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How to Build an Exercise Habit: A Free 8-Week Workout Plan

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I’ve been there too: that day you put on your stretchy jeans and they won’t button. That morning you get on the scale and see the highest number you’ve seen in your life. That series of sleepless, stress-filled nights that keep you from all your best-laid healthy plans.

We all share these experiences, though we may not talk about them with others (because we aren’t necessarily proud to announce them).

Health is not always an even-keeled, steady journey. I see it as more of a slow hike with some pitches and rolls here and there. Even for elite athletes and their super-fit coaches, a strong curve ball from life can land a person in places that may feel overwhelming to climb out of — both mentally and physically.

Are you reading this and recognizing that your exercise habit is down to zero minutes per week? Wondering how and where to start (or re-start)? What should you focus on? What should your daily exercise routine include? What about weekly?

Keep reading, because I have an eight-week workout plan designed just for you.

How to Build an Exercise Habit: A Free 8-Week Workout Plan

The Goal of This Workout Plan

  • The goal of this eight-week workout plan is to transition from a sedentary lifestyle to moving thirty minutes or more on most days of the week.
  • This plan is designed to remove both the intimidation and intense soreness that sometimes comes along with resuming exercise activity.
  • The intent is to build an exercise habit — and strengthen the willpower muscles behind that habit by engaging in a consistent practice.
  • By the end of this workout plan, you will be practicing a consistent full-body routine that will improve your cardiovascular health and muscular endurance.

Who This Workout Plan Is For

This workout plan is for beginners or anyone who is starting over. No previous experience with exercise is required.

Want to save this workout plan for later? Or take it to the gym? Just download our FREE PDF and it’s all yours.

Download the 8-Week Full-Body Workout Plan

What You Need to Begin

After you’ve checked in with your doctor regarding beginning a new physical fitness routine, here are a few things you will need to enhance your success:

  1. Access to one piece of cardio equipment or a safe place to walk. Pick what you enjoy.
  2. Access to a set of dumbbells.
  3. A snazzy journal or calendar to mark off your eight weeks of activity.
  4. A new pair of comfortable walking/running shoes to carry you on your journey.

A few golden rules:

  1. If a listed exercise does not make sense for you, substitute with something similar — for example, if lunges are painful, try a split squat or step-ups instead.
  2. Drop sets are your friend. A drop set is when you start with the most challenging version of an exercise, and then reduce the difficulty level while completing the set. For example, if you can complete even one full push-up, do that one full push-up and then transition to kneeling push-ups for the remainder of the set.
  3. Increased breathing rate is a good thing. Prolonged breathlessness is not the goal of this workout plan. You should be able to sustain a conversation while completing the majority of the exercises. Add rest between sets or reduce the pace of your cardio if breathlessness occurs. (The exception to this will be your cardio interval days, where the work intervals aim to push you toward breathlessness and recovery is built in.)
  4. Good form is paramount. If the quality of your movement diminishes, decrease the difficulty level by slowing the pace, lowering the weight, or modifying the exercise.
  5. Yes, you may switch the days around in the weekly routine as preferred. However, try not to weight train two days in a row for this initial eight weeks. This will allow time for your muscles to recover and repair between workouts.

Note: we’ve included photographs of some of the exercises at the bottom of this plan. So, if you see something you’re unfamiliar with, scroll down to see an example of the exercise.

The “How to Build an Exercise Habit” 8-Week Full-Body Workout Plan

Week 1

Mon 1 mile walk
or run (record time)
or bike 2 miles (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Complete 2 sets of 10 repetitions of 4 bodyweight exercises:

Squat to chair, kneeling push-ups, kneeling planks (hold for 10 seconds), lunges

Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 10 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 minute with 4% incline
or alternate briskly walk a city block and casually walking a city block
or alternate riding a bike 1 minute with no resistance and riding for 1 minute with resistance on 4
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete 2 sets of 10 repetitions of 4 dumbbell exercises:
Seated shoulder presses, seated reverse flyes, seated biceps curls, seated triceps overhead extensions
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 1 mile walk

or 2 mile bike

Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Find a 10-minute exercise video of your choice to follow. Try WLC’s YouTube channel for ideas.
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Rest Day  

Week 2

Mon 1.25 mile walk or run (record time)
or stationary bike 2.5 miles (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions of 4 bodyweight exercises:
Squat to chair, kneeling push-ups, kneeling planks (hold for 12 seconds), lunges
Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 12 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 minute with 4% incline
or jog a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 minute with no resistance, 1 minute with resistance on 4
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions of 4 dumbbell exercises:
Seated shoulder presses, seated reverse flyes, seated biceps curls, seated triceps overhead extensions
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 1.25 mile walk
or 2.5 miles bike
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Find a 10-minute stretching or yoga video to follow online to expand your stretching routine. Try the WLC video library for ideas.
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Rest Day  

Week 3

Mon 1.5 mile walk
or run (record time)
or stationary bike 3 miles (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Complete 2 sets of 15 repetitions of 6 bodyweight exercises:
Squat to chair, kneeling push-ups, kneeling planks (hold for 15 seconds), step-ups, sit-ups, lunges
Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 16 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 with 5% incline
or jog a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 minute with no resistance, 1 minute with resistance on 6
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete 2 sets of 10 repetitions of 6 dumbbell exercises:
Dumbbell suitcase squats, dumbbell reverse lunges, Seated shoulder presses, seated reverse flyes, seated biceps curls, seated triceps overhead extensions
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 1.5 mile walk
or 3 miles bike
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Engage in an outdoor activity or leisure activity with friends or family (bowling, ice skating, indoor rock climbing, mall walking, etc.).
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Rest Day  

