Beginner lifting series: Putting it all together

Beginner lifting series: Putting it all together

We are almost at the end of my beginners training series. Today I’m going to talk about what to actually do in the gym. I’ve given you a lot of information about how often you should train, what exercises you should choose and how many sets and repetitions you should perform, but I haven’t outlined what an actual workout should look like.

This is what my typical workout and that of my clients looks like:

  • 10 minutes warm-up (foam rolling and dynamic stretches)
  • 30-50 minutes weight training
  • 5-10 minutes cool down (foam rolling and static stretches)

Your workouts should never last longer than one hour. That point is very important.

The warm-up
I will be posting my exact warm-up soon, but for now here is a quick overview. First of all, get off the treadmill. Jogging for 10 minutes is not an adequate warm-up for lifting.

I start my warm-up by spending some time with the foam roller. If you have never used one of these before, you’re missing out! Using a foam roller is a form of self-myofascial release – which, in simple terms, means you are releasing any tightness in your muscles.


Gently roll your calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads, upper back and lats (one at a time!) over the roller until you find a tender point, and then press down into the roller and hold for around 30 seconds. Once the muscle has released, move on to the next muscle group. Pay attention to any areas that feel extra sore – for example, my adductors are often sore which inhibits my squat range of motion unless I roll them first.

After you have foam rolled for a few minutes, take some time to move your joints through a full range of motion. As a minimum, I recommend performing lunges with an overhead reach, hip flexor stretches, knee pulls to the chest, quad pulls to the butt, side lunges, band pull-aparts, and an upper body extension and rotation as featured in the video below.

The weights session
I explained what the weight training section of your workout should look like in my previous posts, but I want to take a moment to talk about timing. Like I said above – and I can’t emphasise it enough – your workouts should not last beyond an hour. Many people assume that more time=better results, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Spending hours upon hours in the gym will do nothing for your physique, and is likely to actually send you backwards. I previously mentioned that the ideal number of sets per workout is 20 to 25. Each set should take approximately 30 to 45 seconds to complete, and you should rest for 60-90 seconds before commencing the next set – therefore amounting to 30-50 minutes of total training time.

The cool down
I am guilty of cutting out my cool-down if I’m short on time, but not without consequence. It only takes me two to three minutes to quickly stretch the muscles I worked that day, but I will feel it all week if I don’t. Taking a few minutes to stretch your muscles will cut down on the time you need to spend warming up during your next session.


A beginner’s workout
Although I have provided information throughout this series to give you options, I will now tell you exactly how I would train an absolute beginner who has never lifted weights before. Pick five exercises that either individually or together hit all your muscle groups in one session (for example: squat, assisted chin-up, overhead press, push up, glute bridge).

Your first exercise should be a squat, deadlift, overhead press or bench press. Perform three sets of eight repetitions. Once you feel as though you have perfected the form of these main exercises, add some extra weight and drop your rep range to five or less. For your other exercises stick to three sets of 12 repetitions, resting for one minute between each set.

Closing thoughts
When you are designing your weights workout, make sure you do so with a purpose in mind. If you do not have clear goals set, you won’t have any reason to carefully construct your sessions. Each exercise should be chosen to assist you in achieving your goal.

All you need to focus on right now is creating a program you can follow for six to eight weeks. In a few week’s time, I will explain how to change your training program to ensure you don’t plateau.

I will publish the final post in this beginners series on Friday. It will be about cardio, and there is a reason it comes last in my series 😉

How long do your workouts last?

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