So, you’ve been talking yourself into going to the gym a few times per week. You’re ready to enjoy the benefits of working out.
The only problem–you have no idea what you’re doing and don’t want to look like a complete workout beginner when you get there.
But, believe it or not, you are not alone here. In my (on-going) tenure as a personal trainer “not knowing what to do” is the biggest reason new clients give as to what held them back from coming to the gym in the first place.
Listen, I get it.
No one wants to look like an idiot and be embarrassed; especially at the gym. When I do something stupid my ears turn bright red and I feel like everyone is staring at me—it’s not a fun experience.
So, here’s the good news. In the rest of this article I’m going to give you a full body workout plan for beginners. Basically, the exact playbook you can use so you not only know exactly what to do at the gym, but you’ll have so much confidence that you might even start kicking open the doors upon arrival.
Lets get started.
Over the past decade I’ve conducted 100’s of new member orientations at the gym. In my earlier days as a young personal trainer I used to say things to our new members like:
“Ok, I recommend using the kettlebells for…”
“A good place to start is 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions…”
And guess what?
I was usually met with glazed over eyes which looked like they had just sat through an entire 3 hour, death by powerpoint, lecture on statistical Anovas and other regression models.
So, in order to make sure that you feel completely comfortable going to the gym I want to spend the next few minutes showing you exactly what is what. That way when you show up, you’ll already know what a kettlebell looks like. You’ll already have an idea of the basic gym lingo (like “set” and “rep”). And, if you forget what something is, you can always refer back to this article.
Just remember, this is all to help you build confidence—so the gym feels less like “that scary place” and more like “your happy place”. Building confidence starts with increasing knowledge…not too much though, but just enough to get you started.
Basic gym lingo:
•Barbell→A long metal bar that you can attach weights to the end. A very common tool for building strength and size.
•Cardio machines (see below)
•Circuit training→Performing multiple exercises, back to back to back to back, quickly with little to no rest between them. Circuit training is a great way to do a lot of work (sweat) in a short amount of time.
•Dumbbell→A very short bar with weights attached to either end. Dumbbells usually come in fixed weights, although you can buy adjustable dumbbell sets. You should be able to hold a dumbbell in each hand. These are great tools for beginners through advanced practitioners.
•Foam roller→A round piece of foam designed to be a tool for massaging tight muscles. Foam rollers help alleviate muscle knots.
•Kettlebell→A cannon ball looking piece of iron with a handle attached to it. Kettlebells are great tools for developing power, coordination, and athleticism.
•Progressions→Harder variations of the exercise.
•Regressions→Easier variations of the exercise.
•Repetition→Also known as “reps”. A single successful iteration of an exercise. Saying you did “5 repetitions” means you successfully completed “X” exercise 5 times.
•Resistance band→A rubber band looking thing you can use for extra resistance training.
•Set→The total number of repetitions you perform. Usually the first number read in exercise programming. If you see something like “3×10” that means you will perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions per set.
•Superset→Performing two different exercises, back to back, with no rest. An example of a super set is doing pushups followed by air squats.
•TRX resistance straps→These are straps with handles that you hold on to. TRX suspension straps are great for bodyweight exercise training.
You don’t need to commit all these term to memory, but these are basic pieces of gym equipment and gym lingo that you’ll likely encounter.
If you have any other questions about these terms please feel free to shoot me an email: email@example.com
Now that you’ve leveled up your gym speak, lets transition to just what the heck you should do for a workout.
I’ll explain each of these in more detail in a minute, but first of all, yes to both.
What the heck is a cardio machine?
Cardio machines include the following:
If you forget what these look like refer to the pictures in the Gym Lingo section.
There are more cardio machines out there, but these are the most common machines you’ll find at a gym. And, honestly, they are fine place to start.
Cardio exercise involves working at a steady pace, for between 15-40 minutes. You should be able to carry on a conversation, without gasping for breath. Cardio exercise is great for getting sweaty, burning calories, and pumping fresh blood around the body. It also gives you time to look around the gym and start to see what equipment is where.
Doing cardio is great for your heart and health. However to start building the of your dreams I suggest that you add in touch of weight training as well.
And, when I say weight training, I know this is where I start to lose people. But stay with me for a second, willya?
Cardio is great exercise, and you can certainly lose weight by performing it; but you won’t build muscle.
Muscle costs the body a lot of energy to maintain. Simply put, the more lean muscle tissue you have the more calories you will burn at rest to maintain it. That is good for weight loss, looking good in the mirror, and is also known as increasing your metabolism.
