I lift, but most of my friends don't. What should I have them do when they (finally!) decide to try coming to the gym with me?

My friends are not fit, but also not obese or possessing gross injury. Let's assume this composite "ideal friend" will actually do the workouts for at least a month, and that their goal is health and general fitness. They cannot perform a pull-up but are generally capable of running a mile or two and deadlifting at least seventy five pounds with excellent form. My goal is not injuring them and showing them a path to consistent results.

Feel free to specify exactly what equipment they need to acquire, whether it be a gym membership, barbell, kettlebell, set of dumbbells, TRX gear, pull-up bar, or enormously elaborate Rube Goldberg system of pulleys attached to farm animals which one lifts in a prescribed order.

7 Answers 7


The most important thing with getting people started lifting is to help them to like lifting. The worst thing you can do is to overwhelm them with details. The dirty little secret for newbies is they can do just about anything and make some relatively quick increases (with few exceptions). That means it matter less what they do and more that they do something consistently.

The real answer to your question depends on where they want to go with the training. Are they wanting to look better, get better at sports, or just be strong? The basics of the beginning program will probably be the same, but when they know how it is going to relate to their end goal they can be more motivated. The most effective approach is that you train them. Giving them a program and saying "here do this" is the least effective way to train.

Step 1: Assess and Plan

The first step is to find out where they are. The things you need to find out are:

  • What exercises will they need: while most sports benefit from some sort of pressing, squats, and deadlifts is that all they will need? What kind of pressing will be most beneficial? A cheerleader would benefit more from overhead work, and foot ball players may benefit more from an incline press. Also, if they need explosiveness then keep in mind Oly style lifts.
  • Do they have the mobility they need to perform the exercises in the menu?
  • Do they have the coordination to do them well enough?
  • Just how much training is needed until they get it right?
  • How strong are they now?

Step 2: Prep Work

This is where you give them some basic homework to build strength while you work on technique and mobility for the main program. This might not be a necessary step depending on their level of fitness, but I'm including it just in case they might need it. At this stage you are giving them work just about everyone should be able to accomplish:

  • Leg Press and Leg Curls (yes, a machine) or goblet squats if possible
  • Back extensions
  • Incline press (least technical press movement that has carry over to overhead and bench variations)
  • Cable, chest supported, or dumbbell row (they are supported and this complements the press)

That would be the foundation during this stage. In addition to those basic movements you would have them doing other supplementary exercises to fix alignment and increase their mobility to the point where they can learn the proper squat, press, and pull routine they will use later on. When they can leg press their body weight, they should move on to goblet squats.

Rep ranges can be higher. 3x10 isn't a bad place to start.

Step 2: Basics

This is where you introduce them to the beginner routine they are going to use. You have two options: train them yourself, or hand them over to a prepackaged program. Good possibilities are:

  • Starting Strength
  • Greyskull LP
  • Madcow
  • Strong Lifts
  • Your own custom program

The program with the least amount of work explanation and provides a good base of strength to pursue other things later on would be Starting Strength. Why Starting Strength? Because the book provides the best explanation and trouble shooting for the all the lifts it has you perform I've seen yet. Why not Strong Lifts? Mainly because the misinformation and leaps of logic that the proponent of Strong Lifts has is much more egregious than most things I've seen. The program itself is a good one. The exercises in each of the options listed above all work.

I'm training my daughter on a program I made up. It has all the basics that she needs both for cheer-leading and for the power lifting competition she'll be doing with me later this year. This option works because I've already tested out the principles and I'm actively coaching her. If you are actively coaching, a custom program works. Honestly, this is the best approach as you can balance the load of strength training with the sports they are actively involved in. Out of the box Starting Strength isn't a great choice for someone who is in two other sports simultaneously.

If you are just introducing them to strength training, Starting Strength will probably be the best bet as they can also get a lot of help from the forums.

Step 3: Graduation

If they stick past the basics program and exhaust the beginner gains, they won't need as much hands on training. Just give them guidance on where to go next. If they want to look good, point them towards body building routines. If they want to get better at sports, help them to think about how to balance the needs of sport specific training with strength training. If they just want to get strong and compete in strength sports, then introduce them to programs that will help them continue getting stronger.

  • I really like how you organized your answer around the stages of getting someone onto the bike and then gradually removing the training wheels. Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 2:57
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    I prefer bodyweight rather than machines for the prep work, but this is the template for what I'm moving towards when I help my friends start to work out, so it's the best answer. Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 3:14
  • No problem, the machines are for those who are really weak. For example someone who has to think about getting up for 5 minutes before they muster the energy to do so. Those guys might not be able to handle bodyweight just yet, so you can use machines to prep them for even that much. Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 11:21

Since the goal is "health and general fitness", I recommend a strength-primary approach centered around compound barbell lifts. I assume access to a gym with a squat rack and a flat bench.

