This is part 1 of a beginner’s guide on how to design your own workout routine tailored to your own ambitions and needs.
In this article, I would like to discuss the basics of what is required from a trainee, considered a beginner to resistance training, in order to build a significant amount of muscle and strength.
A more in depth analysis of volume,frequency and intensity requirements to maximize muscle growth, which can also be applied to more advanced lifters will follow in succeeding parts.
Firstly I’d like to clarify that a beginner in the context of this article is someone who either has no or only very limited experience in any sort of hypertrophy-orientated training, typically someone who has just recently (within the last 6 months) started working out.
For such a “novice” pretty much any style of training will produce some sort of results because their body is not used to training and the growth-stimulus provided by it.
This however is not a reason to just do whatever.
Not only can muscle hypertrophy be maximized with the right programming but risk of injury reduced drastically as well.
In order for you to achieve optimal results it is advised to follow these principles:
No matter what you do, physical exercise has a certain risk to it. You’re constantly pushing yourself towards the limits of what your body can handle so in order for you to perform the best you can in the long run, safety is key.
Before every workout you should perform a couple of dynamic stretches as well as some sort of light to moderate cardio for 5-10 minutes to raise your core temperature and decrease the risk of injury.
Make sure you master every single movement and every single exercise technically first before you start to go heavy. Weights will come with time but you only have one body.
2.) Train bigger muscle groups first
Your bigger muscle groups (legs, back and chest) are your body’s main movers and your main source of strength and power.
These muscles exert the most amount of force and will enable you to lift the biggest amount of weight.
Exercises like squats, rows and presses are excellent tools to build a great foundation for new and advanced trainees likewise to build upon in the future. These exercises don’t only target your bigger muscle groups but are full-body movements, so-called compound lifts, which work at more than one joint and incorporate more than one muscle group at the same time.
Because of this a row won’t only just build your back but also your biceps and a press won’t only build your chest but your anterior deltoids and triceps as well.
Due to the high amount of force exerted with these movements however, they’re also the most demanding on your body and should be performed at the beginning of your workouts when you’re still rested.
3.) Focus on the big lifts
Just as mentioned under point number 2.) big compound lifts are your bread and butter when it comes to gaining size and strength.
Especially in the beginning you should focus on mastering these movements technically and then progressively go heavier over time.
Because of the large amount of muscle fibres recruited with these exercises they will not only provide a huge stimulus for your body to grow but also spike up your heart rate and help you burn more calories.
Now you might have read that building muscle and losing fat at the same time is highly complicated if not impossible all together but beginners are one of the exceptions to the rule (next to enhanced athletes and de-trained individuals).
This is why you should make the most out of it while it lasts and maximize your progress.
4.) Don’t overdo it
Many beginners get inspired by far more experienced or even enhanced athletes and believe that in order to get to their level they have to follow the exact same routine.
Hardly anything could be more wrong.
As a beginner your ability to recover from a certain amount of workload in the gym (volume) is generally a lot lower than the ability of intermediate or advanced/enhanced lifters.
Your muscles will respond to a much lower amount of volume just as good or even better than to the extraordinary amount of work than those experienced athletes have to undergo in order for them to make progress.
If anything you’re risking to run into overtraining or to burn out mentally by doing too much too soon.
In the case of a beginner to resistance training I would advise that doing less is really more. Just as with the weights volume will come with time as your body gets used to the new stimulus.
5.) Make an effort
In order for you to change you will have to work for it.
There’s no point in going to the gym day in and day out if you’re not putting in the effort.
As I’ve mentioned under point 1.) obviously safety still comes first. But once you’re past the stage of merely learning how to move to perform certain exercises you will have to put in the work in order for your body to change.
It’s about providing a big enough stimulus to literally force your muscles to become bigger and stronger and without either increasing the weights or the total amount of work you do in the gym (or both) your progress will sooner or later stagnate.
The principle of “doing more over time” is called progressive overload and is one of the main drivers of muscle hypertrophy. Always keep this in mind when programming; The goal has to be some sort of progression, typically either in weight or in volume. At the beginning this will come easy but get more difficult over time which leads to the increasing importance of progressive overload the more advanced you become.
If you follow these 5 basic prinicples when programming your routine results will follow.
Below you can find two elemental examples – one using gym equipment and one using your own bodyweight – of a beginners workout routine based on the principles listed above.
- Squats 5 x 12 (either weighted or using your bodyweight*)
- Machine Row or Chin-Up* 5 x 12
- Flat Barbell Bench Press or Wide-Handed Push-Up* 5 x 12
- Deadlifts or One Legged Romanian Deadlifts* 5 x 8
- Lat-Pull Down or Pull-Up* 5 x 8
- Incline Bench Press or Decline Push-Ups* 5 x 8
*Please note that with the bodyweight exercises recommendations for repetitions are only a very rough outline of what you will have to do in order for you to see results. As mentioned under point 5.) putting in the effort is essential. So whilst you’ll probably be able to perform more than 12 Bodyweight Squats, doing 12 Chin-Ups on the other hand will exceed most beginners abilities. The key is, as always, to push yourself as far as you can without risking injury.
Ideally you would have two days of rest in between workouts, so your week could look like this:
Monday – Day 1
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Day 2
Friday – Off
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Day 1
and so on…
Please note that you won’t be training on the same days each week due to the “1 day on – 2 days off” schedule so this plan requires a bit of flexibility.
However I believe that this routine gives a beginner to resistance training the possibility to ease themselves into things by practicing the big compound lifts due to an appropriate amount of volume and a sufficient amount of rest to recover from these intense sessions.
There’s no need to overcomplicate things with isolation (single-joint) movements or splits this early in your training “career”. Compound lifts have shown to yield greater overall results in size and strength over and over again compared to single-joint movements. Later, as you become more advanced, isolation exercises can be added to bring up body parts you want to focus on more or that you think are lagging behind
After the first 6-8 weeks of following this program I would furthermore suggest to shorten rest times to only one day and to repeat Day 1 at the end of the week.
Then your week could look more like this:
Monday – Day 1
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Day 2
Thursday – Off
Friday – Day 1
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Off
This way you will automatically do a third more of total volume in your routine while still giving your body plenty of time to recover and you will keep progressing steadily to push even further.
And this rounds up Part 1 of How To Design Your Own Workout Routine!
If you liked it or if you have constructive criticism please feel free to comment below.