If You Are A Beginner, Here Is The Perfect Workout Plan To Get You Started On Your Road To Muscle Glory....
Maybe you are tired of being skinny and want to pack on some size. Or maybe you want to get rid of some extra fat while still building muscle. No matter what your starting point is, if you’re reading this, then you are probably looking for a workout plan that will help you achieve your goals and fit into your overall lifestyle.
What You Need To Know As A Beginner
In my Ultimate Beginner's Guide To Building Muscle I talked about the three most important pillars of building muscle (proper training, enough healthy calories and recovery). This post focuses on the training aspect and will give you a step-by-step workout that is based on scientific research to force your body to:
- Build Maximum Amount Of Muscle
- Increase Strength Fast
- And Burn Calories
Who Qualifies As A Beginner?
Obviously, anyone with no weight training experience whatsoever is a beginner. But even someone who has been going to the gym months or even years can be a beginner, if they never trained according to an intelligently structured workout routine which has to be followed on consistently. In fact, this criteria qualifies half - if not more - people in any of the gyms I have been to.
While some trainers even see those as beginners, who followed a well-designed workout at some point in their life, but stopped for more than a few weeks, I believe that, depending on their strength level, some might start again with an intermediate workout, due to their experience and the advantages of muscle memory.
What Should A Beginner Workout Look Like?
Any normal sized gym has so many machines and exercise possibilities that you will most likely ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What exercises should I do?
- How many set/reps?
- Should I train using machines or free weights?
- How long and often should I work out?
Fortunately, from a scientific point of view there is a very clear outline of what a beginner workout plan should look like, as these guidelines are proven to work best for building muscle and overall strength. They include:
- A strong focus on compound exercises
- A maximum of 12 repetitions per set (more on that later)
- 3-4 sets per exercise
- Workouts of 60 - 90 minutes
The Step-By-Step Beginner Workout Plan
Ok, let's put what we learned so far into practice. If you are completely new to bodybuilding or haven’t worked out in a long time, your first month will consist of learning the correct exercise form while building a base of strength and stability. This can either be done using machines or free weights. Normally free weight exercises should always be preferred over machines, because they not only target your main muscles but also all the small ones needed to stabilize the barbell/dumbbell.
However, over the years I've seen many beginners who had a hard time balancing the bar (e.g. during the bench press), even when there was no weight added to it. This is nothing to be embarrassed about and shouldn't stop you from doing free weight exercises, but if you really feel uncomfortable switch to a machine or guided press instead (only for the first few weeks, afterwards it's back to the free weights again!).
Step 1: Your Workout Routine For The First 4 Weeks
Schedule Week 1:
Monday - Full Body Workout 1
Tuesday - Rest
Wednesday - Full Body Workout 2
Thursday - Rest
Friday - Full Body Workout 1
Saturday - Rest
Schedule Week 2:
Monday - Full Body Workout 2
Tuesday - Rest
Wednesday - Full Body Workout 1
Thursday - Rest
Friday - Full Body Workout 2
Saturday - Rest
Schedule Week 3: Repeat Week 1
Full Body Workout 1:
Squats: 3 Sets of 8 - 10 Reps
Bench Press: 3 Sets of 8 - 10 Reps
Bent Over Barbell Row: 3 Sets of 8 - 10 Reps
Full Body Workout 2:
Deadlift: 3 Sets of 8 - 10 Reps
Pull-Ups: 3 Sets of 8 - 10 Reps
Military Press: 3 Sets of 8 - 10 Reps
Rest: 2 - 3 minutes between sets
Weight: Use the same weight for all three sets of an exercise. Choose enough weight for you to (almost) reach muscle failure on the last set. This should be around 75% of your one-rep max (= 1RM; calculate it here). As a beginner, you should be able to increase the weight from workout to workout, while maintaining perfect form. Remember: Progressive overload is what will force your body to grow bigger muscle fibers.
Step 2: Changes After The First 4 Weeks
Exercises: Your exercises will stay the same. Continue to alternate Full Body Workout 1 & 2
Reps: This is where things start to get interesting. Most trainers, magazines and blogs will tell you that the optimal rep range for maximum muscle growth (= muscle hypertrophy) lies anywhere between 8 - 12 reps. While this range is by no means "bad", scientific research suggests that a lower rep range and higher weight load can be more effective.
How low, you ask?
The above study compared ranges of 3 - 5 vs. 10 - 12 reps, and showed that the lower range in combination with higher weight loads led to more strength and muscle gains. While my personal experience and that of many others confirms that a lower rep count should be preferred, I believe the sweet spot lies anywhere between 6 - 8 reps.
Weight: Less reps mean more weight. Doing 6 - 8 reps will allow you to use around 80% - 85% of the weight of your 1RM. With more weight also comes more risk of injury, which is why you should make sure to use perfect form in all exercises and have already developed a feeling for the barbell. This is also why I advise less weight and a higher rep range for the first four weeks, where beginners tend to make to most mistakes.
Step 3: Keep Adding Weight To The Bar
I said it before, but I'll say it again just to make sure. Progressive overload is what will get you bigger muscles. This means you should constantly strive to lift more weight. Sometimes you'll be able to add five pounds to your bench press, week after week. Sometimes it will be none for several consecutive workouts. That's fine as long as an overall trend is noticeable. As a beginner, you should take advantage of these first few months, because this is when your body will quickly adapt to the new stress level placed on your muscles and build strength and size like crazy.
That's it! Follow the above workout plan for the next three to five months and you will see drastic changes in your strength and muscle growth. The exercises might seem simple, but are proven to give you the best results. Don't mess around with the workout too much (see FAQ) as there are almost no exercises that can really substitute the bench press, squat, military press and deadlift.
Should I Warm Up Before My Workout?
Yes. Warm ups will make your muscle perform at its maximum and prevent injuries. The higher blood flow will also ensure they are sustained with nutrients. Don't worry, proper warm ups don't take long: Three short warm up sets (with 8/6/4 reps) building up the first working set are enough. In addition, you can do five minutes on the treadmill or exercise bicycle, but too much cardio before your workout will deplete your glycogen stores and work against you.
Do I Need To Change My Workout Routine Every x Weeks?
Not really. Focus on the four main exercises (bench press, squat, military press and deadlift) and make sure to always use perfect form. Unless you stick to a certain workout structure which doesn't change, how would you ever be able to track your progress? While it is true that your muscle can adapt to the same motions after a while, this effect will be nullified by your constant effort to lift increasingly more weight. If you get bored doing the same exercises all the time, try changing their order within the workout. Once you have 4 - 6 months of dedicated lifting under your belt, you can switch to an intermediate workout.
The Workout Seems Too Simplistic. Shouldn't I be Doing More/Different Exercises Per Muscle Group?
Because of all the magazines advertising ridiculous workout routines with way too many isolation exercises, many beginners don't believe that a small number of compound movements can give them better results. I understand that this can be a little counterintuitive, but think about the 80/20 Principle and how it can be found almost everywhere in our lives. The same applies to bodybuilding and strength training. More fancy doesn't necessarily mean better.
Feel Free To Ask Questions And Share Your Thoughts In The Comments Below!