Exercise Basics

I think it’s important to remember, once again, that we’re not in this for a quick loss. We’re here to make small changes to our everyday life that will make us fitter and healthier. With that in mind, you don’t need to start working out for hours every day to lose the weight you want to lose. If you do, you risk burning yourself out or injuring yourself.

Instead, start by being a little more active each day. That might mean that you take a walk after dinner or use the stairs to get to your office. Or it might mean parking a little further away rather than right by the entrance. If you have kids, you can incorporate them into working out by scheduling some fun, vigorous play time. Or just dance yourself silly in the safety of your own room! Being active does not mean boring. Also, choose a workout schedule that fits into your average day. For instance, if you schedule it for a time that is not always convenient, it’s very possible that you’ll miss a session due to time constraints. When you miss one session, you could miss two, and from there fall by the wayside.

Why should I work out? Isn’t dieting enough?

You can definitely lose weight with diet alone. But think about a couple things:

1) Picture yourself ten years from now. You’ve lost all the weight you wanted to lose. What does your body look like? Trim and tight? Loose and mushy? Personally, I want to look like this. She doesn’t look like that without exercise. Exercise will also be necessary to keep your muscle mass and keep your skin tight as you lose weight. Not only that, but losing weight with exercise will make you more energetic in the long run and will improve your focus and concentration.

2) It might be hard to keep your calories at the necessary deficit with diet alone. You’re used to eating a certain amount each day, and now you’re looking to cut back by 500 Cals? It’s much easier to cut back by 250 Cals and burn off 250 Cal in the gym or on the road. That means if you cut out a 20 oz. bottle of Coke, and add a 45 minute walk after dinner, you’ll be pretty close to the 500 Cals you need.

3) Weight training in addition to dieting has been shown to lead to more weight loss than dieting alone or exercising alone. This can be explained in two ways: 1) Lean body mass burns calories while you’re resting (sleeping, reading reddit… you’re burning energy just to stay alive). Looking at the results of this study, the group that dieted alone lost lean body mass, while those that used weight training (either with or without dieting) managed to gain lean body mass. Those of us aiming to bulk probably noticed that without dieting, lean body mass increased more than with dieting. However, fat loss was not as good as those who dieted and lifted, or even just dieted. That probably explains why you need to go on bulk/diet phases. 2) Weight training burns calories! Those who were lifting and dieting were using up more calories than those who used diet alone.

How should I work out?

Your doctor might be the best place to start. Explain that you would like to add exercise to your daily routine, and see what personalized recommendations he gives you. Once you’ve gotten checked out and are ready to add exercise, here are some good places to start looking:


If you’re starting from no cardio, add things in slowly. Start by walking a little more than you’re used to, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from the building. Then add a little more each day. When you’re comfortable with this added bit of activity, try starting a specific program, like Conservative Couch to 5K or Couch to 5K (C25K). These are designed to build you up from couch potato to a 5K runner in as little as 9 weeks. If you’re not used to running, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t finish the program in 9 weeks. Personally, I’ve repeated each week several times. Adapt the programs to your level, but also don’t sell yourself short. Push yourself to make small increases each day that you run, even if it’s just a few extra seconds or steps. Walk or jog at a pace that’s comfortable for you. It’s not important how long it takes you to finish the program as long as you’re constantly pushing yourself and working toward the final goal. The important thing is to reach your goal and get in shape in the process.

There are lots of other options for adding cardio to your days. You can try machines (elliptical, stationary bike, etc) or you can do something outside (biking, hiking, swimming, rowing, sports, etc). Pick something that you like and try it out for a while. Give yourself a couple weeks to get used to it and work out the kinks. If you’re not enjoying it after a month or so, you can switch things up! Don’t give up though, you’ll find the right activity for you if you keep trying different things.

Should I do strength training?

Yes! Adding cardio to your daily routine is great. Adding cardio and strength training is even better. According to a study by W. Westcott in 1991 (nicely summarized on exrx.net) it was shown that subjects on both endurance (cardio) and weight lifting regimens lost more than twice as much weight (10 lbs vs. 3.5 lbs) as those on a cardio regimen alone, even though those who lifted gained 2 lbs of muscles mass, while those on cardio alone lost 0.5 lbs of muscle mass. Subjects on both weight lifting and cardio routines also burned more than 3 times the amount of fat as those who were doing cardio alone did (10lbs versus 3)! Cardio is very useful for burning calories. However, if all you do is cardio, you will probably end up losing some lean body mass along with the fat. As mentioned in the previous post, your body adapts to the stresses you put on it. If all you do is run, you’ll probably end up with nicely defined calves, thighs (hamstrings and quadriceps), and butt (glutes). However, your arms, chest, abs, waist, even your back, will look undefined due to muscle atrophy in those areas where strength seems non crucial. It is also worth mentioning that weight lifting usually burns more calories than cardio when performed in the same amount of time.

What can I do for strength training?

The r/Fitness FAQ is a great place to start looking for a strength training program or any advice on lifting weights. You can also ask any questions here.

Two of the most commonly recommended programs seem to be Stronglifts 5×5 (see also: SL Beginner’s Program) and Starting Strength (see also: SS wiki or SS Beginner’s Program). To help you pick out which program is best for you, take a look at this site for a discussion of the different programs. (The site is sort of an abbreviated version of BFFM. It’s worth reading through the whole thing.) This site links to a “stripped” 5×5 program, which is meant for beginners. There is also a good lifting routine outlined in BFFM by Venuto. If you’ve had injuries in the past and are worried about strength training, my parents recommend the Slow Burn routine (see also: Slow Burn summary). This might also be a good way to introduce yourself to weights.

Each of the programs above require dumbbells or barbells. If you don’t have access to any, then you can also try out body weight exercises and resistance bands. Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and squats are incredibly productive exercises. Here is a great series to help you increase your endurance: 100 push-ups200 sit-ups200 squats. There’s also a 25 pull-ups program in the works.

Again, as with the cardio programs, go at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to lift more weight, run faster, or do extra push-ups because you’ve reached that point in the routine. Be safe and repeat a week if necessary. Don’t give up though! Stick with it and you will see great gains!

Record your progress

Speaking of great gains, have a written record of everything that you do. Track your distance and speed, your reps and weights, any number you can get should be written down somewhere. This way you can track your progress. Each day, try to add a little bit more to what you did the day before. As time goes on, you will begin to notice a difference. Progress is great positive reinforcement.

What should I do today?

Start by making an appointment with your doctor. Then read through the different routines listed here and see which ones seem most interesting to you. Reread your goals from Day 1 and add in fitness goals if you don’t already have them. If you have any questions about the routines, ask! The chances are pretty good that someone here has tried it out and can help clear up any questions.