Beginner Workout Routine for Strength Training at the Gym and at Home

Beginners have a great advantage when they start working out. Yes, being a beginner is a good thing! When you’re a beginner, your body is essentially “fresh” to workout stimuli which means it will work really hard to adapt and become better at whatever you’re doing.

This means you’ll get stronger, lose weight faster, and build more muscle at a quicker rate than someone more advanced.

What most people fail to do is follow a proper strength training beginner workout routine. Instead, they focus on random stuff, aka never-ending cardio, swinging weights with no real purpose, etc.

Needless to say, they don’t really benefit from being beginners and miss out on the opportunity to make the best progress in their lives.

In this article, I’ll show you exactly what you need to be doing to get the most out of your workouts during the beginner stage.

Are you a beginner?

Are you a beginner

Generally, if you’re wondering if you’re a beginner then you more than likely fall into that category. If you’ve taken a substantial amount of time off from working out, then you may also be considered a bit of a beginner physiologically, even if you’ve worked out before.

Your knowledge base, level of conditioning, and foundation of trained strength will largely determine how much of a beginner you are.

For example, if you used to be in the military or an athlete in college or high school, and haven’t trained as you used to for an extended time, then your body would have detrained.

Detraining is when you lose the adaptations from physical training such as muscle mass or size, strength, increased body-fat, poor posture, less cardiorespiratory endurance, etc.

However, there are some criteria that you can go by just to be sure that you’re a beginner:

  • You’ve never worked out
  • Lack of general exercise knowledge
  • Not sure what proper form is/unable to maintain or explain proper form
  • It’s been a long time since you’ve worked out OR
  • Haven’t been working out for long (less than 6 months consistently)

If you qualify as a beginner, keep reading. However, if you feel you’ve outgrown your beginner title, you will benefit more from other workout programs such as push/pull/legs or PHAT.

Determine your body type

Whether you’re a beginner or not, where you’re starting from as far as your body composition and current fitness level will significantly affect 3 workout variables in particular: exercise selection, sets and reps, and cardio options.

If you’re obese, overweight, underweight, or starting at a generally healthy weight, you’ll want to exercise certain precautions and use different techniques in order to progress safely and steadily without incurring unnecessary injury.

Your starting body composition will largely determine the types of activity that you can tolerate.

Determine your fitness level

Determine your fitness level

Everyone’s level of conditioning at the start of a fitness program will be different. Whether you lead a sedentary lifestyle, play basketball with your friends every weekend or work in a high labor job field, this will all contribute to your level of conditioning.

Before you begin working out, it may be a good idea to figure out your personal fitness level so you’ll have a good idea of how to gauge your intensity.

Working out too intensely for your fitness level can perpetuate existing issues or even create new ones that can become setbacks and derail your fitness goals.

Someone who is sedentary will benefit the most from starting at a lower intensity. While someone who has a level of conditioning will be able to start at a more moderate intensity.

If you sit at a desk all day and do little activity, then you’re probably leading a more sedentary lifestyle.

However, if you participate in recreational sports, or are on your feet most of the day then your level of conditioning will be a little higher and probably allow you to increase your intensity sooner.

You’ll want to avoid overdoing it, so pay attention to how you’re feeling overall, your heart rate, and how heavily you’re breathing.

Some symptoms of overexertion include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea/vomiting

Should you experience any of these, it’s time to back off, take it down a few notches and rest.

If you are obese or significantly overweight, then you’ll definitely want to start with low-impact options to protect your joints and give your body time to make the necessary adaptations in order to prevent excessive wear and tear.

Walking, water aerobics and recumbent stationary bikes are some low-impact and low-intensity options to start with.

Important things to remember

Exercise selection

As a beginner, you want to focus on compound movements. They target multiple large muscle groups simultaneously, burn the most calories, and build muscle more effectively than single-joint exercises.

If you’re obese or significantly overweight then seated and standing exercises will be the best place for you to start. Certain types of exercises may be distractingly uncomfortable or even painful, so choosing exercises that you can handle is important.

It’s hard enough to start a workout routine, much less one that’s causing you excessive discomfort.

When you’re first starting out or getting back to training, it’s important to make sure that you have good form. The first few weeks of your fitness routine should be spent practicing your form and technique to give your soft tissues and heart time to adjust.

