A beginner just starting out does not need as much work as they think they do. I’ve seen a lot of lifters early on (myself included) think more is better, so we do these high volume programs we find online that professional bodybuilders were doing. We think this is the secret to big arms and a big chest, without realizing we don’t need that much.
Choose a rep range you’d like to do the exercise in. Muscle building normally occurs anywhere between 6-20 reps, and most people split it off into 6-10, 10-15, and 15-20. To simplify that process, choose one rep range for a workout phase (a phase is usually 4-6 weeks), and see how your body responds to that. Each phase, cycle through the different rep ranges and at the end, see if you can notice what rep range your body responded best to. What will most likely happen is certain exercises respond best to certain rep ranges for you as an individual. So just start with one and go from there.
Once you choose a range, the correct way to choose a weight is find one that allows you to accomplish that rep range until you are 2-3 reps shy of failure. So if you were doing squats for 6-10 reps, find a weight that allowed you to hit 10 reps and if you had to continue, you’d only have 2-3 reps more to go until your technique broke down. There is this notion we need to always train to failure. The research actually shows we get just as much, if not more muscular adaptation, from training just shy of failure.
Focus on Mind Muscle Connection
A better way to explain this would be to think of going to the gym as practice. Just like in any other sport, you don’t show up to practice to go all out every single time. You push hard enough to accomplish the task. Instead of going all out, and adding set after set because you think more is better, think of going to the gym as the least effective dose. In other words, if you are training your chest, what are the LEAST amount of sets you could do where you’d feel a good pump there, but also have made enough connection that your performance slightly decreases indicating you’ve broken down muscle?
This is something I didn’t realize I needed to start doing till much later in my career. I LOVED volume, and always wanted to add more sets because the first couple didn’t feel like enough. It wasn’t until later I realized that was more a result of junk volume, and not focusing on making enough quality sets early on, so that I wouldn’t need more. If you create a strong central nervous connection to the muscle, you won’t need nearly as many sets as you think.
Full Body Over a Split
A full body routine will help a beginner far better than a split routine. The traditional split routine has you hitting an individual muscle on a given day. This becomes an onslaught of volume for just ONE muscle. As discussed before there is no need for this. A beginner lifter needs only 8-10 weekly sets per muscle to achieve maximal gains. If you do this all in one workout, you’ll be so fatigued by the last couple sets that your performance will have dropped significantly compared to if you split it over 2-3 days. Splitting it over more days allows you to hit the same muscle more frequently but also fresher, allowing for a stronger connection, and more weight to be pushed which is what allows the muscle building signal to be optimized.
It also just makes more sense from a practicality standpoint. If we follow a split, and miss a workout, we now have to wait an entire week before hitting that muscle again. This is not optimal. A full body workout makes sure even if you miss a workout that you will still hit it later in the week.
Be sure to check out my article on 5 Weightlifting Exercises Every Beginner Should be Doing.
This is just a sample workout. There are many ways you can construct this, and if you want a full workout plan I suggest checking out the Mind Pump MAPS Anabolic program. It’s the perfect workout for beginners.
Frequency: 2-3x a week (keep 1-2 days of rest in between to recover)
Length: 4 week cycle with one week deload
Sets & Reps: 2-5 sets with 3-6 reps per exercise (rest up to 3 minutes between sets)
Day 1 –
Barbell Squats 4×5
Bench Press 4×5
Weight/Assisted Pull-ups 3×5
Barbell Curls 2×6-8
EZ Bar Skullcrushers 2×6-8
Day 2 –
Overhead Press 4×5
Seated Row 3×5
Dumbbell Shrugs 3×3-6
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 2×6-8
Day 3 (only if you aren’t sore and are recovering from Day 2) –
Romanian Deadlifts 4×5
Incline Bench 4×5
One Arm Dumbbell Row 3×5
Lateral Raises 3×6-8
Preacher Curls 2×6-8
Tricep Pushdowns 2×6-8