you’re pushing too hard.
  3. Hydration: Stay hydrated before, during, and after your workouts. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and cramps.
  4. Rest and Recovery: Give your body the rest it needs. If you’re feeling overly fatigued or sore, take a day off or engage in lighter activities like stretching or a gentle walk.

Remember, exercise should be challenging but not painful. By tuning into your body’s signals, you’ll be able to avoid injuries and enjoy a more productive fitness journey.

Start Slow and Progress Gradually

When you’re out of shape, it’s essential to start slow and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts. This approach ensures that you build a strong foundation and reduce the risk of injury. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Beginner-Friendly Workouts: Look for workout routines designed for beginners. These often include low-impact exercises and shorter durations, making them more manageable.
  2. Focus on Form: Pay close attention to your exercise form. Proper form not only prevents injuries but also ensures that you’re targeting the right muscles. If you’re unsure, consider working with a fitness professional.
  3. Incremental Progress: Increase the intensity, duration, or resistance of your workouts gradually. Small, consistent improvements over time lead to significant results.
  4. Listen to Your Body (Again): As you progress, continue to listen to your body. If you experience excessive fatigue, pain, or discomfort, scale back and give yourself more time to adapt.
  5. Rest Days: Don’t forget the importance of rest days. Your body needs time to recover and repair. Use these days for light activities, stretching, or even just relaxation.

By starting slow and gradually increasing the intensity, you’ll build a solid fitness foundation while reducing the risk of overexertion or burnout.

Find Accountability and Support

Exercising when you’re out of shape can be challenging, but you don’t have to go it alone. Finding accountability and support can make a world of difference in your fitness journey.

  1. Exercise Buddy: Consider partnering up with a friend or family member who shares your fitness goals. Having a workout buddy can provide motivation, accountability, and make exercise more enjoyable.
  2. Fitness Classes: Joining a fitness class or group can be a great way to stay committed. Many communities offer classes for various fitness levels, from beginner to advanced.
  3. Online Communities: The internet is full of fitness communities and forums where you can connect with people who share your goals. You’ll find advice, motivation, and a sense of belonging.
  4. Professional Guidance: If you’re unsure where to start or have specific health concerns, consider working with a certified personal trainer or fitness coach. They can create a tailored plan and offer expert guidance.

Having a support system can make the journey more enjoyable and less daunting. You’ll have people to celebrate your victories with and lean on during challenging times.

Invest in Proper Gear

Before you dive deeper into your fitness routine, it’s worth considering the gear you’ll need. While you don’t need a closet full of high-end equipment, some essentials can enhance your comfort and safety:

  1. Comfortable Workout Attire: Invest in moisture-wicking clothing that keeps you dry during exercise. A good pair of workout shoes with proper arch support is essential to prevent injuries.
  2. Exercise Mat: If you plan on doing floor exercises or yoga, a comfortable and non-slip exercise mat can make a big difference.
  3. Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is crucial. Get a reusable water bottle that you can take with you to the gym or on outdoor workouts.
  4. Fitness Tracker: While not necessary, a fitness tracker or smartphone app can help you monitor your progress and stay motivated by tracking steps, heart rate, and calories burned.
  5. Resistance Bands or Dumbbells: These are excellent additions for strength training and can be used at home or in the gym.

Remember, the most important gear is your determination and commitment. The rest is there to support and enhance your journey.

Monitor Progress

As you embark on your fitness journey, tracking your progress can be incredibly motivating. Not only does it provide a sense of achievement, but it also helps you identify what’s working and what may need adjustment. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep a Workout Journal: Record your workouts, including exercises, sets, reps, and any notes about how you felt during the session. This will help you see your improvements over time.
  2. Take Photos: Consider taking “before” photos to visually track your progress. Compare them with new photos at regular intervals to see the changes in your body.
  3. Use Fitness Apps: There are numerous fitness apps available that can help you track workouts, monitor your heart rate, and even provide guided workouts.
  4. Set Milestones: Establish specific milestones along the way. Celebrate when you achieve them, no matter how small they may seem.
  5. Regular Assessments: Periodically assess your fitness levels. This can include measurements like body weight, body fat percentage, or fitness tests related to your goals.

