The role of the beginner workout is to acclimate your body to the rigors it will undergo with weight training. Even if you have lifted before, your first few workouts will leave you debilitatingly sore if you aren’t careful. We’re going to walk through the basic terminology and explain how the workout should progress. If you have experience and feel like you’ve got a good handle on weight lifting, feel free to jump down to the routine.
Here are some basic terms that will be used regularly in our exercise plans:
- Repetition: often abbreviated as reps, is one completion of an exercise.
- Set: a series of repetitions of an exercise completed before resting.
- Warm Up Set: a set done with lighter weight that will be used to warm the muscles up.
- Working Set: a set done to failure or close to failure, not a warm up set.
- Active Rest: cardiovascular exercise done as part of an activity, not necessarily at a gym.
- HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training is a form of cardiovascular training built around short, intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery period.
The workout programs are defined by a series of exercises which have a detailed number of sets and reps used together. 2 sets of 12 reps for an exercise would mean you would do the exercise 12 times, rest, then for another 12. The structure of the workout is sometimes written as sets x reps. For instance with our example, it would be 2 x 12 which would be the same as 2 sets of 12 repetitions. There can be a range of repetitions as well. For instance if you want to do at least 10 repetitions but not more than 16 repetitions, we would write that as 10-16 repetitions. Only the working sets are noted. A question often raised is the speed with which you should perform the repetitions. As long as you are using your muscle to move the weight and not momentum, speed isn’t as important. Focus on eliminating momentum. Don’t swing the weights or lift with a muscle that you aren’t trying to workout currently. Go to any gym and you can see poor form and momentum helping individuals do bicep curls with weights that are far too heavy for them. Instead, use good form and lift in a slow and controlled manner. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to look good rather than lifting correctly.
For our workout plans we recommend ensuring you are warmed up before starting to lift heavy weights, even with the beginner workout. A good procedure for warming up is to do 5-10 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise to start your workout. This could consist of jogging on a treadmill, biking to the gym, using a rowing a machine, or any other activity that gets your heart rate up for the time period. You want to make sure this isn’t too taxing though. Your primary goal is to get your muscles warm and your body ready to lift. After the cardio you want to do a warm up set for the exercises as needed. This will consist of lighter weight than you will use for your working set. For example if you are going to do leg press, then do a set of leg press with lighter weight, then increase the weight and do your set. The weight should be enough that you can feel resistance, but that you can easily do 12 repetitions with it. If you feel like you need more than one warm up set feel free to do more, you can add weight each time. You can rest as much as you need between the warm up set(s) and the working set, but don’t take too long, you still want to be warm for the working set. Here are two examples of a warm up.
- You are going to do 150 pounds for leg press for your working set. You decide to warm up with 75 pounds for 12 repetitions. Then you feel like you could use a little more of a warm up and 20 seconds later you do a second warm up set, this time with 100 pounds for 8 reps. You wait another 20 seconds then do an additional warm up set at 125 pounds for 6 repetitions. You put an additional 25 pounds on give yourself another 30 seconds of rest until you feel ready and then do your working set for 150 pounds and 15 repetitions.
- You are going to do 150 pounds for leg press for your working set. You decide to warm up with 75 pounds for 12 repetitions. Then you feel like you are warm and ready and put 150 pounds on and do 15 repetitions without any rest between besides the time it takes you to add the additional weight.
The warm up should be pretty straight forward. Do as much as you need to be ready to lift heavy weights, but not so much that you tire yourself out before you get to the working set.
To progress you will want to increase the number of reps and/or the weight you are doing. Don’t increase the resistance too quickly. You want your body to have time to adapt to the changes. Shoot for doing between 10-16 repetitions. Staying in this repetition range will allow you to ensure good form and reduce the chance of injury. For your working set lift a weight 10-16 times but stop when you feel like you could only do one or two more repetitions. The first two weeks do the same weight and repetitions for each exercise. The first week you will probably be very sore, but the second week you will feel substantially less sore. Then you can start increasing your weights each workout session. For example if you did 100 pounds 14 times for bench press during the first two weeks. Then the next week workout you can try to do 100 pounds for 15 reps, or increase the weight to 105 pounds. When you increase the weight you should be able to do at least 12 repetitions. Make sure you’ve still got at least one or two repetitions left when you stop. Don’t push too hard yet, it isn’t needed and the chance of causing an injury is high. Your workout should consist of full body weight training three days a week with the other four days as active rest. Ideally you can do some cardiovascular exercise on at least two of those days. That can consist of whatever you are interested in: playing soccer, hiking, long walks on the beach, etc. Whatever cardiovascular exercise you like doing is the easiest one to get yourself to do. More isn’t necessarily better though. Start slow and increase how much activity you are doing, especially if you’ve been relatively sedentary for awhile. If you aren’t familiar with the exercise there is a link to a video of it. On just about all the links there is an option of viewing a man or woman doing the exercise if you are interested in seeing an example done by your gender. If you don’t have access to the equipment needed for these particular exercises there are alternative exercises you can do. If you are trying to workout at home there is going to be a limit to how much progress you can make due to the lack of resistance you will be able to have. That said, depending on your current fitness levels and goals there is a good chance you can make some very positive changes with an at home workout. Here is a pretty comprehensive exercise list per muscle group if you want to look for alternative exercises. Do your best to choose compound exercises. For your beginner workout also try to stick to machines where form is less likely to fail.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
- Light Cardio (Jogging on a treadmill for 5-10 minutes)
- Leg Press: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Bench Press Machine: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Wide Grip Pulldowns: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Machine Rows: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Machine Shoulder Press: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Side Laterals: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Machine Curls: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Cable Triceps Pushdown: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Leg Curls: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Calf Raises: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
- Decline Crunch: 1 Set of 10-16 Repetitions
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are active rest days.
Here are some ideas:
- Play a sport with friends
- Go hiking
- Walk your dog
- Use an exercise machine
- Ride a bike
- Go rock climbing
Once you’ve stopped making progress with this routine, its time to move onto the intermediate routine. You should ideally have done this workout for at least a month to ensure your body is ready for the rigors of the intermediate routine.Most people will be able to make progress with this workout for several months or even a year. If you are still making progress with this routine, there is no need to change.