Beginner Workout Routine

"The weaker you are, the more room you have to get strong, and the stronger you are through training, the harder it is to get stronger. Novices get strong faster than advanced lifters, so an advanced program is not the best for making the rapid gains possible for a novice. Time is wasted, potential is wasted."

-Mark Rippetoe

I came across an old thread on Reddit the other day. What a strange place. Sometimes the thread blows my minds; other times it gives me nightmares.

In this situation, I came across a Mark Rippetoe interview from a few years back. Mark is one of the best coaches in the fitness industry today, and has been actively training athletes for decades. His book Starting Strength is phenomenal and has helped countless people across the world build muscle and strength.

One of the users (the top comment in fact) asked Mark the following: "What's the single biggest mistake you see beginners make?"

Mark replied, "They fail to understand that they are beginners. Novices, as we call them. They pick a routine out of a magazine based on what the guy doing it looks like, with no regard for the fact that they are not the same piece of physiology as the guy in the magazine."

I love this guy.

Basics

I often talk to people who tried getting into lifting before and just weren't feeling it. I also run into people who have never lifted at all in the past. Then, I'll run into some people who have been lifting for a few years already, but due to poor programming, haven't seen any gains since the first few months of doing so.

If you've never lifted before, why on Earth would you try some crazy split where you're lifting 5+ days a week? All you'll do is end up overtrained, empty of motivation, and frustrated.

Then, I'll run into some people who have been lifting for a few years already, but due to poor programming, haven't seen any gains since the first few months of doing so. If you still can't bench your bodyweight, do you REALLY think doing 30 sets of chest every week is what you should be focusing on?

Now, what if I told you that you could build a phenomenal physique using no more than 3 workouts a week? And that these workouts would challenge your body in ways you're just not used to?

Here it is:

 

Sunday - Rest

Monday - Workout A & Abs

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Workout B

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Workout C & Abs

Saturday - Rest

 

Workout A

Back Squat - 5x5-7

Flat Bench Press - 5x5-7

Barbell Row - 5x5-7

 

Workout B

Leg Press - 5x5-7

Dip - 5x5-7

Chin Up - 5x5-7

Calf Raise (superset with below) - 3x5-7

Y Raise (superset with above) - 3x5-7

 

WOrkout C

Deadlift - 5x5-7

Standing Overhead Press - 5x5-7

One Arm Dumbbell Row - 5x5-7

 

Abs Circuit

Decline Sit Ups - 3x5-7

Captain's Chair Leg Raise - 3x5-7

Planks - 3xfailure

 

As you can see, each exercise involves doing 5 sets of 5 to 7 reps.

Admittedly, it's similar to other programs such as StrongLifts and Starting Strength.

As effective as those other programs are for building strength, the physiques they leave you with aren't all that promising. The legs, chest and back are built up well, but the other muscles (arms, shoulders, abs, etc.) leave much to be desired.

Am I claiming to know more than Mark Rippetoe? Hell no.

The difference with this routine however, is that it uses more variety of exercises.

Routine Logistics

You need to warm up before each lift. First, head to somewhere with space in your gym and dynamically stretch your muscles for 5 minutes by moving them through different movement patterns. Then, proceed to your first exercise and perform some warm up sets as follows:

  • 50% 1RM x 5 reps
  • 62.5% 1RM x 3 reps
  • 75% 1RM x 1 rep

Just as a reminder, I'm not a big fan of the one-rep-max, so I wouldn't ACTUALLY try to see what you could lift for one repetition on these lifts. Instead, just take the weight you could lift for 6 reps and divide by 85% (this is a rough estimate of your one-rep-max)

Please note: the rest between sets is crucial for this routine. If you want to get the most out of it, rest 3 minutes between the compound lifts (for the warm up sets, you could stick to 2 minutes between sets). For isolation lifts (calves, abs, etc.) you could rest 1.5 - 2 minutes between sets.

Make sure you stick to these rest periods. Resting properly allows you to do more work in each set and increase your strength. Build up your strength this way and you will build muscle; the two go hand in hand.

For progressing the weight on the exercises, please stick to the suggested rep ranges. If you can do 5 sets of 7 reps on a lift, it's definitely time to take it to the next level. For a barbell, this means adding a 2.5 lb plate to each side; for bodyweight movements like Chin Ups and Dips, it means attaching a 5 pound plate to your weight belt. You can get creative with some of the bodyweight movements too (holding a 5 lb dumbbell between your legs for Captain's Chair Leg Raise, for example).

I would not go heaveir than 5 reps, however. Going heavier than this doesn't stimulate new muscle; it forces your body to use more of the muscle you already have. That's all well and good for powerlifting or olympic lifting, but the focus of this routine is to build muscle and strength rather than to increase your 1RM.

Functional?

One of the selling points of other 5x5 programs is that they build solid, functional strength.

Well, so does this!

Grow strong pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps) and you'll be tackling people in Football more easily than ever.

Want to succeed in gymnastics? Then you need some powerful pythons bursting from your elbows! Seriously, look at the biceps and triceps on some of those guys.

And if you want to be faster than ever, the Leg Press will help build the quads geared towards just that. The fastest kids on my high school track team were able to Leg Press over triple their bodyweight for reps!

Advance

Now some of you might get bored of this pretty quickly. You could be looking for some new way to build muscle.

Mark Rippetoe recommends the following:

  • Bench 1x your bodyweight
  • Squat 1.5x your bodyweight
  • Deadlift 2x your bodyweight

Coach Rip hits it on the money here.

Also, if you ARE going to move past my split, here are some other rough marks you should be at:

  • Overhead Press 0.7x your bodyweight
  • Be able to perform the Dips and Chin Ups for 10+ reps without a machine/bands assisting you

If you aren't at these milestones yet, there's not much point in moving into something else. You need a certain base level of strength before you try advanced muscle building techniques.

Conclusion

Honestly... I could probably drop what I'm doing right now, perform this routine for 6 months, and lose no noticeable size or strength.

These movements I'm recommending above... they're the essentials to me. And yes, that includes the limited isolation work I threw in there.

And if you still want a more advanced split than this... let's just say a book coming out soon will have it.

FUN FACT: according to the thread, Mark still squats 405 despite being in his 50s.