Sample Starter Weight Plan

This is mainly a post to help some friends back in Australia have a central place to find the info for a workout plan I put together for them. For some background, they have a lot of cardio experience and some experience with the fixed weight machines, but looking to get into the free weights room. I’ve shown them some free weight movements in the past. I placed this program together, with the main goals of:

  • Getting acquainted with the big basic compound movements
  • Keep the plan structure simple and straight forward
  • Mix in machine & free weights
  • Keep variety in the plan
  • Only have three days per week to allow room for other physical activities and not burn out in the weight room
  • Workouts should be less than one hour

Now being a beginner weight plan, the focus is more on technique than stacking on the weight. In this case it’s important to make sure the form is perfect each set, so that later on down the track when the weight starts to increase, there are fewer ‘training scars’ to reduce form breakdown.

Warm up will simply be 3-5 minutes on any cardio machine, followed by 5 minutes of light stretching and foam rolling if available. At the end of the workout, if time permits, take 5-10 minutes to stretch and foam roll. The exercises are listed in superset pairs to keep the time in the gym down and keep the heart rate elevated. I haven’t listed a specific rest period, which I believe should be up to the individual and how they feel that day.

Day 1 – ‘Pushes’

  • Squats – Sets x Reps: 4 x 15-12
    Technique video by Dave Tate – great video instructing the box squat
    ExRx instruction
    I am against any squat that isn’t ‘deep’. Not necessarily ‘ass to grass’ but at minimum the crease of the hip should be in line with the knee. Basically the thigh should be at least parallel to the floor. There are countless articles out there explaining that this isn’t dangerous to the knee & how many benefits there are to squatting deep.
    Always start off with body weight, for a warm up. Then progress to back squats with just the bar. If depth is an issue, do not add weight and focus on technique.
  • Pushups – 3 x 10
    T-Nation Push up page
    ExRx instruction
    Keep the body tight, the pushup also doubles as a great core movement. Each week try to increase the amount of pushups in the last set. Stick with 10 reps in the first two sets

  • Assisted Dips – 3 x 10
    ExRx instruction
    I don’t recommend the bench dip variety, due to the impingement of the shoulder joint in that odd angle. Only on dip bars/dip machines with a neutral grip.
    Each week work at reducing the amount of assisted weight, with the ultimate goal of unassisted bodyweight dips.
  • Assisted Pullups – 3-4 x 10
    Just like the dips, the aim is to eventually get to unassisted pullups. This will most likely take longer than dips to achieve. Although this is the ‘pushing’ day, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, back developing is much more beneficial in evening out body imbalances.

  • Box/Bench Step Ups – 4 x 8 each leg
    ExRx instruction
    Can vary the difficulty by either changing the height of the step up or holding a dumbbell. This will help with hip mobility/flexibility, which helps with squat depth and performance
  • Jack knife sit-up – 3 x 12
    ExRx instruction

Day 2 – ‘Pulls’

  • Deadlift – 4 x 6-8
    Dave Tate instructional video
    ExRx instruction
    Warm up is very important for this exercise. So is focusing on the agonist muscles and ensuring the rest of the body is kept tight. Always ease into any heavy sets. Aiming to stay below 8 reps. Warm up with 2 sets of light weight for 12 reps. Don’t take a lot of time with the lowering (eccentric) movement of the exercise, make that as quick as possible.
  • Plank – 2 x 30 seconds
    ExRx instruction
    Supersetted only for the first two warmup sets, to really focus on the deadlift movement

  • Bent-Over Barbell Row/Pendlay Row – 3 x 12
    Pendlay Row video
    ExRx Instruction
    Make sure to keep the lower back as tight and stiff as possible throughout the movement. Pause on the floor and focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together. Vary the movement with different angles of the back from flat to 45°

  • Wide grip Lat Pull Downs 3 x 15
    ExRx instruction
    The purpose of this movement is for lat activation, not necessarily to go heavy. Focus on squeezing the underarms down, pulling through the pinky and bringing the elbows to the sides. Keep the chest up and out and minimize any swaying.
  • Push ups 3 x 10

  • Hyperextensions 3 x 12-15
    ExRx instruction
    These are a great movement for focusing on the lumbar region and gluteus muscles. Be sure to really focus on squeezing the glutes to ‘pull’ your torso upright, and stop the movement once your body is in a straight line.
  • ‘Pallof press’ 3 x 12 per side
    Maloney Performance article
    Great YouTube video showing two angles
    Great anti-rotation movement for the core. One of the best exercises for the abdominals.

Day 3: Push & Pull

  • Standing Barbell Overhead Press 3 x 8-12
    Mark Rippetoe Instructing video
    ExRx instruction
    Great compound movement, probably the best shoulder exercise to do. It engages the core, the hips, coordination and rigidity through the body whilst performing the movement. For head position, think about making a double chin whilst keeping your head straight forward. Keep the forearms up, lats tight and grip should be just wider than the shoulders. I prefer the standing version, as it engages more stabilizing muscles and develops are more natural movement. Always press the bar in a straight line up.
  • Romanian Deadlift 3 x 8-10
    ExRx instruction
    YouTube instruction video
  • There should be kept light at first to really focus on getting a contraction in the hamstring and can possibly use same weight as the shoulder press. Focus on keeping the entire back as neutral and tight as possible through the movement. Focus on hinging at the hips, and pushing the butt back out, as if someone has a rope around the waist and is pulling you backwards. Keep the barbell as close to the body as possible. Keep the knees slightly bent through the movement and head in a neutral position.

  • Lunges 2 x 15
    ExRx instruction
    I prefer the barbell lunges as opposed to the dumbbell lunges, as it takes the limiting grip factor out of the equation allowing the use of heavier weights. Also having the weight high up on the body would force more contraction in the abs to stabilize the body. However, whichever method you find comfortable/easier. These are great to do in the walking setup, however if your gym doesn’t have the room, the normal lunges are sufficient, just keep in mind the length of your strides and also how high you pick your feet up.
  • Dumbbell rows 3 x 10 per arm
    ExRx instruction
    These are a great way to isolate each side of the lat and even out any strength imbalances. Keep sure to contract the back and keep it rigid. Focus on keeping the elbows in (no ‘chicken winging’) or a lot of swaying to get the weight up. Get a full stretch at the bottom and bring the weight up into the torso as high as possible to get a tight contraction in the shoulder blade region.

  • Any ab/core exercise of your choice 2 sets
    e.g. bicycle kicks, crunches, situps, plank
  • Cable ‘face pulls’ 3 x 10-15
    ExRx instruction
    Charles Poliquin instruction video
    These shouldn’t be performed to failure, they are a ‘prehab’ movement and designed to prevent injury and not build muscle so to speak. They help strengthen the rotator cuffs. You should at first stick to light weights and focus on really squeezing the shoulder blades together at the end of the movement.

If you’ve noticed, almost all the movements are compound in nature. For beginners I don’t really see a high payoff for doing isolation exercises. The time spent performing a bicep curl, could be used in improving pull up performance, thereby getting more returns for the time and effort. Strengthening the entire body is crucial at the novice level, as this is the best place to lay down a solid foundation of strength and form. There are many ways to skin a cat and I think this is one of many options available, it may not necessarily be the simplest of routines, but I feel it includes enough variety to stop boredom in the gym. It incorporates many of the big movements that create strong bodies.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit

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