Monitoring your progress is like having a personal roadmap. It keeps you on track and motivated, especially during moments when you may feel discouraged.

Overcome Common Obstacles

Starting and maintaining an exercise routine isn’t always smooth sailing. Life has a way of throwing obstacles in your path. Here are some common challenges and tips for overcoming them:

  1. Lack of Time: If your schedule is packed, break your workouts into shorter sessions throughout the day. Even 10-15 minutes of exercise can add up.
  2. Motivation Slumps: We all have days when motivation is low. In such times, focus on the routine, not your feelings. Tell yourself you’ll do just five minutes of exercise; often, you’ll find yourself doing more.
  3. Injury or Illness: If you’re injured or unwell, prioritize rest and recovery. Consult a healthcare professional if needed. Once you’re cleared, ease back into your routine.
  4. Weather: If outdoor workouts are affected by the weather, have a backup indoor plan. Try home workouts, fitness DVDs, or online videos.
  5. Gym Anxiety: If you’re anxious about going to the gym, remember that everyone starts somewhere. Most people at the gym are focused on their own workouts and won’t judge you.
  6. Plateaus: It’s common to hit a plateau where progress seems to stall. This is when it’s essential to change up your routine, try new exercises, or seek advice from a fitness professional.

By anticipating and planning for these obstacles, you can navigate them more effectively and stay committed to your fitness journey.

Celebrate Small Victories

Amidst the hard work and sweat, it’s essential to take a moment to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Celebrating milestones keeps you motivated and reinforces your commitment to a healthier lifestyle.

For example:

  • Weight Loss: If your goal is weight loss, celebrate every 5-10 pounds lost. Treat yourself to a healthy meal at your favorite restaurant or buy a new workout outfit.
  • Improved Endurance: If you find yourself able to run longer or perform more repetitions, acknowledge your progress. Maybe it’s time to sign up for that charity run you’ve been eyeing.
  • Consistency: Celebrate your commitment to your fitness routine. Acknowledge how many days you’ve stuck to your schedule and reward yourself with a relaxing day off or a spa day.
  • Fitness Goals: When you achieve a specific fitness goal, such as your first push-up or a full yoga class, celebrate with a sense of accomplishment.

Remember, these celebrations aren’t about indulging in unhealthy habits but rather about recognizing your hard work and dedication. They provide positive reinforcement and keep you motivated for the long haul.

Seek Professional Guidance

Sometimes, starting a fitness journey can be daunting, especially if you have underlying health concerns or specific fitness goals. In such cases, seeking professional guidance can be incredibly beneficial.

  1. Healthcare Professional: Before starting any exercise program, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have medical conditions or are taking medications. They can offer guidance and ensure your safety.
  2. Personal Trainer: Consider working with a certified personal trainer. They can design a customized fitness plan tailored to your goals and provide expert guidance on exercise form and technique.
  3. Nutritionist: A registered dietitian or nutritionist can help you create a balanced diet plan that complements your fitness goals.
  4. Physical Therapist: If you have existing injuries or mobility issues, a physical therapist can assist you in developing a safe and effective exercise program.

Professional guidance ensures that you’re on the right track and can help you avoid potential pitfalls along the way.


Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of our journey on how to start exercising when you’re out of shape. You’ve learned that it’s all about self-acceptance, setting clear goals, and finding the right exercise routine that suits your preferences and needs.

Starting slow, progressing gradually, and listening to your body are the keys to success. Having a support system, investing in proper gear, and celebrating your victories along the way will keep you motivated.

Remember, your fitness journey is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a continuous process of growth and self-improvement. Embrace the small steps, relish the progress, and stay committed to your goal of a healthier, happier you.

So, lace up those sneakers, take a deep breath, and let each step you take be a testament to your determination and resilience. You’ve got this, and the journey is just beginning.

Dr. Amanda O'Conner

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