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Ultimate Guide: Weight Training For Beginners

So, you want to lift some heavy weights and get fit?

Or perhaps you are thinking about it.

Before I dig into this guide (which is pretty long), I want to pique your interest and make you SUPER excited about why you should do weight training!

First of all, once you commit to weight training you will experience the pure awesomeness of the incredible transformative journey of becoming more healthy and gradually becoming stronger and more good looking.

Both being and feeling stronger and also looking more fit all have a powerful impact on your confidence, and this confidence is not at all limited to the inside gym it will carry over to other important things in life!

People you know will take notice of your changes and their attitude towards you will probably change for the better.

I would even go so far to say that strangers are going to be more mindful of you and show you more respect being it consciously or unconsciously in everyday situations.

Best of all, you could even end up having a positive impact on others and help inspire them to also improve their life by exercising and/or eating more healthy.

However, beyond all that I believe there is something much more powerful than all that.

It is a little bit hard to explain and if you are not familiar with these ideas you might think me strange.

The experience of growth (becoming better) and progressing towards a goal comes with a great deal of satisfaction and once you achieve your goal it gives you the motivation and confidence to work on even greater things.

Your mindset on achieving things will change.

It is almost as if you set yourself up to achieve even greater and more meaningful things!

Weight training is especially powerful in this regard because the feedback of your improvement or progress is so obvious.

So if that sounds awesome then you know weight training is for you!

Click the button to expand!

Introduction To The Guide


So if the things above sounds good to you then you know that weight training is the right thing for you!

Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start since even the biggest guy in the gym was once in that position.

As the title says this is the ultimate beginner guide for weight training and I don’t think it can live up to that without being a bit technical and geeky at least some of the time.

However, I will try to make it as easy to understand as possible and only focus on what is important for beginners.

The truth is that there are many things that only are relevant as you become more experienced.

There are a lot more minor details and small tweaks that potentially can make a difference for advanced lifters.

Strength Training And Weight Training

Strength training and weight training are often used interchangeably, and I must admit having done this before myself.

I think it makes good sense because although the meaning is not entirely the same, what people often mean and refer to is the same.

Explained in a simple way, strength training is a broader term that covers different exercise types that all have the same desired outcome which is increasing strength.

Weight training is included in that.

To name a few examples you can also do strength training using resistance bands, machines or your own bodyweight.

Health Benefits Of Weight Training


I did already talk about some benefits of weight training in the introduction, but I want to highlight some of the health benefits because they are many.

First of all, when you lift weights and become stronger it is not only your muscle fiber that gets stronger by increasing size and density.

– Your bones become stronger

– Tendons and ligaments become tougher

– The function of your joints improve

Getting an overall stronger body will reduce your risk of injuries significantly and it will give you the possibility to simply do more cool things in life for a longer time.

Get strong and do more cool things!

By increasing your muscle mass and strength you also gain:

– Increased metabolism

– Improvements in cardiac function

– Better hormonal balance

Finally, you could say that you alleviate many harmful effects of the modern lifestyle.

I think most people recognize that the average work and daily life are putting our health at risk.

Because we are inactive and sit down so much we become lethargic and weak. Weight training is an effective way to compensate for that.

Another major issue with sitting down so much is getting bad posture which can affect you in more negative ways than you think.

Proper stretching and weight training can improve your posture.

There is a popular stretching program that I can I recommend for fixing posture and you check out my review of unlock your hip flexors here.

# 1 Most Important Thing For Weight Training Success


There are a lot of things that are important for having success with your weight training.

However, let me tell you the most important thing you need to address in your weight training for making any kind of progress.

And I believe that is even more important for beginners because you are especially susceptible to this as you haven’t yet built the habit of training regularly.

It is vital for any kind of progress and believe me when I say nothing else matters compared to this.

THAT THING IS ADHERENCE!

No weight training program that anyone can offer you will do anything for you if you don’t actually do it.

It doesn’t matter who made the program or how ripped he is.

It doesn’t matter how “optimal” the program is for your training level, body type, genetics etc.

