How to start training as a beginner: Get the fastest results

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

| Published on

Fact Checked

Here’s how to start training as a beginner:

Many of us who are into training, started from a very basic perspective – Looking good.

However, it is important to recognize that 16 inch guns or a six pack are not really the sole definition of looking good.

It goes way beyond that.

As humans, we have a full-on, adaptive biosuit that is capable of so much more than just looking good.

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Being in good shape is just an end product and there are no shortcuts to it.

So where do we start, if we are completely new to training, or have little experience?

Baby steps

beginner training

It is important to understand that looking good doesn’t happen all of a sudden. That’s the fundamental of starting training as a beginner.

Building a good physique is like building a solid skyscraper – You need a good foundation.

If you’ve followed our series of educational articles up until now, you should have a good deal of theory learnt.

If however you missed our last articles, make sure to check them out:

  • What makes a good fitness plan?
  • Why measuring your workout is important – Training parameters
  • The 3 energy systems of the body
  • How does the muscle grow?
  • Cardio- The secret weapon? How and why to do cardio


So, based on that knowledge, let’s start building a good routine for starters.

As a beginner, it is good to keep specific goals out of the way.

Those include but are not limited to:

  • Getting 18 inch arms right away
  • Getting shredded as hell brah
  • Cobra traps

Instead, try these:

  • Improve basic physical properties

Working on your strength, strength endurance, explosiveness and cardio endurance in the beginning, will be your best foundation.

Once you have those going, your musculature will respond accordingly and grow.

  • Improve eating and sleeping habits

We stimulate the body in the training room, but where the real growth happens is during the recovery period.

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Having a good workout plan is just as important as having a good recovery plan.

Make sure to get a minimum of 7 hours a sleep per night and improve your nutritional habits.

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We’ll talk about nutrition in future articles, but for now it is important to remember you should focus on animal products, fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, legumes, etcetera.

  • Learn the proper execution of the exercises

You can’t just rush into the gym and start squatting immense weights. First off, it would be best to learn the most correct execution of each exercise.

After all, each joint has an optimal biomechanical position, at which it can exert the most force.

Each of those positions allows the tension to go less to the joint itself and more to its surrounding muscles.

We recommend you to have a Personal trainer watch over you in the beginning and correct any mistakes.

If you have all of the above in check, your specific goals of getting bigger arms, chest or whatever muscle group, will simply follow up.

Remember, hard work is important, but you have to know what you’re working hard on and just keep doing it.

Beginner workout

starting strength

Alright, we now know that developing basic physical properties is our main goal in the beginning.

To stimulate the body in such a way, we will refrain from focusing on single muscle groups for now.

3 to 4 full body workouts per week, consisting of compound movements would be just enough for beginners.

As a matter of fact, you can seriously bulk up on that routine, even if you are intermediate and advanced.

Why? Simply because it works.

It allows for optimal stimulation and optimal recovery time in-between the separate workouts.

Here’s another recommendation – Setting up the full body workout in an antagonistic fashion.

Antagonistic muscle groups are two muscle groups attached to one joint, that are opposite in position and function.

Such are for example, the biceps and the triceps – The biceps flex the arm and the triceps extend the arm. The triceps is on the back of the biceps.

Here’s the order of the full body workout (Antagonistic pairs are marked with colors):

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Abs
  • Lower back

Remember that the antagonistic setup of the workout is important due to the fact it is a form of active rest for the muscle opposite to the working one.

While the working muscle receives a contraction signal and shortens, the opposing muscle receives a relaxation signal and stretches.

The exercises

Alright, we have the basic setup in check:

  • Full body workouts every other day
  • Antagonistic setup
  • Focus on compound movements

So, let’s see compound exercises for each muscle group that we can pick:

  1. Chest

There are a couple of areas of the chest which we want to target, whether we’re just starting off with training, or are more advanced.

Those are the upper part of the chest, near the clavicular area, the middle portion, the lower portion, as well as the outer and inner portions.

As you should know, depending on the working angle, we’ll stimulate one zone of the muscle group more than the others.

With the chest being a pushing muscle group, that works in synergy with the triceps and shoulders, we can use the following basic compound movements:

  • Flat bench press (Middle and lower chest)
  • Incline bench press (Upper chest)
  • Decline bench press (Lower and middle chest)

Note – Each of these exercises can be done either with a barbell or a dumbbell.

If you feel like you’re not ready for those exercises yet, try doing the following bodyweight exercises:

  • Shoulder width push ups (Normal, incline or decline)
  • Dips with a resistance band

2. Back

flex wheeler vs phil heath


The back is one of the biggest muscle groups of the body, and as you can see on the picture above, it gets pretty meaty.

We need to make sure we adequately stimulate the different areas of the back musculature, in order to have complete development.

Again, we’re implementing different angles of work, to stimulate the different zones of the back.

  • Shoulder/wide grip pull-ups
  • Vertical lat pulldown
  • Cable row
  • Barbell row
  • Dumbbell row
  • Machine row
  • T-Bar row

Make sure to switch exercises while remaining true to the antagonistic setup of the workout.

3. Shoulders

Shoulders are what makes or breaks the physique, especially the side part of them!

Again, we need to make sure we have different types of movements to stimulate the different parts of the muscle group.

