Dawg School 6

Basic training for beginners


The Beginner's Blast Off Program

I've been getting a lot of requests for a basic weight training program geared toward beginners. At first this was kind of puzzling. I mean, why can't a beginner start out with a great program by Ian King or any of our other experts? Might as well get things started with a bang, right? After consulting a few newbies, however, I began to understand their ordeal. Often, the training programs T-mag provides are overwhelmingly complex when encountered by a person who's only recently learned the difference between a set and a rep. Okay, I can understand that.

Most beginners also become frustrated when they hire a personal trainer at the local gym. Many of these goofballs put newbies on the same cookie cutter, generic routine which usually consists of a machine circuit. I don't want to name names, but one gym chain (which rhymes with Gold's) has these pre-made forms and everyone that requests assistance from the staff gets put on this same lame machine program. A 40-year-old woman trying to lose weight? Sure, here's a program! A 17-year-old guy wanting to add muscle and power for football? Same program! It truly makes me want to kill people, dismember their bodies and bury them under my house.

Then these "trainers" charge 15 to 25 bucks a session to walk the trainee from one machine to the next while talking about non-training issues and answering phone calls. I believe there's a special place in Hell reserved for such "trainers" and I'm sure all the good ones out there will agree with me.

Most people new to weight training want a program they can perform three or four times per week with weekends off and many want to train at home, at least in the beginning. They want the program to be simple yet effective. I've put together a newbie program that will meet most of these needs. Here are some other goals of what I call the Beginner's Blast Off program:

• The program will use the most effective exercises and not waste time with "wussie" movements.

• When followed correctly, the beginner will see fast results, which, of course, is the ultimate motivational tool.

• The program will work for both men and women.

• The program will utilize mostly free weights which will give the beginner a better training base and produce faster results.

• The program can be completed in 30 minutes to an hour.

First, some general rules:

• Never train a muscle that's still sore from a previous workout.

• Never train the same body part two days in a row.

• Lower the weights slower than you lift them.

• If you can't reach the target number of reps you're shooting for, use less weight. If you reach your target number and feel like you could knock out several more reps, then add weight. Your last rep should be fairly tough to complete.

• More is not necessarily better when it comes to weight training. Take a day off for every two or three days you train. Ian King recommends that you not train more than two days in a row without taking a day off on day three.

• Before every workout be sure you get an adequate warm-up and do a little stretching.

I find the best way to train beginners is to teach them what not to do. For a list of common newbie mistakes, read the Dawg School in issue #114. If you're a teenager, read the Youth Gone Wild article.

The Beginner's Blast Off Program

Note there are a thousand different ways to go about this, so I've just provided a simple routine that will fit the needs of most beginners. Feel free to change around the days to better fit your schedule. Just keep the general guidelines in mind. While I like to give the trainee some options, be careful you don't change around the program too much. I've designed a lot of effective programs only to have the trainee ruin them. For example, don't substitute leg extensions for squats. There's a specific reason why I chose these exercises.

Here's what your week will look like:

Monday: Chest and Triceps
Tuesday: Back and Biceps
Wednesday: off
Thursday: Quads and Hamstrings
Friday: Shoulders, Calves, and Abs
Saturday and Sunday: off

The Exercises

For the first four weeks, I want you to perform two to three sets of 10 to 12 reps (this rep range is generally best for growing muscle, which is the goal of most trainees). Just keep in mind that variety is often the key to long-term progress. Once you feel you're past the "newbie" stage, you may want to consider doing a few weeks of heavier training. For instance, you could do a few weeks where your rep range is 8 to 10, or even 4 to 6.

Remember, though, your last target rep should be very difficult to perform regardless of which phase you're on. Rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

Chest and Triceps
Dumbbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Flyes
Lying Tricep Extension (Skull crushers) using either dumbbells or an EZ-curl bar.

Back and Biceps
Pulldowns or Pull-ups- I'd prefer you use pull-ups here. Read the Back to Basics article for tips.
Dumbbell rows- Use one arm at a time.
Standing curls- Use dumbbells or any type of barbell.

Quads and Hamstrings
Squats- If you train at home and don't have a squat cage, then I suggest you use some of Ian King's single leg exercises he writes about in his "Limping" series and demonstrates in his "Killer Leg Exercises" video.

