When you start looking for workout plans, chances are you'll find a lot of high-intensity cardio/bodyweight "blasters" "rippers" and "shredders." Insanity, P90X, and Crossfit-style circuits designed to make you pour sweat and wish you were dead are all the rage these days. While some of this stuff might be a fine challenge for conditioned intermediates and above, I do not think they are the best choice for the majority of people who haven't done a jump squat since high school. If you are just getting off the couch or desk chair, I think a less-intense approach is better.
But, why? I want to lose this weight YESTERDAY.
When people jump into the deep end without a swimming lesson, they tend to drown. Look, all this "train insane" stuff sounds awesome, but actually doing it is hard. Like, really hard. 3 circuits of 15 burpees, 10 pushups, 20 sit ups, 10 box jumps and 30 jumping jacks sounds good on paper. It gives you a fantasy of tough, sexy, sweatytime. But do it. Go on, I'll be here waiting for you. I'll bet that by your seventh burpee you are going to be thinking "what the fucking fuck is this?" You certainly won't last 3 rounds. After a week, all of your tendons will be shot and you'll need to take a break. Then the break will turn into "done." No tough, sexy anything.
Plyometrics, Sprints, and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) were created to help athletes take their conditioning to the next level, not for couch potatoes to have heart attacks. Don't get me wrong, these exercises are great. They are incredibly efficient and I highly recommend adding this type of training into your routine later on, when you have at least mastered sticking to a regular plan. But, right off the bat, this stuff will just make you want to quit. I don't want you quitting. I don't want you to lose ten pounds in a month and then be back to square one before the year is over.
How slow of a start are we talking?
It depends on your current activity level. For most people, I suggest doing something small every day, like a pushup challenge, squat challenge and sit up or plank challenge. I also point out the Couch to 5K running program. (Click on each for the link.) These are super-simple, no equipment necessary, challenges that only take up a half-hour of your day. The running program is three days a week, so you can do your squats, pushups and ab work on the off days. This will have you doing a half hour of exercise, six days a week.
With all of these programs, there is a gradual increase of intensity. My rule was if I couldn't complete a session, I'd have to repeat the week. The workouts last approximately two months, possibly longer if you repeat weeks. This is a good amount of time to build up some strength and endurance, as well as get a workout schedule going. It's hard enough to try and overhaul your lifestyle, change your diet, and get active all at once. Don't make it so hard that you are miserable. These plans are free, short on time, and require zero equipment. If you can't stick to that, why buy a gym membership, a bunch of tapes, and new gear?
You have nothing to lose. If you complete these programs, you will be ready to move on to more dynamic strength exercise and maybe you'll have enough endurance for a round or two of intervals for more serious fat burning.