Muscle is what provides the coveted lean and tone look, which so many of us are going for. To build muscle you need to lift some sort of weight.
If you are new to the gym, and working out the best way to start building muscle is by using exercise machines.
Virtually all big commercial gyms have exercise machines for every part of the body. They are very safe, and really, a great way to add weight training into your routine, while also getting comfortable and building confidence in the gym.
Every exercise machine has three key features:
The photo below illustrates what you are looking for:
The name of this machine is the “Shoulder press” and found on the bottom of the label. You can see the start position on the left photo, and the finish position on the right photo; as well as written instructions how to perform the exercise.
In the top left corner is the little anatomy person, with the muscles used highlighted in red. The photo on all exercise machines is similar looking to this one.
My general advice is to use the upper body machines that involve pulling weight toward your body, but limit the machines that involve pressing weight away from you.
When you pull weight towards you, you are working the muscles of the back and shoulders.
Because most of use spend a lot of time hunched over a computer, driving in a car, texting, or watching TV, the muscles in our back often get neglected, which is a big reason a lot of folks suffer from neck, shoulder, or low back pain.
Pulling weight towards your body is a great way to strengthen those back muscles, which helps improve posture, or can even reduce low back pain.
Here is a quick list of the main exercise machines to use:
(note: I don’t have videos of myself demonstrating these exact exercises, so I pulled them from the Planet Fitness YouTube channel…I hope we can still be friends)
Exercise machines all have (more or less) the same names, regardless of what gym you’re at. Again, if you’re not sure what machine is what, ask one of the gym staff to help you out. Also, feel free to use more machines that what are on this list. These are just my basic recommendations for the most bang-for-your-buck machines to get started with.
How do I use the machines?
These machines only move in one direction. If you don’t know how to use it ask a trainer for help. Or, simply look at the picture and you should be able to figure it out.
How many times should I use each machine?
In the beginning I recommend 2-3 sets, and 8-12 repetitions per machine.
A set= The total number of times you use that machine in one day.
A repetition= The total number of times you lift a weight, in one set.
3 Sets of 10 repetitions = 30 total repetitions for that machine. You may also see that written as 3×10. It means the same thing as the above example.
To wrap this all up, cardio machines are great for burning calories, getting sweaty, and pumping fresh blood throughout your body. However, they don’t do much to build sleek, lean muscle.
Building muscle is important, and for that you must turn to weight training. In the beginning exercise machines are perfect. And, because I care about you, below are three workout templates that you can use right away to get started building the body you have been dreaming of.
How many days per week should I workout?
This is a good question, but really depends on your schedule.
As a general recommendation I think 3x/week (minimum) is a great place to start. If you can do more, that’s great too.
Full Body Workout Plan For Beginners
For your convenience, listed below are three separate workout templates which eliminate the guesswork, and give you actionable plans you can start using today. The templates are for 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day per week exercise routines. Pick the one that best fits your schedule.
|Stair climber: 10-15 minutes||Treadmill walk up hill: 20-40 minutes*||Elliptical: 15-20 minutes|
|Machine row (3x 10)||–||Machine leg press (3x 10)|
|Machine pull down (3x 10)||–||Machine leg curl (3x 10)|
|Machine overhead press (3x 10)||–||–|
*To walk up a hill on the treadmill set the incline to something steep, like 5% or higher. The incline on a treadmill is also called the “grade” and can be set from the home screen; usually by tapping an “up arrow” next to the word “grade or incline”.
Don’t worry about walking fast, just make sure you are walking up a hill.
|Stair climber: 10-15 minutes||Treadmill walk up hill: 30-40 minutes||Elliptical: 15-20 minutes||Treadmill walk up hill: 30-40 minutes|
|Machine row (3x 10)||–||Machine leg press (3x 10)||–|
|Machine pull down (3x 10)||–||Machine leg curl (3x 10)||–|
|Machine overhead press (3x 10)||–||–||–|
|Stair climber: 10-15 minutes||Treadmill walk up hill: 20-40 minutes||Elliptical: 15-20 minutes||Treadmill walk up hill: 20-40 minutes||Machine row (3x 10)|
|Machine row (3x 10)||–||Machine leg press (3x 10)||–||Machine leg press (3x 10)|
|Machine pull down (3x 10)||–||Machine leg curl (3x 10)||–||Machine pull down (3x 10|
|Machine overhead press (3x 10)||–||–||–||Machine leg curl (3x 10)|
|–||–||–||–||Machine overhead press (3x 10)|
Great question. I’m so glad you asked.
I generally suggest that once you feel comfortable going to the gym AND using the weight machines that you transition to bodyweight exercises and/or free weight exercises.
