So, you’re new to fitness. In fact, you’ve never seriously trained in your life.
You haven’t the slightest idea what exercises you should do or what the best repetition range is. And just listening to your gym-obsessed friends discussing training splits makes you dizzy. Getting in shape seems to be much more complicated than you initially expected and you’re almost ready to throw in the towel….
Don’t worry, I got your back.
In today’s post, I’ll walk you through the process of creating a basic workout routine. I’ll also give you a couple of tips on modifying the workouts as you make progress. Whether you want to build muscle, burn fat or become more athletic, this program will build a solid foundation.
Like most traditional training plans, this routine will have two parts. Resistance training (lifting weights) and cardiovascular training (cardio).
Part 1 – Resistance Training
For this routine, we’ll only use barbell and bodyweight exercises. If you want, you can replace these exercises with dumbbell variations.
Beginners aren’t physically prepared to handle great workloads so we’ll focus on compound free-weight exercises.
This routine assumes that you’ll lift weights 2-3 times a week.
Weights And Good Form
Proper form is important for beginners and experienced lifters alike. Only pick a weight that you can lift for the necessary repetitions without sacrificing good form. If you’re not sure you can lift a weight, always go with a lighter option. There’s a time and a place for showing off and it definitely isn’t when you’re lifting heavy weights.
In short, leave your ego at the door.
Since you’re just starting out, a full-body workout is all you’ll need. That way, you can focus on the exercises that matter and get the most bang for your buck.
Your full-body workout:
- Barbell Back Squat (can be replaced with dumbbell squat)
- Barbell Deadlift (can be replaced with stiff-legged dumbbell deadlift)
- Barbell Bench Press (can be replaced with dumbbell floor press or dumbbell bench press)
- Dumbbell / Barbell Rows (if you’re strong enough, you can replace these with pullups/chinups instead)
Barbell Back Squat – Tutorial
The barbell squat is a lower-body pushing exercise. Well, that’s not entirely correct. Your core, trunk, and back are constantly engaged in order to prevent you from falling on your face. Calling the squat a full-body exercise with a focus on the lower-body is more appropriate. Your quads and glutes get a lot of attention here.
Barbell Deadlift – Tutorial
Like the squat, the deadlift strengthens your back, core, and trunk. More importantly, it is also your lower-body pull.
Barbell Bench Press – Tutorial
This is your upper body pushing exercise. Your chest, triceps and the front part of the shoulders do most of the work.
Barbell Row – Tutorial
The row is your upper body pull. It primarily trains your back muscles
These four exercises will hit the majority of your muscles. Don’t be fooled by their small number. Each exercise listed here is a compound movement that hits several muscle groups simultaneously. As a result, they are all very demanding on your body and an adequate challenge for beginners.
Or more than adequate, in the case of chin-ups. Realistically, you’ll almost certainly have to start with barbell rows until you build some strength.
As you continue to improve, you’ll want to start looking into training splits and adding more exercises, but we’ll get to that later.
Repetitions, Sets And Rest Periods
For these workouts, we’re going to stick with 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions and 60 seconds of rest between sets. You can rest for 90-120 seconds between exercises.
This number of repetitions will build strength and improve anaerobic endurance. It also promotes muscle hypertrophy for those that want to build muscle or burn fat.
Part 2 – Cardio
This is the second part of your routine. I recommend that you do cardio 2-3 times per week on days that you don’t lift. If you do cardio and lift weights on the same day, whichever you do second will inevitably suffer. In case you HAVE to train that way, hit the weights first.
There are a lot of things you can try with cardio and some can even be quite fun. Unfortunately, the higher intensity stuff is not for the beginner so you’ll have to suffer through a few weeks of steady state cardio in order to build a good foundation. Don’t worry, it’s an acquired taste. Before long, you’ll find yourself enjoying your cardio workouts.
For this routine, we’ll keep cardio workouts 20-40 minutes long.
Your Cardio Options
The most common activity for cardio is undoubtedly jogging (or walking, depending on your preference and fitness level). If you pick this option, I suggest that you don’t jog on a treadmill. Go run outside if you can manage it.
Cycling is another great way to do cardio. I realize that cycling outdoors is not always easy, so an indoor bike may be the better option here.
The final option I will mention here is swimming. Frankly, I feel that it’s the best option if you’re overweight and unable to handle the impact of jogging on your joints. Most people would greatly benefit from a couple of swimming sessions per week.
The best workout in the world is useless if you don’t know how to consistently make progress. In simple terms, your body builds muscle and becomes stronger in order to adapt to stress. It actually sees your workouts as a threat and attempts to protect itself by becoming more physically capable.
If you want to keep making progress, you must gradually make your workouts harder. In resistance training, this is achieved by adding more weight or repetitions. In cardio, you can do it by increasing the distance you travel in a certain time period (eg. 20 mins) or by decreasing the time it takes to travel a certain distance (eg. 5 miles).
Apart from that, it is also vital that you record your workouts and progress. This includes the weights you use and distances you run. Being able to see how far you’ve come since you started training is both practical and a good way to motivate yourself.
A Week Of The Beginner’s Workout Routine
Now that we’ve got all the details out of the way, let’s see what a week of this routine would look like. In this example, you lift and do cardio twice a week.
Day 1: Weight Training – Barbell squat 3×8, Bench Press 3×8, Deadlift 3×8, Chin-ups 3×8
Day 2: Jogging, 25 minutes
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Same as Day 1, but with slightly heavier weights or more reps.
Day 5: Same as Day 2, but the trainee will jog for more time or with more intensity
Day 6 & Day 7: Rest
There’s a lot of room for customization here, as long as you make sure that you don’t do your weightlifting workouts on consecutive days.
When you first start training, you will find yourself growing stronger rapidly. This happens because your body makes a lot of adaptations in your nervous system and muscles. However, your progress will eventually begin to slow down.
When that happens, you may wish to adopt a two-day split, one day for pulls and one day for pushes. This is where you can start adding secondary exercises.
For example, your primary pushing exercises are the squat and the bench press. In addition, you can include exercises like the overhead press, the push press, and the lunge. For your pulling workouts, dumbbell high pulls and chin-ups are great choices. You may also want to add some core exercises like crunches, planks and supermen.
You can increase the difficulty of your cardio training by incorporating high-intensity bursts into your usual activities. A few sprints spread throughout your jogging/walking workouts will offer a new challenge, and improve your anaerobic endurance.
And there’s your workout routine.
To conclude, I want to stress that proper recovery is essential. The volume in this routine will not lead to overtraining for most people, but everyone is different. What your body tells you is more important than anything I can say. If you feel weak or fatigued, train lightly or take a day off.
Finally, keep in mind that consistent effort is the key to growth. Following this routine for a week will not yield significant results, but if you keep at it, you’ll reap the rewards of a healthier and stronger body.
Stay on the grind.