In this case:

  • Barbell standing overhead press (Front delts)
  • Dumbbell seated overhead press (Front delts)
  • Dumbbells standing lateral raise (Side delts)
  • One arm standing lateral raise (Side delts)
  • Dumbbell front raise (Front delts)

Note – In the beginning, direct work for the rear delts won’t be needed, as they get worked on during the back exercises.

4. Biceps

wrist supination

Yes, everyone wants massive peaks! Good biceps and arms as a whole, are definitely one of the defining characteristics of an aesthetic physique.

The secret sauce? Wrist rotation!

It is important to remember that if you want to focus on the outer head of the bicep, you have to supinate your wrist.

The outer head of the bicep is what gives that pleasant peaky look.

And vice versa, if you want to target the inner part, the curls should be more pronated.

The inner part is what gives a thicker look of the upper arm.

Here are some good exercises for the biceps:

  • Standing dumbbell biceps curls
  • Standing barbell biceps curls
  • Seated dumbbell biceps curls
  • Incline bench seated dumbbell curls
  • Machine preacher curls
  • Barbell preacher curls
  • Dumbbell preacher curls
  • Dumbbell hammer curls

5. Triceps

The arms are not just biceps. As a matter of fact, the bulk of your upper arm is the triceps!

If you want well-rounded arms, you will need prominent triceps development, period.

Here are some good exercises for starters:

  • Close grip push-ups
  • Bodyweight bench triceps dips
  • Close grip bench press
  • Rope pushdowns
  • Straight bar pushdowns
  • V Bar pushdowns
  • Dumbbell kickbacks

6. Quadriceps

Quadriceps anatomy

Without a doubt, an aesthetic pair of legs will make your physique better, as the legs are a complex muscle group.

Here are some exercises to target those thighs:

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Barbell squats
  • Lunges (Bodyweight, dumbbell, barbell)
  • Hack squats
  • Leg presses
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Machine squats
  • Leg extensions

7. Hamstrings

hamstrings anatomy

The hamstrings are the antagonist muscle group of the quadriceps.

Technically, the hamstrings are the biceps of the legs, as they have the function of a flexor – They curl the leg.

Here are our best picks for exercises to target that part:

  • Lying hamstring machine curls
  • Seated hamstring curls
  • Standing hamstring curls
  • Lying dumbbell hamstring curls
  • Romanian deadlift

8. Calves


Last but not least, we have the calves!

Generally, calves are considered to be something genetically predetermined.

However, that shouldn’t be the case for you if you’re struggling with small calves.

It is true that the insertion of each muscle is genetically predetermined.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow your calves to the best extent possible for YOUR body.

It is important to remember that when we’re looking for growth, we need to target the bulk of the calf musculature, which is essentially the gastrocnemius.

To do so, we mainly need to do short-burst, explosive movements with our legs straight.

Seated calf raises target the surrounding muscles more than they target the gastroc.

  • Standing calf raises (bodyweight)
  • Standing machine calf raises
  • Standing smith machine calf raises
  • Leg press calf raises
  • Seated calf raises
  • Donkey calf raises

Additional exercises

So far, we covered exercises for the chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs.

However, even though those are the bigger part of your routine, you can also include these at the end of your workouts:

  • Lower back

Especially for ladies, targeting the spinal erectors is of prime importance, as females have naturally weaker lower backs.

We generally consider the hyperextensions to be the best lower back exercise, which is why you can include 3-5 sets of 12-15 repetitions at the end of your workout

  • Abdominal work

The core will get worked on with most compound movements, as it is one of the biggest stabilizers.

However, you can still include direct core work, by doing exercises like Hanging leg raises, L-Sit & V-Sit.

How many sets and reps?

Okay, we got the setup going :

  • Full body workouts every other day
  • Antagonistic order
  • Diversity of exercises workout to workout

But how many sets and reps should you do?

Well, in the beginning, we recommend you to go through a bigger range of repetitions.

You can start off with a baseline of 3 working sets per muscle group, with two warm up sets prior to that.

The warm up sets have to be done for at least the first 2 exercises, in order to warm up the pushing and the pulling groups.

The first 2 muscle groups of your workout would look like this:

  • Set #1 – 15 repetitions, very light weight
  • Set #2 – 12 repetitions, weight added but still light weight
  • Set #3 – 10 repetitions – First working set, significantly heavier weight
  • Set #4 – 8 repetitions – Second working set, must be challenging
  • Set #5 – 6 or 8 repetitions – Last working set, should leave you with 1-2 repetitions in reserve

For beginners, 3 working sets will be enough of a stimulus. However, as you advance, make sure to bump that number up to 5-6 working sets per muscle group.

Remember that the quality of the sets is what matters.

As you advance more and more, you can also throw in strength work into the mix and go for ~5 heavy repetitions.


Well, that’s about it – Exactly how to start training as a beginner!

Beginners should focus on creating a good base to build upon later on in the training process.

A good fundamental development would consist of:

  • Good levels of strength
  • Good levels of strength endurance
  • Good levels of explosiveness
  • Good levels of cardiovascular and respiratory endurance
  • Good exercise execution
  • Good nutrition and sleeping habits
  • Good posture

Stay tuned for our next article, where we will start introducing you to the most fundamental training principles and methods, starting off with The pyramid.

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