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I'm currently road running and swimming and I'd like to start strength training using free weights.

I have access to a set of dumbbells and would like to make use of them, but searching for starter programmes via the web seems like a difficult task due to the high amount of spam and 'amazing gains in 4 weeks' type sites.

I'm not looking to become huge - but I'd like to end up toned, stronger and fit.

What would be a good programme to follow for someone who's just starting out?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The first thing to know when creating a strength training program is that you need to work out all of the muscle groups to prevent injury or an awkwardly proportioned body (you don't want to look like the Hulk up top when you look like a stick figure down below). This being the case, there are two ways you can approach building a workout routine:

  1. Do full body routines each workout.
  2. Focus on specific muscle groups each workout.

Personally, I think the "full body" approach is better for people new to strength training. There is a very good article on the Nerd Fitness website that talks about building your own full body routine. An important excerpt from the article is:

  • Quads – squats, lunges, one legged squats, box jumps.
  • Butt and Hamstrings – hip raises, deadlifts, straight leg deadlifts, good mornings, step ups.
  • Push (chest, shoulders, and triceps) - overhead press, bench press, incline dumbbell press, push ups, dips.
  • Pull (back, biceps, and forearms) – chin ups, pull ups, inverse body weight rows, dumbbell rows.
  • Core (abs and lower back) – planks, side planks, exercise ball crunches, mountain climbers, jumping knee tucks, hanging leg raises.

Pick one exercise from each category above for a workout, and you’ll work almost every single muscle in your body. These are just a few examples for what you can do, but you really don’t need to make things more complicated than this.

Starting off, you'll want to only do 2-3 full body workouts every week, depending on your desired intensity level. You'll also want to put a day or two of rest in between each workout so your muscles have time to recover.

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This is great, thanks - think it's starting to make a difference already ;) –  codeinthehole Feb 28 '12 at 12:20
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You can certainly do well by doing a full body workout 3x a week and that can be an OK strategy for a beginner. You can also have good results if you set out to design your own workout plan but as you mention already, you are a beginner so chances are a plan designed by someone else with more experience would be a better fit for you.

Here are two very good free beginner workout programs:

Men's Beginner Workout Program

Women's Beginner Workout Program

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