A Proper Bodybuilding Workout for Beginners

What’s the best bodybuilding workout routine for beginners? A lot of aspiring bodybuilders are wondering how their workout should look like to get the best results speaking of muscle gains. Unfortunately only few beginners follow a proper workout routine while most do workout routines used by professional athletes and posted in magazines. Learn what’s crucial for rookies to achieve great muscle and strength growth.

Everyone who tries something new needs to put in effort, patience and discipline to be more successful than the average. Same applies to bodybuilding where you’ll never get great results in terms of building muscle mass and strength if you start training like the average Joe. But how should a beginner start working out with weights?

Magazine Workouts vs. Proper Beginner Workouts

Most rookies will probably look into fitness magazines where they’ll find some routines promising incredible muscle gains. What they don’t know that these routines are everything but appropriate for beginners. Following a 5 day split with lots of sets and exercises just doesn’t work for beginners so don’t make the same mistake if you want to get big quick. Yes, you’ll gain muscle mass fast at first and there’ll be noticeable results within a few weeks and months but you have to approach it the right way. Always keep in mind that discipline, patience and persistence are absolutely necessary and the key for successful muscle growth. Mental strength is more important than muscle strength because without being mentally strong you’ll never get physically strong.

An appropriate workout schedule is compulsory for rookies since they don’t know their body as good as experienced athletes. Especially in the beginning it’s important to keep log of your workouts so you can beat your personal best. Write down which exercise, and how much weight you lifted for how many reps in each set.

A beginner workout shouldn’t include lots of isolation exercises and sets for every single muscle. Also it shouldn’t be a 3 day split ore more where muscles are worked once a week. A rookie hasn’t much muscle mass so they can work the same muscles more often without overloading their muscles.

Proper beginner workouts include compound exercises, free weights, full body workouts or 2 day splits 3 to 4 times a week. Compound exercises build the foundation of every workout whether you’re a beginner or not. More information on compound exercises and why they’re necessary can acquired in the post how to build muscle mass.

Basic Workout Rules

Before I’m going to show 2 examples how a good beginner workout should look like I’ve to make some rules clear you should stick to in every workout:

–       Focus on your workout (very important)

–       Feel your muscles (be the muscle), don’t just lift the weights

–       Correct technique on every rep

–       No distractions (You like that new chick? Fine, talk to her after training)

–       Doing 5/4 sets take the last 2-3 sets to positive muscle failure (no forced reps etc.)

–       Increasing weights decreasing reps

–       Rest 1 – 2 minutes between sets and focus on the next set

–       Perform warm up sets (number in brackets)

–       Complete your actual workout within 45 – 70 minutes (warm up sets don’t count)

–       Get a logbook to write down sets, reps, weights and additional information

Muscle Failure and Individual Recovery

Depending on your individual recovery and genetics you have to feel how your muscles and body reacts to weight lifting. It’s fine to avoid muscle failure for the first weeks (3-4) of training as your muscles get stimulated anyway. After you’ve got used to training and exercise execution you should start taking sets to failure. Don’t be scared of overtraining because it’s a highly exaggerated topic and as long as you don’t train 2 hours a day 5 times a week, overtraining shouldn’t be an issue. Nutrition and Recovery (sleep) are extremely important for fast and proper recovery so make sure you eat right and get enough rest.

How to Perform the Sets

Let’s take the Squat for a quick example. Assuming you’re warmed up properly you’ll start your first set with a weight you want to squat 15 times. If you perform more than 15 reps add 10 – 15lbs (don’t add 20lbs if you barely managed to get 16 reps done) and go for 12 – 15 reps the next set. If you’re able to do 12 – 15 reps increase weight by another 5 – 10lbs and try to get 10 – 12 reps out of it. If you made it then just continue adding weight for the fourth and fifth set and go for the given reps. I think you already figured out what I mean.

Doing heavy exhausting compound exercises like squats, barbell rows etc. requires more rest than exercises like biceps curls or pushdowns. Keep your rest in between sets at about 1-2 minutes.

But what if I can’t do more than 9 reps in the third set? Don’t add weight and just go for your reps.

Only decrease weights if you struggle to get over 7 – 8 reps in the third set. The next workout you should be able to increase weights and/or reps anyway. You’ll get a pretty good feeling on how much you can increase weights for following sets. The next workout you should aim to increase weights slightly by 5 – 10 lbs depending on exercise, set and fatigue levels. Doing more reps with the same weight is also improvement, more reps with more weight is superior.

Sample Beginner Workouts

The following workouts are based on heavy compound exercises, moderate volume and cover high as well as low rep ranges, so all muscle fibers are recruited and stimulated to grow.

The first workout is a full body workout performed 3 times a week (Mo, We, Fr)

Full Body Workout
Sets Exercise Rep Range
(3)5 Squats 15 – 6
(2)5 Bench Press 15 – 6
(2)4 Chin Ups* 12 – 6
3 Barbell Rows 12 – 8
3 Barbell Neck Press 12 – 8
(1)3 Calf Raise 20 – 25
2 Dumbbell Curls 12 – 8
2 Triceps Dips* 12 – 8

*If you can’t perform enough chin ups / dips with your own bodyweight use an assisted chin up / dip machine

This workout is probably the best choice for complete beginners who are just starting with weight training. Every muscle is worked by compound movements and a few sets of extra isolation exercises for biceps, triceps and calves. If your diet is right than gaining muscle mass is inevitable.

The second workout is a 2 Day Split performed 2 times a week (e.g. Mo, Tue, Thu, and Fr)

Workout A (Monday and Thursday)
Sets Exercise Rep Range
(3)4 Bench Press 12 – 6
(3)4 Chin Up* 12– 6
3 Dumbbell Fly 15 – 10
3 Barbell Row 12 – 8
3 Barbell Neck Press 12 – 8
3 Cable Row Close Grip 15 – 10
2 Dumbbell Lateral Raise 15 – 10


Workout B (Tuesday and Friday)
Sets Exercise Rep Range
(3)3 Squat 10 – 6
3 Leg Curls 12 – 8
3 Leg Press 15 – 10
(1)2 Barbell Curls 12 – 8
(1)2 Triceps Dips* 12 – 8
2 Hammer Curls 12 – 8
2 EZ-French Press 12 – 8

*If you can’t perform enough chin ups / dips with your own bodyweight use an assisted chin up / dip machine

This 2 day split is suited for persons who are just starting out as well as for athletes who are working out for a while. Even athletes with several years of experience follow 2 days splits since they’re not just effective for beginners. You’ll have one more workout day and work every muscle twice a week. Biceps and Triceps are also involved in workout A as assisting muscles in several exercises, but as you should focus on feeling the muscle this shouldn’t affect your workout the next day. Don’t change the order of workout A and B because blasting your arms in workout A results in less assisting power for exercises like bench press and barbell row the next day i.e. your workout suffers.

The 2 day split includes more exercises while the amount of sets per week is similar to the full body workout. If you like you can throw in a few sets of knee raises or decline bench crunches at the end of a workout but abs are used as supporting muscles for most compound exercises so you don’t need to train them separately.

Well, I hope you take my advice and approach your journey to a muscular, lean and strong body the right way.

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