How to Successfully Start a Strength and Cardio Workout Routine

Getting regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your short- and long-term health. The benefits of exercise are countless, like improved endurance, flexibility, strength, and self-confidence. 

But, starting a workout routine can be daunting. Having a plan in place and some example beginner workout routines handy can help.

woman exercising at home on a yoga mat

How to Plan Your Workout

When you’re preparing to start working out, making a plan is the first step toward your success. 

Just like when preparing a meal, you first decide on the recipe and gather all the ingredients you need to ensure the cooking process goes smoothly. 

Planning a workout also requires careful consideration of a few important factors to make it work for you.

woman laying on a yoga mat looking on a laptop

Your current fitness level

When starting a new workout routine, it’s important to assess where you are to help prevent injuries. For instance, if you haven’t undergone the appropriate amount of physical training and preparation to run a 10K, you don’t just start out trying to go for a 5-mile run. 

You might simply start by walking, and that’s okay. Have patience in the journey toward achieving your goals. Everybody starts somewhere, and everyone has different fitness goals.

man walking with the ocean in the background

Your goals

It won’t be very enjoyable if you don’t design a workout plan with goals in mind. Furthermore, a workout routine without goals is difficult to sustain. Take a moment to figure out what you genuinely want from starting a workout routine. 

Write down your goals and put them somewhere that you can refer to regularly. This will help you keep them at the forefront of your mind, providing motivation when you need it most. Make sure these are SMART goals, meaning they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based.

Your limitations

To create SMART workout goals, consider any limitations that may be present. This may include physical limitations like disabilities and injuries, or conditions like asthma or low bone density. 

If any of these limitations are present, you can still meet your fitness goals, it just requires a bit more intentional safety planning.

Your likes and dislikes

Starting a workout routine shouldn’t cause more stress or become a chore. Instead, consider activities you already enjoy doing or are interested in doing. 

This could include a mix of things like using a row machine, playing tennis, swimming laps, lifting dumbbells, and doing yoga. Or perhaps you’re interested in working out with others in a group fitness setting or 1:1 with a personal trainer. 

There is no right or wrong structure – it’s all about what you enjoy and will get you coming back for more.

group of four people working out outside on yoga mats

Your schedule

Working out should be a priority as part of a healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean it has to take the place of everything else you already like to do. The best way to design an exercise plan that works well for you is to ensure it’s doable long-term. 

For instance, if you know you have to be focused on work from 9 am-5 pm, consider whether early morning or evening workouts are more feasible most days of the week. Take a look at your schedule, figure out some regular times that can be dedicated to your new workout routine, and then incorporate it into your schedule.

Staying Hydrated

One of the essential parts of working out is staying hydrated. Somewhere between 50-70% of your body weight is made up of water that needs to be replenished regularly. 

You’re constantly losing water through urination, excretion, and body temperature regulation from daily activities. But even more is lost when you’re sweating during a workout. 

While severe dehydration is dangerous, even being mildly dehydrated can make you feel fatigued and weak. That’s why it’s important to stay ahead of it and prioritize good old H2O.

water pouring from a glass water jug

Best fluids for hydration

The best fluid to refill your body’s stores is plain water. Keep water with you during your workout at all times, and sip it regularly in between sets to help prevent dehydration. Most gyms will have a water fountain available to refill whenever you need to. 

You can try a few other things if you get bored with plain water. For example, add some natural flavoring agents to your water bottle, like a slice of lemon or cucumber, fresh herbs, or berries, and allow them to infuse your water overnight before removing. 

Other beverages, like milk, juices, smoothies, and water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, can also contribute to your daily fluid needs.

If you’re prone to excessive sweating or notice that you get headaches during or after a tough workout, you might benefit from some added electrolytes in your water. 

There are plenty of electrolyte replacement powders designed to hydrate and replete things like sodium, potassium, and chloride to prevent imbalances.

How much fluid do you need?

According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an adequate daily fluid intake for most people is:

  • About 15 ½ cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men – or 4 refills of a reusable water bottle
  • About 11 ½ cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women – or 3 refills of a reusable water bottle

The best way to tell whether you’re getting enough fluids is to check your urine. Ideally, your urine should be a pale yellow color. Clear urine indicates overhydration. 

On the other hand, the more dehydrated you are, the darker yellow the color will be.

Woman and Man Drinking Water

Supporting Your Workout With the Best Nutrition

Adequate nutrition is a key element in leading an active lifestyle. After all, what you put in your body can make or break how well you perform, how much energy you have, and the results you achieve.