Sets and reps

You don’t want to jump right into lifting super heavy at a low rep range or training for max power. Your soft tissues simply won’t be able to tolerate it.

When I say soft tissues, I’m referring to your tendons, ligaments and other tissues that support your muscles and joints.

A good rep-range to start from when just getting into working out or reintroducing yourself to a fitness routine would be the 8-12 rep range for 2-3 sets. This rep/set range will allow you to build muscle and create a foundation for building strength as you progress.

Cardio options

Cardio options

If your goal is weight loss or you’re nervous about resistance training, then it may be tempting to just go to town on cardio by living on cardio equipment, taking up a bunch of running all of a sudden or maybe even using high-intensity interval training as your primary workout type.

However, it’s important to note that your body adapts to cardio pretty quickly so if you start with an intense large amount you’ll have to keep increasing it in order to keep seeing results.

Yes, per session cardio will burn more calories than resistance training, but it won’t help your metabolic rate and you’ll end up feeling exhausted and more hungry than ever in a few weeks.

So, with that being said, you’ll want to start small and work your way up. As a beginner, it will benefit you the most to start with a low impact, low-intensity activity and then gradually increase the challenge as your fitness level increases.

Some activities that you may want to start with include walking and biking.

Your bodyweight will play a role in the type of cardio that you’ll choose to begin with. For example, a 150lb person may be more comfortable doing certain types of activity than a 350lb person.

Everyone’s body is different, so it’s worth noting that everyone will have a different starting point.Click to Tweet

Either way, it’s best to start from where you’re at, not where you want to be. Everyone has to start somewhere and gradually work their way up.

If you can only do 10 minutes of cardio, then that’s what you’ll focus on and gradually add a little more time each week until you can get up to about 30 minutes per session.

Rest times

Your rest times will be dependant on how intense you want your workout to be and your goals. If you want to build muscle, which is what the set/rep ranges above are designed to do, then you’ll want to rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

The higher your fitness level, the less you’ll have to rest. As you progress you can reduce your rest time from 90 seconds to 60 seconds, to 45 seconds, to 30 seconds.

Intensity

Intensity level

As I mentioned above, to make the exercises more intense you can rest less between sets. Another way to increase the difficulty is to slow down the movement or use some equipment. This will cause your body to have to work harder and recruit more muscle fibers.

If the workout feels like it’s a little too much for you right now, then you can also decrease the sets. Instead of doing 3 sets, try doing just 2 sets of each exercise and resting for 60-90 seconds.

It’s important to listen to your body and make gradual progress. Trying to push yourself past your limits, in the beginning, will not benefit you.

Warm-up

People sometimes skip right past this step, but it’s important to always warm-up before starting any kind of fitness activity. The purpose of a warm-up is to

  • Start elevating your heart rate
  • Raise the temperature of your body
  • Increase blood flow and get your joints ready by loosening them up a bit

An appropriate warm-up is some light cardiovascular activity to get your body moving such as walking for 5-10 minutes or doing some dynamic stretching where you move your body in and out of a full range of motion or stretch instead of holding it.

Expert tip: Warming up will help you to prevent injuries, perform better, and give you a bit of time to mentally prepare for the workout ahead.

Cooldown

Make sure you include a cool down after your workout. This can be as simple as walking or doing another light activity for about 5-10 minutes to give your heart rate time to lower and allow your body temperature to decrease a bit.

Just as you gradually ease your body into the workout, it’s just as important to ease it out of its workout state.

Once your heartbeat has calmed down a bit, then you can do some stretching. You’ll want to focus on the muscles that you exercised during your workout, although if you’d like to stretch your whole body then that’s fine too.

Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds to begin with. You can work your way up to 60-90 seconds as you improve your flexibility. Remember to breathe through the stretch and exhale as you’re lengthening your muscle. Don’t bounce.

Stretching should not hurt, although you may feel some tightness and a bit of discomfort. Don’t force your body past what it can naturally do or you could injure yourself.

Workout schedule

Workout schedule

Below I put together 2 beginner workout routines for men and women, one using just the bodyweight that you can comfortably do at home, and the other one that requires gym access.

Both routines are based on a 3-day split which means you’ll do 3 workouts a week, alternating between 2 different routines every other day.

