Workout Routines

The Ultimate Starter's Guide: Training

Never touched a weight before? Just coming back to the gym from a long hiatus? Either way, this comprehensive 8-week program is designed just for you.

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The Ultimate Starter's Guide: Training
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The best athletes and bodybuilders in the world weren’t born with superhuman strength and chiseled abs. At one point, they were just like you: a true newbie, a beginner, and not altogether certain of what to do first. In times like these, you need a blueprint to tell you exactly what to do in the gym, when to do it, and what kinds of foods and supplements to put in your body. That’s what you have here on the following 25 pages—a starter’s guide to get you going so that two months from now you’ll be ready to graduate from beginner status—with a bigger, stronger, leaner physique to show for it.

As the name implies, a whole-body training split involves training your entire body in every workout. The major benefit of this for a beginner is that it allows you to train each muscle group more frequently—up to three times per week. This repetition is also important for training the body’s nervous system. Before you can focus on building serious muscle, you first need to train your muscles to contract properly. Learning how to bench press or squat is like learning to ride a bike, just with less falling. Your muscle fibers need to learn how to contract synchronously so that you can perform the exercise correctly and apply the most strength when you do it. And the best way to learn how to do something is through repetition. That said, the first two weeks of this program will have you following a whole-body training split three times per week. 

We suggest training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but any three days of the week will do, as long as you allow one day of rest from weight-training between workouts. Your body needs time to recover from the previous workout in order to make gains in muscle size and strength.

Start building a solid base of muscle, or unstick your progress, with this eight-week progressive workout program.

Whether you’re a true beginner who’s never had the pleasure of hoisting a loaded barbell over- head or you’re simply getting back on the road to fitness after a long layoff, this is the perfect training plan to take you from novice to experienced lifter in just eight weeks. That’s not to say that after two months you’ll be ready to stand onstage next to reigning Mr. Olympia winner Phil Heath, but you will add considerable muscle mass and strength to your frame and set the table for more advanced training techniques you can try down the road.

This starter’s program is grounded in progression of the exercises you use, of the number of sets you complete per workout, in the amount of weight you use, and most important, in your training split. A training split is a system by which we divide up workouts according to muscle groups and days.

For example, some pro bodybuilders train only one major muscle group each workout. On Monday they may train chest, on Tuesday back, Wednesday legs, Thursday shoulders, and Friday arms (biceps and triceps), with abs thrown in one or two of those days for good measure. Since this splits up the body into five different workouts, it would be considered a five-day training split.

There’s an infinite number of splits that can be devised, but specific splits exist that are more beneficial than others for developing a solid muscle base for the beginner. The example above would be too advanced for the newbie and would result in overtraining. So what is the best training split for a beginner? One of the most effective is the whole-body split. (We’ll get into the details of what that is in a minute.) The key is to continue using the proper split as you progress from beginner to advanced.

Phase 1 Breakdown 

Exercises

The exercises you will be using are tried-and-true mass builders that have been done for decades, if not centuries. These include exercises like the bench press, squat, and barbell curl, to name a few. You’ll do one exercise per muscle group during this phase. Any more than that and the workout becomes prohibitively long and may be too much for uninitiated muscles.

Reps

A repetition (“rep,” for short) involves doing a given exercise one time through its full range of motion. For ex- ample, when you lie down on the bench press and lower the bar to your chest and press it back up, that’s one rep. In this phase you’ll want to do around 10–12 reps per set. This is a good range for a beginner to learn proper exercise form and build muscle size and strength.

Weights

The amount of weight you’ll use is determined by the rep range. Since you’ll be doing 10–12 reps per set, you should choose a weight that prevents you from doing any more than 12 reps but allows you to complete at least 10. Expect to get stronger over these three weeks, so once you can do more than 12 reps with the weight you’re using, it’s time to bump it up by 5–10 pounds.

Sets

A set is the term that refers to doing all reps for an exercise—that is, picking up the bar and doing the prescribed number of reps before putting the bar down. That’s one set. Typically you’ll do multiple sets per exercise, resting between sets. In this phase, you’ll do three sets per exercise, which is just enough to learn the exercise yet not too much to make the workout drag on.

Rest

In Phase 1, you’ll rest 2–3 minutes between sets. The goal is to rest long enough to allow you to stick to the rep range using the same weight on all three sets. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Re- search has reported that beginner lifters resting 21⁄2 minutes between sets gained more than twice as much muscle on their arms as those resting for one minute.

Phase 2 Breakdown

After two weeks of following a whole-body split, it’s time to give your muscles a new challenge. For the third and fourth weeks you’ll move to a two-day training split repeated twice a week for a total of four weekly workouts. A two-day split means you’ll divide up your entire body into two separate workouts, training half the body in one and the other half in the other. In this particular two-day split you’ll train all your torso muscle groups (chest, back, shoul- ders, and abs) in Workout 1 and all your limb muscles (biceps, triceps, legs, and calves) in Workout 2.

