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Muscle Building Workout for Beginners

Updated on May 23, 2015

New to weight training? Want to build muscle? Haven’t got a plan? Don’t know where to start? This article is for you!

There is a lot of good advice for new weight trainers out there and some great books like Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Maximum Strength by Eric Cressey, but some of us can be a bit impatient, have short attention spans and want to get out there and get our hands dirty as quick as possible...

So within the next 10 minutes I hope you can pick up some essential knowledge to get you started on your muscle building journey.


For best muscle building results as a beginner, the focus should be on free-weight compound exercises that allow you to use a number of large muscle groups and build your general strength rapidly, which will put you in the best position whatever the specialisation you choose when you become more advanced (bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, weightlifting, powerbuilding, CrossFit etc.).

Examples of such exercises include:

Upper Body

Major muscle groups involved include pectorals, latissimus dorsi, biceps, triceps, deltoids, trapezius

Chin-ups or Pull-ups (close grip, regular grip, wide grip, hammer grip)

Dumbbell or Barbell Bench Press (flat, incline or decline)

Dumbbell or Barbell Military Press (standing or seated)

Dumbbell or Barbell Rows

Push-ups (weighted or bodyweight)

Dips (weighted or bodyweight)

Lower Body

Major muscle groups involved include quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, calves

Squats (regular, powerlifting stance, Olympic stance, box, ass to grass, parallel, overhead)

Deadlifts (regular, snatch grip, trap bar, platform, Romanian, stiff legged, straight legged)

Dumbbell or Barbell Lunges (Reverse, Forward, Lateral, Step up, overhead)

Dumbbell or Barbell Splits squats (Bulgarian)

Dumbbell or Barbell Step-ups

Whilst isolation exercises have their use as you progress and perhaps specialise in bodybuilding (they are also often used as assistance exercises in powerlifting), they will not yield the same results as they don’t stress the muscles enough when general strength level is low i.e. if you can’t perform 10 or more chin-ups you have no business doing bicep curls, if you can’t perform 10 close grip push ups or 10 dips then you are not going to get much out of doing tricep pushdowns etc.

Full body vs Body part spilts is often debated amongst weight training circles. Whilst both have their strengths and weaknesses it’s been well established that full body training is the best option for new trainees. Full body workouts will allow you to put greater stress on the muscular and nervous system more often and as a beginner you are well equipped to recover quickly from these stresses as you won’t be moving large loads, which means faster progress.

The number of repetitions and sets is another common topic of discussions. To build muscle the key point to remember are:

  • The heavier the load the more fast twitch (type 2B) muscle fibres are recruited which have by far the greatest growth potential
  • The more repetitions completed (total) the more microtrauma you create (small muscle tears induced from physical training stress that will be repaired during the recovery process to make you bigger and stronger)

So if you want to gain muscle you need to find the right balance between a heavy enough weight to recruit enough fast twitch muscle fibres, but also enough repetitions to create enough microtrauma in those fibres for your body to repair and rebuild so you gain muscle.

Recovery time also needs to be considered for optimal progress – with body part splits you can use greater volumes (weight x reps) than with full body programs as recovery time is greater (keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily mean more growth long term).

Sample Program

The goal of the program is to continually increase the weight and/or repetitions of each exercise every session (progressive overload).

It is intended to last till you plateau for some that will be within 12 weeks for others it could be over 6 months. You can swap exercises when you plateau or every 4 to 6 weeks (plateaus occur when the body unit adapts to your current methods so implementing the right changes is the best course of action for you to take to continue to progress).


Back Squat or Front Squat – 3 x 5-10

Start of with a weight you can only do 5 reps with for the first working set, till you can do 10 reps or more with that weight – then increase weight by 5kg

Dumbbell or Barbell Rows – 3 x 6-12

Start of with a weight you can only do 6 reps with for the first working set, till you can do 12 reps or more with that weight – then increase the overall weight by 5kg

Dumbbell or Barbell Bench Press – 3 x 6-12

Start of with a weight you can only do 6 reps with for the first working set, till you can do 12 reps or more with that weight – then increase the overall weight by 5kg


Straight-bar Deadlift or Hex Bar Deadlift – 4 x 4-8

Start of with a weight you can only do 4 reps with, till you can do 8 reps or more with that weight – then increase weight by 5kg

Pull-ups or Lat Pulldowns – 3 x 6-12

Start of with a weight you can only do 6 reps with, till you can do 12 reps or more with that weight – then increase weight by 5kg

Dumbbell or Barbell Military Press – 3 x 6-12

Start of with a weight you can only do 6 reps with, till you can do 12 reps or more with that weight – then increase the overall weight by 5kg


Dumbbell or Barbell Lunge or Single Leg Pistol Squat Progression – 3 x 6 -10 per leg

