Back when I first started blogging, I wrote a few posts targeted towards beginners – but, let’s face it, nobody was reading my blog back then and I could have done the posts in a better way! Since then, the majority of my posts have been aimed at people who are already somewhat experienced in the weight room. However, in light of the cries for help I received in my recent giveaway post, I thought it was high time I revisit some common concerns for beginner lifters.
This series will take some time to put together, so please bear with me. Over the next few weeks, I will explain how to create your own exercise program so that you feel confident in the gym. I will teach you the basics of constructing an individual workout, how to periodise your workouts over time and what to do if you stop seeing results. Once I’ve covered training, I will then publish a basics of nutrition series so you have all the tools to get on the path to your dream body!
First and foremost, you must decide how many times per week you are willing to train. Ideally, I recommend four days of resistance training and one day of conditioning. Although most people preach it, I do not believe one rest day is enough, so I favour two or three.
Five days of resistance training can be quite taxing on your body, and it’s unnecessary unless you’re following a body part split. Which brings me to my next point…
Decide how you want to split up your workouts. If you have three days per week available to train, I would recommend sticking to full body workouts. I am also a fan of using this schedule to complete one upper body, one lower body and one full body workout per week. Complete these workouts on every other day (for example: Monday, Wednesday, Friday). This will not only give your body a chance to recover (trying to perform squats on a full body day after training legs the previous day is a recipe for disaster!), but it will also provide periodic bursts of activity to burn more energy overall.
If you have four days available per week, I recommend two upper body and two lower body workouts. This is my favourite approach.
Within these days, I recommend emphasising different body parts and allowing adequate rest between workouts. For example, Monday’s workout would be legs with a quadriceps emphasis. Tuesday would be an upper body workout, with a chest and shoulders focus. Rest on Wednesday, and resume on Thursday with a hamstring- and glute-focused session. Finish off your work week with a back-focused upper body session. On two of these days, I would add 5-10 minutes of metabolic finishers (I will cover these in a forthcoming cardio post).
As I mentioned above, there is also an option of doing a five-day-a-week body part split. For example, Monday=chest, Tuesday=legs, Wednesday=back, Thursday=shoulders and Friday =biceps and triceps. Unless you are a competitive bodybuilder or you want to look really good in a tank top, I do not generally recommend an entire day devoted to arms.
You can combine the muscle groups in any way you want and hit certain muscle groups multiple times per week, therefore, some people prefer this method of training as it can constantly vary. The thought of completing two upper body and two lower body workouts every week for the rest of your life can seem quite depressing. Doing a body part split allows you to go to the gym for ‘shoulders and glutes’, ‘calves and abs’ and ‘rotator cuff and triceps’.
Having suffered through eight weeks of training calves and abs in isolation, I can promise you it’s not much fun. However, I do appreciate certain pairings of a bodybuilding split. Training shoulders twice per week was crucial to breaking my shoulder plateau, but that’s not to say I couldn’t have done it without a five-day-a-week training routine.
If you choose to do a body part split routine, make sure you always wait at least 48 hours before hitting the same muscle group again.
To summarise: If you have never picked up a dumbbell before, I would absolutely always recommend starting off with three full body workouts. If you have a little bit more experience (your squat form is decent and you know what a deadlift is), you can progress to an upper/lower body split. If you have at least a few months of serious training under your belt and have specific aesthetic goals in mind, you can choose a body part split routine.
Remember that weight training should be your number one priority. Regardless of what your goals are, you will get the most bang for your buck performing compound, resistance-based movements. Cardio should be a supplement, and not the complete focus of your training.
(Note: When I refer to ‘cardio’ I’m talking about specific, purposeful, intense sessions. I believe human bodies are designed to move. I currently ride my bike for one hour each day and walk as much as possible on the weekends, but I do not consider this purposeful cardio.)
Now that you know how many days per week to train, and what muscle groups to target when, I will discuss what exercises to select next time.
Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will cover them in my next few posts. This series is for you, so any feedback is welcome!
How many days per week do you work out?