The beginners guide to weight training

It doesn't matter if you are looking to lose weight, increase muscle mass or even both, weight training should be part of your exercise regime. However when it comes to weight training the whole situation can be quite overwhelming. The thought of having to go to the section of the gym that is dominated with big grunting men just isn't appealing. It is common to feel anxious about doing the exercises wrong and injuring yourself. As a result of this you just go back to your trusted cardio machine and miss out on so many benefits!

If you apply the following tips to your training programme as a beginner you will make substantial progress towards your overall goal!

8-12 sets per muscle group per a week

A set is when you complete a number of repetitions for a targeted amount. For example if you do 10 repetitions and then stop, this is one set. If you then repeat this again this will be two sets and so on. Muscle groups are normally broken down into the following category's; check, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps & legs.

Research suggests that the optimal amount of sets should be between 8-20 per body part. Our genetics and training history can play a big part in the amount of sets per a muscle group that is required for each individual. However if you are a beginner 8-12 sets per a muscle group are normally an adequate amount to build muscle. This amount does not need to be achieved in one workout, rather it should be spread across the training week. For example if you train three times a week each session you would do one chest exercise for 3 sets, given you a total of 9 sets across the week.

6-12 reps per exercise

Reps stands for the amount of repetitions you perform an exercise for. If you perform a squat 6 before stopping, you would have preformed 6 reps.

The optimal amount of reps to perform for per exercise is something that has been debated for many years. Research suggests that it is more important working close to failure rather then the exact amount of reps you perform. Significant muscle gains have been found when performing exercises into the 20-30 rep range as long as almost failure is achieved.

I believe you have to be a bit of a psycho if you enjoy training this way because the first 15-20 reps are pretty much just warming you up for the last 10. Now....I don't know about you but I would rather get more gains for less work!

For this reason I suggest you work in the 6-12 rep range.

Rest 2-3 minutes between sets

This has to be one of the biggest mistakes I see made when it comes to weight training. I see some many people complete a set, rest for like 30 seconds and then pick the weight back up again. You may get a better 'pump' and enjoy the intensity this way but to lift more weight, and more importantly increase muscle mass this is not what the research says. By having longer rest between sets you will be able to lift more weight for more reps resulting in greater muscle growth.

Aim to rest for 2-3 minutes but lean more towards the 3 minute mark.

Focus on compound over isolation exercises

Compound exercises are those that use more than one joint or muscle group at the same time. For example the bench press is a compound chest exercise because although it's primary muscle is the chest it also requires the use of the majority of your upper body muscles.

It is not possible to only use one muscle at a time, however a isolation exercises are used to focus on one particular area of the body. For example an isolation exercise for the chest is a dumbbell chest fly. This exercise requires little use of the other upper body muscles and primary focuses on the chest.

Your workout should always begin with compound exercises and if you decide to include any isolation exercises these should be at the end of the workout.

Progressive overload

This sounds a lot more complicated then what it really is. All it means is make sure each session you do a little bit more then the previous. This could be by slightly increasing the weight or even just doing one more rep then you did previously on that particular exercise. If you just keep lifting the same weight every week you are not given your muscles any reason to grow!

To guarantee you are making progress you must track every workout. Record the weight, reps and sets for each exercise you perform. You can then see each week what you did the week before and aim to do that little bit better. There are so many apps you can now download to track your progress or you can even go old school and use pen a paper.

As a beginner to weight training you will be able to increase regularly to start with as your body is just loving the challenge. This is another reason why you should keep your program simple with as few exercises as possible, allowing you to easily monitor your progress. If you keep changing your exercises up every week it is impossible to measure your progress.

If you push you pull

A common mistake is people focus more on the 'show' muscles i.e. chest & arms, this creates muscular imbalances which then leads to injuries. Just because you can't see a muscle it doesn't mean you shouldn't train it. This is where the rule 'if you push you pull' is great to apply to your training. For example if you do a press up this is a pushing movement because you are pushing the weight (in this case your body) away. To prevent muscular imbalances you then make sure you include a pulling movement. A cable row is an example of a pulling movement because you are pulling the weight towards you.


Start with one full body workout and repeat this three times a week. Limit the amount of exercise you include to just one compound exercise per a major body part. For example x1 leg exercise, x1 chest exercise, x1 back exercise and x1 shoulder exercise. When you begin to become confident with these movements begin to introduce new variations on different days. This may also be the time you look to introduce some isolation exercises.

No need to introduce any fancy periodized programming, drop sets, German volume or what ever the latest craze is. Just keep your rep range and number of sets the same every week, i.e. 8-10 reps for 3 sets. Once you are able to hit the higher end of your rep range look to increase the weight.

No need to change this format until you begin to see no increase of weight on the bar. Surprisingly you will find that you can make good progress with this for 6-12months before you really need to think about making drastic changes.

Most importantly make sure you enjoy what you are doing because this is what will make you keep turning up and consistency is ultimately what will delivery the results!

Workout Examples:

Example A:

Monday - Wednesday - Friday

1) Back Squat 8-10 reps x 3 sets

2) Bench Press 8-10 reps x 3 sets

3) Standing Shoulder Press 8-10 reps x 3 sets

4) Seated Cable Row 8-10 reps x 3 sets

Example B:


1) Back Squat 8-10 reps x 3 sets

2) Standing Shoulder Press 8-10 reps x 3 sets

3) Pull Up 8-10 reps x 3 sets

4) Barbell Bicep Curl


1) Deadlift 8-10 reps x 3 sets

2) Single Arm Dumbbell Row 8-10 reps x 3 sets

3) Incline Bench Press 8-10 reps x 3 sets

4) Lateral Raises 8-10 reps x 3 sets


1) Bench Press 8-10 reps x 3 sets

2) Seated Cable Row 8-10 reps x 3 sets

3) Lunges 8-10 reps x 3 sets

4) Triceps Press 8-10 reps x 3 sets

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