The 5 Best Exercises if You Haven’t Worked Out in a While

The plank is an exercise that's great after a hiatus — plus, you can do it anywhere!
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Everyone's guilty of procrastinating every now and again, whether it's an overdue assignment or a rapidly growing pile of laundry. And getting back into exercise, especially after a long hiatus, is another task that's particularly daunting the longer you put it off.

Luckily, there are a few moves that can make your re-introduction a little simpler. The last thing you want to do is go full throttle at the gym on your first day back. At best, you'll end up super sore and at worst, you can end up injured. Instead, start with these safe, easy-to-progress exercises if you haven't worked out in a while.

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1. Body-Weight Squat

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Skill Level Beginner
Type Strength
Region Lower Body
  1. Start standing, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
  3. Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as low as you can go while maintaining good form. Your knees should be over your toes and your gaze should be straight ahead.
  4. Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
  5. On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.

Body-weight squats are a widely-recommended exercise for strengthening the glutes, quads and hamstrings, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). But alongside the muscle-boosting benefits, squats can help improve your day-to-day movement patterns, whether you're getting up from a chair or picking something up off the ground.

With no added weight, this move also puts less pressure on the muscles and joints, making it a solid go-to exercise if you haven't worked out in a while, according to Samuel Chan, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York.

Tip

If you need to modify this move, you can swap body-weight squats with box squats, using a bench or plyometric box to guide how low you'll take the exercise, Chan says. Or, if regular squats feel too simple, go with a goblet squat and hold a weight in front of your body.

2. Low Plank

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Skill Level All Levels
Type Strength
Region Full Body
  1. Lie face down on the floor, with your forearms on the ground, elbows directly beneath your shoulders.
  2. Extend your legs straight behind you, toes tucked.
  3. With your core braced, press into your toes and forearms and raise your body up off the ground.
  4. Keep your back flat and your body in a straight line from head to hips to heels.

Your core encompasses all the muscles that stabilize and support your back, including your abdominals, according to the ACE. So developing a strong core is crucial for your daily movement, injury-free exercise and proper posture.

"Planks are a great way to train both core and shoulder stability," Chan says. "By placing your upper body in a loaded, weight-bearing position, we are also training shoulder stability, which will help decrease the risk of injury during upper-body exercises."

Tip

If holding a 30-second plank is too challenging, hold for 10- or 15-second intervals instead, Chan says. And when you feel ready to take this exercise to the next level, add alternating leg lifts while you hold the pose.

3. Romanian Deadlift With Barbell

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Skill Level All Levels
Type Strength
Region Full Body
  1. Position an unloaded barbell on the floor in front of you. Step up to the bar, shins almost against it, feet planted firmly hip-width apart. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
  2. Hinge from the hips and soften your knees as your hips sink low enough to grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and lift the bar.
  4. Lift your chest and engage your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
  5. Pushing your hips as far back as possible, bend your knees slightly and lower the bar right below knee height.
  6. On an exhale, brace your core and push your hips forward to return to standing.

Although you won't want to start with a loaded barbell on your first day back working out, a bar-only or dumbbell-loaded Romanian deadlift is another move Chan recommends if you've taken an exercise hiatus. Romanian deadlifts will help improve both strength and flexibility, which is important if you're getting back into exercise.

"Glute and hamstring strength is always important as you ramp up your workouts, but Romanian deadlifts have an added benefit of increasing hamstring flexibility and mobility," Chan says. "I'd always recommend exercises that incorporate loaded mobility such as RDLs, rather than static stretches such a seated hamstring stretch."

Tip

Start with either a lighter pair of dumbbells, a lighter kettlebell or an unloaded barbell as you get back into working out. Then, week to week, you can gradually add more weight to the exercise.

A good rule of thumb? If you feel like you still have 5 to 7 reps left in the tank after a set, you can probably increase the resistance you're using.

4. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

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Skill Level Beginner
Type Strength
Region Upper Body
  1. Begin by adjusting an exercise bench to about a 45-degree angle.
  2. Lean against the bench, facing the back with a dumbbell in each hand. With legs extended, root your heels into the ground and put your weight into your torso against the bench.
  3. Extend your arms straight down toward the ground along the sides of the bench.
  4. On an exhale, row the weights up toward your chest.
  5. Pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  6. Lower the weights with control toward the ground.

A strong, stable back will help you stay injury-free during both upper- and lower-body workouts, Chan says. And this dumbbell row variation supports your chest, allowing you to focus on your back, not your balance, as you perform the exercise.

Tip

Start with a lighter pair of dumbbells and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades with every rep. If this feels too challenging, modify by rowing one dumbbell at a time. Focusing on one arm can help increase your muscle activation, Chan says, and will feel easier than rowing both weights simultaneously.

5. Forearm Side Plank

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Skill Level All Levels
Type Strength
Region [ "Core", "Upper Body", "Lower Body" ]
  1. Start lying on your side, propped up on your bottom forearm. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder to avoid putting too much pressure on the joint. Your legs should be extended straight out with your feet stacked one on top of the other.
  2. Lift your hips off the ground. Make sure that your hips are squared forward. Keep your body as straight as possible from heels to hips to head.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can with good form.

Although best known as a core-strengthening exercise, side planks are also one way to strengthen your hip abductors (your glute medius) using your own body weight, Chan says. Holding a plank on your side technically places your weight over the sides of your glute, forcing that muscle to really work to stabilize you.

"Glute medius strength is important for hip stability during any exercise in standing, including squats, lunges and running," Chan says. If you're looking to get back into regular strength training or running, side planks are an important accessory move to build up a strong foundation and avoid injury."

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