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The Workout for Beginners

Many people are intimidated by the gym for one simple reason, they get there and don’t know what to do.

Training Basics for Beginners

Many people are intimidated by the gym for one simple reason, they get there and don’t know what to do. They try a variety of cardio equipment and free weights, but soon get discouraged when they see little change or results. I have been in the fitness industry for over 10-years, and the number one question I still get asked today is how to train properly.  You see the problem is not the type of equipment or exercises performed, but rather the way they are used. This article will address the basics of program design and workout for beginners.

Start With Hiring a Certified Personal Trainer

I am a big fan of doing things right the first time.  I always recommend that people new to fitness start with hiring a certified personal trainer.  A qualified trainer can save beginners lots of wasted time and money by teaching them how to train safely and effectively the first time.  Keep in mind that work out plans and workout for beginners are not a one size fits all situation!  A trainer can put the “personal” in personal training.  A quality trainer will usually base a workout plan on the client’s health history, age, goals, schedule, and experience. Often, he/she will perform postural, cardiovascular and muscular strength assessments to establish a baseline of fitness from which to progress.

Training Guidelines for Making a Safe and Effective Workout for Beginners Plan

That being said, for those of you wishing to start exercising on your own, here are some training guidelines for making a safe and effective workout for beginners plan. Once you have a basic understanding of these training guidelines, you can then personalize your program using some of my additional tips below. Building a workout for beginners program can be fun once you have a general understanding of the rules.

  • Be Physically Ready

Before undertaking any new program, with either a trainer or on your own, your first step is to fill out a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q).  If you answer “Yes” to any of the questions listed, then go see your doctor for a checkup to ensure it is safe for you to exercise. It is always a good idea to have a baseline before you start.

  • Start gradually

The next thing to consider is your exercise history for the past 6 months. Have you been relatively inactive? Are you a “couch potato”? If so, start gradually and work at an intensity that is comfortable.  Avoid overexerting yourself.

  • Establish your Availability

How much time do you realistically have in your day to dedicate to exercise?  Most people get really excited when they start a plan and bite off more than they can chew. That is, they do too, much too soon, too often.  Instead of trying to get to the gym five times each week, consider going twice a week for the next three weeks and do some outdoor activities on the weekends such as hiking, biking or walking.  Sit down and organize into your schedule your exercise times; include the time it takes to go to and from the gym, shower or prepare for a hike.   If you schedule it in your day timer, you have a better chance of doing it.  If you have family, consider incorporating them by organizing fun active events such as a hike.

  • Find a Facility

Find a facility to work out in that is convenient and factor in about 60 minutes to do your warm up, work out and stretching. Don’t have time to do 60 minutes? Then do shorter time periods more often (I.e. 30 minutes, 4 times a week instead of 60 minutes 2-3 times a week).  Remember that you can also do a work out at home with simple equipment and body weight. Where ever you plan to go make it easy.

  • Keep it Simple

The number one rule of doing an exercise plan on your own, is to keep it simple.  I generally recommend you start with a full body program.   When you start your program, aim for two to three times a week. Your workout for beginners program should include all of the major muscle groups such as your quadriceps, hamstrings, chest, back, shoulders and core.

  • Go From Larger to Smaller Muscle Groups

Always develop your program starting with larger muscle groups then smaller muscle groups and finishing with core.

Here are some examples of exercises, in sequence, for each major muscle group:

Quads – squats, split squats (stationary lunges), sumo squats, reverse lunge, wall sits

Butt/Hamstrings – bridges, deadlifts, leg curls (machine or ball), donkey kicks

Chest/Anterior Deltoids/Triceps – machine/dumbbell press, pushups, front raise, triceps press down

Back/ Biceps/ Rear Deltoids –lat pulldowns, dumbbell rows, rear flys, bicep curls

Core (abs and lower back) – planks, side planks, dead bugs, pointing dog, superman’s

  • Choose your Sets and Repetitions

Repetitions are the number of times you complete a single exercise movement. That is, I completed 12 squats for example. Sets are the number of cycles you complete for each exercise. Meaning I completed 12 squats for one set and then did that 3 times (3 sets).

Reps and sets vary depending on the type of training that you are doing. Beginners always start with muscular endurance training. Muscular Endurance training is defined as the ability of a muscle to contract repeatedly or to sustain a contraction over a long period of time. People usually do this when they are beginning to reduce the risk of injury and to tone and firm the body.

It is recommended to do a warm up set of 5 to 10 reps with the weight you are going to do with endurance training, then doing 1 to 2 sets more of 12 to 15 reps..

This set and rep range is considered a safe workout for beginners, for people coming back from a layoff and for people who are looking to “tone and firm”.

  • Determine your Starting Weight

Personal trainers use the “trial and error method” for determining workloads for clients. When beginning a new program, or if it is a new exercise, always err on the side of caution and start light. When doing the trial and error method, we give the client a weight and allow them to lift it as many times as they can and then subtract or add weight depending on when they fatigue. Basically, if a client can do 20 repetitions we would add about 15 lbs on a lat pulldown, 18 – 19 reps add 10lb, 16-17 reps add 5 lbs and if you can only complete 12 – 15 reps then you have the magic number and would stay there.

  • Write it down – Keep a Journal

Write your plan out in a workout journal and take it to the gym with you. Tracking your success will keep you motivated. You should be doing more sets, reps, and weight as you go along! Once you can easily do 2-3 sets of 15 reps then it is time to increase the weight you are lifting by about 10%. Remember, if you are not pushing yourself then you will not progress.

  • Organize your Time in the Gym

When you get to the gym, start off with a 5-10 minute warm up on the cardio equipment of your choosing. The warm up should include all of the joints that you are planning to work for that particular day.

Plan you work out before you get there, making sure you include one exercise for each of the muscles discussed above – quads, butt and hamstrings, chest, anterior deltoids, triceps, back, posterior deltoids, biceps, and core. Each exercise should be done for 2 – 3 sets of 12-15 reps. Make sure you include the appropriate amount of active rest in between.

Stretch the Muscle Groups That You Work

Make sure you stretch all of the muscle groups that you work. Stretching should be done at the end for 5-10 minutes.

The entire work out should be kept under an hour. On the first day, go to the gym and only do 1 set of each exercise and wait and see how sore you are the following day. Delayed onset of muscle soreness(DOMS) is a big part of determining when you can add on more set, reps or weight into your program. The following day when you work out you should feel muscle soreness of a 3-4. This means that you can still do all of your daily activity however you can feel a soreness in your muscles. When you achieve that kind of soreness don’t change anything.  Anything above 5, meaning it effects your daily activity or stops you from doing the thing you normally do, would be pushing yourself too hard. When you are too sore decrease either reps, sets or weight. Only 0-2? You aren’t really feeling anything then you need to add on reps, sets or weight (not all 3 just pick one). Soreness comes 24-36 hours after a workout and should only last about 48 hours. Don’t work out again before the soreness dissipates.

I hope this has been informative for those of you that would like to try program design on your own! Still confused? I would recommend you hire a certified personal trainer and have them develop the program for you. Fitness professionals will develop and teach the program to you, then you can try it on your own and go back to your trainer for updates and revisions every 3-4 weeks!

Cathie Glennon – BCRPA-SFL/CSNA