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Workout Program For Beginners

A woman participating in a workout program for beginners.

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If you’ve recently read our Beginner Workout Plan, you know how to structure a workout that is safe and effective. Now you’re ready to learn how to create a workout program that will enable you to improve your health and fitness.


But even for advanced trainers and coaches, designing a program can be a challenging (not to mention confusing) undertaking. However, as Nick Grantham makes clear in his book Strength & Conditioning Bible, the process can be simplified.


Most beginners, in my experience, are not that concerned with setting personal bests, achieving fitness goals, or preparing for a gruelling competition. Usually, they want to learn a few exercises that they can perform with confidence, get in shape, and stay consistent.


If that description aligns with your training aspirations, use the following guide to design a workout program for beginners. But if you’re planning to pursue more ambitious training aspirations (such as rowing a marathon or preparing for Military Fitness Tests), you’ll benefit from a copy of the NSCA’s Guide To Programme Design.

Workout program for beginners | Benefits

Before we venture into the building phase, it’s worth reviewing a range of key benefits associated with using a program. These can provide you with a source of motivation for when the going gets tough – during both the design and implementation of your program.


Former Royal Marine PTI and fitness author Sean Lerwill maintains that ‘A training programme is one of the most important things to put together when setting out on a quest for fitness,’ (Royal Marine Fitness Manual). Lerwill’s justification for this claim is that using a workout program is an effective method of improving exercise consistency.


A program provides you with a structured routine to follow. Because the weekly workouts are scheduled on specific days, you know when and at what time to train. This serves the purpose of reducing the cognitive burden of having to remember when to workout.

Training consistency is key

Another benefit of programming your routine is that it can help habituate exercise. Working out as and when we feel like it can lead to training inconsistencies. Long layoffs between bouts limit the benefits we can derive from exercise. This point is expressed in the NSCA’s Essentials of Tactical Strength & Conditioning. The contributing authors remind us that ‘the greatest benefits of [any exercise modality] are achieved through consistent, long-term participation.’

A program can bring about balance

In addition, a routine that lacks structure invariably lacks balance. Why? Because beginners will naturally focus on exercises that they enjoy and feel comfortable with. (Even advanced trainers are guilty of this.)


This results in the prioritisation of one component of fitness over another. On those days that we make it to the gym we might select our preferred training method – cardio or resistance. After all, if we’re only attending the gym once a week, why waste that session engaging in an activity that we dislike?


A consequence is that of neglecting other training methods. This should be avoided for the simple fact that different training methods confer different health and fitness outcomes. For example, cardio is far more effective than weightlifting at promoting aerobic stamina and improving body composition. On the other hand, weightlifting is a superior system for building muscular strength and increasing physical functionality.


Of course, a similar trade-off could be made between all the methods of training. One simple way to get the most out of each method is to design and implement a balanced workout program.

Building a workout program for beginners

While I’m not claiming that a workout program for beginners will cure the training ills outlined above, it can certainly reduce them. So, with that said, let’s review the essential factors of program design.

Conduct a needs analysis

The needs analysis (NA) consists of answering questions related to your current commitments, lifestyle, and desired training outcomes. Conducting an NA can enable you to identify potential barriers to exercise. In addition, it can shed light on factors that will need to be taken into consideration when planning your programme. Such factors include ‘limitations on workout frequency and duration, equipment availability, health and injury status, and occupation physiological demands,’ (NSCA’s Essentials of Tactical Strength & Conditioning ).

Training principles | Frequency & Volume

The NHS and other public health organisations recommend that new exercisers should aim for 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. This recommended dosage equates to a training frequency of three to four weekly workouts of between 45 to 60 minutes. After you’ve conducted a needs analysis, identify three days in your week that you can commit to keeping fit. Once you’ve established the basic frequency of your routine, begin tweaking the training volume. That is, how much work you get done in a single workout. The manipulation of these two training principles – frequency and volume – can impact how quickly the body responds to your program.

Mix up your exercise modalities

A common error made by beginners (intermediate, and advanced trainers) is to focus on a single exercise method – cardio or resistance. The problem with prioritising one method is that it can cause fitness imbalances – being physically strong but aerobically weak. Furthermore, it also restricts the range of health benefits that a well-rounded routine confers. (As we saw above, the benefits of weightlifting differ from the benefits of aerobic training.) To stand the best possible chance of bagging the many benefits associated with a balanced exercise routine, ensure to populate your program with equal measures of cardio and resistance.

