Home Health The Best Exercises for Beginners: A Complete Guide

The Best Exercises for Beginners: A Complete Guide

Getting into a regular exercise routine is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. However, figuring out where to start can be overwhelming if you’re new to working out. There are countless exercises and programs, each with its benefits.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain strength, improve flexibility, or feel better each day, specific exercises work exceptionally well for beginners. Below is an overview of the top options to consider incorporating into your new workout plan.

Cardio for Beginners

Any beginner’s exercise regimen should include some form of cardiovascular exercise or “cardio.” Getting your heart rate elevated has a wide range of health benefits:

  • Improves heart health and circulation [1]
  • Burns major calories to aid weight loss [2]
  • Reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels [3]
  • Boosts mood through endorphin release [4]

Low—to moderate-intensity cardio is best when you’re following a low—to moderate—intensity exercise program. This allows your body to adjust without overexerting itself or risking injury.

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Here are some excellent beginner cardio exercises to try:


Brisk walking is one of the simplest yet most effective cardio workouts. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes! Start by taking short 10-minute walks and gradually work your way up to longer durations or faster speeds. Walking is low-impact and gentle on joints.


Once you build an aerobic base from walking, consider progressing to running or jogging. Start with short intervals mixed with walking periods. Always properly warm up and cool down. Running has a higher impact than walking, so invest in good running shoes and be cautious not to increase distance or speed too drastically.

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Whether outdoors or stationary, cycling is steady-state cardio that’s easy on your joints. Trendy indoor cycling classes set to energetic music allow you to dial the intensity or keep it light, making cycling suitable for any fitness level.

Elliptical Training

Try the elliptical trainer if traditional cardio machines like treadmills or bikes are too harsh and repetitive for your style. Ellipticals mimic the motion of walking or running without the harsh, repetitive impact. Most also offer adjustable resistance to intensify your workout as your conditioning improves.


Swimming is ideal for improving cardiovascular fitness with nearly zero impact on your joints. It is one of the best options for beginners. Check your local recreation centre for open swim times. I don’t know how to swim. Many facilities offer adult swim lessons.

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Bodyweight Training for Beginners

Bodyweight exercises challenge your muscles by utilizing your own body’s natural weight and gravity as resistance. They require minimal to no special equipment and can be conveniently done anywhere. Because you’re not relying on external weight, bodyweight exercises can easily be scaled to different fitness levels by changing tempo, volume, and range of motion.

Bodyweight workouts build strength, coordination, flexibility, and balance [5]. By relying on yourself for resistance, they also engage the deep stabilizing muscles that free weights often neglect. This lays a strong foundation for more advanced training.

To gain full-body strength as a beginner, focus on mastering these fundamental bodyweight exercise movements:

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Upper Body

  • Pushups
  • Tricep Dips
  • Pullups/Chinups


  • Planks
  • Crunches
  • Bicycle Kicks

Lower Body

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  • Squats
  • Lunges

The exact varieties and set/rep guidelines will vary significantly based on your fitness level. However, bodyweight training for beginners generally involves higher reps (12-15) at a relatively easy or moderate effort level. Expect to avoid jumping right into the highly high-rep or intense variations you may see fitness influencers doing. Leave those more as eventual goals!

For structured guidance on a beginner bodyweight program spanning 8-12 weeks, check out the “Bodyweight Training System” on Bodybuilding.com.

Joint Weight Lifting Exercises for Beginners

While training with your body weight will take you quite far, at some point, most beginners will look to add external resistance to their programs. Weight lifting builds more significant muscle for improving both appearance and daily performance. Lifting weights can also skyrocket fat loss with proper cardiovascular exercise and nutrition [6].

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Trying to jump straight into complex lifting programs is usually not advisable for newcomers. But contrary to popular belief, you can start strength training early in your fitness journey if you keep things gradual and focus on proper form above all else.

Start with simple, compound exercises targeting the major muscle groups. Here are five great lifting exercises to begin with as a novice:

Chest Press

The barbell bench press is king for chest exercises and one of the most notoriously butchered lifts. Get your form locked down early with less imposing variations like pushups and dumbbell chest presses. Gradually work up to benches once you build sufficient stability and practice.

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Everyone should squat…when practised correctly! Master proper squat mechanics early to develop full-body strength while sparing your knees and back. Many beginners struggle with balance and stability. Consider starting with a bodyweight squat progression to ingrain sound mechanics. Goblet and dumbbell sumo squats also help teach solid movement patterns.


Learning to hip hinge and deadlift safely provides enormous functional benefits for daily life. But start lightly to perfect your technique, as this lift becomes dangerous when the form breaks down. Single-leg and trap bar deadlifts offer practical introductory alternatives. Seek guidance from a qualified coach on deadlift mechanics.

Bent Over Rows

Most beginner lifting programs focus heavily on vertical pushing and neglect the equally critical horizontal pull muscles. Rows strengthen the lats and upper back to balance rounding shoulders and poor posture from desk work. Try one-arm, cable, and machine rows to determine preferences before loading heavy barbells.