Start of with a weight you can only do 4 reps with, till you can do 8 reps or more with that weight – then increase the overall weight by 5kg or perform 5 sets of Single Leg Squat Progressions increasing in depth till you can perform full repetitions without support (if you get to that point you can add resistance)

Cable or Seated Rows – 3 x 8-12

Start of with a weight you can only do 6 reps with, till you can do 12 reps or more with that weight – then increase the overall weight by 5kg

Push Ups or One Arm Push Up Progression – 3 x max reps or 5 sets (additional resistance is optional)


It is up to you to decide whether you are in a position to gain muscle mass or not (keep in mind it is possible you will gain some fat too in the process) – bodyfat, waist circumference and BMI calculations may assist you to make your decision.

It is recommended that you consume a caloric surplus diet that is high in protein if you intend to gain muscle mass, as it takes extra energy for the body to build muscle mass.

Here is a good online calculator that will help you figure out how many grams of protein and calories you should aim to consume per day:

Weight Gain Calculator

Alternatively you can get a bodybugg which calculates your daily energy expenditure for you with 90% accuracy.

If you have difficult consuming that volume of food focus more on eating calorie dense foods such as: ground meat, whole eggs, full fat milk, dried fruit, nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews etc.)

It is advisable you keep a food log at a site like FitDay or keep a fairly regimented diet that you know the nutritional content of for best results.

Dietary supplements aren’t essential, but a good quality protein powder like Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Protein is recommended if you are busy, aren’t able to prepare every meal of the day and/or want to eat economically (whey protein is the cheapest source of protein pound for pound).

Fish Oil and Multivitamin are excellent general health supplements that provide a vast array of benefits.

I wouldn’t recommend creatine for beginners as you will make strength gains rapidly even without it. It is best used tactically in cycles when you get to the intermediate stage and beyond (more than 2 years of weight training experience) where strength gains slow down and can plateau quickly.


Recovery is the key to growth.

Put simply you create stress on the muscular and nervous system during your training sessions and in the time between your body needs to recover from this stress to grow stronger and bigger.

The 3 key aspects to effective recovery are nutrition, sleep and managing negative stress levels.

The basics of muscle building nutrition are covered above, but it should also be noted that hydration is also very important – 2L per day or 8 glasses of water is recommended as a baseline figure – more may be required depending on your activity levels.

Nothing beats a good night sleep and that is true not just for general energy levels, but also building muscle. The body produces growth hormones during deep sleep that stimulate muscle repair and growth.

Most people do well with at least 8 hours of sleep, but find out what works best for you – some people can do very well with less hours, but others will need more.

If you have trouble getting to sleep or getting good quality sleep there are a number of potential solutions whether it be adjusting your diet so you finish your last meal at least a couple of hours before bed, developing a routine, eating a small protein and fat rich meal before bed, purchasing an eye mask and/or ear plugs, reducing or eliminating afternoon caffeine consumption, supplementing with ZMA and/or melatonin etc.

Negative stress has detrimental effect on muscle growth as well as many other bodily processes, as we release cortisol, a catabolic hormone. During the recovery stage we want to be in an anabolic state , so it is important we reduce negative stress levels to as low a level as possible.

Altering, avoiding or adapting situations or people that stress you out and finding healthy ways you can relax and recharge whether it be walking, napping, listening to music, laughing, socialising, massage, stretching – again find out what works best for you.

There are a number of other additional recovery methods that you can add to get an extra edge like soft tissue work, Epsom salt baths, contrast showers, EMS etc. for more along those lines check out this article.

Like I mentioned earlier there is a wealth of good information out there that can’t possibly be fit into a single article, so keep reading, learning and updating your training ideologies – to quote Bruce Lee “absorb what is useful, reject what is useless.”

One last note – be reasonable in your expectations.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” ... or even a month.

Gaining weight quickly is not necessarily a good thing. It depends on the quality of that weight – assess how much is fat and how much is muscle? If you’re gaining too much fat then you’ll need to lower your calorie intake to an appropriate level.

Regularly monitoring your workouts, appearance (photos), weight (scales), and body part circumferences (chest, waist, shoulders, arms, thighs, calves) is a great habit to get into early and will be of great benefit for you in the future.

More Exercise and Fitness articles by rcrm89

NOTE: please consult a qualified health professional before beginning a new exercise and/or diet regime.

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    • dwelburn profile image


      7 years ago from Birmingham, UK

      Excellent article on weight training for beginners. I've just read 3 other articles on Hubpages that all offered very poor advice. So it's nice to see some good advice. Though personally I would not recommend going as high as 12 reps as the weights used would be too light to elicit much of a growth response in beginners unless they are naturals. And you missed out Sumo Deadlifts from your exercise list. I mention it because it's my personal favorite :)


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