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Beginner Fitness Program

A beginner fitness program is the source of much confusion for a lot of first-time exercisers. Often the most successful people when it comes to starting a fitness program are those that started training knowing next to nothing about where to start. They are usually successful after tweaking their program through trial and error and by doing a lot of reading and asking professionals for advice.

But imagine what the results would look like if, when you start a fitness program for the first time, instead of going through the process of learning through mistakes, you started with a simplified and effective beginner fitness program. That is what this article aims to achieve. I aim to show you where to start, how to prepare, how to progress and how to measure your progress.

Lets start with a few misconceptions about starting a beginner fitness program. These are beliefs the media, popular gurus and the misinformed have popularised to the point where many people with a lack of training experience believe these general assumptions. As result, the results you achieve are often less than optimal.

Fitness Misconception 1 – As a beginner you are fragile, so you need to start extremely slowly.

This is true for some and it is true in part. However what a lot of people take this to mean is that a beginner needs to be treated like an injured newborn. You are much more durable than you may think. I will give you an example; I was a manager of a small fitness studio. A member comes in with his father-in-law. The guy looked maybe about 70. He says to me “listen young fella, I want to bulk up a bit”. So I went through the health screen process. When he wrote his date of birth I quickly did the calculations and discovered he was 91 years old, and the man wanted to bulk up. I’m not kidding. He had lifted weights for most of his life, but had done nothing for quite some time, hence why he visited me. I put him through the softest and most careful session you could imagine. He told me to stop treating him so fragile. We ramped it up, increased the intensity and had him lifting a decent lot of weight. The result? He bulked up and fixed his slight hunch back (kyphosis).

Moral of the story, you are not as fragile as you think. Assess your current health, look for risk factors for injury, heart disease etc. Then train at a starting point that is appropriate for that level and increase intensity fairly quickly. You need to be training at a level that challenges you significantly enough to produce an actual training adaptation.

Fitness Misconception 2 – (to contradict the last point) You need to push yourself to the absolute limit. No pain, no gain etc.

There are some people, when embarking on a beginner fitness program, that tend to think that harder training means better results. In some instances this can be true, however it should not be a guiding philosophy. An effective beginner fitness program, or any fitness program for that matter, is structured at appropriate intensities to achieve the desired outcome. Going at it at 100% intensity continuously will most often result in injury or burnout. Start at the level appropriate for your ability and aligned with the desired outcome, then devise a plan that incorporates progressions to ensure you are progressing and improving.

Fitness Misconception 3 – More is better.

This is a short point, but something worth mentioning. I have spoken to people that tell me how incredibly long their training session was today, like it means that the longer the session the better the result. Let me make this perfectly clear, TRAINING LONGER THAN THE DURATION OR VOLUME REQUIRED TO PRODUCE A GIVEN RESULT IS EITHER WASTED TIME OR AN ACTUAL HINDRANCE TO PROGRESS. Like with medication, training has an effective dose. The effective dose at the upper limit of morphine will produce the best pain relief, but more than that will kill you. The same applies to training, not that it will kill you, but training at a higher duration or for higher volume than that which will produce the desired result will result in over-training or at best, just a waste of time.

Fitness Misconception 4 – An effective training program requires a lot of different exercises, techniques etc.

Quite often the task of designing and starting an exercise program is a daunting one. The belief seems to be that in order to be effective there needs to be many different components, lots of different types of sessions, different exercises etc. But to be effective, in reality, best practice is to stick with the proven basics. Some of the best athletes in the world stick with basic principles and basic compound exercises to become the best in their sport. The same applies to you. Forget about the options, once you start something, block the rest out. Just because it is there does not mean you have to use it.

Ok, that’s enough of the myths and misconceptions. There are many more, but these are some common ones. The point I am trying to make is, a fitness program does not have to be complicated, super intense 100% of the time or involve long sessions and high volume to get results.

I’m all about efficiency and minimalism. Do ONLY the required amount to produce a given result. Doing more is a waste of time.

Components of an Effective Beginner Fitness Program

There are multiple components of an effective fitness program. What to do all depends on the desired result. So lets assume your goals are broad and general in nature. You want to lose fat, gain muscle, look better, increase overall fitness etc. In that case there are two components…

Strength Training

EVERY training program, regardless of goals, should include at least some level of strength training. Strength is at the foundation of all physical performance and structure. Without strength you can’t build speed and power. Without strength you will have physical imbalances that limit performance. Without some level of muscle mass you will struggle to change the shape of your body. And adding muscle mass, even just a small amount, has a profound impact on your resting metabolic rate. In other words, more muscle means less fat.

So what is strength training? Strength training is any form of training against resistance. It can include traditional weight training, body weight strength exercises, kettlebells etc.

