The Keys to a Beginner Program

Recently I was talking with a fellow trainer about programming. She mentioned how she was struggling to find many beginner templates for strength training.  When I thought about it, I didn’t know of many (good) beginner program options myself. Most people are considered “beginners” when it comes to strength training, so you would think that more quality program options would be available.  The truth is, beginner programming relies on a few basic principles for success, and if written correctly, are pretty simple and straightforward. Firstly, what qualifies a beginner to strength training? And if someone is a beginner, what principles should these lifters follow?


Though most people who lift weights are “beginners” many likely don’t know it.  This is because from our standpoint the definition of beginner isn’t dependent on how long someone has been lifting weights.  Someone could lift for ten years and still be a beginner. How is this possible? Our definition of “beginner” relates to how quickly someone can build strength.  If you have been lifting for ten years, but haven’t been following a well structured program, you probably still have a lot of strength to build. A beginner is someone who can make progress in strength from workout to workout.  

There are not a wide number of effective beginner strength programs.  Strength training, like any other skill or activity, should begin with the basics.  When we teach a child to speak we don’t start with full monologues and complex language.  Instead, we start with simple and common words and have them build from there.

Basics of Beginner Strength Training:

  • Exercises: Functional movements involving multiple joints.

    • Squats, deadlifts, upper body presses and pulls.

  • Volume: How many times someone performs a given exercise during a training session.

    • 2-4 sets at 5-10 repetitions

  • Frequency: How many times someone trains per week.

    • 2-3 total body workouts

  • Intensity: Typically defined as the amount of weight lifted, or the difficulty of the exercise

    • Progressively increase weight lifted 2.5-10 lb each workout depending on the exercise


A final key aspect of beginner training is technical proficiency of the selected exercises.  Many of the gains made early in a lifter’s career rely on the brain’s ability to recruit muscle to produce force in a given movement. Learning how to perform each selected exercise safely and efficiently is very important.  Working with a qualified coach, or having a helpful and experienced training partner is important to ensure proper technique is executed.

Employing all of the basics above will ensure an effective beginner program.  This does not leave room for a lot of creativity, but simple is most effective when just starting out.  Training complexity and creativity comes later, when someone is much stronger, more experienced, and progress becomes harder to maintain.