Take a Test
When beginning an exercise routine it can be helpful to complete a fitness assessment. You don't need a personal trainer or complicated equation to make this happen. There are a variety of fitness assessments out there that you could use to assess your abilities. For example, if your focus is strength training it would be helpful to know the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one, three or five repetitions. Similarly, if you're looking to improve your running, performing a one, three or five-mile time trial is useful for establishing a baseline.
Once you know the heaviest weight you can lift, or fastest speed you can run, you'll be able to use this information to create a training plan. Use a pad and pen or a smartphone app to record notes about your workout routine. Was the weight too heavy or too light? How far did you run and how did you feel? With all of this information on hand you can tweak your workouts to make them easier or more difficult.
Talk it Out
One simple way to get an in-the-moment assessment of how hard you're working is the talk test. If you're working at the limits of your ability your heart rate will be soaring and you won't be able to carry on a conversation; you'll be too busy trying to breathe. But, if you're able to chat it up with every guy or gal in the gym or on the trail, your effort is within a comfortable range. The conversational pace would be best for longer, slower cardio efforts like a long run. On the other hand, a high-intensity cardio workout or strength circuit should make a conversation nearly impossible.
More or Less
When it comes to strength training, it can be difficult to find a starting point. If you're new to exercise or not interested in lifting as much weight as possible, the max-out test probably isn't the way to go. But, if you're still looking to increase strength and improve body composition try the over or under test. That's when you choose a starting weight and try to perform it for 10 to 15 repetitions. If you can do more than 15 repetitions, you can increase the weight. If you can't perform 10 repetitions, choose a lower weight. Whatever weight you end up with, remember to record it in your exercise journal for future reference.
Keep at It
No one see results after the first workout. And sometimes the first week makes you feel worse, before you begin to feel better. But, if you stick with your workouts you will begin to feel better and soon you'll begin to look better too!