Your Very First Exercise Program

By René Dario Herrera

If you’ve spent any time on social media, you may have seen at least one post from a fit person at the gym. They’re talking about how you’ve got to grind. Work through the physical and social discomfort and earn it. Whatever “it” is, the idea of going to the gym to exercise can be intimidating for us “normal” folk. Especially if we start making comparisons to professional exercisers, it may be demotivating, further increasing the friction that stops us from going to the gym.

screenshot of the results of an internet image search for "exercise". several thumbnails feature fit people exercising and posing

Those feelings that accompany the friction are valid, but we can work through those feelings and build the confidence necessary to break through the fiction and get out there. One way to build confidence is to have a plan for what to do at the gym.

Once we acknowledge our feelings about exercise (if any), we can move on to taking action and writing our exercise program. Don’t worry. If you’re new to exercise, this process is super simple. If your medical provider has no concerns about you beginning an exercise program, then let’s continue with making an easy-to-follow plan for improving your heart (cardiovascular) health and muscular endurance.

Writing Your Program

Once you’ve picked out your outfit and you have your exercise shoes laced up, the next step is to sit down and make a training plan. Taking a few minutes to plan out the next few weeks will give you an extra boost of confidence.

Your very first training plan is simple and you’ll only need to make four choices:

  • How many weeks will you commit to?
  • How many days per week?
  • How much time for each training session?
  • Which exercises will you choose?

You can decide this on your own, or if you prefer to make it random, roll a die to decide on any of the training variables.

When deciding on how many weeks you want to commit to, make it easy and choose from 2, 4, or 6 weeks.

Because this is the foundation for a new habit and lifestyle, you should strive to exercise on most days of the week. Decide to commit to 3, 4, or 5 days of exercise during each week of your training program.

Then decide on how much time for each session. You can experience health benefits with as little as twenty minutes of daily exercise! But adjust your daily commitment when necessary.

And last, choose which exercises you’ll be training. Because this program is meant to improve your heart health, we will be choosing from different cardiovascular machines. Your gym may have many more to choose from, but this is a basic list of what to expect.

If you have no experience with any of the equipment, ask the employees at the gym to teach you how to use the equipment safely. It’s their job to assist you. Above all, exercise should be safe.

Random Selection

Use a dice roll to add randomness to the program. Or make the decisions yourself. For example, to determine how many weeks, roll one six sided die and commit to the resulting number of weeks. In my case, I rolled a 4, and that means I’m going to commit to this plan for 4 weeks.

If you roll… Then commit to this many weeks…
1, 2 2
3, 4 4
5, 6 6

Next, you’ll decide how many days to commit to exercise training each week: 3, 4, or 5. Roll the die. I rolled: 5, 2, 5, 4.

Roll Days per week
1,2 3
3,4,5 4
6 5

Then decide how long your training sessions will be: 20,30, or 40 minutes. Roll for each week. In my case, I have four weeks that each need to have a session duration decided. I rolled the following: 2, 2, 4, 4.

Roll Session Duration (minutes)
1,2 20
3,4 30
5,6 40

Last, decide on the exercises. Because your goal is to improve our heart health, you are going to choose from various cardiovascular machines. Each exercise will need to be performed for ten minutes, and you’ll need to use math to determine how many exercises to include for each training session. I rolled: 2-3, 3-5, 1-4-3, 3-2-4.

Roll Exercise Selection
1 Treadmill
2 Elliptical
3 Stair stepper
4 Rower
5,6 Cycle

Your Training Plan

Once you’re finished, your training program will look something like this:

Week Days per week Session Duration (minutes) Exercise Selection (any order)
1 4 20 elliptical & stair stepper
2 3 20 stair stepper & cycle
3 4 30 treadmill, rower, & stair stepper
4 4 30 stair stepper, elliptical, & rower

This is the start of your new daily habit and lifestyle. Once you establish exercise and physical training as a daily habit, you can start thinking about short- and long-term goals to keep motivated.


  • You can adjust any of the variables to suit your schedule. Does 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise sound overwhelming? Do less. Does the idea of running or jogging on a treadmill frighten you? Walk instead.
  • Keep track of your progress. In my example, I’ve decided to do 15 days of exercise across the next 4 weeks. This means I’ll be training at the gym about once every other day. At the end of the four weeks, I can check back and see if I met those weekly activity goals (sessions completed that week) and if I met the total program goal (15 sessions). If I did, then it was a success! If not, then I can think about what happened during the program, make adjustments to my plan, and try again.