Weightlifting 101: Programming for Beginners

This is the second post in the “Weightlifting 101” Mini-series. If you haven’t already, check out the foundational post here:


The hardest part about going to the gym is actually walking through the doors. A majority of the population will never take it past a thought. These are not winners. Believe it or not, how you look and carry yourself affects how people perceive you. How people perceive you will play a monumental role in your life.

If two people have never had a conversation, all they have to go off of is appearance. This includes the clothes you wear, posture, and your health. An opinion is formed about what kind of person you are. Doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong.

 We tend to stereotype the “meathead gym bro” but you cannot deny that they have some level of dedication. It takes a certain level for people to put you in that classification. If you have gotten that far, then I congratulate you because most don’t.

To see results in the gym, there is a simple formula:

Results = Dedication * Quality * Intensity

We can lump nutrition and sleep under dedication, I will cover those in detail on a later post. Dedication here means consistency. A cold hard truth about working out in general is you have to be consistent to see any measurable results. The more consistent you are, the better the results will be.

Imagine you are in a canoe and it’s raining hard, torrential downfall hard. You have a bucket in the canoe, which you are using to scoop out water and put back in the river. If you stop scooping out water the canoe will sink, along with you in it. 

This is the analogy I give my clients when it comes to working out. Right now we are all in our own canoe on a river. The rain is the choices we make as far as what to eat, how much to sleep, our age, etc. The rain never stops. When we workout, we are scooping out that water and putting it back where it belongs. If you workout for a week and take two weeks off, you are basically wasting your time.

To make progress in the gym, you have to be willingly to dedicate a portion of your schedule. There is no other way around it. My recommendation is 3-4 sessions per week as a beginner. This will vary person to person, but I’ve found this to be reasonable for those starting out. A workout should take no more than a hour. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, if I can do it you can to.

Next part of the results formula is quality. This is based on how you are structuring your program. Are you working your prime movers along with the synergist? Are you giving your body appropriate rest time? What does your Range of Motion look like?

One of the most overlooked parts of working out is how to perform a movement correctly. If you have ever been to a gym, you’ve likely seen this scenario:

Man loads up an impressive amount of weight on the bar. Goes to lift the bar, and proceeds to barely move it from its starting position. This is lifting with the Ego. That man is more concerned about the people around him than what really matters. When performing any lift, you goal should be to control the weight for the full range of motion (ROM). 

Here is another analogy:

Imagine you are trying to dig a hole. All you have is a shovel. The better your ROM, the more dirt you are able to dig out with each scoop. If you perform a partial rep, you get a partial shovel of dirt. Those who are focusing on the ROM will dig that hole much quicker than the man trying to impress other people. 

By performing the full ROM when we lift, we are maximizing our Time Under Tension. This is the length of time we are asking our muscles to perform under a load. TUT is a big part of how effecient you will be in the gym.


You perform a set of dumb bell curls for 8 reps. Each rep you do at a controlled tempo of 3 seconds, 2 seconds to lower the weight and 1 to raise it. Your time under tension for that set would be 24 seconds. 

If you performed the next set but at a tempo of 1 second to lower and 1 second to raise, the time under tension is only 16 seconds. You demanded more from your muscles in the first set. They are not equal. There are thousands of articles out there that provide more in the way of science with time under tension. I encourage you to do more research if it interest you. 

The final variable in the recipe for physical greatness is intensity. You can do everything else right (program, nutrition, sleep, ROM, etc.) but if your intensity level is lacking, so will your results. Lets refer back to the canoe example:

Imagine you are on that same canoe. The objective is to get to the other side. The harder you paddle, the quicker you will get there. If you are paddling at a leisurely pace, you won’t travel well against the current.

There are different levels of intensity, and it is impossible to quantify what is the appropriate level for each person. A good measuring stick is that if you are not completely taxed at the end of your workout, you weren’t working hard enough.

Now we can get into what your program should look like as a beginner. As recommended earlier, I always start my clients on a 3 day split. The first lift of each workout will be a compound movement, followed by accessory work. It is their option to come in during the weekend for abs/cardio. Below if my general program recommendation for beginners:

Monday: Leg Day (Don’t skip leg day)

Wednesday: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps

Friday: Back/Biceps

This is a solid base program that will help acclimate their body before moving into more advanced techniques. Ideal for laying a proper foundation for health and strength. Note that we are taking rest days in between these workouts. Rest days are a crucial part of progress, when done in a strategic fashion. Each time we work out, we are breaking our muscles down and taxing our CNS (Central Nervous System). Without rest days, we aren’t giving our body time to repair itself to be able to handle more. People who plateau with their progress in the gym usually aren’t providing their body with adequate recover time

Monday – Legs

5-10 Minutes of Static and Active Stretching


1×12 (one set at 12 reps) – Warm Up 

3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Leg Press

1×12 – Warm Up

 3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Dumbbell Lunges

1×12 (12 reps left leg, 12 reps right leg)

3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Leg Curl

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Seated Calf Raise

2×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

For the finisher I recommend a stair climber or .25 miles on the treadmill. (High incline, brisk walking pace)

Wednesday – Chest/Shoulders/Triceps

I am a big fan of isolated work. This is where you are having each arm working independently. We tend to favor one side (righty vs lefty), by using dumbbells we aren’t making that imbalance worse.

5-10 Minutes of Static and Active Stretching

Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

1×12 – Warm Up

 3×8 (three sets at eight reps)

Incline Dumbbell Fly

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at reps)

Dumbbell Seated Military Press

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

1×12 (12 reps each shoulder)

 3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Cable Tricep Extension

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at 8 reps)

Overhead Extension with Dumbbell

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 – (three sets at eight reps)

Jump roping is an excellent finisher here. One it builds full body coordination, two it does an excellent job of loosening up your shoulders.

Friday – Back/Biceps

5-10 Minutes of Static and Active Stretching

Romanian Deadlift

1×12 – Warm up

3×8 (three sets at eight reps)

Lawnmower Row

1×12 – Warm up

3×8 (three sets at eight reps)

Cable Pulldown

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at eight reps)

Seated Dumbbell Shrug

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at eight reps

Preacher Curl

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets at eight reps)

Seated Single Arm Dumbbell Curl

1×12 – Warm Up

3×8 (three sets eight reps)

This program should be ran for a couple months. One of the keys here is a concept called progressive overload. This is “The gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise training”. By utilizing progressive overload, we are forcing our body to adapt. This results increased muscle endurance, muscle size, and strength.

Note: If you can perform all of these sets and reps without failure, add more weight next week. Do it 5lbs at a time. This is a marathon, not a race.

If you follow this program and use the formula given, you will see a change. Not only physically but mentally as well. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out. In the next part of this series I will detail common mistakes to avoid in the gym. Stay tuned.

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