Week 4

Mon 1.75 mile walk
or run (record time)
or stationary bike 3.5 miles (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Set up a Tabata Timer and complete 8 rounds of 20 seconds working, 10 seconds resting for 6 exercises, cycling through:
Squat to chair, kneeling push-ups, kneeling planks, step-ups, sit-ups, lunges
Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 18 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 minute with 4% incline
or jog a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 minute with no resistance, 1 minute with resistance on 4
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete as a circuit, with 1 minute rest between rounds, 2 sets of 10 repetitions of 6 dumbbell exercises:
Dumbbell suitcase squats, dumbbell reverse lunges, seated shoulder presses, seated reverse flyes, seated biceps curls, seated triceps overhead extensions
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 1.75 mile walk
or 3.5 miles bike
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Drop-in to a fitness class (yoga, dance, CrossFit, karate, a private ski lesson, etc.)
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Rest Day  

Week 5

Mon 2 mile walk
or run (record time)
or stationary bike 4 miles (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 10 repetitions (1 minute rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, standing shoulder press, biceps curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 22 min. of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 min with no incline with walking 1 with 7% incline
or jog a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 min with no resistance, 1 min with resistance on 8
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 10 repetitions (1 min rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, shoulder press, biceps curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 2 mile walk
or 4 miles bike
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Choose your adventure – follow a fitness video or attend a class of your choice for 20-30 minutes minimum.
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Rest Day  

Week 6

Mon Run/jog 1 mile for time (record time)
or ride 2 miles on a bike as fast as you can (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 12 repetitions (1 min rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, shoulder press, bicep curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 24 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 with 8% incline
or run a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 minute with no resistance, 1 minute with resistance on 9
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 12 repetitions (1 minute rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, standing shoulder press, bicep curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 2.5 mile walk
or 5 mile bike
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Move for 30 minutes combining cardio and weights (15 minutes of each, for example)
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Rest Day  

Week 7

Mon 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio – option to partition time. For example: 10 minute run, 10 minute bike, 10 minute elliptical Stretch 5 minutes
Tue Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 15 repetitions (1 minute rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, standing shoulder press, bicep curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Wed 26 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 with 9% incline
or run a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 minute with no resistance, 1 minute with resistance on 10
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 15 repetitions (1 minute rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, standing shoulder press, bicep curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri 2.5 mile walk  (record time)
or 5 mile bike (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
Attend a class or Move for 40 minutes combining cardio and weights (20 minutes of each, for example)
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Stretch 10 minutes  

Week 8

Mon Tabata format: Push-ups, dumbbell suitcase squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, shoulder press, bicep curl, triceps overhead extension Stretch 5 minutes
Tue 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio – option to partition time. For example: 10 minute run, 10 minute bike, 10 minute elliptical Stretch 5 minutes
Wed Complete 3 sets of 15 repetitions of 4 dumbbell exercises. Resting as needed:
Seated shoulder presses, seated reverse flyes, seated bicep curls, seated triceps over head extensions
Stretch 5 minutes
Thu 30 minutes of cardio intervals:
Alternate walking/jogging 1 minute with no incline with walking 1 with 10% incline
or run a city block walk a city block
or ride a bike 1 minute with no resistance, 1 minute with resistance on 11
Stretch 5 minutes
Fri Complete as a circuit 3 rounds of 20 repetitions (1 minute rest between rounds):
Push-ups, dumbbell squats, bent-over dumbbell row, reverse lunges, full plank, should press, bicep curl, triceps overhead extension
Stretch 5 minutes
Sat Challenge:
3.5 mile walk
or 2.5 mile run
or 6 mile bike (record time)
Stretch 5 minutes
Sun Stretch 10 minutes  

My Promise to You If You Follow This Workout Plan

Cross off these daily plans one by one, and you will feel brand new in two months or less — thanks to your now-established exercise habit. Not to mention, you’ll look back on that initial wake-up call as a moment that sparked change in your life. Instead of continuing to look back and feel bad, you’ll have transformed that day into a great memory in your personal health history.

Want to save this workout plan for later? Or take it to the gym? Just download our FREE PDF and it’s all yours.

Exercise Examples

Bentover Row

Bentover Row

Biceps Curl

Biceps Curl

Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

Forward Lunge

Forward Lunge

Kneeling Plank

Kneeling Plank

Kneeling Push-up

Kneeling Push-up

Overhead Press

Overhead Press

Reverse Flye

Reverse Flye

Squat to Chair

Step-up

Step-up

Suitcase Squat

Suitcase Squat

Triceps Extension

Triceps Extension

Liz Marmesh
Liz is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and 200HR Yoga Instructor. Liz has been in the fitness industry since 2003, working in fitness education, fitness management, personal training, and group fitness in Boston, South Beach, Los Angeles, and the DC area. Liz graduated from the University of Miami with a Masters in Exercise Physiology.

A believer in constant movement, Liz has partnered with clients of all types to achieve various end goals. You can catch her teaching yoga at Ballston CrossFit in Arlington, Virginia.

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