I am often asked, what is the best workout program for a beginner. Or I’m asked for recommendations on which Youtube channels are best for beginner workouts. Most often the answer is “well, it depends”. And this is why. Here are some considerations and tips for selecting the right one – for YOU. And some ideas on what and who to avoid.
It will depend on what you enjoy, any physical limitations, your time, space, equipment limitations or availability, and your physical fitness.
Rather than cherry-pick a video or program I think might work for you based on a guess, I’d come at this from a more empowering, and hopefully more helpful perspective.
First, what is your level of activity and health now? If low and poor, or if you are unsure about your health at all, get a check-up from your doctor first. Tell them you are planning to do some more intense exercise or at least increase your activity levels. There are 2 reasons for this. One, if you have a bad knee, back or other underlying health condition, such as high blood pressure, etc., it is good to know if they have any cautions or suggest any modifications. Second, it begins the chain of accountability. The more people you tell you are planning to do it, the more likely it is you will also convince yourself and feel compelled to carry it out.
Next, take inventory:
Space, equipment, preferences (group vs. solo vs. with a friend) (home vs. gym) (weights vs. cardio) (exercise or activity-based (like playing a sport or mountain biking, etc. ))
You might not know your preferences. In that case, I’d try a few different things. You will no doubt find a combination you enjoy more and some you enjoy much less. But be careful, I’ve known lots of people who hated going to the gym the first few times, but then loved it for many, many years. All of this will be out of your comfort zone, so approach it with an open attitude and embrace the challenge and change. Not all gyms are the same either, I’d sample different ones if I was you.
Whew. Now you can focus your video search. Enter in keywords like the best beginner, at-home exercise with dumbbells. Or bodyweight exercises for beginners. Having some of your preferences in the search will greatly narrow your options. But how do you select?
- How to select a good exercise program or video:
Avoid any brand, person, or program that makes extreme statements or claims. Any claims about how much weight you’ll lose, the muscle you’ll gain, how it is the ONLY program that works, etc. Literally don’t waste another second. They might have some good exercise ideas, but the intent and mindset are all wrong. They are trying to make money and don’t have your best interests at heart. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this.
- Avoid any brand, person, or program that requires you to purchase specialized equipment. Again, the intent is wrong and motivation is suspect. And again, it might be ok, or even good, but chances are that you are being groomed into a purchase.
- Look for systems that use simple programs, exercises that use a lot of big movements that involve your back and legs, and programs that don’t have a lot of small muscle group exercises using really small weights. The classic 2 lb dumbbell bicep curls, yet you carry grocery bags that weight 20 lbs. without thinking about it. Having some small weight exercises for shoulders is actually a good sign the system is good. But most of the program should be using your legs, abs, butt, and back. The larger the muscle, the more it should be used in the program.
- Look for systems that are hard enough you feel like you are exercising, but not so hard you feel overwhelmed or at risk of hurting yourself. There are many beginning exercise videos often aimed at women that use 1 lb dumbells. The participants literally don’t look like they are exercising at all. They are just going through the motions. If you literally couldn’t do another repetition of an exercise if your life depended on it at say 20 reps. You should be doing about 16 reps in the workout, maybe 17. As you gain strength and technique, then you can approach 18 or 19, but save that deep water for another day (or year). But don’t be stopping at 8 reps if you can do 16 or you won’t progress.
- Always lift or move safely. If it feels awkward, too heavy, difficult to balance, or sketchy, don’t do it. For each exercise recommended, look it up. For deadlift, look up how to deadlift safely. Don’t just look at one video, but look at 5. One might be wrong. After 5, you’ll find a pattern. No exercise is worth getting hurt or injured. Sure, injuries can still happen, but most can be avoided. After doing an exercise for a day, week or year, you might start to get a sore shoulder, elbow, hip, etc. Pay attention to those pains. They are different than muscle soreness pain. They don’t go away after a day or so post-exercise. They don’t start to feel better the next time you do the exercise, they feel worse. Get those looked at. You might need to rest, change technique, change exercises, do some stretching/mobilization or some combination of the above.
This should get you pointed in the right direction. Try different exercises, programs, and follow different people with their exercises. You will be surprised at how quickly you’ll start to form a preference or a dislike for someone after a session or after a few sessions. Trust your instincts and go with what you enjoy. That will keep you coming back and consistency is your friend and lover in the world of exercise.
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