Why Strength?

Because out of the 10 aspects of fitness (cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy), strength training through full ranges of motion will improve 9 of them, and the remaining (cardiovascular/respiratory endurance) can be improve rather quickly when needed.

Strength is about making long-term structural changes to your body, so you can't wait until you need it to start developing it. It should be happening now.

Why Barbells?

  • Infinitely scalable loads
  • Allows the maximum weight to be lifted
  • Training using a small number of movements
  • Movements that have clearly defined and reproducible ranges of motion

The program

The performance goal: lift more than last time.

The program comprises squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, power cleans, and pull-ups/chin-ups. This exercise selection hits the largest amount of muscle with the fewest amount of exercises. The exercises all have well-defined, repeatable ranges of motion so that progress can be measured accurately.

Workouts happen three times a week with at least a full off-day between workouts. This is because as a novice, a single day of rest is all that is needed in order to come back and be able to lift more weight.

Progression is linear. Each workout after the learning phase, your friend will be adding weight to the bar they were successful in the previous workout of that exercise.

Phase 1: Learning phase

Most people will require a learning phase at the start. This may be a single workout with an experienced coach, or this may be several workouts that include form-check videos in order to get feedback from friends or community.

During the learning phase, for each lift, practice the correct form in sets of 5 or less with the empty bar (or add a bit of weight to it if it's too easy). Your friend should be able to do many reps at the chosen weight.

For very detrained individuals, they will have difficulty controlling the bar through the standard range of motion for the press and bench press. You can use barbells that are below the standard weight. Many gyms have fixed-weight barbells with weights as low as 20lbs.

If you have a friend that cannot squat through the full range of motion with even an empty bar, they should start with linear progression on the leg press machine until they are able to squat with the empty bar. It won't be long.

Towards the end of the learning phase, establish starting weights for each lift by adding 5-10 lbs at a time and trying a set of 5. As long as form is not breaking down and the lift remains relatively effortless, keep adding 5-10 lbs to the bar. As soon as it is hard to maintain form, or if the lift slows down due to the effort required, that will be the starting weight for that lift going forward.

Phase 2: Establishing the deadlift

  • Workout A is squats, bench press, and deadlift.
  • Workout B is squats, overhead press, and deadlift.

Phase 3: Progress until plateau

After the deadlift is established firmly ahead of the squat, introduce the power clean, and deadlift less frequently. At this point in time, pull-ups and chin-ups should be added to the program to help support the presses (these can be added earlier if needed or desired).

  • Workout A is squats, bench press, and power clean.
  • Workout B is squats, overhead press, and deadlift.
  • Workout C is workout A.
  • Workout D is squats, overhead press, and pull-ups/chin-ups.


If your friend would be more motivated by including some cardio work in the program, you can replace one of the three workouts per week with high intensity interval training. If they have a lot of motivation and natural work capacity, you could even just add a HIIT day during the 2-day rest that happens each week.

Anecdotal results

I've introduced 11 of my friends to this workout and only one of them stopped.

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    This is literally word for word Starting Strength
    – user2861
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 7:24
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    @LegoStormtroopr Yeah. And that's not a bad answer! Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 13:25
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    I am not going to down vote this but I find it a bit of uninformed advice. Why doesn't everyone in the world just follow SS? Well from 20 years of personal training the #1 reason a person starts a weight workout (by far) is to look better. I have plans that work better than SS for that - ESPECIALLY FOR WOMEN. The #2 reason is to increase athletic performance - and this ranges from golf, football, dancing, whatever... #3 at best is to be the strongest as they possibly can be. So your workout plan is both ill suited for 80-90% of novices and is questionable for women (half the population).
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 3:45
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    But it is a great starter plan for powerlifters. And I am saying this as a former powerlifter who teaches powerlifting as a base to several schools of football, LAX, and basketball players. I have to have about the least amount of bias. Just remember the people that generally give advice on this site are not the very reflective on the population. Before you pat yourself on the back for copying off another website (and the other SS groupies do too) know that the people who really want the advice generally don't care about their deadlift max.
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 3:49
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    @DMoore The stated goal in the question was health and fitness, not to look better. This advice is informed enough. I did it, and it worked for me. It's working for my friends. The workout plan is well suited to the hypothetical person in the question. I don't care about my deadlift max either, but I want to be stronger than last week.
    – user4644
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 3:58

This may sound like advice applicable only to children, but frankly, that's not the case...

