Start or restart your fitness journey in 2024


In this article:

  • Adding or returning physical activity to their regular routine is at the top of many people’s to-do lists for 2024. However, it can be challenging to know where to begin.

  • Two sports medicine experts at Swedish, Spine, Sports and Musculoskeletal Medicine share tips and strategies to start or restart your fitness journey.

  • Sports Medicine at Swedish offers personalized care, a wide range of services and a team with advanced expertise and services that can help you reach your fitness goals.

It’s December. And making lists is an annual tradition. Shopping lists. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Lists of who’s naughty. Lists of who’s nice. And the granddaddy of them all – lists of changes you resolve to make in the upcoming year.

Nearly half of the people who make New Year’s resolutions cite improved fitness as their top goal for the year, according to Forbes magazine. If your future plans include getting back to a regular exercise routine – or maybe starting one for the first time – knowing where to begin can often be one of the biggest hurdles you face. It doesn’t have to be.

We talked to sports medicine experts at Swedish Spine, Sports and Musculoskeletal Medicine, Troy Henning, D.O., and Michael Erickson, M.D., about getting back to – or taking the first step – on your fitness journey. Dr. Henning is the head team physician for the Seattle Sounders FC, and Dr. Erickson is the head team physician for the Seattle Storm. Here’s what they shared.

Taking the first step

Even if you’ve only taken a short break from your regular workout routine, both doctors say to start slowly when you decide to increase your physical activity.

“Cutting your weight or repetitions by half and gradually advancing by 10% per week is a good way to reduce your chances of pain or injury,” says Dr. Henning.

Getting help from a professional can be a good strategy for the exercise novice, according to Dr. Erickson. “If you have not previously used a gym or exercise equipment, joining a group exercise class targeted to new exercisers or working with a personal trainer is a good idea. This will ensure that you’re using proper form and that your workouts are well designed for your current fitness level,” he explains.

Programs and classes are available from various sources, including the YMCA and other fitness centers. Some insurance coverage provides gym membership, and several programs offer discounts to gyms and classes.

Home-based exercise programs

You don’t necessarily need to leave the house to get a good workout. Home-based exercise programs using little to no equipment can also be an effective way to get started. And access is as easy as going online.

“There are many good subscription-based platforms, and most have a variety of exercise programs at varying levels,” says Dr. Erickson. “Most of these can be completed within five to 30 minutes and can be paused to allow you to move at your own pace. Exercise resistance or pull-up assist bands are great ways to complement these types of programs and help increase the intensity of any strength training program as you progress,” he adds.

The three types of exercise

Most exercise programs should include three components for maximum benefit: aerobic exercise, strengthening exercise and exercise to improve muscle control for better balance.

Aerobic exercises include activities such as running, cycling and swimming. The American Heart and American College of Sports Medicine recommends five 30-minute sessions per week performed at a moderate intensity level. In the beginning, shorter durations may be more appropriate, but they should be at least 10 minutes long. 

Strengthening exercises should be performed three to five days per week, targeting eight to 10 large muscle groups in the upper body, lower body and core regions. The volume and intensity of these exercises should be tailored to fit your strength goals. 

Balance or improved muscle control exercises should be done regularly to reduce the risk of falls.

No pain, no gain?

The official name is delayed muscle soreness, but if you’ve ever been overenthusiastic about starting a workout routine, you know that doesn’t even scratch the surface when describing how you – and probably your knees – feel the next day. It doesn’t have to be that way, say our two experts.

“Most exercise-related injuries occur because the program was advanced too quickly or the form was incorrect,” explains Dr. Henning. “For most of us, exercise that is performed with the correct amount of load, intensity and duration based on our ability and overall health is safe,” says Dr. Henning.

“If you’re not sure what the correct amount is, working with a personal trainer or taking an exercise class can help tailor a program to fit your health needs and exercise goals,” adds Dr. Erickson.

Muscle soreness can be controlled in several ways, including:

  • Follow a consistent exercise plan.
  • Maintain adequate hydration and nutrition.
  • Schedule sufficient periods of rest between workouts.

“Exercise itself is a great way to improve the soreness and tightness associated with muscle soreness,” says Dr. Henning. “An eight-to-10-minute bout of aerobic exercise such as a warmup jog or spin on the bike is usually enough to alleviate these types of issues.” 

Both doctors agree that working through mild, temporary pain is generally safe. However, the intensity of your pain should not be increasing or be so great that it prevents you from continuing your workout routine.

“Most exercise will involve some soreness, but this should not be pain that limits you afterward or lingers into the next day,” says Dr. Erickson. “Soft tissue or joint swelling, joints locking or giving out and limping are indications of injury, not post-exercise soreness. They should not be ignored.”

Learn more and find a provider

Swedish Spine, Sports, and Musculoskeletal Medicine consists of board-certified, fellowship-trained physicians specializing in physical medicine, rehabilitation and sports medicine. Care includes evaluation, diagnostic testing and personalized treatment plans based on each patient’s unique health needs and goals.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Thinking about a marathon? Start here.

Tips from a Swedish sports doc to help you train like a pro athlete

Gym rat or weekend warrior? Here’s some advice for sports injury prevention.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

Whether you're interested in physical fitness, an athlete looking for performance tips, or it's time for a full or partial replacement of knees, shoulders or hips, the Swedish Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team is committed to providing you with expert advice on how to prevent injury, plan for physical activity and recover from orthopedic procedures. Our mission is to help you live the active lifestyle you want.

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