General Fitness Overview For Beginners


Physical fitness can be considered “tune-up and maintenance of our body, the machine.”  Take a minute to consider the similarities between your body and a machine. 

They both require fuel/energy to run, regular maintenance to run smoothly, in machines when belts and gaskets are overused they break and in humans when muscles and tendons are overused they also break.

Belts must be tightened for optimum performance and muscles must be strengthened for the same reason; when something goes wrong in one part of a machine or the body, the whole thing begins operating below optimal standards. 

There are 5 components to fitness: cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, endurance, and body composition.


–        The #1 killer in America is poor heart and circulation system efficiency

–        Aerobic exercise means exercise which uses oxygen

–        The aerobic energy system supplies all of the energy for low to moderate-intensity exercise and activities of daily living

–        The anaerobic energy system means work without oxygen. The anaerobic activity cannot be sustained for more than two minutes and uses carbohydrates as its primary energy source. 

Exercises in this category are high-intensity cardiovascular exercise such as sprinting, as well as exercises such as weight lifting


–        In order to become stronger, you must overload the muscle.  That is, get it to do more than it previously has (you are challenging the muscle like you challenge your brain when you learn). 

–        Overload occurs through increasing the weight or the number of repetitions.

–        A repetition is one instance of the exercise, such as one sit-up

–        A set is several instances of an exercise without a rest in between.

–        Your one repetition maximum is the maximum amount of weight you can lift one time and one time only.


–        Lack of flexibility can cause strains, sprains, back pain, and poor posture.

–         The most common muscle lacking flexibility is the hamstrings, leading to strains of the hamstring, and low back and knee pain. Back pain can also because by weak abdominals.

–        A proper stretch can be executed only after the muscle has been warmed up and it must be held for a minimum of 30 seconds without bouncing.

–        When you stretch, you will feel a tightness in your muscles which is slightly uncomfortable by dissipates after 15 or 20 seconds


–        Endurance relates to how long you can maintain a given activity

–        Muscular endurance refers to how many repetitions you can complete or how long you can sustain a single muscular contraction

–        Cardiovascular endurance refers to how long you can sustain cardiovascular activity at a given intensity level.

Body Composition

–        Body composition is the combination of fat to muscle and bone

–        Over 30 percent of body fat is considered obese

–        The healthy woman has between 18 and 22 percent body fat

–        Less than nine percent body fat in women can result in cessation of menstruation

–        Healthy men have  14-17% body fat

–        When using some of the newer bathroom scales which claim to measure body fat, you must use the scales which are designed for your activity level. 

The regular body fat bathroom scales will greatly overestimate body fat in athletes.  They have special bathroom scales for the athletic individual.

Exercise Profile

Have you exercised within the last two months? ________

Have you had a physical within the past year? _________

If you answered “no” to either of the above questions or if you have any known physical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma you should get medical clearance before beginning any exercise program.

The American Heart Association recommends working in your target heart rate range for at least 30 minutes three times a week. 

Nevertheless, most Americans do not work out at all; therefore, any exercise is a step in the right direction.

–        What is your resting heart rate?  (Take your pulse first thing in the morning before you get out of bed) __________  Average is between 60 and 80 beats per minute.

–        What is your target heart rate range?  (This is 60 to 85% of your max heart rate)

220-__________  – ________________     .60 =  _______      _________ =   _____

       your age           your resting heart rate                               your resting heart rate         60%

220-__________  – ________________     .85  =  _______      ________ =     _____

       your age           your resting heart rate                               your resting heart rate       85%

In order to create an exercise program that you will not quit, you must choose exercises that you enjoy at a proper intensity in duration so you don’t get frustrated and quit. 

That is, do not go from doing anything to trying to run 5 miles.  You will be in agony.

What do you like about exercise? Circle any that apply.

Stress relief       weight loss        opportunity to socialize renewed energy

meeting people with similar interests          sense of accomplishment       muscle definition

better sleep       reduced appetite              increased fitness level personal challenge

What do you dislike about exercise?

Pain      sweat     time commitment         don’t know how                 feel out of place

get bored easily               other: ________________________________

What are your fitness goals?

Weight loss       increased cardiovascular fitness toning     increased strength

Stress relief       blood pressure reduction             diabetes control    other:

What activities do you enjoy?

