The two programs that are best suited for beginners are Starting Strength and StrongLifts. See this article for some more information to help choose the program.
Starting Strength was put together by Mark Rippetoe who is a strength training coach since the 70s. I highly recommend his book whether you use his program or not. It is some good, no-nonsense information on how to do the lifts correctly and safely as well as recognize when you have problems with the lift. Rip tells you how to find your starting weight once you know your form.
StrongLifts 5x5 was put together by an enthusiastic guy named Medhi. His program requires less technical complexity which may be good for a beginner. Medhi recommends starting off with just the bar to get started if you've never done weight lifting before. Otherwise he suggests deloading to 50% to get started.
Yes, it is possible to add 5-10lb per week as a beginner. I think that is the key. Both programs realize that you can't sustain those gains indefinitely, but you can sustain them for a long time. I've been doing the StrongLifts 5x5 plan for the past 9 weeks, and with the exception of the overhead press have been able to go up by at least 5lb every session. On the overhead press, I did stall (which is what happens when you can't get all 5 reps in all 5 sets) at 90 lbs but was able to continue on after that. After the introductory 12 weeks is done with SL 5x5 I am planning to switch to Starting Strength. I like the idea of incorporating the power clean (a very technical lift) into my program.
Both programs do have instructions for what you do when you stall.
As a personal critique:
- StrongLifts is easy to learn, but the details are spread across the SL5x5 report and Medhi's blog.
- Starting Strength has all the information you need in one place (the book).
- Both Rippetoe and Medhi are opinionated, but Rip has more science to back up his claims.
- Rip is a teacher, Medhi is a motivator. That may help in choosing which to do.
There are a number of other 5x5 programs, but most of them are geared for intermediate and advanced lifters. In essence the gains you would expect from those programs are much slower than what you would get with either SL or SS.