Make it fun

For most people, starting a training schedule is a tough decision - they put on a Rambo-style bandana and grind their teeth while thinking "this is pain but I will do this!".

We both know such an attitude wont let them stick to their training plan. Instead, you could start off with any kind of activity that could be fun for them.

I had some friends that never-ever would have gone with me to the gym. But I asked one to go with me and play some squash. The other got hooked on indoor rockclimbing. The third one seemed to enjoy our trips to the swimming pool. Now they actively ask me to join them! Some of them started running with me - and they are enjoyibng it! If I said in the beginning "come running with me" Id get a "hell no!" answer.

All in all, it starts with making it so that they want to be active. If you can achieve that, the hard work is done. If they want it, they usually find the time and the motivation. If exercising is a chore, then they wont get too far.

I had several attempts at getting fit earlier, and all of them failed, when I was trying to get to a weightlifting or running training plan right off the bat. But I found some fun activities, played some squash, climbed, tried some fencing... And once I got the feeling that getting tired can be kinda fun and helps me regenerate after a day at the desk at work much better than sitting in front of my computer at home, starting to run with my friend every other or third day became a lot easier.

To sum it up

In my humble opinion, if the goal is general fitness and health, there is no need for a specific program. Just find an activity that you all enjoy and start doing that, more and more frequently and regularly. Motivation and having fun is crucial to sticking to any form of physical activity.


My Program!


In the past, I've instituted a basic powerlifting-based strength-training template for my friends (mostly women). (I watered it down from the novice program I was given by a friend.)

They lift with me, using my barbell, squat rack, pull-up bar, and rings. I strongly encourage them to keep a workout notebook, and have found that compliance with this step is intimately correlated with long-term compliance and success.

  • Run a half mile to warm up. If this is contraindicated, they warm up with something they can safely do that will make them sweat after five minutes.
  • Roll out the joints with arm circles and leg swings, perhaps with some sun salutations.
  • Squat, starting with unweighted (air) squats, progressing to goblet squats using light dumbbells, then (mercifully, they report) onto the barbell once they can complete 3 sets of 5 goblet squats with the 50 pound kettlebell. This can take one session or some months, depending on the novice.
  • Push-ups, as many as I can cajole them into, often using "lazy push-ups" (which don't require a straight back and allow resting at the bottom) and plank work. Once these are mastered, dips, Hindu push-ups, and overhead press await, depending on their goals and whims. The infirm use wall push-ups.
  • Deadlifts, usually starting at sixty to ninety pounds for one set of five heavy reps. If they lack flexibility, we do partial or Romanian deadlifts with a greater number of reps--say, 8 or 12. The infirm do partial deadlifts using a dumbbell.
  • Pull-ups, with copious use of negatives and holds at the top and bottom, and a lot of volume: 3 sets of 10 or to failure-with-good-form. If they have access to a gym, an assisted pull-up machine or lat pull-down is acceptable. The lat pull-down machine is also the best option for the infirm.
  • If possible, I recommend a short high-intensity cardio finisher. This may require splitting the workout into an A and B (squat/pull-ups and deadlift/push-ups is best) to save time. My friends have not done well with this--it seems that they'd prefer to lift or run, but not both in the same workout. They also seem to despise sprints, preferring long slow distance cardio.

When they want to work out and don't have much time or don't want to lift without supervision, they run a couple miles instead of lifting. If they've been running somewhat regularly, I encourage them to run sprints after a half- to full-mile warm-up. Most of these friends will train more haphazardly than I, and generally will pepper their life with walks, hikes ranging a half hour to six hours, and yoga. I consider this well-rounded.

"But I don't have a barbell and (fill in the reason not to get one)"

In the absence of basic equipment, friends have jury-rigged a couple gallon jugs and scrounged up 25 pound dumbbells to add at least some resistance to their squats. They run, they squat, they do push-ups, maybe they do a clean-and-press, they leave the rest.


I've found a bodyweight deadlift to be the most common first milestone. I use this to get them addicted to the unlimited potential for goal-setting in barbell work. Other near-term goals include a bodyweight squat (often somewhat intimidating for non-athletes) and, with much fanfare, their first full-range-of-motion pull-up.

Other programs

Robb Wolf's workout progression in his book The Paleo Solution and Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint Fitness ebook are fine choices for someone looking for an easy, low-equipment progression into working out. They both strike a balance between strength training, low-intensity cardio, and high-power intervals, and meet people where they are.

