If you just started to work out, but are struggling to stick with it, don’t fret. Exercise gets easier—and more fun—with time and the right strategies.
There’s a good chance you know someone who is really excited about their fitness routine. For this person, working out comes to them as naturally as breathing. They actually look forward to exercising. But how does anyone get to that point? And why doesn’t working out feel like second nature to you, instead of like a chore you dread doing?
You may be experiencing something called the “beginner’s hump.” It’s that early, challenging phase when you’re brand new to exercise or just coming back after a long hiatus. You’re likely out of shape, and exerting yourself simply feels hard. The good news is that you can get past this difficult beginner’s phase and start to make incremental fitness gains. Exercising starts to feel a little easier. You start dreading it less and looking forward to it more.
Plus, when you’re just starting, it’s best not to compare yourself to seasoned fitness enthusiasts. Keep in mind that they’ve likely been working at it for some time. They may have even started with the same mindset you’re in right now. You, too, can get to that place where you don’t just tolerate (or worse, dread) exercise, but truly enjoy it. It may take some time and a bit of patience. But with the right mindset and a few key strategies, you can do it.
6 steps to help you get over the beginner’s hump
Before you take the 6 steps below, make a simple workout plan. You can even start with a basic walking routine. Aim for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week to start. Then commit to sticking with this plan for at least 3 or 4 weeks.
Once you have a few weeks behind you, you’ll probably be feeling better mentally and physically. You should start to feel like you’re getting past the beginner’s hump. You may even notice that you want to slightly increase how long, how often, and how hard you work out.
Think about using the steps below, as well, to help you get past this hard-to-stick-with phase of your new workout routine:
1. Be safe and start at your current fitness level. You can become more active no matter your age or current fitness level. But if exercise hasn’t been a big part of your life, don’t try to become a fitness guru overnight. Start where you are. And have faith that working out will get easier.
Safety should always be a top priority. If you’re not sure whether exercise is safe for you, check with your doctor. And if you have any existing health conditions, ask your doctor about activities that can help you meet your health and fitness goals in a safe way.
2. Take it (somewhat) easy. Don’t push too hard or too fast when you’re just starting. Set realistic goals and build your fitness slowly. The first few weeks often feel the hardest because you’re just starting to ramp up. Your body needs time to adjust to the new activity level. It will.
With effort and time, there’s a good chance you’ll start to feel a little stronger. Your energy, sleep, and mood may improve. Workouts will likely get easier—and maybe, eventually, fun!
3. Do what you enjoy. If you dread the treadmill or stationary bike, feel free to steer clear of them. Trying to force yourself to work out in ways that aren't fun for you is a recipe for failure.
So go hiking with friends. Try Nordic pole walking. Take up birdwatching. Add some upbeat music to your walk, run, or ride. Try dancing or taking a yoga class. You can even get active by taking your hobbies outdoors. The key is to explore and then pinpoint activities you truly enjoy doing. It’s the best way to stack the odds in your favor.
4. Choose your attitude. If you find yourself ready to skip a workout or give up in the middle of one, call on your willpower. Remind yourself of all the benefits you will reap by sticking with it. Find a way to honor your commitment, even if you need to slow your pace or take a break.
However, don't push yourself if you feel pain, if you have trouble breathing, or if your heart feels like it’s racing or pounding. In those cases, stop right away. If you don’t feel better after resting, seek medical help.
5. Get moving any way you can. Sometimes your fitness plans may simply be too grand. That can be a quick way to feel overwhelmed and defeated before you even get going. The fact is, anything that gets you moving and burns calories is a good starting point. So, if a brisk walk around the neighborhood feels doable, that’s great. It doesn't have to be a marathon. Short, easy bouts of exercise will do.
While you're at it, look for other ways to weave activity into your week as well. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to the corner market instead of driving. If you do drive, park in the back of the lot and get some extra steps in. Perform your yardwork and housework a bit more vigorously to turn these chores into little workouts.
6. Be patient. Results won’t happen overnight, but they will happen with persistence and time. Getting active may take you out of your comfort zone at first. Be patient and remind yourself it will get easier.
And even if it’s a bit of a struggle to get started, you may be surprised at how great you feel and how much progress you’re making after just a few weeks. There’s real satisfaction to getting in shape after a long period of inactivity.
Sleeping and eating well can also help you stick with your new workout routine. And you can seek inspiration by talking to people who have made the transition from unfit to fit.
If you have any health issues or haven’t been active in a while, talk with your doctor before you begin. He or she can help guide you and make sure your routine will be safe for you.
This information is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice. Please check with your doctor before using this information or beginning any self-care program. Images used for this article do not depict any members of the Silver&Fit Program.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, January 24). 6 tips to help you keep a walking regimen on track. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/6-tips-to-help-you-keep-a-walking-regimen-on-track?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WR20160616-Cholesterol&utm_id=176222&mid=11106647&ml=176222
Mayo Clinic. (2021, December 16). Fitness program: 5 steps to get started. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/fitness/art-20048269
National Institute on Aging. (2020, April 3). Staying motivated to exercise: Tips for older adults. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/staying-motivated-exercise-tips-older-adults#motivated
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans (2nd edition). https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
This article was written by Jason Nielsen, edited by Gail Olson, and clinically reviewed by Elizabeth Thompson, MPH, RD.