One major benefit of moving up to a two-day training split is that it allows you to do more exercises per muscle group and to train each muscle group with more intensity. These are two critical components to making continued progress in the gym. To keep growing, muscles need to gradually do more work at higher intensity. Training fewer muscle groups per workout allows you to put more effort into those you’re training by going heavier and making sure you take each set to muscle failure.

Exercises

The exercises you’ll be using here will be the major mass builders you started in Phase 1, plus some additional moves. For most muscle groups, this will allow you to do one multijoint mass builder and one single-joint (isolation) exercise to build both overall size and shape. You’ll also add an exercise to work the trapezius, or traps, in this phase.


Weight

You’ll be going heavier this phase, at least on the first exercise for each muscle group. Find a weight that limits you to 8–10 reps on the first exercise and one that allows you to complete 10–12 reps on the second and third exercises. Again, once you can do more than the rep range listed for each exercise add 5–10 pounds, or whatever weight brings your reps into the listed rep range.

Reps

In Phase 2, you’ll drop reps down to 8–10 per set on the first exercise for each muscle group. This allows you to train a bit heavier than the previous phase, which will help you build more strength and size. On the second and third exercises you’ll keep the reps higher, at 10–12. Calves are an exception, and you’ll need to increase the reps to 15–20.

Rest
During this phase you’ll rest about 2–3 minutes between sets to allow you to stick with heavier weight and complete more reps for maximizing strength and size gains.

Sets

You’ll still be doing three sets per exercise; however, since you’re now doing two exercises per muscle group (and three for legs), that’s a jump in total sets per muscle group from three to six (or nine sets for legs). This increase in the amount of work you do for each muscle group is important for continued progress.

Phase 3 Breakdown

With four weeks of consistent training under your belt you should be very comfortable with your form on the exercises you’ve been doing, as your nervous system and muscle fibers are getting properly trained through the constant repetition. In Week 5, it’s time to step up both the amount of work you’re doing for each muscle group and the intensity yet again. Remember, the goal here is to keep progressing, and the only way to do that is to keep raising the bar.

Phase 3 progresses to a three-day training split, where, instead of dividing the body up into two different workouts, you’ll be dividing it three ways. This means you’ll train fewer muscle groups each workout, which allows you to do more exercises per muscle group and train each muscle group with even greater intensity.

Although there are numerous ways to pair muscle groups to work with a three-day split, one of the most effective is known as a push/pull/legs split. That means the body is broken down into a push day, where you train all the pushing muscles of the upper body (chest, shoulders, and triceps); a pull day, where you train all the pulling muscles of the upper body (back, traps, biceps, and forearms); and a leg day (legs and calves).

Exercises

This phase contains the same exercises as the previous phases, with an additional exercise added to most muscle groups; to build well-developed muscles, you need to target different areas of them. You’ll also add an exercise for a new group: forearms.

Weight

As you’ve been doing in Phases 1 and 2, choose the proper weight that allows you to hit the listed rep range for each exercise. And continue to add weight when you find yourself able to compete more reps than the listed rep range.

Reps

Excluding calves, abs, and fore- arms, you’ll drop down to 6–8 reps per set for your first exercise per muscle group. The second exercise will be 8–10 reps, and the last exercise will be 12–15 reps.

Rest

During this phase you’ll also rest about 2–3 minutes between sets to allow you to stick with heavier weight and complete more reps for maximizing strength and size gains.

Sets

You’ll still be doing three sets per exercise. However, since you’re now adding another exercise for most muscle groups, you’ll be doing an extra three sets per muscle group.

Phase 4 Breakdown

After six weeks of consistent training, you’re in the home stretch to graduating from “starter” status. By now you should be realizing significant gains in muscle strength as well as mass and definition. This final phase completes your transition and will prepare you to train among intermediate and advanced lifters.

Now you’ll be training your entire body over the course of four workouts. This will help you further increase the amount of work you can do for each muscle group and the intensity you can put into training each. This four-day split divides your body into the follow- ing workouts: chest, triceps, and abs; back, biceps, and forearms; legs and calves; and shoulders, traps, and abs. (You’ll be training abs twice a week now. Because they’re postural muscles that help with maintaining your up- right posture all day, the abs can withstand more frequent training and actually respond well to it.)

Once you’ve completed this final phase, you’ll be ready to take on advanced, high-intensity training techniques like super- sets, dropsets, rest-pause, and extended sets, to name a few. 

Exercises

Another exercise has been added to most groups. Triceps and biceps will not need an additional exercise added, since these smaller muscle groups generally re- quire less total work than larger muscle groups like chest, back, shoulders, and legs. The progress in the biceps and triceps will come from the weight and rep ranges used.

Reps

The exercise you do first for each major muscle group (excluding calves, abs, and forearms) will drop down to 4–6 reps per set to maximize strength gains. The second exercise will entail 6–8 reps per set for building strength and size. The last exercise or two will jump to 15–20 reps per set. Research from Japan has shown that com- bining heavy weight and lower reps with lighter weight sets for higher reps enhances both strength and muscle mass gains.

Weight

Again, choose a weight for each exercise that allows you to hit the listed rep range. Continue to increase the weight as you can complete more reps than the prescribed rep range.

