If "I'll start tomorrow" is the most regular part of your workout repertoire, don't worry: you aren't alone. Whether it's a lack of motivation or simply the know-how for where to begin, beginning an exercise routine can stump the best of us.
That's why it's important to turn to the experts. Here, personal trainers offer their top tips for how to start working out, including words of wisdom about warming up properly, making nutrition a part of the equation and — music to your ears — the importance of rest days.
1. Be clear about your goals.
Before you get moving, you'll want to make sure you have a firm understanding of what you hope to accomplish with your workout routine, says Justin Seedman, a certified personal trainer and health coach.
"Are you looking to lose weight, firm up, get in shape to run a marathon or just start building good health routines?" he says. "By answering these questions, you can best decide what kind of exercise to do and how often to do it."
For example, if burning the maximum amount of calories in your workout is your goal, then jumping rope may be the perfect exercise for you, Seedman says.
2. Stretch it out.
While a lot of people know stretching is important to a fitness routine, they don't know the right way to stretch, says Demi Dee a fitness trainer and founder of The Knockout Room.
Before working out, you'll want to do some dynamic stretching, which involves "active movement where you take your body through a full range of motion," Dee says. This means hip circles, bodyweight lunges and arm circles might all be in order.
"Ideally, the warm-up should reflect the motions that you will do in your exercise routine but at a lower intensity," she says.
Static stretching is done post workout, and involves holding a stretch for about 30 seconds Dee says. "At this point, your muscles are warm and you want to stretch your muscle fibers to increase your overall flexibility and to prevent lactic acid accumulation."
3. Don't hit the ground running — too fast.
If your goal is to start running, then you'll want to take it slow at first, says Stephanie Blozy, owner of Fleet Feet in West Hartford, Connecticut, who also has a masters degree in exercise science.
"In the beginning, it doesn’t matter how far or how fast you go, just that you go," she says. "It can take six to 10 weeks for your body to adapt to the work running requires."
Blozy recommends starting with 20 minutes (about 1.5 miles), alternating run/walk intervals if necessary, for three days per week. Two additional days should be filled with 30 to 60 minutes of cross-training (e.g. swimming, biking, lifting weights) and the remaining two days should be rest days. Blozy adds: "As you get into the habit of exercise, aim for a three days on, one day off routine."
4. Find your sweet spot.
When you are first getting into the groove of working out, it might take a bit of trial and error to find something you enjoy doing, says Shana Schneider, a certified group fitness instructor and the founder of Fitstyle by Shana. Plus, she says, there's an added bonus to having fun while working out: "When the burn comes (and it will), you might not even notice it as much if you're having a good time!"
5. Get some at-home expertise.
If a trainer is out of the question for your budget, then consider finding an at-home program that can help you get in shape, says Sylvia Nasser, a certified personal trainer and Equinox group fitness instructor. And don't underestimate scoring tips or mini workouts from YouTube or a fitness pro's social media account, she says.
"Fitness trainers and influencers usually post free workouts and you can join their workout challenges from the comfort of your living room," she says. In addition to Nassar's Instagram, other popular accounts include Katie Crewe and Kasey Brown, who regularly post workouts you can do in at home and using nothing other than your own bodyweight.
6. Pencil it in.
No matter if you are a beginner or have been at the game for some time, Cary Williams, CEO of Boxing & Barbells, says it's important to stick with a schedule.
"You will be far more successful with your workouts and the results you get if you are on a set schedule," she says. "If you have more energy in the morning try to get in your workout before work. If working out in the evening fits better in your schedule, then get it done after work. As long as you stay consistent, you will see the results you are looking for."
7. Maintain your motivation.
Like the start of any new task, you're likely to feel a burst of inspiration when you start working out. But hanging onto it can be a struggle as time carries on. Holly Roser, a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist in San Francisco, says managing your self-talk can help keep you motivated to stick with a new fitness routine.
"Think of five positive thoughts each morning about your health and wellness and say them out loud," she says, adding that examples include "I am going to do the best I can in my workout today" or "I know I can continue to make healthy choices and see results."
"Positive self-talk can help us stay encouraged when we don't feel like going to the gym," Roser says. "Workout because you love your body, not because you hate it."
8. Go for a walk.
It sounds simple enough, but Schneider says it's important to not underestimate the benefits of simply going for a walk. "I know it doesn't sound as sexy as some of the other fitness routines out there, but it's one of the easiest to start doing," she says. "You can easily track your progress (by counting those steps or seeing how long you can actually go for) and increase the intensity on your own simply by changing your route, adding in a hill or increasing your speed."
9. Don't make food a free for all.
If you think breaking a sweat means a brownie here and there is a deserved reward, then you're not wrong. But while an occasional sweet treat is OK, Williams says it's important to keep in mind that working out does not mean you can eat whatever you want.
"You are just adding in all the calories you burned off, so you never see the changes," she says. "Hopefully, your new healthy lifestyle includes not only workouts, but a healthy diet."
10. Take a breather between workouts.
This might come as a surprise, but finding success with a workout routine means also knowing how to incorporate proper rest time, Roser says.
"If you're training back to back days, you'll want to work opposite muscle groups to prevent injury and see the best results," she says, adding that, for example, you won't want to follow up leg day with a spin class the next day. "You want to give your muscles ample rest time and spacing out your workouts will help you achieve this."
Rose recommends planning your workouts so that full body strength or HIIT days are spaced with cardio days in between and a rest day (or two) thrown into the mix.