If you are not actually able to follow through then the program is useless to you.

That is obvious you might think, and yes you are probably right.

But, not everyone thinks clearly about this when starting out going to the gym.

Some will start out incredibly motivated and want to beat the hell out of their muscles with a 6-day workout split.

This might work in the beginning because the motivation is there and they are all fired up.

But motivation is almost always short-lived and when it is not there anymore, is it really possible to follow such a workout schedule.

It is really realistic to continue that for the next 6 months, and what about one year after?

My point being is when you schedule your workouts or look for a program to follow don’t rely in fleeting motivation.

Think realistically about how many days per week you can commit to.

From my experience, most people are doing weight training 2-4 times per week.

I have previously recommended lifting weights 3 days per week here on my website and that is what I do myself.

I think that is a good number and by changing different training variables you can keep making progress lifting 3 days per week.

By training 3 days per week, you also avoid it taking up too much of your time.

I strongly believe that weight training should be used as something to enhance the quality of life without taking too much time and make other things in life suffer.

adhering to the program is key

Do the weight training program that fits your schedule

Understanding Your Weight Training Program


The basis of any weight training program (or strength training) are the three concepts: volume, intensity, and frequency.

They are actually variables that can be adjusted and if done correctly it can make very different training programs have a similar effect.

Although you can talk about and describe each variable individually they are in reality intertwined and dependent on each other.

You can say that they are what together make up the training stimulus.

Your success will not be determined by either how heavy you lift, how much you lift, or how often you lift. It will instead be about how you structure your training overall and adjust each variable.

You can have success with doing 5 reps for 5 sets (5×5) or 10 reps for 3 sets or another rep scheme.

You can lift 3 times per week and you can lift 6 times per week. But in order to create a similar stimulus, your volume and/or intensity needs to be adjusted differently.

However, depending on your schedule, goals and current strength and muscular development the best likely setup is different.

Volume, Intensity and Frequency Explained

As mentioned the basis of all weight training programs can be described with the three concepts volume, intensity, and frequency.

Volume covers the total work being done and most often includes reps, sets and number of exercises.

Sometimes it also includes the weight being lifted and is referred as volume load.

Volume can be high, low or in between while still working very well as long as it stays within a certain range and not going to the extreme.

But if you are doing high volume, in other words performing a lot of reps and sets and/or exercises you have to think about lowering intensity or frequency or both.

Intensity is how heavy you are lifting. It is not the actual weight but rather how close you are to lifting at your maximum capacity.

Two useful and popular ways to measure intensity are 1) percentage of the so-called one rep max (1RM) which is the maximum weight you can lift for one rep, and 2) a rating of your own perceived exertion (RPE) based on how close you are to failure.

  1. Percentage Of 1RM

For making an easy example let us say your 1RM on deadlift is 100 kg.

So doing deadlifts at your 85 % of 1RM would be 85 kg. If you come to the gym feeling great you should be able to do about 5-6 reps with that weight.

  1. Rating Of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

This is done by you rating how close you were to failure after finishing each set.

The scale goes from 1-10 and a RPE10 would either be failure or no additional rep could be done. With an RPE9 you could do one more rep, RPE8 2 more reps, RPE7 3 more reps etc.

As the RPE lowers it will become harder for you as a beginner to rate. That is not a problem because you only have to focus on RPE7-9.

Similar as with volume, intensity can be high and it can be low as long as it doesn’t become too low.

Also, if you only train doing 1RM or very close to that (in other words “super high intensity”) your effective volume will be low which will affect potential muscle growth negatively compared to if you were to decrease the weight to allow for more volume.

If you go high with the intensity, you have to think about going lower with volume and frequency or both and vice versa.

Frequency is simply how often you lift. You can think about it both as how many times you lift per week and how often you work each muscle group within that week.

It is how you structure your training.

It would be awesome if you could just use 3-4 hours of your Sunday getting in all your training for the week.

Regretfully, that is just not how it works.

The body needs time for recovery and can only adapt to so much. So a good workout program needs to intelligently structure the training allowing sufficient recovery by taking into consideration volume and intensity of each session.

