Exercise variations for beginners

Fitness can and should be all-inclusive, where anyone wanting to start an exercise program feels comfortable enough to try and succeed, yet most exercise recommendations are only suitable for already fit or strong people and would send any beginner to Never-ever again land.

It doesn’t have to be that way; we all started somewhere, and today I’m going to go through the very basic exercises that beginners, deconditioned, and overweight individuals can modify to their own challenging level while still providing enough of a stimulus to get stronger and progress over time.

The first thing to keep in mind is that anything is better than nothing and simply moving more is a good place to start, sometimes showing up is enough, keep doing it. At the beginner’s level, consistency is the only thing that matter the most; the kind of exercise doesn’t, because no matter what you start doing, you can always progress.

As much as I think that the ideal program should include some cardio and some strength, it is possible to work with whatever you are willing to do according to your preferences, availability, and possibilities. So, feel free to modify or do as much or as little as you feel like it, aim for challenging but fun, feeling it without exhaustion. it’s OK to feel that you have muscles and that they’ve been used, but probably, not a good idea to feel all beat up the next day. You want to be able to keep doing it and enjoying the process to a stronger, healthier you.

Ideally, I’d recommend 3 days of cardio and 2 days of strength. Where cardio can be simply walking for 10 minutes if that is more than you did yesterday, working it up to at least, 20 minutes a day if possible, then 30, then you can always add up more time or intensity depending on your progress and availability. As for intensity, you can use the scale of “rate of perceived exertion” (RPE), on a scale of 0 to 10 how difficult it seems to be and keep it around a 4 to start with, or use the “talk test”, making sure you can keep a conversation while walking, where talking non-stop would be too easy and gasping for air would be too much, and a semi-broken conversation would be just right.

For strength, twice a week is a good starting point, three if desired. Some coaches would argue that strength when overweight is not a necessity since they’ve been building some lean muscle mass only by carrying more weight than lean individuals, but I think it should be included in any good program for a myriad of reasons. From helping with nutrient uptake by building muscle rather than storing it as fat tissue to learning proper form, and neurological learning that gets the body and mind ready to progress.  I’d even say that a full range of motion helps with mobility keeping the first few workout sessions shorter by eliminating the warm-up to prevent exhaustion or an extensive first session.

Strength exercises with regression variations for a successful start:


No, a beginner’s squat does not have to happen in a squat rack nor need to be performed with a barbell, as a matter of fact, you don’t even need a gym membership or any fancy equipment. For many bodyweight movements, you need a base of strength to be able to do them competently and before adding any extra weight.

An easy regression variation is by using a chair, bench, or even couch, and simply sit and stand up like you normally do, pay attention to the use of your hands as “helpers” while standing up or sitting down, and try to minimize its use. It’s OK if you have to use them to start with, do enough repetitions until you feel your muscles working and every time try using your hands less until you can avoid using them altogether.

Regression to progress for the squat could be something like this:

(perform 10 repetitions until you can move to the next progression)

Sit and stand using your hands to push off the chair.

Sit and stand while swinging the arms forward to help.

Sit and stand with arms crossed.

Sit and stand using a lower bench.

Remove bench and squat bodyweight.

Suat with a light broomstick, kettlebell, jug, bucket, cat, or any household object with a bit of weight.

You can also start with a leg press machine if available to strengthen those muscles before attempting the very first squats.

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Core: Pallof press with bands.


I like how Molly explains it in this video but my preference is to perform it a bit lower than it is shown here, closer to belly button level, I think it makes it a bit more challenging, give it a try and use it as much or as little resistance as you can handle. It’s OK to start with one set of 6 to 8 reps on each side. Keep adding reps until you reach 12 then add resistance or another set of 6 to 8 until you can build again up to 12.

Push-up: Regression to progression.

Start by standing facing a wall, extend your arms and place your palms on it, lean forward, and adjust your hands until they are underneath your shoulders and push out. The next step would be to go a bit lower on the wall and do the same, try to push about 10-12 times, once you can do 10-12, move to a lower position

The next step would be a table or countertop, or anything that is lower than the standing wall position, you do some on your kitchen counter while you wait for the microwave.

Then, if there is a staircase available, that would be ideal, since you can use each step to perform 10 push-ups and once those are accomplished you can move a step down, and repeat until you reach floor level.

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Rows: Maybe performed with a light broomstick, cans, jugs, etc. instead of free weights.



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There are many other exercises that could be performed or added to a beginner’s program. A hip hinge movement would be great as well but may need some time working on proper form.

A TRX can be a great addition for balance and aid to many exercises, and medicine ball stomps can be fun if those items are available, but the ones mentioned can be done at home without equipment on a daily basis, I’d recommend alternating strength days with cardio/walking days. Even if only a few minutes daily, you can always add up, one minute, one rep, one set at a time. Stick with it and you’ll see progress happening.

As usual, let me know if these were helpful or if there is anything you’d change or add.

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