You can equate nutrition to fueling up your car. For your vehicle to run at its best, it requires the appropriate type, quality, and amount of fuel in its gas tank. If you don’t fill it up correctly, your car isn’t going to make it very far, if it even runs at all. 

You would never intentionally fill up your car with the wrong gas or not fill it enough to make it to your desired destination. Your body deserves the same attention as a car that needs fuel. 

So what kinds of foods are best for fueling your workouts? A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins is ideal for overall health. This also means minimizing ultra-processed products like fast foods and sugary beverages. 

Your body needs a healthy mix of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Refined carbs like snack bars, white bread, and other easily digested sugar can provide quick bursts of energy during a longer workout, while complex carbs like whole grains can help fuel you more slowly for a prolonged period. 

Pair these carbs with healthy fats, like peanut butter or avocados, and protein, like lean deli meats or tofu. Post-workout food ideas include fruit smoothies, granola with yogurt, almond butter on toast, or chocolate milk.

woman eating a salad in front of a laptop

How to Track Your Progress

Just like any other goal, tracking your progress with your workouts is an important step in achieving your desired goal. If you don’t track your progress, you won’t be able to identify what changes you’re experiencing, let alone know what is leading to those changes. 

Think of tracking your workout progress like keeping a journal, only for your exercise habits and the progression of your physical abilities and body composition changes. The Nutriology app is a great place to track your progress.

What kinds of things should you track? Consider the following: 

  • Exercise habits: Record what you’re doing and how it’s working — or not — for you and your goals. What time of day works best for you? How many workouts per week are the most realistic and sustainable for your schedule? What types of exercise do you like the most, and which are the most challenging?
  • Exercise progress: As you continue to exercise more, your workouts will become easier. This includes both your ability to endure longer workouts, use certain types of machines and equipment, and lift heavier weights. Keep track of your reps and sets of certain exercises, weights, and the amount of cardio you begin with and how this increases over time.
  • Body composition changes: This doesn’t need to get too technical. If you want to jump on the scale every so often, you could record your weight changes over time. However, you could also simply keep photos of your progressions that you can look back on. Photos can show you how your body composition changes as you continue to stay consistent with your workouts.
Father and son looking in a bathroom mirror

Importance of Strength Training

In addition to working out your heart and lungs with cardio exercises, a well-rounded workout routine should also incorporate strength and resistance training. This type of exercise helps break down muscle fibers and builds them back even stronger. 

Hence, this helps you build lean muscle and produce workout gains!

Strength training may involve body weights and/or equipment — like dumbbells, barbells, weight machines, and resistance bands — to build muscle mass and strength.

Examples of strength training include: 

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Lawnmower rows
  • Fire hydrants
  • Lunges
  • Pushups
  • Chest press
  • Tricep dips
  • Glute bridges
Man and woman weight training

Importance of Cardio

Cardio exercise is good for your heart, lungs, joints, brain, blood, and skin. It also benefits your mood, energy, sleep, and stress level. Cardio workouts are about improving your physical and respiratory endurance. 

Examples of cardio exercises include: 

  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Hiking 
  • Dancing
  • Jumping rope
  • Rollerblading 
  • Jumping on the trampoline 
  • Bicycling
  • Hula-hooping
  • Rowing 
  • Playing organized sports like tennis, football, basketball, and baseball
family of three on bikes smiling at each other

5-Day Workout Routine for Weight Loss and Developing Lean Muscle

If your primary goal for working out is to lose weight initially, your workouts should focus on a combination of strength and cardio exercises. Below is an example of a 5-day workout routine that can be used to support healthy weight loss and maintenance. 

Before beginning a new workout plan, always speak with your healthcare provider to ensure it’s safe for you.

Day 1

Warmup – complete 1 round

  • Pike Up Down Dog Stretch – 10 reps 
  • Knee Raises – 10 reps 

Core – complete 2 rounds

  • Bird Dogs -10 reps per side 
  • McGill Crunch Holds – 3 reps, 10 seconds each 

Circuit – complete 3 rounds

  • Body Weight Hip – 10 reps 
  • Squats with Arm Raises – 10 reps
  • Push Ups – 10 reps 
  • High Knees – 30 seconds 

Cooldown – complete 1 round

  • Child’s Pose – 30 seconds
  • Lying Figure Four – 30 seconds per side 

You can download this workout along with a 5 Day Fat Loss – Focused Workout Guide and view a video demonstration of this Day 1 workout.

