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The really simple guide to weight training for beginners has been written by experienced PT; Dan Forbes, as it’s National Fitness Day today, encouraging activity is high on the agenda. However, its not just about going out for a run or doing the odd aerobics class.  Weight training (resistance exercise) too, has been shown to provide a host of benefits, including increasing muscle strength, maintaining muscle mass (very important as we age), as well as improved mobility, posture and balance. Dan has kindly offered to write this post to explain why weight training doesn’t have to be complicated and as he explains; form and technique are extremely important to master, especially if you are a beginner.  Read on to find out how Dan’s ‘simple’ guide can help you to become stronger and more active. Thank you Dan.  

Almost all of the training routines I see laid out for beginners are horrible. They’re overly complicated, don’t allow you to progress at a rate which suits you and usually lead to problems down the line.

Being a beginner is a really exciting place to be and here is why….


Your time spent training is known as your training age. In your first 1-2 you will put on more lean muscle mass, increase strength and see improvements in fitness faster than any other time in your training life. Best of all, you won’t have to work any where near as hard as you will after that period to keep on progressing, providing you follow some simple strategies.

Got Skills?

Writing your name is a skill. Kicking a ball is a skill and so is lifting a weight.

Much like any activity, the first time you try a back squat, you will likely look and feel a little awkward, but fast forward a few weeks and the only difference between your squat and an experienced squatter’s, should be the weight on the bar.

Skill development, also known as motor pattern development, relies on us being able to practise the skill over and over. This allows us to refine our movements and become more efficient at them. This becomes difficult to do when you are trying to learn 47 new moves, all in under a minute while you’re gasping for breath, so I’m going to tell you to focus on a few exercises. There might be a time when things need to get a little more complicated, but that isn’t now.

Simple Six

Simple is good. It’s also effective. Just six movements are all you need in order to see major progress in the way you look, feel and perform.

1. Squat

2. Bench Press

3. Rowing

4. Overhead Press

5. Hip Hinge/Deadlift type movements

6. Overhead Pull

Now we just need to put them into a routine.

Simple Template

The simplest template is to split the exercises into two workouts, A and B, then alternate between them over three days a week. These three days can be Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Pick whatever suits your schedule and try to keep a days rest in-between.

Workout A


Bench Press

Barbell Row

Workout B


Overhead Press

Overhead Pull (Pull-ups if you are able. Pulldowns if not)

Simple Sets x Reps

In my experience you will see variability in technique from 3-5 reps+. Quality is everything when it comes to skill development, so I’d always opt for 3 perfect reps instead of 3 perfect ones and 7 rubbish ones, so keep your reps between 1-5.

The same goes for sets. You will get tired as you progress through the sets, which increases the chances of poor technique so I’d stick to 3 sets per exercise.

The thing to always remind yourself is that we are aiming for technical mastery of these lifts.

Until you have done this, adding weight is a no no!

This is also a good motivator, because most people can’t wait to throw a plate or two onto the bar, so they will do everything possible to nail the lifts so that they can progress.

Simple Progression

Periodisation simply means the systematic planning or organisation of training. There are many ways in which to do this. Luckily, we can opt for the simplest known method here, in which our only aim is to continually add a little weight each time we train, providing it does NOT lead to a breakdown in form. Perfect.

In reality though, it’s more likely that you’ll progress very quickly, slow down, then progress again. Being patient and sticking to the rules is the key.

Simple Mobility Work

We’re busy. Most of us spend too much time sitting down and not moving enough. Taking time at the beginning of each session to stretch a little and address any mobility issues you may have will pay dividends very quickly. To cover all of the options available here, is way beyond the scope of this post but for most people focusing on ankles and upper back (thoracic spine) is a great start. Guys, I’d throw hips work in there too. Also most people benefit from some glutes strengthening work at the beginning of a session.

I cannot emphasise enough how important this is and I’d seriously advise against skipping it. Injuries, old and new have a sneaky way of catching up with you when you ignore this type of work.

Simple Assistance Work

This applies to anything outside of the main lifts we’ve identified: core work, arms etc. It’s likely you’ll want to do some at some point but I’d keep it to 10 minutes in total and never in favour of any of your main work. It’s the main lifts that will get you the results you are after, not doing 26 sets of different bicep curls or crunches.

Simple Conditioning

Keep this short and sweet. If you have finished your strength session and feeling fresh then feel free to add in some conditioning work at the end. My suggestion would be to go a little harder for a shorter time. This will give you more bang for your buck and get you out of the door faster.

4-6 very short sprints followed by a decent amount of rest will do the job just fine.

There is a trend recently where conditioning work has become synonymous with driving yourself into the ground and crawling out of the gym. Conditioning doesn’t have to hard and it doesn’t have to wreck you.

Simply walking outside and sprinting up a hill a few times will reap a whole host of benefits as will sitting on a bike.

The choice is yours, just stay away from the stupid.


Have Fun

Training should be fun. It’s a leisure time activity for the majority of us so why would you want to spend your precious time doing something you don’t enjoy. If you find that you really enjoy running then, base your training around that. I’d always advocate keeping the strength training up as it’s compliments all other forms of training so well and will help you see faster improvements and stay injury free.

That’s where this template is great because it’s not so stressful that you’ll take days to recover but it’s also flexible enough where if you want to add in a swim for example and can’t find the time, then you could always replace a strength session with that. Just keep rotating through the workouts each time you go in, try adding a little bit of weight when you can and enjoy!

Simple. Now To Do It

This type of approach works great for two types of trainees. Beginners and experienced lifters who have picked up a load of injuries along the way and turn back to simpler templates to allow them to keep on training, without getting too banged up. Since this is the really really simple guide, I’ll even give you a quick summary of what to

1. Train 3 times a week

2. Do some mobility work at the beginning of each session.

3. Alternate between 2 workouts

Workout A
Workout B
Squat Deadlift
Bench Press Overhead Press
Barbell Row Overhead Pull (Pull-ups if you are able. Pulldowns if not)


4. Do each exercise for 3 sets of 3-5 reps

5. Stay away from failure and only use perfect form. (When starting off, it can be useful to hire a trainer to help you get this right. Just make sure they don’t try to convince you they have a ‘better’ way)

6. IF you want to do some assistance stuff after your main lifts for 10 minutes. Go for it. If not, go home.

7. IF you want to do some conditioning work at the end, go for it. If not, go home.

8. Be patient & have fun

Are you starting weight training for the first time?  Do you have any questions for Dan about progressing your training?


Dan Forbes

The Author – Dan Forbes is a Fitness Trainer

Dan has been a trainer for over 10 years and currently runs an online coaching at Forbes Performance, where he takes the tried and tested principles of training and nutrition to help clients achieve their performance and physique goals, as well as studying for an MSc in strength & conditioning. You can find out more about his services at his website and get more free programs at his blog

You can also follow Dan on Facebook and Twitter