Walking            hiking        jogging        weight lifting      cycling           stair climbing      

team sports       roller blading     tennis   swimming         house cleaning       dancing

instructor-led classes         cardiovascular machines                    lifting free weights

stretching          Tae-Bo       Yoga     Pilates        other:

Set a fitness goal for yourself

I_________________________ will _______________________ at least ____ times

                                                                                                       Name the exercise

 per week for a period of not less than ______ minutes on any exercise day.

General Fitness Principles

The average person aims for 30-40 minutes of cardiovascular activity three times per week at 60-85 percent of their target heart rate range, and strength training three times a week with exercises for every body part at a rate of 1-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions

–        you should incorporate both cardiovascular and strength training exercises

–        strength training exercises should never be done on consecutive days.  Your body needs at least 48 hours of recovery before you can use the same muscles to strength train again.

–        Cardiovascular exercise can be done up to seven days a week, but if you are working in your target heart rate zone you should give yourself at least one day of rest per week.

–        If you have not been working out consistently or intensely, start slowly!

–        Begin your fitness program by increasing the amount of cardiovascular activity you do by 10 minutes each work out the day until you reach 30-40 minutes three times per week. 

Then begin increasing the amount of time you spend in your target heart rate range by 3-5 minutes per week.

–        Begin your strength training workouts with 3 to 6 different exercises.  For each exercise, complete one set of 12-15 repetitions. 

For example squats, abdominal crunches, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and chest press.

–        For general fitness, your strength training goal should be 1-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions for every body part.  This can usually be accomplished with 8-12 different exercises.

Strength Training for Bulk

Your goal should be to work out each body part one to two times per week with an emphasis on developing muscular balance. 

–        For each exercise you choose, find the weight at which you can only do one repetition.  This is your maximal weight.  You should do 80-90 percent of that weight for 4-6 repetitions and complete 3-5 sets.

–        Always work out the agonist and the antagonist.  The agonist is the muscle that is currently performing an activity. 

The antagonist is the muscle that opposes that motion for instance the biceps/triceps or the hamstrings/quadriceps.

–        For simplicity, you can generally split the body into front and back.  In the front, you’ll find the agonist and in the back, you’ll find the antagonist.

–        Generally, agonist and antagonist should be able to lift similar weights.

–        It takes muscles approximately one week to completely recover from the microscopic tears made during weight training. 

This is why you should not heavily strength train the same muscles more than two to three times a week.

Strength Training to Tone

–        For general fitness, your strength training goal should be 1-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions for every body part.  This can usually be accomplished with 8-12 different exercises.

–        For each exercise you choose, find the weight at which you can only do one repetition.  This is your maximal weight.  You should do 70-80  percent of that weight for 8-12 repetitions and complete 3-5 sets.

–        Refer to the guidelines set forth in strength training (above) regarding creating balanced workouts

Strength Training for Weight loss:

–        Weight lifting increases muscle mass, which in turn increases your resting metabolism at a rate of approximately 50 extra calories burned per day for every new pound of muscle added.

–        There is no such thing as spot reducing (Sorry!) Our bodies are programmed to store certain percentages of our body fat in certain places. 

When we lose weight, initially we’ll use it from one or two places, but after six to eight weeks our body redistributes the remaining fat in order to restore the appropriate proportions. 

For example, women intend to lose weight from their face, chest, and waist first even though their goal is to lose weight from their hips and thighs. 

If she can maintain her lowered body fat percentage for 6-8 weeks, some of the fat from her hips and thighs will be redistributed into her face and chest.

–        The best weight loss program incorporates at least 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day at least four days per week with that least three days of lightweight training.

–        Is extremely important not to neglect your nutrition. If your body perceives itself as starving it will: 1) feed off its own muscle tissue to get protein and 2) lower its resting metabolism because it perceives itself as starving. Note: see the chapter on nutrition for more information.

–        Cardiovascular exercise will burn calories rapidly.  Weight lifting will build muscle to increase resting metabolism.  A proper diet will help expedite the process.

If your weight problem is due to emotional eating or binge eating, there are psychological issues that need to be dealt with before you can achieve lasting weight loss.