I’ve gotten a lot of questions about beginner programming lately, namely which program should someone run? In all honesty, you can do almost anything consistently and see results for a good six-eight weeks. In the past I have advised people towards Stronglifts 5×5, but recently I’ve come to take issue with its lack of benching. Benching 1-2x per week is sure to set up frustration. Benching recovers the quickest, so having it be the same frequency as deadlifting is silly. I’m also not a giant fan of shoulder pressing and think there are better ways to create healthier shoulders. With that being said, I present to you my Beginner Program.
The program is ran on an A-B Split, meaning you alternate workouts. So one week you will do ABA, the next you will do BAB, then ABA… etc.
Squat x 5 Sets x 5 Reps
Bench Press x 5 Sets x 5 Reps
Bent Rows x 5 Sets x 5 Reps
Tricep Extensions x 3 sets x 8-12 Reps
Bench Press x 4 Sets x 3 Reps
Deadlift x 4 Sets x 3 Reps
Upright Rows x 3 Sets x 8 Reps
Chin Ups x 3 Sets x 6 Reps
Squats and Bench press are both technical, compound movements. Practice is important, and 5 sets of 5 reps is a great middle ground between three things: practicing technique, building strength, and building size. This should allow you to make adequate progress in all three areas as a beginner. Progress could last anywhere from 3 months to a year, it’s just a wave you have to ride out.
Rows are a movement I swear by and I think I’ve even written about them here (if not, I will soon). Bent over rows are a bit technical and will take getting used to but are highly worth the investment. They will help develop a strong back and rear delts, both hugely important for the three major compound movements (squat, bench, deadlift). Rows are often done at about the same weight as your bench press, so try that weight as your starting point and adjust as necessary.
Tricep Extensions build your triceps, clearly, which are extremely important to progressing your bench press. Since you’re already going to be benching quite a bit every week, only one day has direct tricep work. You won’t need more than that for a long time.
Bench Press is scaled back on B days to give you a bit of a rest. This is what’s called a “technique-centric” day. You will use the same weight as A Day but only for 3 reps instead of 5. Some days may feel lighter than others, but use this day to really focus in on perfecting your Bench Press.
Deadlift is programmed as sets of 3 because it, too, is a highly technical lift. Thus, I’d rather you do 4 sets of 3 rather than 2 sets of 5 when learning the technique. Being a beginner, you don’t need a giant stimulus in order to generate strength or muscle growth, so this will suit your needs just fine.
Upright Rows are programmed in here over bent rows to give your medial delts much needed attention. Since Military Press isn’t being used in this program, there much be something else that targets your medial delts so that you don’t wind up with an imbalance. This will work your upper back and delts simultaneously and is more of a bodybuilding exercise than not.
Chin ups are another bread and butter type movement. This will pretty much work your entire back and rear delts. Much like bent rows, this will carry over into every exercise indirectly. When it comes to lifting, you will never regret building a stronger, bigger back.
Squat: Add 10lbs to the bar every other session. What about when you first start, you say? Start with whatever weight you have on the bar on Monday, and add 10lbs Friday. Repeat Friday’s weight on Wednesday, add 10lbs more on the following Monday.
Deadlift: Same progression as Squat.
Bench: Add 5lbs to the bar every other session. This includes B day sessions, if it lands on that session, still increase the weight despite it being a technique day.
Rows: Follow your bench progression. If it feels like it’s getting too heavy, drop the weight by 10% and start again.
Upright Rows: Add 5lbs a week for as long as you can. Once progress stops, cut the weight by 10% and start again.
Tricep Extensions: The progression here is a little tricky given the often large jump machines make in weight (e.g. 50lbs > 60lbs). My advice would be to start at a weight that is challenging at 8 reps. This does not mean 8 reps is the absolute most you can do, but that getting to 8 reps is still a challenge (e.g. you could do 10 reps with good form, but 8 reps still feels like you’re working). Every week, increase the reps you do by 1. The week after you do 12 reps, lower the reps back down to 8 and increase the weight by 10-15 lbs (whatever the machine will let you increase it by in the smallest jumps).
Chin Ups: Given that you’re likely a beginner, chin ups will be hard at first. Just do the most you can for each set, but try to get at least 10 chin ups done for the day, even if that means 10 singles. If you have access to an assisted chin up machine, use that. Once you are able to do 3×6 on chin ups, progress by holding weights between your feet or using a weighted belt, or even hanging chains from your neck. Increase by 5lbs each time you progress, and progress when you can do 3×6 with the additional weight.
Finally, if you stop being able to progress, drop the weight by 10% and start the progression cycle over again. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s likely you have just built up a bit of fatigue and need a back-off block.
Alright, this is your beginner program! It’s highly general, but that is all you need as a beginner. If you have any questions, you can reach my on here, at my Facebook, or on Instagram @kvidt.