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You’re never too out of shape to start to improve, but you CAN be too out of shape to start a particular fitness program.
A great example of “too much for a beginner” is CrossFit.

CrossFit is a style of exercise that involves maximum effort, high-intensity intervals, and a wide variety of technically difficult moves. Everyone in the class does the same workout, so nothing is tailored to your workout skills or level of physical conditioning.

As a concept, there’s nothing wrong with this style of exercise, as long as you are

  • in good enough shape to be able to do that much high-intensity work, and
  • technically skilled enough to safely perform all the olympic lifts, jumps, muscle-ups, and other high-end exercise moves that are required for the Workout Of the Day.

So CrossFit is clearly NOT for beginners. Is it a great workout? Yess! But it will crush someone who isn’t ready for it.

Overtraining injuries can happen easily. And if you’re tackling exercises that are beyond your physical skill to execute well, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

The best way for an out-of-shape person to begin improving their physical conditioning is to get consistent with some of the basics:

  • Simple movement (like walking or yoga) if you haven’t been doing anything.
  • Basic strength training utilizing the fundamental movements like squats, rows, planks, and overhead presses.

Assuming you’re not ready for this kind of aggressive workout, here is a better choice for beginners:

Simple weight training circuit for beginners

Your first week, perform one set of 8-12 repetitions of each of these six fundamental strength training exercises:

Squat

Begin standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width, with the toes turned slightly outwards.

Brace your spine. Hold your chest up and shift your weight back onto your heels. Simultaneously push your hips backwards (as if you’re going to sit down in a chair) and begin to bend your knees.

As you squat down deeper, try to control the amount of forward movement of your shin. Keep your back nice and flat as you lean forwards.

Continue to lower yourself until either:
your thighs are parallel (or almost parallel) to the floor,
until your heels begin to lift off the floor, or
until you cannot keep your spine from rounding or flexing forward.

Make sure your ankles do not collapse in or out. Keep your knees aligned over your ankles.

While maintaining your back, chest, and head-up position, exhale and extend the hips and knees by pushing your feet into the floor through your heels. The hips and torso need to rise together while keeping the heels flat on the floor. Your knees need to stay aligned over your ankles. Continue standing until you reach the starting position.

Inhale on the way down, and exhale on the way back up.

After your first week, increase your workload to two sets of each exercise.

Horizontal Row

Seated horizontal row. You can also do this standing.

For this exercise, you’ll need some kind of resistance — either exercise tubing, a row pin-selector machine, or a cable machine with a handle for rows.

Sit or stand up tall with good posture, holding the handles in your hand. Your arms will begin in front of you. Initiate the move by starting to pull your shoulder blades together. At the same time, pull your elbows back behind you. At the end of the move, your shoulder blades should be fully retracted — but not shrugged! — and your elbows pulled back behind you. Do not allow the front part of your shoulder (the head of the humerus) to dump forwards.

Reverse the move by controlling the return to the starting position.

Plank (core stabilization)

The purpose of the plank exercise is to use the abdominals to maintain the correct shape of the spine. Holding yourself up on your forearms and toes only, contract your abs so that your lower spine does not sag down.

Overhead Press (Shoulder Press)

overhead press

For some more variations of basic strength exercises, see 6 Exercises You Should Be Doing.

Don’t try to tackle too much at once! Going from zero exercise to “I’m going to the gym every morning” is too much. Two 30-minute bouts each week can get you started. Once that becomes normal and comfortable, take on a third day.

If you’d like to get some advice from a professional personal trainer, contact Basics and Beyond to discuss what you’re working towards. If you feel like you’re too out of shape to exercise, we are ready to help you set up the perfect program to get you started safely!