Exercise - Level 1 - Getting Started

By: Dr. Gary Huber

Posted 01/23/2023

This article is preceded by the article, "Exercise - The Beginners Guide" which details what is defined as Level 1. If you have not read that article you may find it helpful. It contains a simple “Challenge Test” to gauge your level of fitness. Level 1 is defined as having no exercise experience or in significantly deteriorated fitness due to excess weight or illness. Someone at Level 1 may need complete guidance in how to initiate an exercise program and likely would be unable to walk a mile without significant exertion.


If this is your first introduction to exercise then a good place to start is to simply increase the amount of walking you do. Buy a good pedometer or download an APP to your phone and wear it every day. Monitor your total step count with a goal to reach 10,000 steps daily. Begin to make it a habit of going for more aggressive intentional walks where you increase the pace and exertion and cover a mile or more. Often times this simple intention leads to taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking on the far end of the lot. This is indeed a GREAT start. 

Walk – Jog – Walk

Once you habitually walk more than 10,000 steps per day, consider adding a short amount of jogging to your walks. Make sure that you have proper footwear that is designed to absorb road shock to protect your joints. Simply pick items on your walking route to act as targets. Select a mailbox, parked car, tree or other stationary item and jog to it at a pace faster than your walking speed. Start with a distance of just 20 yards. Then return to walking and catch your breath. Then find another target and go again. Aim to get 4 jogging intervals into your walk. Slowly over time increase the length and number of jogging episodes. The goal is to have 8 jogs of 100 yards. You may even consider jogging non-stop for a whole mile over time. Holy cow!!

 Aerobic exercise

Other outlets for aerobic training besides walking and running include bicycling either outdoors or stationary indoors, swimming, dance, Zumba, Jazzercize, or any activity that elevated your heart rate into an appropriate range. See the article titled “Heart Rate Targets” on this website for guidance. It will help you better understand how to judge your aerobic exertion.

If you are in search of videos or equipment you can explore a website called “Perform Better .com” to view videos ("Training Zone") that demonstrate how to perform various exercises. They also offer a wide variety of high quality equipment.  

Stretching  (see the article on this website entitled “Stretching” for more detail)

Stretching can be a great non-threatening way to engage in a new direction toward a life of physical fitness. I recommend Charlie Trezevants “Functional Flexibility” DVD as a guide to proper stretching. If this is to be your primary exercise then plan to dedicate at least 30 minutes 3 times a week to this activity. Coupling this with a walking program is a nice platform to begin your rejuvenation towards better physical fitness.


Yoga is a gentle yet physically challenging exercise. I consider it more of a resistance exercise as it truly taxes your physical strength more than your aerobic capacity. Yoga also teaches you stretching and proper breathing. Many consider yoga a form of meditation but then again all forms of exercise are a form of meditation as they force you to focus on a single objective and take your mind out of the world of multi-tasking. There are many forms of yoga and we recommend that you try several to arrive at a level and routine that suits your needs. Yoga is best first attempted with an instructor that can guide you and gauge your level of function. If this is not available to you then try a simple DVD at home.  One brand that I have found particularly beneficial is “Giaim” as they offer a whole series of yoga DVD’s for every level of fitness you can imagine from beginner to expert and even sport-specific yoga versions.

Wii Fit

The Wii gaming system has many physical fitness programs to offer. Their newer version “Wii Fitness Plus” offers all sorts of fun activities including yoga, strength training, aerobics like running, hula hoop, obstacle course, and some other selections that are just fun and active. If you have a Wii gaming system and enjoy a solo activity in the privacy of your home then this is a great way to start your new exercise habit or simply add a new flavor to your present routine.

Resistance training

The old standard was to lift dumbbells and barbells but today there are many more options to choose from. Free weights are still and always will be an excellent approach to gaining strength and burning fat. This website contains an ample series of videos demonstrating weight resistance exercises that you can learn and master. Be sure to learn a balanced approach such that if you work the bicep muscles of the arm then you will want to balance that by working the triceps, which is the direct opposing muscle to the bicep. If you work your back muscles then certainly work your abdominal muscles for balance. This applies as a general rule for all strength exercises. As noted above, I recommend a visit to “Perform Better .com” website for a look at the Training Zone videos available there. Other strength or resistance exercises can be accomplished using rubber resistance bands, exercise balls, kettlebells or an assortment of other tools. Don’t feel limited to dumbbells if they feel uncomfortable to you.