Rest

During this phase you’ll rest 2–3 minutes between sets when you’re using heavier weight and low reps. However, you’ll now drop rest periods between sets to just one minute on lighter-weight sets where higher reps are performed. This will help maximize growth hormone levels, which will lead to further gains in muscle size and strength as well en- courage fat loss for greater definition.

Sets

You’ll still be doing three sets per exercise, but the added exercises will increase the total number of sets performed.

Phase 1

Weeks 1–2 (Whole-Body Training Split)

Do this workout three times per week with at least one day of rest between workouts (e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).

Workout

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Chest Barbell Bench Press 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Back Bentover Barbell Row 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Legs Squat 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Shoulders Barbell Shoulder Press 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Triceps Triceps Pressdown 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Biceps Barbell Curl 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Calves Standing Calf Raise 3/10-12 1-2 Min
Abs Crunch 3/10-12 1-2 Min

Phase 2

WEEKS 3–4 (TWO-DAY TRAINING SPLIT)

Do each of the following workouts twice per week. For example, do Workout 1 on Monday and then again on Thursday, and do Workout 2 on Tuesday and Friday.

Workout 1:

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Chest Bench Press 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Incline Dumbbell Flye 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Back Barbell Bentover Row 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Lat Pulldown 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Shoulders Barbell Shoulder Press 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Lateral Press 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Traps Barbell Shrug 3/8-10 2-3 Min
Abdominals Reverse Crunch 3/To failure 1-2 Min
  Crunch 3/To failure 1-2 Min

Workout 2:

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Biceps Barbell Curl 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Incline Dumbbell Curl 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Triceps Close-grip Bench Press 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Triceps Pressdown 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Legs Squat 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Leg Extension 3/10-12 2-3 Min
  Lying Leg Curl 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Calves Standing Calf Raise 2/15-20 1-2 Min
Abdominals Seated Calf Raise 2/15-20 1-2 Min

Phase 3

Weeks 5–6 (Three-Day Training Split)

Workout 1 Push Day

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Chest Bench Press 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  IIncline Dumbbell Bench Press 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Incline Dumbbell Flye 3/12-15 2-3 Min
Shoulders Barbell Shoulder Press 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Smith Machine Upright Row 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3/12-15 2-3 Min
Triceps Close-grip Bench Press 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension 3/10-12 2-3 Min
  Triceps Extension 3/12-15 2-3 Min

Workout 2 Leg & Abs

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Legs Squat 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Leg Press 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Lying Leg Curl 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Calves Standing Calf Raise 3/10-12 2-3 Min
  Seated Calf Raise 3/10-12 2-3 Min
Abs Reverse Crunch 3/10-12 2-3 Min
  Crunch Oblique Cable Crunch 3/10-12 1-2 Min
  Crunch 3/10-12 1-2 Min

Workout 3 Pull Day

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Chest Bentover Barbell Row     3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Lat Pulldown 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Seated Cable Row 3/12-15 2-3 Min
Traps Barbell Shrug 3/6-8 2-3 Min
Biceps Barbell Curl 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Incline Dumbbell Curl 3/8-10 2-3 Min
  Preacher Curl 3/12-15 2-3 Min
Forearms Wrist Curl 3/10-12 1-2 Min

Phase 4

Weeks 7–8 (Four-Day Training Split)

Do each workout below once per week, such as Workout 1 on Monday, Workout 2 on Tuesday, Workout 3 on Thursday, and Workout 4 on Friday.

Workout 1:
 
Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Chest Bench Press 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Incline Dumbbell Flye 3/15-20 1 Min
  Cable Crossover 3/15-20 1 Min
Triceps Close Grip Bench Press 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Tripceps Pressdown 3/15-20 1 Min
Abs Hanging Leg Raise 3/To-failure 1 Min
  Double Crunch Plank 3/To-failure 1 Min
  Plank 3/1 Min 1 Min
 
Workout 2:
 
Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Back Barbell Row 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Lat Pulldown 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Seated Cable Row 3/15-20 1 Min
  Straight Row Pulldown 3/15-20 1 Min
Bicpeps Barbell Curl 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Incline Barbell Curl 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Preacher Curl 3/15-20 1 Min
Forearms Wrist Curl 3/12-15 1 Min
  Reverse Grip Wrist Curl 3/12-15 1 Min

Workout 3:

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Legs Squat 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Leg Press 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Leg Extension 3/15-20 1 Min
  Romanian Deadlift 3/4-6 2-3 Min
Calves Standing Calf Raise 3/25-30 2-3 Min
  Seated Calf Raise 3/25-30 2-3 Min

Workout 4:

Muscle Group Exercise Sets/Reps Rest
Shoulders Barbell Shoulder Press 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Smith Machine Upright Row 3/6-8 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3/15-20 1 Min
  Dumbbell Rear-delt Raise 3/4-6 1 Min
Traps Barbell Shrug 3/4-6 2-3 Min
  Dumbbell Shrug 3/25-30 1 Min
Abs Reverse Crunch 3/To failure 1 Min
  Crunch 3/To failure 1 Min
  Oblique Cable Crunch 3/15-20 1 Min
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