Frequency can be high and it can be low as long as volume and intensity is adjusted accordingly., but the other variables need to be adjusted accordingly.

Why You Should Know This

Understanding volume, intensity, and frequency and how to tweak them are essential for how to become stronger.

I know that it might seem like too much information for beginners, but I want you to understand them because they are that important and it is also where most beginners make their mistake!

Optimal Setup For Beginners


Even for beginners what is the “most optimal setup” can vary from person to person.

Main things to consider are personal goals and preferences.

Because adherence is the most important thing the workout program should reflect what you can commit to and have time for in your schedule.

In truth, optimal might be a bad word to use in this context because it is hard to know beforehand and it might change.

Huge Muscle Growth Potential

As a beginner, you have a huge potential to grow muscle and become stronger. In addition, you don’t have to do that much work to provide the stimulus for muscle growth.

It is actually a little crazy how fast you can become stronger and grow muscle.

I remember once reading that a possible explanation could be that we by nature are supposed to have a certain amount of muscle mass and that we by living our modern lifestyles strip that muscle away.

I am not sure how true that is or how it could be tested scientifically, but I think it is a cool way to look at it.

By the way, if you want a nice overview of your muscle growth potential, you can check out this post.

High Frequency

Because your potential to grow muscle is so big and you don’t need that much work to do it, as a beginner you want to work each muscle group as often as possible.

High frequency should lead to faster strength and muscle gains as a beginner compared to a lower frequency.

But there are also a few other reasons why high frequency is a good idea for beginners.

As a beginner, you have to get familiar with the movement patterns of the exercises. You have to perform the same exercise many times before you get really effective at it.

It is very important to get the exercises right, because if you get used to doing them with “shit form” you are likely to have issues with progressing in the future and in the worst case you get can injuries.

Becoming effective at performing the exercise is not only about learning the movement but it is also about training your brain and nervous system to improve its ability to recruit your muscle fibers.

Strength is not just about muscle it is also a skill and the ability of your nervous system. You often see these improvements referred to as neurological adaptations.

A large part of your initial strength gains can be contributed to improvements in technique and nervous system. In other words, you become better at using the muscles you already have.

Another reason why high frequency is better is that even if you are lifting with high intensity when factoring in your beginner status the strain you put on your muscles and joints is “not that high” and does not produce a high level of fatigue

Explained another way the high intensity is that not draining on your body because you are “relatively weak”.

Volume Adjustments

High frequency is awesome for beginners. But it will only work well for you with reduced volume.

Because if you are also performing the compound lifts with good form and relatively heavy weight which I recommend then you have high frequency and a properly a moderately high intensity.

You can only recover from that with low volume!

In other words, each time you go to the gym you should not be doing too much work.

Only A Small Selection Of Exercises

As mentioned high frequency is good to practice the exercise, but if you are doing different exercises every time it ruins this point.

Having too many exercises or changing it up often will just lead to confusion and spending a long time learning how to do the movements.

So you stick with the same exercises and focus on compound lifts. These are overall the best exercises to gain strength and muscle.

Doing the same compounds more than once per week would probably be best for beginners.

Simple Is Best

You want to keep it simple and really focus on becoming good at performing the exercises.

If you are a beginner it is a very big mistake to go for advanced programs.

An example of this are programs that train each muscle group only once a week with high volume.

Don’t get me wrong you can still progress training each muscle group once a week, but it will be a much slower progress.

Because you essentially have an unnecessary long recovery and have to wait a whole week before stimulating the muscle again.

Progressing In Your Training


Now that you have a basic understanding of the three variables of any weight training program, the next thing to understand is progress.

Put simply, if you want to continually become stronger and gain more muscle from weight training you have to progress!

Since you are a beginner I am 100 % sure that is what you want.

This might sound weird to you, but for some people, this does actually change as they become more experienced.

E.g. only interested in maintaining muscle mass or only want more muscle on specific body parts while maintaining others.

Perhaps you will get interested in that in future, but that is a concern for a much later time.