You want that day of rest in between to give your muscles time to recover and heal so they can adapt and get stronger.

Week 1:

DayWorkout
MondayWorkout A
TuesdayOff
WednesdayWorkout B
ThursdayOff
FridayWorkout A
SaturdayOff
SundayOff

Week 2:

DayWorkout
MondayWorkout B
TuesdayOff
WednesdayWorkout A
ThursdayOff
FridayWorkout B
SaturdayOff
SundayOff

Week 3: repeat week 1

Week 4: repeat week 2

Alternate this workout schedule for 4 to 6 weeks before changing up what you’re doing. This will give your body adequate time to build a base to start from and allow you to progress safely.

If you cannot workout 3 times a week, you can do perform the routine twice a week instead with a 2 to 3 days rest period in between. For example:

DayWorkout
MondayWorkout A
TuesdayOff
WednesdayOff
ThursdayWorkout B
FridayOff
SaturdayOff
SundayOff

In both cases, your goal is to focus on form and perfect it to build a solid foundation.

Proper form is imperative for consistent gains, preventing injury, and targeting the muscles that are supposed to be worked.

Expert tip: Go slow and focus on proper form. You’re only competing against yourself so just do what you can based on your ability.

Beginner bodyweight program

This bodyweight training program is great if you don’t have access to the gym or just feel more comfortable training at home. It’ll allow you to build the initial foundation before moving up to a heavier type of resistance training.

Workout routine A:

ExerciseSetsReps
Squats3 sets10-15 reps
Push-ups3 sets10-15 reps
Rows3 sets10-15 reps
Sit-ups3 sets10-15 reps

Workout routine B:

ExerciseSetsReps
Pull-ups3 sets5-8 reps
Lunges3 sets10-15 reps
Overhead shoulder press3 sets10-15 reps
Planks3 sets30-60 seconds

Exercise notes

Squats

  • If you find it difficult to perform a squat, you may put something in front of you to hold on to (like a chair) which will give you extra support.
  • If you have bad ankle mobility, you may put something underneath your heels (like a thin book) to make it easier to squat lower while maintaining good form.

Push-ups

  • If you can’t do a normal push-up yet, you may start on your knees instead. Once you can comfortably perform 15 reps, try to do some on your toes until you fatigue and drop back to your knees to finish your set.

Pull-ups

  • If you can’t do a single pull-up, you can do negative pull-ups instead. Hold your body in the up position of the pullup with your chin above the bar for as long as possible.
  • You can also try using resistance bands for extra assistance.

Rows and overhead should press

  • Instead of dumbbells, you may hold something heavy in your hands (like a milk jug) or use resistance bands.

Plank

  • If you can’t hold a plank for at least 30 seconds, do it for as long as you can, take a 5-second break, and continue until you get to 30 seconds.

Beginner gym workout program

This strength training workout program is perfect for beginners who have access to the gym and aren’t scared of free-weights and machines. You will be able to build a very solid foundation and benefit from your “beginner” stage by making better and bigger gains.

Workout routine A:

ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell squats3 sets8-10 reps
Bench press3 sets8-10 reps
Barbell rows3 sets8-10 reps
Overhead dumbbell extensions1 set10-12 reps
Sit-ups1-2 sets12-15 reps

Workout routine B:

ExerciseSetsReps
Deadlift3 sets6-8 reps
Pull-ups3 sets8-10 reps
Overhead press3 sets8-10 reps
Bicep curls1 set10-12 reps
Lying leg raises1-2 sets12-15 reps

The important thing you need to remember is not to mess with this program. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you both can and definitely will benefit from it the way it is.movements. Stick to the basics that actually work.

Expert tip: Don’t be like some of those guys who do nothing but bicep curls all day or women who do very intricate leg movements.

Enjoy the progress

As a beginner, you’re going to be making more progress, and at a faster rate, than someone who is a more experienced lifter. Taking pictures of your body every 2-4 weeks is a great way to watch your progress and stay motivated.

Patience and consistency are the keys to results so hang in there, choose activities that you like so you’ll stick with it and change up what you’re doing every couple of months to keep your body responding.

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Vlad is an experienced fitness trainer and nutrition junkie with over 15 years in the industry behind his back. He has a passion to help people achieve optimal health and wellness through education.

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