Day 2

Warmup – complete 1 round

  • Quadruped Thoracic Rotation- 10 reps per side 
  • Step Back, Reach Back- 10 reps per side 

Core – complete 2 rounds

  • Elbow Plank Holds – 3 reps, 10 seconds each 
  • Glute Bridge – 10 reps 

Circuit – complete 3 rounds

  • Reverse Lunges -10 reps per side 
  • Bentover Back Fly – 10 reps
  • Lateral Split Squat – 10 reps per side 
  • Side Shuffle – 30 seconds 

Cooldown – complete 1 round

  • Arm Across Body Stretch – 30 seconds per side 
  • Standing Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch – 30 seconds per side 

You can download this workout along with a 5 Day Fat Loss – Focused Workout Guide and view a video demonstration of this Day 2 workout.

Day 3

Warmup – complete 1 round

  • Arm Circles, both directions – 10 reps 
  • Single Leg Hamstring Scoops – 10 reps per side 

Core – complete 2 rounds

  • Feet Push Outs – 10 reps 
  • Side Plank Holds – 3 reps per side, 10 seconds each  

Circuit – complete 3 rounds

  • Single Deadlift -10 reps per side 
  • Plank Knee Drive – 10 reps alternating
  • Curtsy Lunges – 10 reps per side 
  • Jumping Jacks – 30 seconds 

Cooldown – complete 1 round

  • Chess Stretch – 30 seconds per side 
  • Lat and Side Stretch – 30 seconds per side 

You can download this workout along with a 5 Day Fat Loss – Focused Workout Guide and view a video demonstration of this Day 3 workout.

Day 4

Warmup – complete 1 round

  • Standing Chest Openers – 10 reps 
  • Hip Openers – 10 reps 

Core – complete 2 rounds

  • Chest Lifts – 10 reps 
  • Single Leg Bridge, leg across – 10 reps 

Circuit – complete 3 rounds

  • Squat to Arm Pull Back -10 reps 
  • Pike Up to Push Up – 10 reps
  • Split Squat – 10 reps per side 
  • Skaters – 30 seconds 

Cooldown – complete 1 round

  • Hands behind Back Shoulder Stretch – 30 seconds per side 
  • Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch – 30 seconds per side 

You can download this workout along with a 5 Day Fat Loss – Focused Workout Guide and view a video demonstration of this Day 4 workout.

Day 5

Warmup – complete 1 round

  • Book Openers – 10 reps per side 
  • Body Weight Squat – 10 reps 

Core – complete 2 rounds

  • Full Plank Knee Drops – 10 reps 
  • Marching Glute Bridges – 10 reps 

Circuit – complete 3 rounds

  • Pulse Squats -10 reps 
  • Standing Pull Down – 10 reps
  • Lateral Lunges – 10 reps per side 
  • Side-to-side Hops – 30 seconds 

Cooldown – complete 1 round

  • Tricep stretch, overhead – 30 seconds per side 
  • Adductor Stretch – 30 seconds per side

You can download this workout along with a 5 Day Fat Loss – Focused Workout Guide and view a video demonstration of this Day 5 workout.

Tips for a Better Workout

We all have our share of bad days along with the good ones, and this applies to your workouts as well. While you may not be able to prevent all “off” days, there are some things you can put into practice to help minimize them and, in turn, optimize your workouts. 

  • Get a good night’s rest, following a regular sleeping pattern as much as possible.
  • Take regular rest days, at least 1-2 times per week.
  • Rotate your muscle groups to give them time to rest and repair between workouts.
  • Stay hydrated and eat well even on your rest days.
  • Bring energizing music or an uplifting podcast to listen to. 
  • Give yourself positive affirmations and rewards for your progress and commitment.
  • Include time for a warm-up and cool-down.
  • Work on your flexibility with regular stretching. 
  • Avoid unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Practice other methods of stress management to support your mental and emotional health.
woman doing a body squat

Key Takeaways

Getting started with exercise can feel challenging, but with the right preparation, plan, and goals, you can find success in your new healthy lifestyle habit. 

Regular exercise offers numerous benefits for your health. A combination of strength and cardio exercises can help support healthy weight loss and improve your strength, endurance, flexibility, and longevity. Take it one day at a time, and be patient with your progress.

Follow Nutriology on Instagram and check out the Nutriology blog for workouts, recipes, and healthy lifestyle tips that you can incorporate into your life.

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Written by Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She also enjoys writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics. Find her at www.laurenpanoff.com.

References

Water: How much should you drink every day? Mayo Clinic. Published 12 Oct 2022. Retrieved 8 Feb 2023. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256

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