Not everyone wants to become huge like a pro bodybuilder

As a beginner, you want to become stronger and build muscle everywhere! To do that you have to continually keep challenging yourself by lifting more and more weight as you progress in your journey.

In technical terms that is referred to as progressive overload.

There are three factors that determine muscle growth, which I also talk about in this post.

These are:

1 Progressive overload

2 Muscle damage

3 Metabolic fatigue

Out of these three progressive overload is by far the most important thing.

Progressive overload can be described simply as incrementally increasing the tension or stress you put on your muscles by lifting.

You can think of your strength and muscle gains as your body adapting to the stress. Without continues increase, there is no further adaption and you will plateau.

Progressively overloading your muscles is not only about increasing the actual weight you lift, although it is probably the most practical way and the best way if you want to focus on increasing overall strength.

However, you could also increase reps, sets, and the number of exercises or you could decrease rest time in between sets or you could just train more often.

There are many ways to increase the tension, but if you want to focus on becoming stronger and not just gain more endurance you should put your focus on increasing the weight and at some point also increase reps, sets and/or the number exercises.

Another reason why you should focus on becoming stronger is that it is a great metric for measuring your progress.

As long as you avoid training in the very low rep range (1-3) then you can be sure that when you become stronger you also gain a decent amount of muscle.

Progressive Overload For Beginners

There are many things that are easier as a beginner including progressive overload.

You will do perfectly fine just incrementally adding more weight as you become stronger in a linear progression.

Linear progression is great and easy to do and you should stick with it as long as you can.

However, as you become more advanced you will need some kind of periodization.

Periodization can be explained as systematic and planned out variation in your training. You can think of it as different periods where you put focus on different things by manipulating different variables in your training.

Maybe it sounds complicated for you right now but it is actually not that complicated, and luckily you don’t have to be concerned about this as a beginner.

Exercise Selection And Rep Ranges


The best exercises to perform for both strength and muscle gain are the so-called compound lifts as I also mentioned above.

These exercises work the major muscle groups and involve the movement of multiple joints. They are performed using free weights often a barbell or dumbbells.

Examples are squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, rows, pull-ups.

A Special Note On The Compounds Lifts

As a complete beginner, the compounds lifts can seem intimidating and too challenging to learn.

Especially if there are machines in your gym that look much easier to use.

I have seen some beginner workout programs excluding all compound movements because of their difficulty and while I do believe the difficulty is a valid concern I think excluding these are too extreme.

If you want to commit to weight training you have to learn them at some time anyway, and I think it is best to learn them from the beginning.

Just put your focus on getting the movements right before worrying about increasing the weight.

There are a lot of instructional videos on YouTube you can check out, and I have also including links in this guide.

cartoon deadlift guy

Rep Ranges

Although different training volumes and intensity can generally give the same results, the actual rep range that you use have a big impact on the potential gains you can make.

The super simple way of putting it is this:

For optimal muscle growth (hypertrophy) you need to be somewhere in the mid rep-range.

– Going high with the reps will result in endurance gains and less muscle

– Going low with the reps will result in strength gains and less muscle

There are no “magic numbers” that describe this mid rep-range perfectly and it is not that narrow.

The range is probably somewhere in between 4-12 reps. Depending on your goals, preferences, workout structure and training experience you could fit in this range.

The key thing to understand about what makes this mid rep-range best is that it is within this range you can perform the most “effective reps” while at the same time putting the least strain on your body requiring longer recovery.

You can think about effective reps as where a lot of muscle fiber is recruited to perform the lift.

If you are lifting very heavy you cannot do many reps unless you, of course, want to spend hours in the gym and you also put a lot of strain on your muscles and joints.

If you go light with the weight many of the reps will be quite easy. It might be tough doing those last 6-8 reps if you do a total of 20 reps, but the first 10 would be easy.

Doing all those reps will also put a lot of stress on your body.

The Perfect Beginner Workout For You


If you have read and understood all the stuff above you should be able to realize that following these recommendations can result in very different workout programs.

This proves the point that there is no “one perfect” workout program because the same result can be achieved through different approaches.

