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Beginner Strength Training Program

Beginner strength training is often approached with a bodybuilding style. This is where people are given a program to follow that resembles that of a bodybuilder, regardless of their actual goals. There are a few reasons for this, one of which is that a lot of advice comes from either a magazine like Flex, a friend at the gym or popular programs like Body For Life.

Bodybuilding programs are often not the best programs when considering beginner strength training. The reason being that an individual, even a non-athlete, requires some level of functional capacity. However I do understand that many people hit the weights room to look better with their shirt off. Beginner strength training should take a complete approach so that both functional capacity goals and appearance goals are met.

The following are a few basic guidelines followed by a program for beginner strength training that incorporates multiple modalities.


One of the biggest problems with beginner strength training is complexity. People simply try to do too much right from the outset. Remember that Flex magazine routines are performed by drugged up, seasoned bodybuilders, not the regular Joe.

Keep things basic. Learn major compound movements in all planes of movement, such as rotational, standing/locomotion, lying, pushing and pulling. It is absolutely essential that time is taken to learn quality technique before moving on. Learning to do things properly always results in greater increases in strength later.

Combine Multiple Domains

Quite often the goal of the non-athlete engaging in a strength training program is to get maximum results in as many domains of fitness as possible in the shortest time. For this reason I recommend combining multiple domains. There are a few ways to do this…

First of all you could use the IWT system, which stands for interval weight training. This involves a set of an athletic lift followed immediately by an intense cardio-based interval, then rest 1-2 minutes.

My personal preference is scheduling in training for things like speed and power, things that complement strength training and an anabolic environment. Combine strength training with sprints, plyometrics and high intensity brief circuits and intervals.

Complex training is a great way to increase strength, power and speed in one session. This involves performing heavy sets of a compound movement followed by plyometrics or sprinting after each set.

Low Volume, High Intensity

Beginners should train with very low volume and keep intensity high. This means training short and hard and leaving plenty of time for recovery. Remember, keep it basic.

Progressive Intensity

Progressive intensity has been mentioned a few times on this site. It simply refers to an increase in intensity over time then returning to the starting intensity periodically and so on in phases.

Low Reps

High reps is a training mistake. High reps essentially takes the whole point out of strength training. Strength training is intended to increase strength and/or muscle size. Performing strength training exercises for more than 12 repetitions makes it not strength training. I mean think about it; why should a cyclist perform 20 reps of an exercise? At that level of resistance they will get a better result from actually jumping on the bike. Keep below eight repetitions, otherwise it’s not strength training.

The Program

The following program outlines strength training for beginners. Please note that this is not a complete periodised program. What we aim to provide here is a starting point for a wide range of individuals. The program will consist simply of one week worth of workouts.  This is of course a simplified program design. When designing a program for a specific individual we would take into account periodisation and progressive intensity. Not everyone is the same, however this program is fairly broad and perfect for anyone to undertake at any level of fitness.

Before beginning it is recommended that all techniques and movements be  learned thoroughly in their own isolated context before combining into circuits and the like. This one-week program outline will be specific with the strength training but will also make mention of where to fit cardio or metabolic conditioning.

Day One

Back Squat 3 x 8 at 65%

Bench Press 3 x 8 at 65%

Overhead Press 3 x 8 at 65%

Day Two

Bent-over Row 3 x 8 at 65%

Pull-ups for two sets until moderately fatigued but not to failure

Power-cleans 3 x 5 at 70%

Day Three

Short, high intensity cardio session. Using a high intensity protocol like Tabata would be very effective here.

Day Four


Day Five

Repeat day one.

Day Six

Repeat day two.

Day Seven

Either repeat day three or perform your own choice of metcon/cardiovascular exercise. Preferably intervals or sprint training.

A beginner strength program really is that simple. The beginner has no need to complicate things. Neither does the experienced athlete for that matter. The reason this example is so simple is because it incorporates all major muscle groups for total strength development with a perfect repetition range to facilitate both strength and muscle growth.

After a period of time the beginner strength training program can begin to incorporate other aspects such as power and circuits.

After at least six months of training in a basic format utilising progressive intensity and learning varied compound movements, the beginner can now be considered intermediate. At this stage the program may look a little different depending on the goals of the person.

Just remember, beginner strength training and all strength training for that matter should be simple and to the point. Energy is simply wasted on complex routines with too many exercises. Follow this simple format and I can guarantee that you will produce a desired result within a few short weeks.

Before beginning check out some other sections on this site to learn about progressive intensity and the core principles of strength and conditioning. This will allow you to effectively design a program that accommodates continuous progression.

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