Lunges- Step out with the same leg for the desired number of reps, rest, then do the other leg. I like these better than the alternating method.

Lying hamstring curls- If you don't have access to this machine perform straight leg deadlifts.

Shoulders, Calves, and Abs
Dumbbell Overhead Press
Dumbbell Shrugs
Standing Calf Raises- 2 sets
Sitting Calf Raises- 2 sets

Swiss ball crunches or any other ab exercise. Check the T-mag archives and use a wide variety of ab movements.

Questions and Answers

What about cardio?

If your diet is in order, I really don't think cardio is all that necessary. If you want to get the ol' heart rate up, you can always take shorter rest periods between your weight training exercises, say 30 seconds. If you must do some cardio, then I'd suggest doing 15 minutes of some type of aerobic activity no more than twice a week. You could do this on off days or you could throw in a few minutes after each weight training session.

Okay, so what kind of diet should I use?

That depends on your goal. If your primary goal is fat loss, I'd suggest the T-Dawg Diet. There are several more options available in our FAQ section. If you're skinny and looking to gain weight, then I'd suggest the Get Big Diet.

Regardless of what type of diet you choose, you'll want to get a legal pad and pencil, a calculator, and a food scale to keep in your kitchen. Make four columns on your legal pad like this:

Calories   Protein   Carbs   Fat

Read those labels and pay careful attention to serving sizes. Yes, this is a tremendous pain in the ass! Yes, it will often take you longer to record and tabulate than it does to eat! Get used to it, pal, bodybuilding ain't easy! (Sorry, had a tough love moment there.) This tedious food log will help you get in tune with what works for you and what doesn't. After a while, a food log may not be necessary, but in the beginning it's essential. This is the missing ingredient in most peoples' quest for a better body!

Any supplement recommendations?

Again, this depends on your goals, your age, whether you're male or female, and several other factors. Go to the Biotest store, look around and see what best fits your needs. Aside from that, I recommend a multi-vitamin, a meal replacement product, and fish oil capsules as your "core" supplements (some people prefer using flax oil or Udo's choice instead of fish capsules, but I personally prefer those little bastards for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article). I personally use a fiber supplement and extra antioxidants daily since I seldom eat enough fruits and vegetables.

What if I have a crazy work or school schedule and can't do your recommended split?

Quit your job and stop going to school. Being lean and muscled up is much more important than education or making a living. Okay, I'm just kidding! Aside from my usual ranting about making time and stopping all TV watching activities, here's what I suggest: Follow a full body training program. This means you'll work the entire body in one workout. The advantage of this is that you can take two to four days off after you train. This makes the program fairly flexible as long you follow the rule about not training when you're still sore. Here's a basic full body plan that will hit all the major muscle groups. Use only one or two sets per exercise and try not to train for over an hour. Do the exercises in the order listed.

Full Body Variation
Pull-Down or Pull-ups
Hamstring curls or straight leg deadlifts
Dumbbell bench press
Bicep curls
Overhead dumbbell press
Ab exercise of your choice
Lying tricep extension with EZ-curl bar

There's a list of other popular training splits in issue #84's Dawg School.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully that was pretty straightforward. I purposefully left out a lot of the finer details for the sake of simplicity. I really believe that most of the details will work themselves out as you gain more experience and spend some time in the gym.

Also, don't think of this as the "end all be all" program. It's just a simple approach that covers the basics and gets you started off on the right foot. After a time, you'll want to start playing around with other programs here at T-mag and eventually customize a few of your own that best work for you. The ability to do that will come with experience.

Lastly, don't fall into the trap of overanalyzing and endlessly searching for the perfect program or training philosophy. There isn't one. I think some people go through this process to avoid actually getting in the gym and going to work. Research is great, but there comes a time when you just have to suck it up and hit the weights! Also, keep in mind that thinking about starting a new diet and training program is much harder than actually doing it. I won't say you'll enjoy it, at least not in the beginning, but you'll love the changes you'll make in your body and get addicted to feeling and looking good.

If you have any questions, you can click on the blue bar below and drop me an e-mail. Now go get started!

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram