You just finished a double cheeseburger with an extra large side of fries. Because tomorrow, you’re going to dust off that membership and hit the gym. Hooray! But wait a minute- where do you start? We got you covered with this beginner workout plan and everything you need to know to off that cheeseburger in no time.
Starting a new fitness routine can be intimidating and daunting. Let’s face it, transforming the shape of your body may very well be the hardest thing you do. So before we dive into the workout, let’s talk about mindset.
Change is never easy. Especially when it comes to your personal fitness. Don’t think you’ll be able to transform your body in 3 months. If you’re like me, you spent years eating fast food 3-4 times a week and hardly ever worked out. Do you think a 3 month program will magically make up for all that? Probably not.
This is not an 8 week or a 3 month program. This is a lifestyle change, a fundamental shift in how you think about food and exercise. Think long term. Tell your loved ones that you’re committed to a healthier lifestyle. Set your timeline to 12 months. That’s right, 1 year. Why 1 year? Let me explain…
A sustainable and healthy pace for weight loss is 1 pound per week. That’s 52 pounds in a year. Anything more than that and you risk yo-yoing. Losing weight slower will increase your chances of keeping it off in the long run. So if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, for example, it will take 20 weeks or 5 months.
Muscle takes much more time to build than most people expect. If you’ve never lifted before and did every single thing right for your first year, you would be able to gain at most 20-25 pounds of muscle. That’s a little less than half a pound of muscle a week.
Before The Workout
Now that you’re thinking long term, it’s time to get started. Here are 4 steps to get you going on your fitness journey.
Step 1: Take Your Measurements
This is a very important step. Tracking your progress from the very beginning sets you up for success in the long term. I hated taking pictures of myself because I couldn’t stand how I looked in the mirror. But in retrospect, I wish I did. I’ve started a program with photos and one without. It was clear that I reached my goal faster and easier with them.
The reason is when you compare photos from one week to the next, you see the small changes to your body. And it motivates the heck out of you! You go into the next week and think “hey, this is working, I can do this!” giving you the momentum to keep going.
I used to take pictures every Saturday morning and make it a goal to make the next week’s pictures better than the last. But taking progress pics is just one way to go about tracking results. Some other ways include:
- Weigh yourself once a week or every couple of days. If you do this, weigh yourself first thing in the morning on an empty stomach before liquids or solid food. Make sure your scale is accurate. Find an object that you know the weight of, place it on the scale, and make sure it’s correct. Go for a digital one instead of an analog.
- Take circumference measurements. Measure key parts of your body with a measuring tape. While I do recommend this method, I have to admit that it’s a little tricky to follow through with. Taking your own measurements is difficult and can lead to inaccurate numbers. If you decide to do this, find someone who is reliable and knows how to take accurate measurements.
I recommend doing some combination of the above. For example, take progress pics and weigh yourself every Saturday morning. Lastly, be sure to have a journal or some kind of tracker on your smart device to record everything.
If you choose to take circumference measurements, here’s a video on how to take those properly.
Step 2: Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Setting goals that are S.M.A.R.T. will remove any barriers, doubts, and uncertainties on your way to a fitter you. Having clear goals brings clarity of purpose, creating lazer focus on the end result. It’s also a great way to measure your progress and make adjustments as necessary.
Fitness goals boil down to one of the following. Here they are in S.M.A.R.T. format.
- Losing an x amount of fat or weight. I will lose 12 pounds by March 31, 20XX.
- Gaining an x amount of muscle. I will gain 3 pounds of lean muscle by March 31, 20XX.
- Performing strength/resistance training an x amount of times. I will perform 1 hour of strength training 3x/ week for the next 8 weeks.
- Performing cardio/ conditioning an x amount of times. I will perform 30 minutes of cardio 4x/ week for the next 8 weeks.
Step 3: Choose Your Workout
A well rounded workout has 2 key types of exercises: cardio and strength.
Cardio/ Cardiovascular/ Aerobic Activity. A type of exercise that speeds up your breathing and heart rate.
Strength, weight, or resistance training. A type of exercise used to improve the strength and functionality of muscles.
- Pushups in which you work against the weight of your own body
- Bench pressing 135 lbs
- Performing squats with resistance bands
This article lays out a strength training beginner workout plan.
Step 4: Gather Your Equipment
You’ll need to gather some equipment before you jump onto the gym floor.
- Shoes. One of the most important things to consider. You’ll want to look into this once you start doing compound exercises like barbell squats and deadlifts. Sturdy and stiff shoes like Chucks work well for lifting, but they’re not the best for running. New balance and Asics are great brands for this.
- Towel. When the sweat starts to drip, don’t leave the equipment wet and wild. Be considerate of others and clean up after yourself.