Furthermore, individual variability is high, so what might work very well for one person might not work that well for you.

I would argue that the closest thing we can get to a “perfect” workout program is one that fits training experience, your goals, your schedule and something you just feel good about.

Because at the end of the day, if you don’t feel very good about the program your adherence is probably going to suffer and if you are not sticking to the program it doesn’t matter how “optimal it is”.

With all that being said, here are some examples of what I believe are great workout programs for beginners.

I think that you will find them easy to stick with and that you will gain a lot of strength and muscle.

Workout 1: “The Big Three+”


There are three exercises that are the core of most workout programs.

These three exercises are simply super effective at adding strength and muscle and for that reason, most programs are built around them.

The exercises are of course the squat, deadlift and bench press.

There is a lot of things that can be said about these exercises and a lot of ways to vary them and manipulate and the use of them in training programs.

One thing that is for sure is, that if you as a beginner put all your focus on these exercises, not only will you learn the foundational movements very well which is one of the best time investments you can do as a beginner in my opinion, but you will also be adding a ton of strength and muscle overall.

If you want to do this workout program, it is probably good to stay with it somewhere around 3-6 months.

If you are interested in more of an aesthetic look (who is not?) you might want to target muscle groups differently after 3 months of this. You could pick a workout program like the Greek God Program (men) or Goddess Toning Program (women).

The program is super simple and requires you to train 3 days per week.

man squatting

Day 1 (e.g. Monday)

Barbell Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Deadlifts 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Rest 2-3 minutes in between all sets and exercises.

Day 2 (e.g. Wednesday)

Barbell Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Rest 2-3 minutes in between all sets and exercises.

Day 3 (e.g. Friday)

Barbell Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps, RPE 8-9 / 1RM 80-85 %

Rest 2-3 minutes in between all sets and exercises.

Note:

You can do different variations of the exercises but you should stick with your choice.

E.g. both back squats or front squats are great. The same goes for flat bench press or incline bench press. For deadlifts, you can have a narrow stance or a broad stance.

Regarding the intensity just focus on the RPE and having “one rep in reserve”. But don’t worry if you accidentally lift to failure.

The + (optional)

Now you might be thinking…

Where are the exercises for my arms? Where are the biceps curls?

The triceps does actually get some work from the bench presses but that doesn’t apply for the biceps.

Deadlifts do kind of work your arms, but that is mostly the forearms

You could solve this by adding in some biceps and triceps isolation movements, but they should be kept to a minimum.

If you want to add those in I recommend doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps of both cable curls and cable triceps push-downs.

Do those 1-2 times per week with an RPE of 7-8, and if you want to do it twice it should be with one training day in between i.e. day 1 and day 3. Rest 1-2 minutes in between.

Notes On The Workout

As you can see you will be doing the same exercises every workout. The simplicity of this workout makes it very effective!

By doing only 5 reps you are able to lift heavy and get great muscle fiber recruitment. It is especially good to be in the lower end of the “mid rep-range spectrum” as a beginner because then you are sure all 5 reps will be effective.

Essentially, when you are a beginner you might not be strong enough to get a good training stimulus from doing higher reps.

One concern that I have with doing squats often which I know many others have is that it can eventually lead to really big legs.

I don’t think that it is a concern for beginners though.

This workout program is a modified version of the original 5×5 by strength training legend Bill Starr.

It is also heavily inspired by a similar one by Andy Morgan from Rippedbody.com. You can check it out here.

If you want a bodybuilder type workout I can recommend one of his other workouts. Check it out here.

How To Perform The Exercises

There are a lot of instructional videos on performing these exercises. A simple search on YouTube is enough.

Anyway here are some videoes I recommend you watch.

Here is the link to the video on the bench press.

Here is the link to the video on squats.

How To Start Out This Workout?

Pick a weight you feel confident you can lift for 5 reps.

If it is very easy you can consider adding a bit more weight the subsequent set but try to avoid setting yourself up for lifting to failure.

It is absolutely no problem if you can’t do the 5 reps and if it gets too challenging stop the exercise and go to the next one.

