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Gym plan for Beginners

As an experienced personal trainer I believe all beginners should be able to turn up to the gym with a plan in place to ensure efforts are maximised during a workout. Over the years I’ve helped many people find their feet in the gym and navigate through all the noise on social media. With that experience I’ve created this guide to help beginners have a plan and get through their first few months in the gym.

Focus on what you enjoy in the gym

The main thing people struggle with is consistency. It’s usually a problem because people copy what others do, thinking it will work for them. When really you should just focus on finding something that you enjoy, find a style of training that gets you excited. Whether this is gym classes, cardio, CrossFit, group training or hitting the weights. Perhaps you link your training to a particular sport or hobby so that you can boost your performance. Basically, if you find something that you enjoy, you will find it a lot easier to stick to it for the long term.

Should beginners have a workout plan?

It’s common for beginners to completely wing it when it comes to their gym workout and not have a plan. By this I mean turning up to the gym and just using any piece of equipment that’s free and not following any set structure. The problem with this approach is that it can leave some muscle groups untouched. As well as it being difficult to monitor your progress which will ultimately lead to you cancelling your gym membership a few months later.

An important element to being consistent is seeing progress because you are rewarded for your efforts. You’ll see the best progress by repeating the same workout plan for several weeks. Your strength and performance will improve week on week, particularly if you repeat the same exercises and log your progress. If you simply turn up to the gym and randomly jump from one machine to next, you won’t notice any progress.

How often should beginners workout in the gym?

If you’re short for time then going to the gym 2-3 times per week is more than enough. For any beginners starting with just one gym workout is at least something, eventually you can add more gym sessions to your plan in the future. When training between 1-3 times per week, then Full body workouts are going to be the most optimal training plan for you to follow. You can read more about the benefits of following a training program here. As well as 4 reasons you should follow a full body workouts training plan.

If you have the luxury of more time and plan to do 4 plus workouts per week then an upper body and lower body training split will work best. But remember not to overdo it particularly at the start. Setting your training frequency is an important step that is often underestimated. Usually, you feel a burst of motivation to go to the gym and you’ll tell yourself to go every day, this will happen for a week or two and then drop off. You’re then left feeling unaccomplished and disappointed with yourself and so you stop all together. Sound familiar?

This is where the phrase “less is more”, can be used. Instead of trying to go more than you can manage, you want to focus on what you can stick too in the long term. Two workouts a week is easily enough to elicit the progress you’re looking for. So set that as a non-negotiable and complete it every week. Should you have a quiet week you can then look to add any additional workouts.

What Reps and Sets should be followed?

Repetitions (Reps) are the number of times you perform a particular movement or exercise. Sets simply represents groups of reps, which are separated by rest. For example you might be asked to perform 10reps of a squat, and complete 3 sets. You’d then be performing a total number of 30 squats, separated by short rests every 10reps.

Reps and sets are an area that many personal trainers like to overcomplicate. In reality, the number of rep and sets you perform isn’t really that important. But your training intensity and the tension applied to each muscle during the movement is. Muscle growth is impacted by the amount of tension that is applied. You can increase the amount of tension by simply slowing down the movement whilst taking advantage of the full range that muscle can work in.

For beginners it’s good practice to follow a gym plan that keeps you between 10 -15 reps for each exercise during your workout. Then you have the best opportunity to learn the movement so you can make sure you are engaging the correct muscles.

Learning correct training technique on your own can be challenging particularly if you are unsure what to do. YouTube can be a good place to start to understand the exercise but it will only take you so far. This is why hiring a personal trainer can be a great investment, because a good personal trainer will coach you through various movements. Whilst also presenting you with feedback on what you do well and where you could improve. Then after a couple of weeks, you’ll see your progress accelerate beyond what you expected. You should then be in a position to train more independently whilst following a remote training program.

Personal trainer helping a gym beginner during workout plan

How to measure training intensity?

There are two methods used to measure your training intensity which are known as reps in reserve or the rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

Reps in reserve is pretty straight forward. Basically at the end of each set just ask yourself “how many more reps could I perform?”. Aim to keep around 2 reps still in the tank, so just make slight adjustments by either slowing down the movement or increasing the weight.

Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) works in a similar way but from a 1-10 scale. 10 being extremely difficult and 1 being easy, so you’re aiming to sit around 7-8RPE for most exercises. Once an exercise starts to feel easier like a 6 then it’s time to increase the weight. In both examples you want to focus on performing good form, so avoid rushing the movement. 

How long should rest periods be? 

Rest periods can be a controversial subject amongst social media, with various different personal trainers saying different things. Really the rest periods don’t have to be too complicated or even timed. The best practice is to just go when you are ready for your next set. It is worth noting that for some exercises like your compound lifts you may want to wait slightly longer. Then you can shorten your rest’s during your accessory lifts so you can get some time back.

What should a warm up look like?

Keep it simple and complete around 2 minutes on some form of light cardio machine of your choice. Something like a rowing machine, Skierg, treadmill or bike are all good options. Start at a steady pace and build it up, so that by the end of the warm up you feel out of breath, slightly warm and ready for your workout.

Next perform some body weight movements that replicate movements in your session. These can be squats, lunges, walkouts or some incline push ups, just pick 2 exercises and perform just 2 rounds of 10 reps. A few rotations of the shoulders to loosen the upper body and you are good to go.

Warm up plan for a Beginners gym workout

What exercise’s should come first?

For both beginners and advanced lifters its important that to start your gym workout plan with the most difficult exercises first. These tend to involve several muscle groups which are known as your compound lifts. Examples of compound lifts are; Squats, Deadlifts, Hip Thrust, Leg press, Bench press, Lat pull down, Pull ups or Shoulder press. You want to pick around 2-3 for each gym session and ensure they target different muscle groups.

Next up is your accessory lifts, these are essentially the lifts that focus more on individual muscles/muscle groups. Examples of these are bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raise, leg extension and hamstring curls. Towards the end of your workout you may then choose to add a couple of core exercise or perhaps some cardio. This is entirely down to your preference and goals.

Typically your workouts would usually be around 45-60 minutes long and contain around 7-8 exercises. But you can shorten or lengthen the session depending on the time you have available.

Your workout may look something like the example in the table.

Monday Wednesday Friday
Squats 4×10 Deadlift 4×10 Leg Press or Hip Thrusts 4×10
Bench press 4×10 Lat pull down 4×10 Shoulder press 4×10
Hamstring curl Machine 3×12 Leg extension machine 3×12 Walking lunges 3×12
Seated row 3×12 Chest fly machine or cable 3×12 Seated chest press 3×12
Lateral Raise 3×12 Face pull 3×12 Chest supported dumbbell row 3×12
Bicep curl 3×12 Hammer bicep curl 3×12 Rope tricep extensions 3×12
Core Exercise 3×12 Overhead tricep extensions 3×12 Core exercise 3×12

Would you like a free beginners gym workout plan?

Here is a free download of a 3 day per week plan to follow.

Here is a free download of a 2 day per week plan to follow.

Thank you for reading this article and I hope you find it’s contents useful. Should you require further support to take your workouts to the next level. Then I am available for 1-1 personal training if you live near Macclesfield, Wilmslow or Alderley edge. Alternatively I also coach people online too.

Written by – Rob Jackson – Coach and owner of RJ-Fitness
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