Find the Best Workout for You

Ready to get moving? Here's expert advice on finding a fitness routine you'll want to do.

From the WebMD Archives

Want to start exercising but hate the gym? Short on time or motivation? Or maybe you're feeling so out of shape that you don't know where to start?

There is hope, experts say. All you have to do is focus on exercising in a way that suits your personality, lifestyle, and fitness level.

If You Can't Stand the Gym

Never fear. You can still get in shape because movement -- the very thing needed for increased fitness -- can take place anywhere.

"Take a walk, ride a bike, or go for a hike," says Scott Lucett, director of education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. "Or perform an exercise routine outdoors at a park using your own body weight." Ideas include pushups, squats, squat jumps, crunches, and planks.

Also consider outdoor group classes. They're taking place at parks all over the country, even during winter, and many invite children and babies to join in. If classes aren't your style, look into an adult recreational league. They're in every city and cover sports from soccer to ultimate Frisbee.

If You're Seriously Out of Shape

Take it slow and look for activities that will give you a more active lifestyle, says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.

"Exergames like Wii Fit are a good way to take someone who's a couch potato and give them a little exercise," Bryant says. "By doing something that might be a bit more fun, you might be able to sneak in a little dose of exercise. And the intensity tends to be low or moderate."

Look for simple opportunities to move during your daily routine. "Wear a pedometer and make it a goal to take more and more steps each day with the ultimate goal of getting up to 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day," Bryant says.

Lucett suggests beginners start with 10-minute walks -- 5 minutes out and 5 minutes back -- then gradually increase that by 2 or 3 minutes each week. "The next thing you know," Lucett says, "you'll be walking 30 minutes a day." He also says, though, that people who are seriously out of shape should get approval from their doctor before beginning any exercise program.

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If You're Social

Group activities may be your best way to get in shape. Groups allow social butterflies to be around lots of people and enjoy camaraderie while also getting fit. Dancing is one of the most popular group activities.

If you like the gym, consider Zumba, the newest group exercise craze. That will get you moving and burning calories to Latin dance rhythms. Other choices include country line dancing, swing, salsa, hip hop, or ballroom dancing. If you have two left feet -- and no intention of reforming -- consider a running, walking, cycling, or hiking club. You'll share a common theme for your exercise, and you'll also enjoy the social networking that takes place outside the workouts.

If You Need Some Pointers

Consider hiring a certified professional. Walter Thompson, PhD, of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), says you should do the homework and find someone who's educated, experienced, and certified by a reputable organization such as the ACSM.

Many personal trainers are highly educated and experienced and have nationally recognized degrees and certifications. They tailor workouts to individual needs and frequently work with health care professionals to make special programs, like for people who are pregnant, elderly, on the mend, or physically challenged.

If you can't afford private sessions, consider teaming up with a friend or two -- or taking a group exercise class conducted by a trainer. Many group exercise instructors -- and even some experienced gym employees -- can be very knowledgeable about fitness.

If You Need Some Tough Love

Boot camps are another option that might suit you, especially if you're motivated by someone yelling at you. Named after the basic training that military troops undergo, boot camps are becoming increasingly popular around the country. They range from the mild to the maniacal, but all offer coaching and direction in a group setting.

In addition to a quasi-personal coach, you'll have the added benefit of peer pressure and competition in a boot camp. Everyone will be pushing to perform at maximum capacity, which will maximize your workouts and keep you motivated.

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If You Have No Time

If getting to the gym seems impossible, just do your workouts at work.

"Try working out at your desk. Do dips on your chair. Drop down and do some pushups off the edge of your desk. Get some resistance bands and do bicep curls and tricep extensions," says certified personal trainer Lisa De Los Santos.

If you can get to the gym, do a circuit training routine by moving from machine to machine without rest. The key is to keep moving and keep your heart rate as high as possible. If you prefer free weights, just double up on your moves, adding short bursts of cardio -- like jumping on and off a weight bench -- in between each.

"Try combination moves, such as a squat and bicep curl as one exercise," Bryant says. "You're getting your biceps, shoulders, and lower body involved in one movement. And rather than eight to 12 exercises, you can do it in three to four."

Another suggestion is a combination push-up with an alternating lateral row. This will simultaneously work your chest, triceps, and shoulders along with the lats and biceps. "You'll also work on those important core stabilizers to maintain proper body position," Bryant says. "It's the entire upper body."

Start with one pushup. Then remain in the top position while grabbing a free weight with your right arm. Flex it, then pull backward, keeping your arm close to your chest. Move to your left arm. Repeat.

If You're on a Tight Budget

You don't need a gym membership to exercise. "With some free resistance, called gravity, bodyweight exercises can be easily performed at home, parks, or the beach," Lucett says. "It's a very affordable, flexible, and enjoyable way to get your exercise."

Try squats, lunges, pushups with different hand positions, walking lunges with torso rotations, long jumps, bridges with knee extensions, and bear crawls, which are done by walking on all fours.

Want to create your own home gym? De Los Santos says it isn't expensive and that you only need a few resistance bands, some dumbbells, and a stability ball to create unlimited workouts. No idea what to do with all that equipment? Hit the Internet or DVDs for videos.

And don't forget local recreation centers, which offer a variety of inexpensive activities options, usually at a fraction of the price of private clubs. For example, many recreation centers offer low-cost tennis lessons, which can be a pricey activity elsewhere.

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If You Need a Challenge

Take whatever you're already doing to the next level.

"If you're into strength training, sign up for a body building show," De Los Santos says. "If you're into cardio, do an endurance event like a half marathon or marathon. If you like variety, try a triathlon."

According to the International Triathlon Union, triathlons are one of the fastest-growing adult sports in the world, with an estimated 6 million adults participating annually. And they aren't all Ironman competitions. Most people try a sprint triathlon first, which is typically a 500 meter swim, followed by a 20K bike ride, and a 5K run.

The point: Set a big goal for yourself, whether it's a marathon, triathlon, or challenging hike. Then break down that goal into smaller, more realistic goals.

If You Can't Touch Your Toes

Stretching increases range of motion, allowing you to perform more exercises with better results. And according to several studies, it can even decrease sensitive areas called "trigger points." Stretches should be held for 20 to 30 seconds each -- with no bouncing.

If You're Easily Bored

Look for cross training options such as cycling, swimming, and running. Bryant recommends changing your main activity every six to eight weeks. Alternatively, you can mix up each workout.

"Rather than getting on the elliptical for 45 minutes, do just 15 minutes, then do 15 on the treadmill and 15 on circuit training," Bryant says. "The next workout, take part in a group exercise program."

Remember, exercise doesn't have to come in a traditional package of cardio and weights. The options are endless. Go dancing, ice skating, or roller skating. Play Frisbee golf. Hit the jungle gym. Hike your local trails.

"They will all keep you moving, and that's the name of the game," Lucett says.

It also helps to find people with whom you enjoy exercising.

"The best thing is to connect with a group of people, whether that's a water aerobics class or a group you ride with," De Los Santos says. "The key is to create a social network of people that you relate to. That's what is going to keep you coming back. Everybody wants someone they can relate with. After all, who wants to be lonely?"

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on November 22, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer, American Council on Exercise.

Scott Lucett, director of education, National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Lisa De Los Santos, certified personal trainer, Cooper Institute.

Clark, M. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training.

News release, American College of Sports Medicine.

International Triathlon Union.

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