The Paleo Solution's approach is essentially a circuit that starts with a walk (or run) before a collection of bodyweight-progressing-to-dumbbell exercises that are scaled to one's capabilities. Push-ups are started against a wall if necessary, air squats are partial if necessary, and so on. It's a fine program, though the description is a bit disjointed and it's not a fitness book.

The Primal Blueprint's philosophy is, in decreasing order of suggested serving sizes: "Move Frequently At A Slow Pace. Lift Heavy Things. Sprint." So hiking, biking, and walking are alongside a strength routine and weekly sprints. The strength training is designed around four essential movements: the squat, the push-up, the plank, and the pull-up. The author discusses multiple options and progressions for each. For advanced devotees, circuit workouts (e.g. four sets of lunges, pull-ups, throw the weight, dips) are recommended in place of (not in addition to) the strength training.

When someone is looking for a book to read on their own--or a guru to heed the advice of, as dangerous as that approach is--I recommend those two, or if they're athletic, Rippetoe & Kilgore's Starting Strength. If their goal is (male) bodybuilding, I've heard enough good things about the Greyskull LP to point them in that direction.

  • I don't think this is a novice workout unless all novice's are in pretty good shape and young. Most novices would be done after your half mile run. No novice is getting through the squat workout (especially after the run). Push-ups? Dips? Deadlifts? Sorry Dave but I have trained all styles for years. This is my "wake up my out of shape football player workout" not a novice workout. But hey the good thing is - the girls you know must have great bodies.
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 5:39
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    @DMoore he stated in the question that the novice he is talking about is fit and can run up to two miles.
    – Baarn
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 9:06
  • It might be a bit confusing though that Dave says "Squat with bodyweight" first and later "Deadlift up to bodyweight" where in the first case he means no bar (bodyweight squats) and in the second case he means barbell with weights.
    – Baarn
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 9:07
  • @DMoore I think you're confused. The squats start as air squats, then goblet squats with a dumbbell starting at five pounds. Dips come after push-ups have been mastered (and are prefaced with dip support holds). Deadlifts start at sixty pounds and no one has had a problem. Push-ups are hard but they can always do some form of them. I'm not talking about "postmenopausal obese and never used their body" novice, I'm talking about "goes to yoga occasionally and hikes most weekends" novice. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 14:31
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    @DMoore Novice simply means they can progress on a linear weight progression, with no need for weekly periodization.
    – user4644
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 15:15

Beginners Fitness - as told by Alice and Bob

Prelude: Wherein Bob decides he wants to get fit

Scene: A workplace lunch-room. Alice, an athlete, sits reading a book on Frozznastics - a physically demanding sport that (coincidentally) requires all the skills and talents of the physical activity the reader enjoys, but requires none of the skills or movements the reader hates. Alice is educated on fitness and especially Frozznastics and it is plain to all that she works out.

Enter Bob, the beginner, he is a little out-of-shape and hasn't really done much exercise since high school. He's had trouble with the yard work and his wife Carol (sweet as she is) has started commenting on his belly. He has just felt not quite right and he wants to change that.

Bob walks over to Alice and says, "Hi Alice, I want to get fit and I've noticed you eat healthy and talk about fitness a lot, perhaps you can help me?" Alice turns looks to Bob with a smile and replies...

Section 1: "Why do you want to get fit?"

Bob looks confused by this question, so Alice continues, "Fitness isn't an overnight change it can take months or even years to complete. So if you want to get fit, you need to have the right motivation otherwise you might just give up. Now from the people I speak with at Frozznastics training, motivation for fitness comes in a few ways:

  • Health - This can be as formal as a doctor has commenting on your weight or cholesterol, or as simple as you noticing you are having trouble getting up the stairs. But at some point you decided you want to live a longer life.
  • Ease of life - Being fit can help in day to day life. This can be as small as having the strength to a water cooler in place at work or joining in games at picnics without getting out of breath. But you've decided that you want to live a better quality life
  • Life goals - You've hit a milestone and realise half your bucket list remains unchecked - you've never run a marathon, lifted your own weight, done a pull-up, done 100 push-ups, walked the local mountain, or been on a winning Frozznastics team. But you want to live a happier life
  • Vanity - Try as we might to deny it, we are all a little bit vain. Perhaps you want to look better for your loved one, or look better so you can get a loved one! Or the healthiest and longest lasting motivater, you want to look better for yourself, but either way you want to live a sexier life. Bob looked puzzled and said, "haha, I'm not vain". Alice cut him off, "Bob we are all vain, even me, some days when I have a hard day or things aren't great I will pause in front of the mirror, and be proud of the body I made for myself. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Often its a mix of all 4 motivators that help us make the decision to get fit. As long as you are honest to yourself and remember what motivates you fitness is easy! So Bob, what motivates you?"

