How to Get in Shape in 4 Simple Steps — And Make It Last

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How to Get in Shape
A woman with dark hair uses weighted ropes to complete a circuit workout outside

It’s no secret that movement does both your body and mind good — yet, sometimes life gets in the way of working out. 

Whether you’re looking to boost your endurance (think: being able to take the stairs or run after your kids without losing your breath), burn fat, shed a few pounds, or simply want to tone up, regular exercise will improve your health.

If you wonder where to begin, that’s understandable; we all have to start somewhere. Getting in shape can seem like an overwhelming task, especially when you’re a beginner.  

Don’t stress. After all, anxiety defeats the purpose of working out! There’s good news: Getting in shape doesn’t have to be complex, nor does it mean you have to sacrifice a lot of your time and budget. 

Taking the first step is often the hardest. Fortunately, you’ve already taken that initial leap by reading this. At Kickoff, we want to make fitness accessible so you can thrive and stay on a path to physical and emotional wellness. Follow this go-to guide for getting in shape, beginning from the basic starting points:

  1. Establish a strategy you can stick with — consistency is key. 

  2. Build a foundation for cultivating healthier habits, one at a time. 

  3. Integrate 20 minutes daily of movement or self-care wellness practices.

  4. You’ll be on your way to getting in shape — and staying healthy for life — if you keep up this practice each day.

We’ve taken the guesswork out of getting in shape by speaking with certified personal trainers, registered dietitians, and diving into recent, science-backed research. All you need to do? Go ahead and take that first step. 

Begin With the Basics

First things first: Forget fear and start small. According to experts, the secret to starting and, more importantly, maintaining a healthier lifestyle begins with the basics. Replace just one unhealthy habit with a healthy one per week. The most important part is to be consistent. Practice equals progress. Eventually, and with consistency, these healthy habits will become second nature. 

Here’s why starting small works: Research shows that small, incremental changes in both diet and physical activity are easier than large overhauls, and they’re more likely to be sustainable.   

“Making small, gradual changes allows for both the body and the mind to adapt,” says the Nutrition Twins Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, CLT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, CLT. “On the other hand, when you completely overhaul a diet or exercise plan, it can easily feel overwhelming and unsustainable, and it’s more likely that you’ll give up or throw in the towel.”

Other experts agree: “When trying to change a habit, it is important to understand that this does not happen overnight,” says Retro Fitness expert trainer and coach Dan Jonhenry. “So, when looking to change multiple habits, understand that one habit can take anywhere from two to eight months. “The best tip I can give is to remember progress, not perfection.”

Next, Choose Your “Why”

Next, decide what motivates you and make it your daily mantra to keep you going each day. There’s a slew of reasons that can potentially fuel your drive to get in shape. And, whether it’s to set an example and keep up with kids, boost your cardiovascular health, or both look and feel better, any and all reasons are valid — provided you remember your “why” and keep that determination consistent day to day.

Prioritize Healthy Habits Each Day

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for: what you should do. Your best bet is to begin by 

setting aside at least 20 minutes each day to practice a wellness habit. Whether it’s movement or another self-care practice, no matter how busy your schedule is, blocking out just 20 minutes a day is completely doable.  

  • Begin with a written schedule: “Start small and carve out 20 minutes of your day. Put it on your calendar, just as you would for a doctor’s appointment; it’s a great way to get started,” explains the Nutrition Twins. “When you write it down, you’re more likely to commit to it, and when you actually take the time to see where exercise can fit in your day, it’s very helpful. This is also very helpful when it comes to getting started and setting up a routine.”

  • Swap unhealthy habits with a replacement plan: Decide which unhealthy habits you want to replace. Start with one month of writing down the four unhealthiest habits you want to change. Next, write down what you’ll do to replace each one. Finally, determine how you’ll recognize and prevent the less-healthy habit. For example, swap an apple and a serving of raw almonds as a snack instead of a cookie, or replace a sugar-laden drink with water with fresh lemon.

  • Recognize and be grateful for positive reinforcement: “For a habit to be changed, there has to be a positive reward that is recognized in the new habit being formed,” says Jonhenry. “An example of this would be eating healthier. You may not see noticeable changes on the first day that you change your eating habits but over time you will feel and look better, which will embrace and support the adoption of the new habit.”

Work Out Smarter, Not Harder

If you do opt into exercise, you’re in the right place! Variety is the spice of life and change does both the body and brain good — and prevents you from plateauing. 

The human body is meant to move rather than stay stagnant, and is composed of a system of constantly moving parts. Like your physical body, your brain also reaps the benefits of switching things up in your movement/exercise plan. We rounded up a range of expert ideas to get your body (and brain!) not only moving, but also mixing it up with a continuously changing plan. 

Why Exercise Is Essential

Exercise/physical activity is important, as it affects your brain health, weight management/body composition, bone density, circulation, blood sugar, and ultimately impacts your quality and longevity of life,” explains Jonhenry. “This is why it’s important to be active and get up and move!”

According to the Nutrition Twins, exercise helps to prevent chronic diseases (from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, and more), maintain weight loss, and control weight gain. Exercise also triggers mood- and energy-boosting endorphins.

“Both strength training or cardio (and all forms of exercise) boost mood and help to fight against many types of disease, while also helping you to get and stay lean and fit,” explains the Lakatos twins. 

  • Strength matters: “Strength training is particularly good for fighting against osteoporosis and boosting metabolism since it helps to build lean muscle tissue. The more lean muscle tissue you have, the more calories you burn and the faster your metabolism,” says the Lakatos twins.

  • The case for cardio: “Cardiovascular exercise like walking, dancing, swimming, and [even certain types of] yoga are especially good for getting your heart beating while also burning calories and assisting in weight loss,” they say.