Cardio Training

I generally don’t like to use the term cardio to refer to a training modality. However here it is necessary to separate the two. Cardio is any training that elevates the heart rate significantly. To a large degree strength training does this, however for a well-rounded beginner fitness program and to get the most from your training, some time dedicated to cardio training is helpful.

What is cardio training? Any form of training where the main priority is increasing heart rate. That’s my simple definition.

Putting it Together: What are your options?

A beginner fitness program is exactly that, a program for beginners to start their fitness journey. For this reason there needs to be a foundation built in order to build from and progressively increase fitness.

The guidelines and program included here can be used for the complete beginner or someone that is getting back into training after a few months or years off. It is intentionally simple and minimalist. Don’t be tempted to add to it.


Training days per week: 3

Duration per session: 20-30 minutes

Intensity: Moderate



For some of these exercises you may need to do some research or ask a professional trainer (such as myself) to demonstrate and teach the movements. These are the fundamental movements that will help build a foundation that will later help when attempting more athletic and explosive movements.


  • Squat (using a barbell) – this can either be a back squat or front squat.


  • Deadlift


  • Barbell bent over row


  • Bench press


  • Pull-ups


  • Push-ups


  • Overhead press (using either barbell or dumbells, preferably while standing)


  • Any form of cardio exercise. This can include an indoor rower, treadmill, indoor bike, running outdoors, actual bike, swimming etc. It’s your choice, but you need to have access to it straight after the strength session.


The Beginner Fitness Program

This beginner fitness program is truly minimalist, but covers absolutely everything. All muscle groups are trained and all components of fitness are covered. Follow the workouts, be consistent and progressively increase weight, intensity etc, and you will get a better start than you have ever had before. Take the time to learn the exercises properly and don’t let your ego get in the way by doing too much too soon.

This program should be followed for a minimum of six weeks for anywhere up to six months.

PROGRESSION – In order to progress you need to set goals and milestones for every workout. If you are squatting 25kg on workout one, then by workout three you might aim to squat 27.5kg and so on. The same goes for cardio, if you were able to row 230 metres in one minute one day then aim for 232 metres the next etc.


There are two different sessions to follow. You will follow them in alternating fashion. For example do session one on Monday, then session two on Wednesday, session one again on Friday, session two again the following Monday and so on. It doesn’t matter which three days in the week you choose to train, it might be different from one week to the next, just make sure you get the sessions in. Don’t stress if you miss a session or two, it’s not the end of the world and it will not derail your results.

RECOVERY – Every fifth week should be a complete rest, do absolutely no training on weeks five, 10, 15 etc.

INTENSITY – For strength training you should be training at an intensity that allows you to complete all the repetitions, but only just. You should be struggling by the last rep of each set. Adjust the weight accordingly.

Beginner Fitness Program - Session One


Rest between sets – 60-90 seconds


  • Deadlift x 3 sets of 5 reps


  • Pull-ups x 2 sets of as many reps as you can do (if you can’t do full pull-ups then do jumping pull-ups, find a demo on youtube)


  • Bench press x 2 sets of 10 reps


  • Overhead press x 1 set of 8 reps


  • Finish with cardio intervals. You will do a total of 3 intervals of 1 minute duration each. Rest 40 seconds between intervals. Each interval should be at absolute maximum intensity. Use whatever form of cardio you like.


Beginner Fitness Program - Session Two


Rest between sets – 60-90 seconds


  • Squat x 3 sets of 10 reps


  • Barbell bent over row x 2 sets of 10 reps


  • Push-ups x 2 sets of as many reps as you can do.


  • Overhead press x 1 set of 8 reps


  • Finish with cardio for five minutes at high intensity. Go as hard as you can possibly maintain for the entire five minutes. Use whatever form of cardio you like.



Oh dear lord we have forgotten the abs. What will you do about getting that six pack? Nothing at all. The abs don’t need to be targeted separately. Why? Because everything prescribed here is a compound movement. The abs are targeted very well in all of the strength exercises featured here.

Extra Activity

Many people find that the hardest part of consistently following through with a beginner fitness program is boredom. You might feel that this is very repetitive, and you would be right. However consistency breeds results. In order to maintain interest you can do extra physical activity. Even if that means doing only two of the programmed sessions per week and doing two other days of an activity of your choice.

Below are some options for extra activity.


  • Trail running


  • Bush walking


  • Swimming


  • Running around the park with your dog


  • Play a game of soccer or touch football with your friends


  • When you go to the beach you could throw in a few beach sprints


  • Every two hours at work do a set of push-ups or body weight squats


  • Climb trees


  • Take your kids to the park and do pull-ups on the monkey bars


  • Learn to dance


  • The opportunities are many. Create the habit of being active, use your physical skills and move more.


But keep in mind that having a structured beginner fitness program in place is always an effective idea. If it’s structured and measurable you can track results and make necessary changes.

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