Starting a new workout program can be challenging, especially for newbies. You may not know what exercises to do, how to use the machines, and how to lift weights safely. Most beginners either do whatever everyone else is doing at the gym, or follow the cookie-cutter workouts featured online and in the magazines.
A little education can go a long way toward your fitness goals. Whether you want to build mass, lose fat, or get in shape, cookie-cutter workouts won’t do the trick. You have two options: hire a personal trainer or design your own exercise plan.
A PT can help, but how can you tell which one has the skills and expertise needed for the job? The truth is that nowadays, anyone can be a PT. It takes minutes to get a certification online. Plus, you need a trainer who specializes in specific areas, whether it’s fat loss, muscle building, or contest prep.
We have compiled this beginner workout guide to help you get started on your own. We’ll show you what it takes to create an exercise program and how to make it work for you. Read on to find out more!
Evaluate Your Needs
Start by setting SMART goals. Aim for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound objectives.
Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. If you’re 200 pounds, it’s unlikely to get super shredded within three or four months. Sure, you could drop 20 pounds or more, but that’s pretty much everything. Spending long hours in the gym and skipping meals won’t help; it can actually be detrimental to your progress.
It takes months or even years to gain all that extra weight. No matter how hard you try, you can get leaner overnight. A realistic goal would be to drop 100 pounds in a year or so. If you’re not realistic, you’ll lose your motivation.
The same goes for muscle building. If packing on mass was that easy, bodybuilders wouldn’t spend decades shaping their physiques. Think of your body as a work of art. It takes years to give it a perfect shape and make it look the way you want. This requires lasting lifestyle changes.
Be Mindful about Your Diet
Beware that diet accounts for over 80 percent of your results. No matter how great your workout is, nutrition can make or break your progress.
Choose whole, minimally processed foods and limit sugar. Fatty fish, lean beef, poultry, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, legumes, and low-sugar fruits are all a good choice.
Adjust your diet based on your goals. To build muscle, increase your protein and carb intake. Consume 200 to 300 calories above maintenance every day.
For fat loss, decrease your calorie intake and cut back on carbs. Keep your protein intake high at all times. This nutrient helps build and maintain muscle, increases physical strength, and boosts your metabolism.
Steer clear of fad diets and cookie-cutter weight loss plans. The human body adapts to dieting and strenuous exercise. The more you restrict your calorie intake, the fewer calories you’ll burn. Plus, you can’t live on 800-1,000 calories forever. As soon as you return to normal eating, the pounds will add up.
What and how much you can eat will depend on your weight and activity level. The more effort you put into your workouts, the more calories you can consume. However, don’t compensate by binging on junk food and cookies. Eat clean, track your calories, and adjust your macros along the way.
Make Exercise a Habit
Let’s return to exercise. Not even the best beginner workout guide will help unless you’re willing to put time and effort into your fitness plan.
Check out your schedule and determine how many days per week you can dedicate to exercise. Ideally, hit the gym four or five times a week. Take your gym sessions seriously just like you do with your work and family time. The whole idea is to make fitness a habit.
What if you’re short on time? In this case, squeeze mini-workouts into your routine or exercise at home whenever you’re too busy to make it to the gym.
Research shows that mini-workouts increase the release of growth hormone and lower cortisol levels to a greater extent than longer gym sessions. This leads to faster weight loss and muscle growth.
The key is to keep the intensity high. The more intense your workout, the more calories you’ll burn and the more you’ll fatigue your muscles.
If you choose to exercise at home, invest in a set of dumbbells that allow you to adjust the weight. Depending on your budget and space, purchase a barbell, a home gym machine, or an exercise ball. For cardio training, consider the following options:
- Running or jogging
- Cardio bodyweight exercises
- At-home HIIT workouts
- Stair climbing
- Rope jumping
- Hiking, swimming, sprinting, etc.
- Traditional cardio machines (elliptical bikes, treadmills, rowing machines, etc.)
