Strength training can be massively over complicated, the goal of this article is to break it down and simplify it so that you can build your own beginner strength training workout plan.
No spam – just thoughtful training advice
So you’re motivated to get strong and you’re not sure how to build your own beginner strength training workout plan, well your in the right place. Here we provide a guide from goal setting to session creation to allow you to design your own training plan. If you’re able to follow this plan you will be sure to move towards your strength goals. Let’s dive in.
This is such a crucial part of the process, proper goal selection, without this you cannot accurately write a good beginner workout programme. So before you get into the details of programme design be sure you set some specific goals. Let’s take a look at different types of goals that you can pick and how they will influence the workout programme you create.
Getting strong is known to be extremely beneficial for your overall health, yes, there are so many factors that build a healthy lifestyle but we can be sure that resistance training is one of them. In the meta analysis Resistance training is medicine, we can see that resistance training can improve a multitude of health factors and also improve day to day quality of life.
Selecting this goal will have a big impact on how you design your training programme. Being strong for health is all about balance throughout the body, putting stress across all different movement patterns and building slowly over time.
This goal is very different from the previous, obviously those who get strong for sports will have an impact on your health, but the type of training will be much more specific to the sport you’re performing. Every sport requires excellence in different physical capabilities and therefore will require a specific training programme to improve those physical characteristics. If we take the example of a climber for example, it’s very unlikely that we are going to put as much emphasis on the lower body as the upper body and the core musculature, this would not be the case for someone who is training for strength.
This goal is performance base in the gym, you may want to pick up 100kg from the floor in a deadlift, or do your first pull up. This goal is usually liked to building strength for general health, but having more specific objectives can make training more fun and motivating. If you chose a specific goal in the gym it can help guide your movement pattern and exercise selection to ensure your moving toward your specific goal. To simplify this concept, you’re not going to improve the amount of press ups you can do by getting strong legs.
Training economy is a very important part of your exercise routine, it is two variables, the amount of times you’re able to train in a week and the amount of time you have for each of these training sessions. This is so important as you’re likely dealing with a multitude of competing goals, you have professional goals, you want to maintain health relationships and have a thriving personal life, so how much time do you want to dedicate to building strength per week?
I can’t stress enough how much once a week is better than never but moving 2-3 times a week in the movement patterns your trying to get strong in will help you see very fast progress. It all depends on your’e schedule and how much time you can dedicate to this goal, but it has a big impact on the writing of your training programme.
The importance of planning your training week cannot be understated, you need to know how many times you’re going to be training, which day and at what time before your week starts, otherwise the likely hood of it actually happening is minimal. This is where most exercise routines go wrong. You can write the perfect strength training programme, but if you don’t successfully plan your week you are simply not going to adhere to your plan. The importance of realism is essential here, are you really going to be able to train five times a week? You have to be honest with yourself and create a plan you can actually stick to, otherwise this is an exercise in futility, a nice plan that you will never adhere to.
Beginners are beginners because they have low experience and low skill level, so the number one thing to put emphasis on for beginners is to develop the skills required to be strong while taking the first steps towards strength. This can be very hard, because once the idea of being strong is potentness enough to get you to the gym to lift weights, patience often wears thin and movement quality goes out of the window.
You really have to think long term when planning your first few strength training programmes, which movement patterns do you need to learn, which exercises will allow you to improve these, what mobility restrictions do you need to improve in order to hit good positions? These are all questions you need to be asking yourself prior to writing your training programme.
Before we move forward on how to programme for strength training, I think it’s important that we define what strength actually is. Strength is the maximal contractile force of a muscle group. This is reflected in how much weight can be lifted. So what dictates strength? The amount of contractile force that you have in the muscles being used to perform a movement.
The contractile force of a muscle is determined upon the motor unit recruitment, the more motor unites that are recruited, the higher the contractile force.
A beginner starts with very low amounts of contractile force, the muscle they have has poorly recruitment of motor units that are unable to generate a great deal of force. Thankfully these initial adaptations are rapid, making the first three months of resistance training very fruitful and motivation (though it’s important to be aware that it’s going to slow down and not get de-motivated by this fact).
A beginner gets strong the way everyone of every level gets strong, lifting heavy things (weights, bodyweight) in the movement patterns they want to get strong in. If I want a strong squat, I need to lift heavy in the squat (once good movement patterns have been established). It’s really that simple. The growth of muscle mass is also a way to increase strength, but thats a whole subject in itself that will not be covered in this article.
A movement pattern is a movement that we use in strength and resistance training. These include the:
When designing your beginner strength workout plan you will need to select which movement patterns you would like to use, this depends on your goal selection (see above). The frequency of movement pattern selection depends on your training frequency, if you have 5 sessions a week you will be able to hit a movement category multiple times in the week, if you only have two sessions you may not be able to touch all the movement categories.
Once you have picked the movement categories that you’re going to be using in your workout plan, you can then chose which exercise you’re going to use to move through this movement pattern. Let’s look at a squat for example, a beginner would be better off choosing something like a goblet squat as the skills required are less complex. Choosing simple, effective exercises for beginners will help them build skill acquisition while building strength simultaneously.
For beginners, I try not to worry about using percentages or 1 rep max’s because they have rarely done or can safely do these sorts of tests, so you need to be asking yourself when training, was that weight heavy, did it feel hard for me to lift it? Once you get more intermediate or your skill level allows you to have an accurate 1 rep max then you should be using 80% or over to illicite strength training adaptation.
When we lift heavy items, it often means that the number of repetitions that can be performed will be much lower than training for muscle growth, so we will typically use between 1-6 repetitions per set. In terms of Sets performed, using between 3-6 sets at a heavy weight is a great starting point. Do not over complicate these factors, you need to lift a heavy for 2-5 repetitions, for 3-6 times in the movement patterns you want to get strong in.
How do we turn this all into an actual training session? We need to pick a session structure, these can be varied for fun and variety, but essentially we are putting multiple exercises together to form a session. Below is an example of a 60’ beginner strength training workout structure.
In this session we have a primary (a) and two blocks of supersets (b+c) that make up the entire session. From here we can populate it with the exercises we have already selected we want to be in our training plan.
A) Bench Press
B1) Goblet Squat
B2) DB Deadlift
C1) 1-Arm KB Low Row
C2) Suitcase Hold
It’s important to note that this is just once example of a session structure, you can chop and change it to suit your likes and dislikes and the time you have available to train. A final note here, use strength training principles on the Primary Exercises and higher repetitions and lighter weights on the secondary exercises, this will prevent the single session generating too much fatigue.
If you have selected your frequency at three times a week, for 60’ sessions, you can do three different types of movement patterns of you can repeat this session structure multiple times, whichever you prefer.
I realise that this may seem like a lot of information, so feel free to reach out and ask me any questions you may have on programme design. Finally, we have built an algorithm that follows all these principles, so if you’re looking to simplify this process drastically download the Programme app and we will do all the work prior to your session, leaving you to do the lifting and nothing else.
If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.
This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.