You don’t have to follow the fixed reps and sets pattern in the beginning. You are just learning and getting a feeling of how much weight you can lift for the next workout.

When Should I Increase The Weight?

If you get all the reps in all sets for one of the exercises you can add weight for the next workout.

But that is only if your form is good.

Remember it is an RPE of 8-9 and if your form is breaking down on the last 1-2 reps then that is probably not the case!

Only increase with a small amount of weight e.g. 2.5 kg / 5 lbs (that is 1.25 kg / 2.5 lbs on each side of the bar).

When Should I Decrease The Weight?

Decreasing the weight sounds terrible right?

But, sometimes you have to take one step back in order to progress further.

Maybe you overestimated your strength gains and loaded the weight too fast.

Or perhaps you just had a bad workout. It happens for all of us.

If you on two consecutive workout days miss 10-15 % of the reps for an exercise you should consider lowering the weight. This equals to about 3-4 reps out of the 25.

Just lower it to the weight you were lifting before.

 

Workout 2: Coming soon


 

Workout 3: Coming soon


 

Final Thoughts


Regarding Recovery

The actual muscle growth happens during the recovery period after you have done your workout.

Put simply you don’t become stronger in the gym, you become stronger in the recovery time after the gym.

So take your recovery very seriously.

Get enough sleep and avoid strenuous activity if you can. If For better results, you want to keep high-intensity cardio to a minimum (if you do such things).

Regarding Nutrition

Having the right nutrition is super important for recovery and muscle growth.

This guide focuses on the training part and is already getting quite long, so I will be super brief on the nutrition.

The two main concerns of your nutrition are 1) enough calories and 2) adequate protein intake.

So, for optimal muscle building, you need a calorie surplus. That means consuming more calories than you burn.

If you want to lose fat as well you can actually build muscle at the same time, but it will be at a much slower rate.

I am sure you have read or heard before that you need to eat a lot of protein to build muscle. This is true, but you should actually include a good amount of all the macros (protein, carbs, and fat).

If you find it hard to eat at least 20-25 percent of your calories from protein, which for a 165 pounds / 75 kg male is somewhere around 125 – 160 grams of protein including protein shakes is a good option.

You can check out my protein powder guide here.

There is of course much, much more to be said about finding out how to set up your nutrition.

Luckily, I have actually written a complete nutrition guide + email course for both gaining muscle and losing fat.

I include both to anyone who joins my email list as a welcome bonus.


Weight Training Tips

Keep track of your workouts using some sort of logbook. You can use a small notebook or have some spreadsheet on your phone.

Not only will this ensure you remember the weight you lifted in the past workouts, but it also serves as a great reminder of all the progress you have made.

Make sure you are hydrated on training days as dehydration effects performance.

Only add small amounts of weight at a time and have fun with it!

Finally, don’t obsess over supplements. There are some supplements that work but they only make a small difference. If you want to spend the money I recommend creatine, fish oil, and protein powder if you aren’t getting enough protein.

Vitamin D can also be great if you aren’t getting enough sun exposure.

Share Your Interest In Weight Training With Others


And you are at the end of this guide.

I know it was a long read and there is a lot of things that need to sink in.

But if you feel you really learned something (which by the way was my point of explaining so much) why not share it with friends who are also interested in weight training.

Also, you might want to consider rereading parts of this guide again in the future.

You could save the link or pin it to your Pinterest board.

It would be pretty cool if you did:)

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Are you a beginner to weight training? then this guide is for you! Learn everything you need to know in order to have success with tour training. Sample programs included! #weighttraining #strengthtraining #weighttrainingforbeginners #strengthtrainingforbeginners #weigthtrainingguide #beginnersguidetoweightraining #gym #fitness #workouts
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Marcus

Hi! My name is Marcus and I am the founder of this website. I like to write about fitness and health and share with others what I have personally found “works” and know that other people have as well. I am a big fan of weight training, yoga, and meditation and I think they do very well at complimenting each other. If you want to know more about me and my vision for this website then you can click here.

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