What are the benefits of using bodyweight exercise?
Another awesome question.
Bodyweight exercises are awesome for many reasons, including:
•Easy on the joints
•Allow you to move naturally, the way your body is designed
•Provide full body workouts that challenge you in ways machines can’t
However, for better or for worse, there are an almost endless amount of bodyweight exercises you could do. Great, more confusion to sift through, right? Don’t worry. I have you covered. Listed below are the top 5 bodyweight exercises that I recommend you start with.
“Why these exercises”, you might be wondering.
Well, because the reality is that humans today spend a lot of time sitting, texting, and typing on a computer. The following bodyweight exercises are designed to help you build strength, but are also some of the counter positions to how you spend most your day. In short, they’ll help you build strength and balance out your body.
Lets meet your bodyweight exercise champions:
#1. Hip bridge
#2. Body row
Like I mentioned, these exercises are designed to build strength, but are also designed to help you workout any kinks (aka tight muscles) in your system. Alright, so now that we’ve layered in bodyweight exercises into the mix here are the tools you have at your disposal:
Your workout toolkit is growing quickly. Pretty cool, right?
Are you starting to feel more comfortable about this whole gym thing?
Don’t worry though, just like with the sample weight machine workout templates I’m going to give you an actual 3-day/week full body workout template you can use. Lets do that right now actually.
Sample 3-day bodyweight exercise workout template
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Stair climber warmup – 5 minutes||Incline treadmill walk- 5 minutes||Elliptical warmup- 5 minutes|
|Hip thrust, 3×8||Machine overhead press, 3×8||Machine row, 3×6|
|Trx row, 3×6||Deadbug, 3×8 total||Bird dog, 3×8 total|
|Machine leg press, 3×10||Machine leg curl, 3×8||Hip thrust, 3×8|
|Bird dog, 3×8 total||Crawl, 3×20 seconds|
|Crawl, 3×20 seconds||Cardio bike sprints, 4×20 seconds fast/10 seconds rest||Stair climber (fast), 5 minutes|
For someone just getting started this looks like a pretty solid little routine to me. Actually, it doesn’t look half-bad for most people.
What do you think?
Alright, so we’ve covered quite a bit here, but there is still one more piece of this workout puzzle that I want to go over with you.
That piece is (que epic drum roll)….free weight exercise. Yay.
Free weight exercise is basically any exercise that’s done with extra weight. For this article we’ll limit our discussion to the most relevant–dumbbells and kettlebells. However, you can perform free weight exercises with barbells, rocks, sandbags, or many other items. Anyway, I digress.
If you’re looking to make the jump from weight machines to free weights, I always recommend starting with dumbbell or kettlebell exercises. Wait, time out. For the most part, dumbbell and kettlebell exercises are interchangeable. For the rest of this article I’m just going to say “dumbbell exercises”, but do you know you can use kettlebells as well.
Dumbbell exercises are an awesome way to transition to the world of free weights for the following reasons:
•Allow you to build strength really fast
•They are relatively safe and fairly quick to learn
•Virtually every single gym has dumbbells of assorted weights
Like bodyweight exercises, there are an almost infinite number of possible ways you can use a dumbbell. And, because I still want you to succeed I’m going to outline my top 5 dumbbell exercises for beginners. Yeah, let’s do that right now.
Meet your free weight dumbbell exercise champions:
#1. Single arm farmers carry
#3. Single arm dumbbell row
#4. Goblet squat
#5. Sumo deadlift
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Stair climber warmup – 5 minutes||Incline treadmill walk- 5 minutes||Elliptical warmup- 5 minutes|
|Hip thrust, 3×8||Bird dog, 3×8||Trx row, 3×6|
|Single arm row, 3×6 per arm||Goblet squat, 3×8||Machine leg press, 3×8 total|
|Sumo deadlift, 3×6||Machine overhead press, 3×8||Hip thrust, 3×8|
|Deadbug, 3×8 total||Crawl, 3×20 seconds||Double arm farmers carry, 30 seconds|
|Single arm farmers carry, 3×15 seconds w/ each hand||Cardio bike sprints, 3×20 seconds fast/10 seconds rest||Stair climber (fast), 5 minutes|
How does this routine look? Kind of, well—doable, right?
That’s because it is.
There you have it. The exact framework for what to at the gym even if you have no idea what you’re doing.
I really hope this article can help you build the confidence to not only start going to the gym, but also improve your life with the health benefits associated with exercise.
However, if you have questions (now or in the future) please don’t hesitate to email me and ask: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m looking forward to hearing from you my friend.