Procrastinate no longer

At this stage, you should now be ready to put pen to paper. The needs analysis exposed a couple of potential barriers that could have disrupted your training. This insight enabled you to schedule a plan that you can commit to. Now you have established three one-hour weekly sessions that ensure you will meet the NHS’s minimum recommended exercise dosage. Also, those workouts consist of a balanced blend of aerobic conditioning, functional resistance, and strength training. Below I have included a snippet of a beginner workout plan from Atomic Kettlebells, a Hungry4Fitness publication.

Beginner workout plan

An example of a workout program for beginners.

Workout program hints and tips

So far in this article, we’ve covered the key aspects of designing a workout program for beginners. If I’ve done my job properly, you should know how to craft an effective program.

Although a simplified overview, the above guide covers the fundamentals of program design. If followed (with the help of the snippet), you will be able to develop and implement a structured routine. One that enables you to meet or exceed the minimum weekly exercise dosage prescribed by a leading public health institution.

To round off this extensive article, I’ve compiled a list of training wisdom. The list contains advice that can help you avoid making common training mistakes.

Training and exercise hints and tips

Tip #1: Freshen up your workouts regularly

Lots of exercises get stuck in the rut of sticking to the same routine. This can result in physical stagnation and training boredom. Both are well-known precursors of exercise procrastination. The easiest way to renew your routine is by subscribing to Hungry4Fitness. That way you’re guaranteed to receive a different workout each week.

Tip #2: Always prioritise quality over quantity

Another way of rephrasing this tip is by evoking the age-old saying leave your ego at the gym door! The legendary martial arts master Bruce Lee learnt this tip the hard way. While performing good mornings with an overloaded barbell, Bruce suffered severe lower back trauma which left him partially paralysed for six months. Though doctors told Bruce that he’d be lucky if he ever walked properly again, let alone practice martial arts, he miraculously rehabilitated his injured back. At the end of a long and painful journey to recovery, he made these words his training maxim: ‘Above all else, never cheat on an exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain,' (The Art of Expressing the Human Body).

Tip #3: Set small achievable goals

Triathlon training expert, Mike Finch, proclaims that ‘the only true way of maintaining motivation is to set yourself a goal.’ He also argues that, without setting short- and long-term goals, our ‘training will be unfocused and, inevitably, unsuccessful,’ (Triathlon | An Expert Training Companion). Finch’s sentiments are supported by none other than Mark Allan – triathlete-extraordinaire who won the Hawaiian Ironman six times. Allan says, quite simply, ‘If we don’t test, we stagnate.’

Tip #4: You can have too much of a good thing

For me, this has been the hardest lesson to learn. Years ago, I got into the unhealthy habit of exercising for an average of five hours a day. Looking back over my old training journals show signs of obsession. For example, on Monday 19th September 2005, I chalked up 7 hrs and 10 mins. Yet, at the time, I couldn’t understand why I never improved, why my body didn’t change shape, and why I was afflicted with near-chronic fatigue. Little did I know then, but these are all symptoms of ‘overtraining syndrome’ – a condition that can impede performance and exacerbate injury susceptibility. But, thankfully, over-training is far easier to avoid than it is to develop. Providing the body with adequate rest and quality nutrition are the most potent preventative measures. This can be further enforced by varying your exercise routine and mixing up training intensity levels.

Tip #5: Don’t quit!

Sadly, one of the most common errors made by beginners is giving up on their routine. The source of their discouragement is usually the failure to recognise that fitness development is a slow process that takes persistent effort. And though many ‘fitness gurus’ would have us believe that exercise is easy, the reality is quite the opposite. Staying committed to a training schedule requires self-sacrifice and continued determination. It’s not up for argument. The couch is far more alluring than the cross-trainer. But one pays the dividend of health whereas the other hastens senescence. So, stick with it, muscle through the tough times, and reap the rewards.


Never be without a workout

Workout program for beginners training book.


About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and fitness coach. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam at

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