Hugh Jackman's trainer just shared this fitness advice for total beginners

Start small, says Don Saladino—trainer to celebs like Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Emily Blunt & Anne Hathaway

Don Saladino using Lumen, and Hugh Jackman
(Image credit: Lumen / Getty Images)

Don Saladino is a trainer best known for working with A-list actors such as Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and more. With over 40,000 hours of coaching experience, Saladino is no stranger to getting people fit, from A-listers to first-timers.

Whether you've just bought one of the best rowing machines to work out at home, you've started walking to lose weight or you've just joined a gym, exercising for the first time (or coming back to it after a long absence) can be extremely intimidating. But for Saladino, the best advice is to start small. You might be tempted to leap onto an ambitious 90-day training regime, or a restrictive diet, but small changes you can stick to are the best way forward. 

But don't those ambitious plans get results? Yes, says Saladino—but they're often unsustainable. 

"If you take anyone who’s sedentary and have them move for 90 days, no shit they’re going to see results," he tells us. "The question is: are they going to stay with it?"

"They’ll say 'I did this and it worked! I lost 20lbs, but I put it back on.' Well, then it didn’t work. If you do something short-term and it gets you to where you want to be, but you’re unable to maintain it, it didn’t work. If you did it through keto, or intermittent fasting, and you couldn’t maintain it long term, it did not work." 

"My biggest piece of advice is to start small. If you take someone last year who could not get off the couch, and we assigned them five to 10 minutes of activity a day, and they do that five days a week, oh my god are they going to see progress. They’ll feel better, more confident, they’ll probably improve their sleep quality, and they might even make a few different food decisions, like 'I’ll have a healthy breakfast.' This is what we need to be promoting, not just 'here, do this program'."

Woman walking

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Saladino likens it to golf: when someone first starts learning the sport, they don't want to stand on a golf course and be bad at something for five hours straight, because they won't stick to it. First, you go to the driving range or putting green and have fun for 30 minutes.

In fitness, it's the same: a beginner might do a 15 minute walk on the best treadmill and a few upper-body exercises with adjustable dumbbells, and end the session while they're feeling good.

Restrictive programs and diets often lead to a phenomenon known as yo-yo dieting, a pattern of weight loss and subsequent weight gain that is linked to increased heart disease, according to researchers at Columbia University (opens in new tab). Small, achievable goals are the way to make lasting changes that compound over time. 

"If [a beginner] can only work out for 30 minutes, do 30 minutes," says Saladino. "If you hit that 30 minute mark and you want to keep going, stop. I like holding people back a bit and leaving the gym wanting to continue. It keeps them motivated for tomorrow. That, to me, is better than writing my best 75-minute session program, and having someone give up after two weeks."

"In fitness, my formula is to get that person leaving that session feeling better than they did when they came in. That’s why I’ve become one of the most successful coaches on the planet."

If you're looking for more beginner-friendly fitness advice, you can check out our guides to doing your first push-up, squat and embarking on a Couch to 5k program. 

Matt Evans
News Editor

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.