How to Start Exercising For Couch Potatoes – 2 Common Mistakes To Avoid

It’s not easy to start exercising if you’ve been sedentary for a long time. It’s even trickier if you’re obese and seriously out of shape.

And it you’re in your forties or older, you have to take into account the fact that what worked for you when you were twenty probably won’t work for you today.

Here are two – in my experience – common mistakes you want to avoid when you start exercising. Keeping them in mind might save you some time and frustration in your journey to a fit body.

Mistake 1: Not Taking Into Account Your Fitness Level

Ready-made fitness programs like Jillian’s 30-Day Shred can be great sources of inspiration, but it makes me cringe every time when someone who has been sedentary for years takes on a workout that is too intense. It usually ends up in frustration, discouragement or even injury.

This might sound obvious, but often people blindly follow some program even if their body signals it’s too much for them. If you’re shaking and nauseous after a workout, it’s too intense for you. Another sure-fire sign that you’re training too hard is that you start dreading your workouts beforehand.


If you’re in a poor shape, you might consider answering the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) before you begin exercising. You can also test your level of physical fitness yourself (this is a good idea for many reasons). I have a post about DIY fitness tests you can do at home with little equipment.

Of course, an ideal solution would be to hire a qualified personal trainer to make you a an individualized fitness program that takes into account your fitness level and goals.

In the same vein, don’t make the mistake of exercising too often. If you go from zero to 4-6 exercises a week, you’re asking for trouble and overuse injuries. If you’re out of shape, it’s really hard not to see progress even if you only exercise 2-3 times per week.

Mistake #2: Not Tracking Your Progress

Not monitoring your progress is the mistake #2. Tracking your progress is important because it’s a great way to stay motivated in your fitness regime. It can take three to six months to see noticeable changes in your body composition, but you start improving your aerobic fitness and muscular strength immediately.

There are many informal ways to track your progress. I started testing my level of physical activity with a pedometer last fall and I still wear my pedometer daily. Pedometer a great motivator, because you get immediate feedback on your level of daily physical activity.

Another idea for is to use walking up a flight of stairs to measure your progress. If you can climb four flights of stairs without stopping now, how many flights can you climb in a month? If you have a favorite walking route, measure how long it takes for you to walk that route today, and repeat the test after a month of training.


Do yourself a favor and choose a physical activity or activities for yourself that make you feel good – don’t choose activities based only on how much calories they burn. If you aren’t sure  what you would enjoy, now is a great time to start experimenting.

I hope you got some ideas on how to start exercising when you’re out of shape.

Best Wishes,




  1. Marion says:

    Hi Satu! I really like this post because there are a lot of people who need to exercise, but not overdo it so that they immediately quit. You make that point well. I think that improving slowly works well. If a person started with walking 1/4 of a mile each day, they could add another 1/4 mile a week or two later, and just keep adding 1/4 miles until they build up to a good-sized walk. We have the rest of our lives to exercise, so we don’t need to hurry improvements. Fitness newbies should just consistently keep at it and they will prevail.

    🙂 Marion

  2. Great tips! I also cringe when I see someone brand new to working out starting with the 30 Day Shred. They are in for a treat..NOT. It’s definitely easy to overdo it. I know because I do it.

    Tracking your progress is very important too. Great post, Satu, going to add a link to it in my newsletter for this Sunday. Thanks!

    • Satu says:

      I too used to overdo it in the past.

      Now I’m much less likelier to be overzealous with exercise – I think partly because of my advancing age and because of my past injuries. They have made me a cautious exerciser.

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