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Overhead Press

The overhead press develops solid and stable shoulders. However, it’s another technical lift that beginners often need help with once stability deficits are corrected. Consider starting with the versatile dumbbell shoulder press to give each side individual attention. This allows for identifying and fixing left/right imbalance issues.

When starting lifting programs, feel free to perform only the significant compound barbell movements you see posted everywhere online. Dumbbells, selectorized machines, resistance bands, and other tools can (and should) play a key role as you gradually work towards proficiency in the more advanced options.

Beginner Weight Lifting Guidelines

Here is a summary of crucial strength training guidelines when getting started:

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  • Seek guidance from a qualified fitness coach or trainer, at least initially
  • The perfect technique, above all – is to keep weight extremely light until movement patterns improve
  • Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps to focus on form and prevent overexertion
  • Start with bodyweight and isolation exercises before compounds
  • Build balanced routines that train opposing muscle groups
  • Increase weight incrementally only once, executing flawless reps
  • Listen to your body and allow proper recovery between sessions

Adhering to these beginner lifting protocols will help you progress quickly towards impressive strength in a smooth, sustainable fashion.

Stretching and Flexibility

While not typically viewed as “exercise”, improving flexibility through stretching holds tremendous value for beginners. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles cause muscles to shorten and joints to freeze in position. This impairs daily life and athletics mobility, raises injury risk, and exacerbates poor posture like slouching.

Regular stretching keeps muscles supple and joints mobile, which is beneficial for performance and overall comfort. Holding static flexibility poses is also helpful for relaxing the nervous system and relieving stress.

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When getting started, focus on releasing tension from the major muscle groups below:


  • Pigeon Pose
  • Figure 4 Stretch


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  • Forward Folds
  • Single Leg Hamstring Stretch

Quadriceps/Hip Flexors

  • Kneeling Lunge Stretches
  • Couch Stretch

Chest and Shoulders

  • Child’s Pose
  • Doorway Chest Stretch

Upper and Mid Back

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  • Cat/Cow Pose
  • Thread the Needle

Aim to stretch daily for 5-10 minutes per session, following workouts or as stand-alone recovery sessions. Move slowly into each pose, ease off if you feel sharp pain, and breathe steadily. Over time, you’ll be amazed at how your flexibility improves, allowing you to perform all athletic activities better.

Check out Tom Merrick’s Flexibility Guide on YouTube for a complete stretching tutorial library covering all muscle groups.

Beginner Calisthenics Skills

Callisthenics refers to flowy, street-workout style training popularized on social media in recent years. Muscle-ups, handstand pushups, and flag holds look quite advanced and intimidating. However, nearly all skilled callisthenics practitioners develop these moves gradually over time by mastering several foundational progressions.

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Even as a complete novice, consistent practice can help you begin working towards exciting bodyweight feats like one-arm pullups or planches. Below are three beginner benchmark skills that provide the base for more flashy callisthenics later.

Inverted Rows

The inverted row looks simple but acts as the ultimate upper-body developer. Focus obsessively on clean form – engaged core, shoulder retraction/depression, and full range pulling motion without cheating swing. Gradually increase reps. Inverted rows strengthen all needed muscles to eventually perform challenging pulling callisthenics like front levers down the road.

Pushup Variations

Standard pushups are the bread and butter for building a foundation for more impressive presses like handstands and planche pushups. Scale intensity through different grips and foot positions—play with diamonds, wide, incline, and decline. Maintain solid bracing and tempo. When ready, explore more challenging progressions like pseudo-planche pushups.

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Glute Ham Raise

This quirky exercise hits posterior chain strength and flexibility through dynamically loaded mobility. Mastering the glute ham raise teaches tension and tension and core stability required for elite bodyweight leg training. Work slowly up in rep volume and range before adding load through bands and chains. Eventually, glute hams pave the path towards artistic moves like the human flag.

Parkour, street gymnastics, and advanced callisthenics arrive later. But nurture the beginner benchmarks to develop an unstoppable bodyweight practice over time. Patience and consistency are key.

For structured guidance towards building elite callisthenics strength from any starting point, check out the Bar Brothers System.

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Wrap-Up: Start Simple for Sustainable Success

When undertaking a new exercise program after an extended break, it’s critical to start slowly by honing the basics before attempting to copy social media challenges or celebrity workout splits.

As a beginner, your time is best spent building an aerobic base with low-to-moderate steady-state cardio and mastering efficient technique on bodyweight movements. Strength programs should feature very light loads and higher reps to ingrain proper motor patterns. Gradually layer in more advanced or intense training elements once you have established a firm foundation over your first 6-12 months.

Developing sustainable lifelong exercise habits through a measured, incremental plan will produce far more significant long-term results than chasing quick fixes. With consistency and patience, your strength, endurance, and mobility will improve immensely – allowing you to tackle nearly any physical feat you desire (even muscle-ups!).

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So leave your ego at the door, take things slow, celebrate small wins, and above all else…enjoy the journey. Your mind and body will thank you.


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