A Deep Dive into Starting a Fitness Routine

By: Alex Michaels

Deciding that you are ready to start a fitness routine can feel overwhelming at first, but the good news is that it does not have to be complicated!  

Let’s keep it simple and break down a few key components that will help you achieve a successful fitness routine.

  • Goal Setting

  • Find What Works for You

  • Dissecting the F.I.T.T. Principle

  • Nutrition Basics

  • Planning for Obstacles

  • Beginner Upper, Lower, and Full Body Workout

What is Your Goal?

You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down, according to a study done by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews at the Dominican University in California.  Writing your goals down helps you to get a clear focus on what exactly it is that you want to accomplish. You can take it a step further and post your written goals where you can see them first thing in the morning and before you go to bed at night.

When it comes to fitness, what is a goal that you would like to achieve?  Examples could include the desire to lose weight, build muscle, improve cardiovascular endurance, or something super specific such as getting rid of lingering back pain.  Dedicate some time to jot down a few goals you may want to work towards. Next, choose one goal that you’d like to focus on first and think about why that goal matters to you and how achieving that goal will impact your life.

After you have chosen your goal and determined why it is important, the next step is to break the goal down into product and process goals.  

Product goals can be thought of as short term goals that are project-oriented and have deadlines.  On the other hand, process goals are more long-term and focus on the steps along a journey that will help build sustainable habits.  

For example, your product goal may be to lose five pounds in six weeks.  In the meantime, your process goal may be to exercise four days per week.  Once six weeks has passed, your process goal will have helped you develop a habit of going to the gym four days a week.  As a result, your short-term, product goal of losing five pounds has been successfully achieved.

Breaking down your overall main goal into these smaller parts is important for several reasons:

  • it will provide clear guidance to keep you on track

  • it will allow you to feel more in control

  • it will allow you to achieve success with small wins

  • it will boost your self-confidence and self-efficacy.  

Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to change or perform specific behaviors.  The more small successes you gain by accomplishing your product goals, the more you will increase your self-efficacy.  In turn, the more your self-efficacy improves, the greater adherence you’ll have to healthy and positive behaviors that will help you reach your fitness goal.

Find What Works For You

There are a multitude of ways you can reach your fitness goals, but the most important way is the one that works best for you. If I said that you have to run to lose fat, but you absolutely loathe running, chances are you are not going to want to do it.  Then, you’ll most likely feel uninspired to work towards your goals and may just call it quits.

Depending on your goals, there are types of exercise that are going to be more beneficial than others.  It is important to consider if you like training alone, with a group, or with a one-on-one coach. If you feel motivated with a group of people and a lot of variety in training, a group exercise class might work well for you.  If you feel like you need more personalized guidance and accountability, hiring a coach may work best for you. If you want a specific exercise program to follow, but like to exercise alone, you could hire an online coach. There is no overall best type of exercise.  The key is that you find what you can stick to consistently.

F.I.T.T. (Frequency. Intensity. Time. Type)

Once you have broken down your goals and thought about the type of fitness activities you enjoy, the next step is to generate structure for your routine.  The F.I.T.T. principle is an excellent guide for breaking down key parts of your fitness routine and will help you stay focused. Let’s dissect each component.

Frequency: this is how many times per week you will perform a certain type of exercise.

Intensity: this is the level of difficulty you will aim to achieve while exercising.

Time: this is how much time you will aim to spend performing a certain type of exercise.

Type: this is the mode of exercise selected

Your F.I.T.T. principle will be dependent on your fitness level, health status, age, and activities you enjoy.  This also comes into play when it comes time to switch up your routine in order to ensure progressive overload occurs.  Progressive overload basically means that over time we must exercise at a level that will stress the body in ways that it is not used to in order to build strength, increase endurance, etc.  This will look different for everyone so do not get caught up in comparing your routine to other people’s routines.


Nutrition will play a primary role in helping you reach your fitness goals as it goes hand-in-hand with exercise and should not be overlooked.  When it comes to figuring out what and how much we should eat, that will depend largely on your specific goals. This is an area where it is very easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information that surrounds diet and nutrition, good vs. bad foods, calorie deficits, special diets like keto, paleo, gluten free, vegetarian, etc.  

