The Perfect Beginner Full Body Workout Program
What beginners do in the gym can be the difference between making gains, and making RAPID gains!
Just going to the gym and lifting weights is probably going to result in muscle gain for a complete beginner if done consistently.
That does not make it a good routine, nor does it mean that routine is balanced or optimal.
Read on to find out how to devise your own full body workout program that is perfect for beginners!
Beginners should keep things SIMPLE
First point – this WILL NOT WORK to build muscle if you get everything else wrong! You need to apply certain principles to this (or ANY) program in order for it to actually work. Those principles are not usually mentioned in workout programs. Growing muscle requires certain ingredients to be present. What you do in the gym is just one ingredient in the recipe.
The focus here is on compound lifts, and high frequency.
Many workout programs recommended by fellow gym-goers, popular websites and magazines, will result in muscle groups being worked once per week.
This is not ideal for a beginner. You are potentially leaving a lot of gains on the table by waiting a whole week to train a body part again.
I do not recommend the following types of programs for beginners:
Tuesday: Biceps and calves
Wednesday: Triceps and abs
Thursday: Quads and shoulders
Friday: Hamstrings and Back
These programs can be found all over the internet, and they’re usually much better suited to more advanced lifters than beginners. They’re often put together by pro body builders who are at a completely different stage of their muscle building journey and therefore are more likely to require 20 sets of different biceps exercises to stimulate a muscle building response. There’s a reason why they might be doing a weird split that sees them training forearms directly, or working shoulders 3 times a week. That might be their only weak points. They also are more likely to have some “extra help”.
Full Body Programs Give the Most Bang for Buck for Beginners
For beginners, I usually recommend a 3x per week full body program utilising two different alternating workouts.
These focus on compound movements that hit multiple muscle groups at once so the whole body is worked more efficiently.
Beginners are going to see their biceps grow from barbell rows and chinups, even though these primarily target the back. Beginners’ triceps are going to grow from bench press and overhead press, even though these primarily target the chest and shoulders. Your traps, abs, forearms, hamstrings etc. are going to grow from deadlifts, and your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abs etc. are going to develop from squats.
Perform the following two workouts in an alternating fashion – with always at least 1 day between workouts. Perform 3 total workouts per week. One week you will perform Workout A twice, with Workout B sandwiched between. The next week you will perform Workout B twice, with Workout A sandwiched between.
You might do:
Or You Might Do:
Here’s how the workouts look:
Beginners Full Body Workout A:
Barbell back squats, 3 sets of 8 – 12
Pull-ups/chin-ups – 3 sets of 8 – 12
Overhead Press (seated or standing, dumbell or barbell), 3 sets of 8 – 12
Dumbell single arm row, 3 sets of 8 – 12
Bench press (dumbell or barbell), 3 sets of 8 – 12
Beginners Full Body Workout B:
Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 8 – 12
Barbell bent over row, 3 sets of 8 – 12
Dumbell walking lunges (or barbell reverse lunges), 3 sets of 8 – 12
Lat pulldown, 3 sets of 8 – 12
Incline bench press (dumbell or barbell), 3 sets of 8 – 12
A few things to note:
- There is a deliberate lack of emphasis on chest. Chest is only worked with one exercise per workout. This is because too many beginners focus too much on chest, and end up building up the front delts too much. This causes the shoulders to overdevelop on the front, pulling them out of alignment. Not only does this look bad, giving a slouched, round shouldered look, it also causes shoulder problems later down the line.
- Arms are not a focus. As previously mentioned, they’ll get enough work from the rows and presses. If you REALLY want to, you can add ONE biceps exercise to workout A, and one triceps exercise to workout B, to be done at the end.
- There are no ab exercises. These will be worked enough from squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and military press. To see them, you don’t need to work them, you need to lose fat from your midsection by being in a calorie deficit
- Every exercise is performed for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. You do not gain muscle by trying to hit new 1 rep maxes, you gain it by being in a calorie surplus and by lifting more volume, with greater load under tension.
This next one is really important!
- TRACK WHAT YOU LIFT. Pick a weight you can do 8 good reps with for 3 sets. Write down what you did or record it in your phone. Next time, pick the same weight but try to do 3 sets of 9. If you can’t, try to do 2 sets of 8, and one set of 9. Keep increasing the reps like this until you’re doing that weight for 3 sets of 12. Then up the weight and go back to 3 sets of 8. This shouldn’t take too long at the beginning because your nervous system adapts first as you learn how to do the movements. If the weights aren’t going up fast at the start, you’re probably not eating enough or not sleeping enough.
- Pull-ups/chin-ups can be done assisted if needed (you probably will need to if you’re a beginner). Your gym should have a machine that has a platform that supports your knees while you do these exercises. This connects to adjustable weights that mean you lift less than your own bodyweight.
What if I can’t do the exercises in the program?
I understand not everyone starts with the same starting level of strength, level of general fitness, ease of movement, proficiency, etc.
Some people may not be able to bench press the bar, or feel comfortable trying to do back squats.
If you need a more basic program, here it is:
Basic Workout A:
Bodyweight squats, or goblet squats if you can manage them
Dumbell walking lunges
Lat pull downs
Dumbell bench press (your gym should have some light dumbells that you can start with before progressing up)
Seated cable row
Basic Workout B:
Dumbell Walking lunges
Seated dumbell shoulder press (use light dumbells)
Lat pull downs
Single arm dumbell row
Remember! None of this will work if you don’t follow all of the other principles of building muscle too. What lifts you do in the gym is 1/10th of the puzzle. Find out the rest here.
There you go, two full body programs for beginners, one more basic than the other.
Keep that up for 3 to 6 months and eat in a calorie surplus and you should see great muscle gains. You’ll then probably be ready to move on to another program like upper/lower or push/pull/legs.
Remember, to build muscle you need to eat in a calorie surplus, and sleep to recover. If you’ve got fat to lose and you’d rather lose this before focusing on gaining muscle, then you need to eat in a calorie deficit. This will limit how much muscle you gain.
If you have a bit of fat, but not that much, you can focus on building some muscle and it will look like you’ve lost fat. This is because the fat you had now has to cover more of you due to increased muscle size so you’ll look bigger AND leaner!
Looking for another guide? Check out Mike Vacanti’s guide here. You should follow his stuff, he’s brilliant.