Multi-Joint Movements

Every exercise program should involve some type of resistance training and at Level 1 it is recommended that you learn some of the basic multi-joint lifts as a whole-body conditioning program. The basic squat or deadlift is one of the best all-round exercises for anyone to learn. Other greats include the clean and press using dumbbells, the burpee, and the walking lunge. See our video detailing these lifts and practice them to achieve perfection. If you are unsure of your technique then hire a trainer to teach you these moves using proper form. A book that offers videos embedded in the iPad version is "The new rules of lifting supercharged" by Alwyn Cosgrove. I find it simple and clear and doesn't require a ton of fancy equipment to engage. 

Functional Training   **This is a key concept**

This simple concept is one that I highly recommend you explore and master over the course of the next few weeks to months as it is THE FASTEST, MOST EFFICIENT AND AGGRESSIVE PATH TO WEIGHT LOSS. Functional exercise has many definitions but for now we will simply call it a series of stations that include aerobic, resistance and multi-joint movements that are performed back-to-back. The idea is to set a timer that dictates a specific exercise interval followed by a short rest cycle before starting anew at the next station. A typical set up for your first functional exercise session might include 5 or 6 stations, each detailing a different exercise that lasts for 20 seconds, followed by a rest cycle that lasts for 20 seconds. These assigned times for work and rest can be altered across a broad scale. 

Let’s arrange a sample of that now:

  • Station 1: bench press with dumbbells – 20 pounds in each hand
  • Station 2: treadmill set at a small incline and a modest pace
  • Station 3: squat with 15-pound dumbbells in each hand
  • Station 4: sit-ups with feet under a solid object for stabilization
  • Station 5: burpees at a moderate pace
  • Station 6: pulldowns on a lat machine – 40 pounds.

A simple device called a GymBoss (there is an APP) can be used to keep you on track. This device is nothing more than a "dual" timer that you can set for whatever interval you desire. In this example, we will set it to beep every 20 seconds signifying the end of a work or rest cycle. We will work station 1 for 20 seconds not bothering to count reps, just do dumbbell presses until the GymBoss beeps and them move to the next station. When the GymBoss beeps again, start jogging on the treadmill until you hear the next beep. No clock to watch and no repetitions to count, just focus on your form and technique. After you finish the first lap around the 6 stations you can begin your second lap or if you are extremely winded take a 2-cycle break to catch your breath. Continue this routine for 20 to 30 minutes. As you grow stronger then you can increase any of the multiple variables to make it more challenging. Over time you will want to increase the work interval to 30 or even 40 seconds while you keep the rest interval very brief at 15 to 20 seconds.

Planning a week of exercise

You now have general guidelines regarding the performance of some aerobic, resistance and functional exercises. Let’s assemble a typical week of exercise and define some guidelines.

I strongly recommend assigning a time in your weekly schedule for your exercise activity. Do not allow yourself to simply rely on “when it’s convenient”, or “when I get around to it”. On a weekly basis sit down and write into your weekly calendar when and what you will be doing. Exercising in the morning or at least before 1PM is always best as that is when we are most energetic and most likely to complete our task. As the day wears on we are far more likely to find excuses why we can’t possibly fit our exercise in today.

At this stage I recommend that you start with three 30-minute sessions weekly for the first month. Gain some consistency and prove to yourself that this is going to be enjoyable and rewarding. If you have chosen to do the walking program then certainly that can occur every day, but allow yourself one day a week to rest and not be expected to reach your 10,000 step goal. If you are going to exercise three times a week then select an aerobic effort or two, as well as a resistance exercise session or two to get started. After you have mastered a few of these options then consider putting together a functional training routine of your own making after a month of aerobic and resistance training.

As the weeks progress and you feel more confident then try to expand your exercise routines to 4 or 5 times per week. At this point it is reasonable to expect that some days of training will be more intense than others. This is an important component of balancing your workouts. Plan for two of your workouts to be more intense and expect more of yourself, with stronger exertions. Then allow 2 or 3 of your other workouts to be a little gentler and perhaps shorter as you use these efforts as “recovery” workouts. On days when you feel strong then go for it and challenge yourself to accomplish more. Some days you may feel like skipping the workout all together but avoid this temptation by allowing yourself to have an “easy day” where the intensity of the workout is less exertional. This is the balance of exercise and it is more important that you keep your self-made appointments to maintain a good exercise habit.

A reminder that if you struggle then find a good trainer to offer first hand personal assistance.

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