Contrary to popular belief, HIIT isn’t just for athletes and fitness pros. Anyone can reap its benefits. However, if you’re a newbie, start with steady state cardio to build up your endurance.
Always do cardio after strength training. This will force your body to burn stored fat instead of glycogen. Keep your sessions short and intense. 30-40 minutes of cardio is more than enough as long as you’re consistent.
Beware that too much cardio can slow down your metabolism by raising the stress hormone cortisol levels. It also leads to muscle loss, which further reduces your energy expenditure.
Focus on Compound Exercises
When it comes to strength training, there are two primary types of exercise:
- Compound exercises, which engage multiple muscle and joints
- Isolation movements, which target only one joint or muscle group
The squat, deadlift, bench press, lunges, and push-ups should come first on your list. These are called compound exercises.
When done properly, they build muscle mass and strength, increase cardiovascular endurance, and send your metabolism into overdrive. Furthermore, they boost testosterone and growth hormone levels, sending your body into an anabolic state. This helps improve your muscle-to-fat ratio and promotes hypertrophy aka muscle growth.
Isolation exercises should account for about 20 percent of your workout. As their name suggests, they isolate specific muscle groups. Here are a few examples:
- Triceps dips
- Bicep curls
- Hamstring curls
- Leg extensions
- Dumbbell lateral raises
- Straight-arm pulldowns
- Glute bridges
- Hip thrusts
As a beginner, it’s better to focus on compound exercises in the first few months. This will help you build up your strength and power. Isolation movements work best for those who are already quite lean and want more definition.
A common mistake is overtraining specific muscles by doing isolation exercises over and over again. For example, many gym goers train their abs every single day, hoping to achieve that sought-after six-pack.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to spot reduce fat. Your abs are covered in fat – that’s why you can’t see them. First, you must lose stubborn fat and then work these muscles to give them the desired shape.
Compound movements, such as the squat and deadlift, strengthen your core muscles and hence, your abs. A strong core can improve your range of motion and reduce injury risk. Contrary to popular belief, crunches and sit-ups aren’t really that effective for building core strength. Compound exercises are a better choice.
As you progress, include ab roll-outs and weighted crunches into your routine. Use a load that allows smooth, controlled motions. The same goes for any muscle group. Focus on the lowering phase of a movement and squeeze that muscle really hard.
How Many Reps and Sets?
Newbies usually make one of the following mistakes: they either work out too hard for too long, or too little to achieve any results. Keep the following rules in mind:
- Perform 3-5 exercises for large muscle groups (ex: chest, back, shoulders, and legs)
- Do 2-3 exercises for smaller muscles (ex: biceps, triceps, calves, traps, etc.)
- To build muscle or lose fat, perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps each
- To increase your endurance, do at least 15 reps per set, up to 3-4 sets
- To gain strength, do 1-6 reps per set, up to six sets
Change these variables once every few weeks. For instance, if you always four sets per exercise, add an extra set or do more reps and fewer sets. Over time, your body adapts to exercise, leading to plateaus. That’s why it’s important to keep your workouts varied.
Be Smart about Supplements
No beginner workout guide would be complete without a word or two about supplements. At this point, stick to the basics. The latest pre-workout formulas are unlikely to get you too far. Protein powder, fish oil, creatine, glutamine, and multivitamins are much more effective for newbies.
A quality protein powder can help you recover faster from training, get stronger, and lose stubborn fat. It also suppresses appetite and curbs cravings, making it easier to eat clean.
Another great choice is creatine. Just like carbs, this amino acid forces your muscles to hold water and accelerates recovery. It also increases muscle power and strength. Its beneficial effects on athletic performance are well-documented.
This nutrient contributes to energy production, reduces fatigue, and improves bone health. It works by increasing the body’s phosphocreatine stores, which boosts ATP levels during high-intensity exercise. Since it enhances cell valorization, it gives you better pumps and makes your muscles look fuller. The results are visible within days.
So, are you ready to make exercise a habit? Use the tips in this beginner workout guide to get started! As you learn more about nutrition and fitness, experiment in the gym and try new techniques.