Stepping onto the gym floor for the first time can be a scary experience. You’re surrounded by purposeful people with buff bodies who know exactly what they’re doing. And yet you have absolutely no idea. You stare at all of those gleaming chrome contraptions and all of those muscle-bound bodies and can’t help feeling a little intimidated.
If only you had a plan!
Great news – you’ve just stumbled across that plan. In this article, we are about to lay out a complete four-week absolute beginner workout plan to guide you through your first month’s gym membership. We’ll show you what moves you need to be performing, how many sets and reps are ideal for you and even how long to rest between each set. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to walk into the gym with the confidence you need to own your first month’s workouts.
Your first couple of weeks at the gym are going to involve some pretty intense pain. You will be using your muscles in a way that they are not used to and they will be sore for days afterward. That’s why you should ease into your workout program. Rather than rushing in with all guns blazing and then petering out after six weeks, you want to develop the gym habit for the rest of your life.
In the first week, visit the gym two times, giving yourself at least 48 hours between visits. In week 2, add in an extra day, so that you are training on alternate days. Stay with 3 gym visits per week for your first month of working out.
Your beginner gym workout will begin with 14 minutes in the cardio area, followed by a 30-minute resistance workout on the gym floor.
One of the first things that you’ll notice when you walk into any gym is the number of treadmills and elliptical trainers in the place. You’ll see people strolling away on them as if they were out for a Sunday walk in the park, while hardly breaking a sweat at all. What they are doing is known as steady-state cardio. It is low intensity, long-duration aerobic exercise that never lifts their heart rate above 65% of their maximum (to find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220).
Steady-state cardio is not the most efficient use of your gym time.
It is not intense enough.
The best way to achieve the intensity required to force your body to adapt it is with High- Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT involves performing short bursts of hard and fast cardio followed by brief rest periods. The cycle is repeated a number of times.
Your beginner workout plan will start with 14 minutes of HIIT cardio.
You can perform HIIT using virtually any type of cardio equipment. In the gym, you can do it with . . .
o A treadmill
o A rowing machine
o A skipping rope
Here’s an example using the treadmill:
Do a 5-minute warm-up at a low speed of between 3 and 4 miles per hour. As you hit the 4:30 mark, start increasing the speed until it is at a challenging running speed for you when the timer reaches 5 minutes. Now sprint for 20 seconds, going as hard as you possibly can. As soon as 20 seconds is up, jump your feet to the side rails fo the treadmill and rest for 10 seconds. Then immediately jump back on and sprint for another 20 seconds. Repeat this pattern until you have completed 8 sprints. Then bring the speed back down to between 3 and 4 miles per hour and finish with a 5 minute warm down.
You should perform HIIT training 3 times per week on alternate days. For the sake of variety, change up the apparatus you use each time.
The Weights Workout
Having completed your HIIT cardio, you are ready to get started on your muscle- building workout plan for beginners. Resistance training with weights will allow you to target the different muscle groups of your body in order to build strength and muscle. During this introductory program, you will be working your whole body every time you train.
Your focus during the first week is to master the correct lifting technique. From then on, adjust the resistance so that the exercise is challenging during the last 3rd of the set. Here is what your beginner workout routine looks like (click on each exercise to see a video description):
Dumbbell Bench Press
Leg Extension (Thighs)
Lunges (Glutes / Hamstrings)
High Cable Pulldown (Back)
Cable Side Lateral Raise (Shoulders)
Incline Dumbbell Curl (Biceps)
Rope Tricep Extensions (Triceps)
Calf Raises (Calves)
Sets & Reps
During the first week, perform 2 sets of each exercise. On the first set, do 20 repetitions. The weight should be such that it starts to get difficult around the 15th rep. On the second set, increase the weight slightly and do 15 reps. Remember, your focus here is on proper technique and feeling the working muscle group. In week two, add a 3rd set of 10 reps. Stick with these 3 sets for the remainder of the month. Your goal will be to increase the weight you are lifting by a small increment each week.
Rest Between Sets
Your goal while you are working a muscle group is to place enough stress upon it to force it to adapt by getting bigger and stronger. That requires intensity of effort. However, you’ll see a lot of people in the gym who do a set, then spend many minutes either scrolling through their phone or chatting with their buddy before doing the next set. Rather than building intensity between sets, they are starting back at zero each time.
It’s not an efficient way to train.
Keep your rest between sets down to between 30-45 seconds. During that time, rather than picking up your phone, stretch and flex the muscle group that you are working!
Final Word: Your Training Mindset
Achieving your gym goals involves more than just knowing what training program to follow. Unless you are able to make a connection between your mind and the muscle group you are working, you will end mechanically counting off sets and reps in order to get the session over with.
That’s what most people do.
That’s why they never change.
When you step onto the gym floor you need to be focused like a laser on the job at hand. When you get on the bench for your first exercise – the dumbbell bench press – think about your chest expanding and contracting. In fact, visualize yourself as being Superman as you bring the weight down to open up the pecs and reveal that huge ‘S” emblazoned across your torso. Then as you push up, concentrate on squeezing and feeling the peak contraction at the top of the exercise.
When you combine the right training program with the right level of intensity and focus, nothing will stop you from achieving your gym goals.