If you'd like a more specific plan of action, check out our 4-week training plan for beginners. To get tips on how to customize your workout plan, consider signing up for Kickoff.

Establish an Exercise Plan You Can Stick With 

Build a plan for movement and block it off on your calendar. Experts agree that scheduling your workouts, similar to how you time-block and schedule the rest of your day, can help create a plan that you stick with on a regular basis.

Start with something you want to keep doing. “If you’re currently not exercising but understand the importance and want to initiate a workout regimen, start small and work up. Choose a time that you know will work for you and that you can commit to, even if it’s only one day per week,” says Jonhenry. “Once you’re comfortable with consistently achieving that time, add another day and do the same until you reach your workout frequency goal.”

Time-blocking works. “Whether you go to the gym, swim, walk, or participate in yoga, this will yield positive benefits towards your quality and longevity of life. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults achieve 150 minutes of moderate physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening activity per week,” says Jonhenry. “This can be easily achieved by blocking off 30 minutes per day for five days.” 

As it takes time to create and execute habits that will last, your best bet is to build a combination plan and schedule it in advance for the next four weeks. This can look like:

  • Two full-body strength training sessions a week 

  • One circuit-style workout combining body-weight strength exercises and cardio intervals (these can be low-impact activities)

  • Any other days should include movement you enjoy. Think: walking, yoga, pilates, barre, dancing, ice-skating, or swimming if seasonally appropriate. 

Rest Easy

Feeling tired? If you want a rest day, take it! Rest, along with sleep, are as important to fitness as they are to your overall health. Quality, productive sleep and rest offer the opportunity to replenish the body and brain. Here’s why:

  • Rest helps prevent injuries and promotes recovery: “Rest is very important in fitness because muscles recover and become stronger during the rest period. If you don’t allow your body to properly recover, you’ll be more prone to injuries,” say the Lakatos twins. “Exercise also depletes your muscle glycogen [energy] stores, which can lead to fatigue. By allowing the body to rest, muscle glycogen stores can be repleted so the body is ready and strong for the next workout session.”

  • Reset and reboot the brain and body:Rest and sleep are very important in any workout regimen, as this is where recovery occurs. When working out, you deplete glycogen stores, which result in muscle fatigue and decreased output. When you rest, this gives your body the opportunity to replenish glycogen stores as well as hormone levels,” explains Jonhenry. “Sleep is also very important for brain health, as when REM cycles are achieved the brain actually cleans itself with cerebral fluid, which increases mental clarity and neurotransmission.”

Take a Holistic Approach to Whole-body Wellness

Wellness begins within, and your emotional wellness is equally important as your physical health. As the saying goes, you can’t fill from an empty cup. It’s essential to block out “me” time. Translation: Take the time to support your whole-body wellness with self-care practices outside of exercise. Whether it’s a rest day or you have a few free minutes, try these ideas for self-care rituals:

  • Practice mindfulness, meditation, or breath work techniques.

  • Free-write in a journal.

  • Write a “brain detox” list by getting all those to-do’s out of your head and onto paper.

  • Do an at-home lymphatic massage.

  • Research healthy recipes and plan a meal prep routine.

  • Spend time in nature or watch the sun rise or set.

  • Take a warm shower or bath and use the experience as a visualization technique: Envision your worries washing away down the drain.

You Are What You Eat

You’ve likely heard that abs start in the kitchen. To get in better shape, it’s more than likely you’ll need to reassess and “health-ify” your nutrition habits. Providing your body with the key nutrients it needs will vary and depend on your age, activity level, gender, and goals. Keep these key nutrition ideas in mind to build healthier eating habits:  

  1. Choose “One-ingredient” foods: “One tip I always offer is to eat ‘one-ingredient’ foods, also known as whole foods. Whole foods are more nutrient-dense than their counterparts [processed foods] and provide higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which enable the body to operate more efficiently,” explains Jonhenry. “Processed foods also contain man-made chemicals to optimize flavor, color, and preservation. These chemicals are not natural nor intended for the body to consume, which can cause adverse effects such as digestive inflammation. This hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients efficiently.”

  2. Be balanced: “It’s important as with anything to consume in moderation. In any nutrition program, consider basal metabolic rate, activity level/caloric output, and the amount of macronutrients [proteins, carbohydrates, and fats] in regard to your fitness goals,” says Jonhenry. “For example, sugar is sugar. If you eat five bananas in one sitting, your body will elevate blood sugar and create an insulin spike.” If your insulin spikes high after every meal and snack, you could set yourself up for excess body fat, which could lead to insulin resistance, prediabetes, and even diabetes.

  3. Eat for your unique needs: “Everyone has their own nutrient requirements, depending on age, gender, activity level, and personal goals,” say the Nutrition Twins. “However, whatever your personal requirements are, the ideal way to meet those requirements is by eating whole, unprocessed foods.” According to the experts, these include:

  • Vegetables

  • Fruits

  • Legumes

  • Whole grains

  • Lean protein 

  • Eggs

  • Nuts and seeds

“These foods pack in the most nutrients and antioxidants, and benefit the body in many ways. Processed foods do the exact opposite — they provide little to no nutrition, as they are stripped of nutrients and are typically high in inflammatory compounds such as salt, sugar, saturated fat, and/or refined grains.”

The End Goal

Getting in shape requires effort and commitment, but can start with positive intention and 20 minutes a day. Start with some sort of movement each day, then pick one unhealthy habit you want to change. Replace the less-healthy practice with a health-supporting one, and practice that every day until it feels natural. Keep doing this and you’ll be on the road to better fitness and health in no time.