A few important factors to keep in mind are:

  • What works for some people may not necessarily work for you.  

  • Everyone’s body is different and special conditions may require specific dietary needs.

  • Finding a diet that is SUSTAINABLE will allow you to stick to it long-term.

In order to figure out where to start with your nutrition, there are a few paths you can take.  First, there are free apps that will help you track your nutrition such as MyFitnessPal, Lose it!, and CRON-O-Meter.  Here you can input specific information about yourself and the app will provide estimated numbers to follow for calories and macronutrients.  You can also log your exercise.

Another option is to hire a coach who can help create an individualized program specific to your fitness goals along with some basic nutrition guidance.  Third, you could work closely with a Registered Dietician who is qualified to make specific meal and nutrient plans and/or recommendations appropriate for you, especially if you have any kind of special considerations, such as diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, etc.

To read more about tracking your food intake for weight loss, click here.

Plan for Obstacles

Making the decision to start implementing fitness into your life is outstanding and is often accompanied by feelings of ambition, enthusiasm, and perhaps even anxiety.  These are all very common emotions. It is important to keep in mind that with every new endeavour, there may be a few potential obstacles along the way to achieving your goals. Therefore, it is a great idea to decide on a plan that will help you navigate any speed bumps before they take place.

Two types of common obstacles are internal and external.  Internal obstacles relate to things such as your thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and self-talk about health, fitness, exercise or nutrition.  External obstacles can be things like time, family, friends, and work responsibilities.

If you have tried to start a fitness routine in the past and were unsuccessful long term, think about what went well and helped you to stay focused in addition to any challenges you faced.

Next, take a moment to consider what you may be able to do differently the next time similar challenges may arise.  For example, if you normally exercise at the gym several times a week but you have a few business trips coming up, you could put together a quick bodyweight workout that you can do in your hotel room.  This way you can still get a workout in and will not feel like you lost momentum with your fitness routine.

When coping with obstacles, mindset is important.  Depending on successes or failures you have experienced thus far, you may not feel confident in your ability to achieve success this time around.  Psychologist Albert Ellis said, “people’s beliefs determine how they feel and behave, not the external events they actually face.” First an external event takes place.  The person then has a thought about the situation. He or she then has an emotional reaction to the belief about the external event, leading to an emotional reaction that causes a response behavior.  

For example, you get to the gym but then realize you forgot your sneakers.  You get upset and say to yourself, “You know what, I messed up my whole routine.  Everything is ruined now! Forget it, I’m just going to go home and do nothing.” This is an example of all-or-nothing thinking, which looks at things in absolute.  Instead of reacting with the belief that everything was ruined, a more positive approach can allow for a better outcome. Instead of going home and doing nothing, you decide to go home and perform a short bodyweight workout.  That way you still exercise, you stick to the day during the week for your routine, and you feel positive because you overcame an obstacle. Things will not always workout out perfectly, and that is okay.

This rolls right into the important concept of celebrating all of your small wins.  Often we overlook the little things we accomplish because we are only focused on the major end result.  The reality is that the tiny changes we make daily and the small accomplishments we achieve are what will help us reach our ultimate goal.  For example, if your process goal is to exercise four days a week, but one of those days you have to do a slightly different workout than what is on your routine, it does not matter.  The point is that you successfully completed a workout, which means you achieved a small win that will help you get closer to accomplishing your product goals. Consistency is key and as long as you focus on being consistent in your fitness routine, rather than perfect, you will succeed.

Beginner Upper, Lower, Full Body Workout

Below is a phenomenal beginner workout routine that includes an upper body, lower body, and full body workout.

  • It will take anywhere between 30-40 minutes.  

  • Perform each superset back to back followed by 1 - 1.5 minutes of rest.

    • For example: perform 1A and 1B back to back, rest, then perform set 2.

  • If you are short on time or a beginner, start by doing only 2 sets.


Learn more about strength training for beginners and the top eight benefits of strength training here.