- A water bottle or protein shaker bottle. I like to use a protein shaker bottle so I can use it for both water and a post workout shake later.
- Notebook or some type of fitness tracker so you can pick up where you left off in the next workout.
- Music and headphones. Seriously, how can anyone workout without these?!
- Gym bag. I don’t like having wallets or dangling keychains on me when I work out. With a gym bag you have easy access to all of your stuff without any hassle.
The Beginner Workout Plan
Who This Workout Is For
This workout is for the absolute beginner- one who has never touched a dumbbell or barbell in their life. This workout can also work for anyone who has taken a break for longer than 6 months. It’s a way to get back into the swing of things.
Defining Key Fitness Words
The main words you’ll need to know in strength training are “sets” and “reps”.
Set. Refers to repeating a particular exercise for a certain number of times. For example, an athlete performs 12 reps of squats, rest, then performs another “set” of 12 more squats.
Repetition or “rep.” The number of times you perform an exercise during a set. For example, in the above mentioned exercise, the athlete performs 12 “reps” of squats in each set.
Here’s the 7 day schedule for this workout:
- This is a full body workout. Perform it 3x per week, taking one day off between each workout.
- Between exercises, rest for 1 to 2 minutes. For example, after completing lying leg curls, use the 2 minute rest to get to the chest press machine.
- Begin the workout with a light, 10 minute warm up on the treadmill, stationary bike, or stair master. End the workout with 10 minutes of static stretching.
|1||Leg Press (Squats)||3||8-10||60s|
|2||Lying Leg Curls (Deadlifts)||3||8-10||60s|
|3||Chest Press Machine (Bench Press)||3||8-10||60s|
|4||Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (Pull Ups)||3||8-10||60s|
|5||Shoulder Press Machine (Overhead Press)||3||8-10||60s|
|6||Machine Bicep Curl (Bicep Curls)||2||10-15||60s|
|7||Tricep Rope Pulldown (Dips)||2||10-15||60s|
|8||Calf Raise Machine||2||10-15||60s|
|10||Lying Leg Raises||2||20-25||60s|
How To Increase The Weight
For each exercise, use the same weight on every set. Only increase the weight when you’re able to perform all sets with perfect form. For example, for the leg press you do 3 sets of 8-10. You easily do 10 reps on the first set. On the second set, you also do 10, but by the last set you’re tired and only able to get 8. So the next time you do leg press, you’ll have to start at 100 lbs again until all 3 sets are perfect. When you’re able to hit all the reps, increase the weight by 5-10% the next time you do leg press.
You’ll notice that most of these exercises are machine based. This is because the absolute beginner has less integrity in the joints and a weak core. This workout aims to address this by isolating and strengthening the muscles. Furthermore, this will prevent injury in the eventual transition to free weights.
In parenthesis, you’ll see the exercise this program hopes to prepare you for. For example, the leg press is a progression towards squats. As you progress, you’ll want to transition away from machines. You want to be using more free weights as they are more effective at producing the best results. Follow this program for at least 4 weeks before progressing to free weights.
The order of the workouts is intentional. You want to exercise the biggest muscle groups before the smaller ones. Tiring out your smaller muscles first decreases your potential to lift heavier weights. When your smaller muscles get tired, bigger muscle groups won’t be in an optimal state.
If your goal is to burn the most calories, using your biggest muscles first helps that. A squat recruits the gluteus maximus, the biggest muscles on your body. A bicep curl recruits the much smaller biceps brachii. It’s obvious you’re going to burn more calories with the squat.
Practice Proper Form
Learning the proper lifting technique is very important. It’s probably the most important thing an absolute beginner can learn. It sets the path for a successful, injury-free journey. You don’t want to develop bad habits early on. Be strict on yourself. If you need to decrease the weight for the first few weeks, do it.
Take Strict Rest Times
Don’t get distracted while you’re at the gym. Focus on the workout and rest times. Use a timer or stopwatch to keep strict time. Don’t take a 5 minute break to chat it up with a friend when the program says 60 seconds. Short rest times ensure that the intensity of your workout stays up. It also influences the impact the exercise will have on your body. Taking too long of a rest period may impact you negatively.
Consistency Is Key
Strength training 3 days a week with a rest day following and weekends off is a good pace for a beginner. But it won’t matter how hard you work if after 2-3 weeks you skip out on the gym. The benefits of working out compound over time. Stay consistent with your workout schedule. Plan ahead. Block out time on your calendar. Get rid of anyone or anything that doesn’t help you get to your goal.
It will take time to get to your fitness goal. You’ll want to give up and tell yourself you never wanted it in the first place. While we’ve outlined everything you need to get started, it only works if you do. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nothing of significance is. Make a commitment to yourself today and see this process through.