By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D.
With research help from exercise scientist Michelle Kennedy, M.S.
Here’s a plan you can dive right into, no matter what your current level. For examples of cardio and strength exercises, see our suggestions. Here’s how it works:
Week 0: Take a week to record your usual amount of exercise. If you exercise on average less than 20 minutes per session, follow the beginner track; 21 minutes and over puts you in the “everyone else” category.
Weeks 1–8: When starting a new program it’s always best to start with what you know and like. For instance, if you enjoy walking, stick with it this first go-around. You’ll gradually add minutes to your cardio workout as well as adding new strength-training moves and increasing the amount of weight you’re using.
Weeks 9 and beyond: Repeat the first eight weeks, but this time, try new types of exercises. For instance, switch from the treadmill to the elliptical machine. Instead of dumbbell flies, try rows. (Examples of these and other exercises in the “Cardio” and “Strength”) Trainers also encourage you to vary the type of exercise, saying it can help you become even stronger.
Keep in mind 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly is suggested to help prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions, but if weight loss is your goal aim for 150–250 minutes per week. You might not reach these goals in eight weeks—that’s perfectly OK. Just keep pushing and challenging yourself and you’ll get there!
Please remember, before beginning any new exercise program, consult your health care provider to determine a safe level of exercise for you.
|Week||Cardio (Moderate and/or high intensity)||Strength|
|0 (this week)||Do what you usually do and log it, recording minutes, type of exercise and distance (i.e., 1 mile).||If you strength train, record types of moves, weight, number reps and sets.|
|1 and 2||Find an exercise you like and go five minutes longer per session than last week.||Do at least six different moves, working both upper and lower body.|
|Beginners:||Work out 3 days per week.||At least twice a week, do 1 to 2 sets of 8 repetitions each.|
|Everyone else:||Work out 4 or 5 days per week. (5 days if you need to lose weight)||At least twice a week, do 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps each (do more if you've already worked up to that level).|
|3 and 4||Add 5 minutes.|
|Beginners:||Work out 3 days a week,||Keep doing your six moves, but now do 2|
|Everyone else:||plus walk on one other day. Work out at least 4 days, plus walk briskly on one other day for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Also, increase resistance. For instance, increase the grade on the treadmill or move up a level on the elliptical machine. If walking outdoors, find an area with some uphill terrain.
|of 8 to 10 reps each.
Strength train at three times a week. Add two more moves for a total of eight.
|5 and 6||Add 5 minutes.||If moves are becoming easier, it's time to use heavier weights.|
|Beginners:||Increase to 4 days a week, plus walk on one other day for at least 20 minutes, if possible.
Also, increase resistance. For instance, increase the grade on the treadmill or move up one level on the elliptical machine. If walking outdoors, find an area with some uphill terrain.
|Add two more moves for a total of eight and perform 2 sets of 8-10 reps.|
|Everyone else:||Increase to 5 days (if you're not already doing so), plus walk briskly on one other day for at least 30 minutes.||Add two more moves for a total of 10 and perform 2 sets of 10-12 reps|
|7 and 8||Add 5 minutes.||If moves are becoming easier, it's time to use heavier weights. You can also increase intensity by decreasing rest time in between sets.|
|Beginners:||Increase walk time to 30
|Everyone else:||Increase walk time to 40 minutes|
|End of week 8||Revel in your newfound endurance and strength by comparing your current exercise level to week 0.|
|CARDIO: Pull out your old log and go back and do the same type of cardio as in that initial week. Match the intensity and the time. For instance, if you were able to walk briskly for 20 minutes at moderate intensity, do that again and see how much farther you went. What else has has changed? For instance, is your treadmill set at a steeper incline?|
|STRENGTH: Are you able to lift heavier weights? Do more reps?|
|9 and beyond||See “Challenge Yourself—for Life!” for ways to vary your workout in the upcoming weeks, months and years.|
Consult your health care provider to determine a safe level of exercise for you.
More from this series:
- Be Your Own Trainer
- Challenge Yourself for Life
- The 8-Week (and Beyond) Plan (back to top)
- Cardio & Strength Training Moves: The Eight-Week (and Beyond) Plan
More Articles You May Find Interesting
If you’re a gardener, you already know that the required digging, squatting and heaving can leave your muscles good and sore. But if you add in a few extra moves along the way, you’ll be giving your...
How much time you spend at the gym isn’t the only way to gauge your fitness level. What you do—or don’t do—at home or at work can be telling. Take this quiz designed by Larysa DiDio, a personal...
You already know that living an active life is critical for a healthy heart. In fact, it lowers your heart disease risk from head to toe. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to reap the...