Beginning Weight Training Part II: A Template for Beginners

By: David Amici, University Recreation and Wellness, Certified Personal Trainer

Beginning Weight Training_ (1)

In Part I of this blog series, we discussed how to do the basic exercises of a comprehensive weight training program. Now let’s make a plan to get you started. Before we get into the good stuff, you have to understand a little background.

Some common terms to be familiar with:

Repetitions: How many times you will do the movement in a row before resting. Usually somewhere between 1 and 12 reps per set are used, with the most common being in the middle (5-10) ranges.

Sets: How many separate times you will do that movement. 2 to 3 sets are generally enough for a beginner. More may be necessary as you get stronger!

The principle of progressive overload: An adaptation is indicated when there is a new stress in the workout. This means you need to increase the reps, sets, or weight used to keep increasing strength or muscle quality.

Adaptation and Progression

To understand resistance training, you have to understand basic adaptation. The two models below are common ways to think about the recovery process after a workout on Monday. Exercise is stress-relieving, but it’s also a biological stress! Most beginners will be recovered from that stress and ready for another workout in about 48 hours. Look at the models below to see why you shouldn’t train again too early—in this example, on Tuesday.

Before the Fun Begins: Warm-up

Both for performance and safety, you need to warm-up. To do this properly, do 5-10 minutes of an activity that gets your blood flowing and then work up to the weight you will use for your exercise. Don’t go right to your first maximum effort exercise! People choose the rowing machine, doing a bunch of sets with light weights, or simple dynamic stretching—you have the choice.

What is the best program for me?

This is a complicated question, and one that’s highly specific. Fortunately, if you’re just starting, the basics work the best. For most people, the best option is a full-body workout.

Why? A beginner doesn’t need a huge workout stress to adapt, so it is feasible to work the whole body multiple times per week. Most people will want to do much more than is needed, delaying the recovery process enough to impact your next workout. The alternative is a split routine, where a body part/region has its own day and is typically trained once per week. This can be viable as well, but here is what I recommend for individuals who are just beginning:

The Base Program: 3 days per week
Type of Movement Sets & Reps
Squatting 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps
Overhead Pressing 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps
Deadlifting 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps
Bench Pressing 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps
Chin-up/Pull-up 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps

You can customize this with the version of the movement that you prefer (refer to Part 1). As well, you can add a little assistance to the template based off of your goals. Below, you can see how this base template can be fairly different depending on what you want to do in the gym. BB, DB, and KB refer to barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell, respectively.

Goal: Get bigger and stronger Goal: Improve Posture Goal: Athletic Performance
BB Squat 3 sets of 5 reps Goblet KB Squat 3 sets of 10 BB Front Squat 3 sets of 5
Military Press 3 sets of 5 DB Overhead Press 3 sets of 8 BB Push Press 3 sets of 5
BB Rows 3 sets of 8 KB Deadlift 3 sets of 10 BB Deadlift 2 sets of 5
Bench Press 3 sets of 8 DB Bench 3 sets of 8 Bench Press 3 sets of 5
Pull-up 2 sets of 10 Assisted


2 sets of 10 Chin-up 2 sets of 5
Bicep Curl 3 sets of 10 Cable Row 3 sets of 10 Weighted Plank 20 sec holds

Start off lifting a little lighter than full effort, and you’ll be able to add a little weight, or a rep on each set, every time you come into the gym for a while. As long as your form is good, feel free to push yourself for progress every time you come to the gym!

Still have more questions?

I am happy to answer any additional questions you may have — feel free to send me an email at

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