Bob paused and stood silent.

"Well Bob, think about why you want to get fit, but until you can honestly tell me that you know how you want to improve over the next year, then I can't help."

Bob walked away deep in thought, and Alice went back to re-reading "Starting Frozznastics". A few days later Bob came over and told Alice that he had an idea of where he wanted to be - able to work in the yard without losing his breath, lower his body fat like his doctor suggested, and yes... a little better looking both for himself, but also he knew how much it would please Carol and set a positive role model for their kids. Alice smiled, proud of her new brotege (its French for protege). "But Alice, I have no idea where to begin. I haven't exercised since high school and that was millions of push-ups...

Section 2: "How do I get fit?"

"I mean Frozznastics looks interesting, but I'm not sure that's my cup of tea." "Bob, remember how I told you that fitness is a long term activity, the truth is fitness is for life. We need to help you find what you will enjoy doing so that it won't be hard to keep it going."

Bob was puzzled, "But I thought all exercise was hard?".

"Well, yes, all good exercise is tough, but its all about finding the kind of toughness that you enjoy. Even when they know they are out of energy, a runner will love the next mile. Even when they know that the next kilo will make them so sore they won't be able to move tomorrow, a lifter will smile as the load the bar. If you find something you enjoy, even when you are sore and your lungs are burning, you'll be happy with how much fitter and stronger it makes you on the inside as well as outside. Our challenge is to find out, are you a runner, lifter, swimmer, cyclist, gymnast, a crossfitter, a tough-mudder or even... a Frozznaut!"

Bob sat slumped in his chair, "That seems tough, I haven't even done half of any of those things, how am I supposed to know what I'll enjoy?"

Alice felt for her poor friend, before she started Frozznastics, she has well meaning friends drag her on 10km runs, and made her lift until her legs turned to jelly and one even took her to the pool so often she thought she was going to grow gills! Often experienced people forget, what they enjoy about fitness might not thrill others, thats why Alice wanted to help Bob find what he enjoyed, even if it wasn't Frozznastics.

"I'll tell you what Bob. One thing I do know is that when you start to get really fit, its always good to take a break from your routine to relax and let your muscles recuperate. So I'll tell you what, I'll help build a routine that explores all the different things you might enjoy, that we can do together. This way I can go with you to the gym and show you the ropes, besides a change might be good to expand my horizons too!".

Ever fretful, Bob looked a little worried. "That all sounds great but...

Section 3: "I'm a little intimidated by the gym"

"I mean its full of fit people, especially away from the machines, near the bar -thingies. I mean all of the guys there are huge and strong".

"Of course every one at the gym is fit, that's because they go to the gym. If you went to a library, the people over in the non-fiction section are also probably well-read, but that shouldn't stop you checking out the books or asking for a good book to read. Besides, everyone at the gym will keep to themselves and are more focused on their own motivations than yours. So with that in mind, lets talk about what you are going to do. Now, you said you wanted to go 3 times a week, so I've put a little plan together that we can run through together." Alice slide a piece of paper over to Bob..

Section 4: Alice & Bob's simple fitness program

This plan is designed to cover a few different activities and give you a taste of many different exercises so you can learn about what you want to do next. There are two main workouts, that we will alternate on the days we can go to the gym. We alternate because our muscles need time between workouts to recover. While recovery from endurance activities like jogging can be as short as overnight, if you start lifting heavy weights its most useful to have a few days between working the same muscles.

Each workout has a Cardiovascular (cardio) component and a strength component. The cardio work comes first as an exercise on its on right, but also serves as a warm up to the basic strength exercises that come after.

Cardiovascular activity helps stress the heart, and as you run or ride for longer this can help lower your resting heart rate and improve overall mobility and endurance during everyday activity. Contrary to popular believe, cardio doesn't have special fat-burning properties, but there are numerous other positive benefits.

Strength training requires us to constantly increase the difficult of the work to see benefits, either by adding weight or changing the resistance through changes in angles or leverage. Strength training not only helps build muscle, but also can help improve bone density and flexibility. Strength training is also good for long term weight control as it causes more 'damage' to muscles which the body will repair using nutrients that may otherwise be stored as fat.

All of these exercises can be performed with dumbbells, but if you prefer barbells then you can use those instead. If possible perform all exercises in front of a mirror to see how your body moves and ensure you are performing the action correctly. Terminology: a rep or repetition is one full completion of a movement, up and down. A set is a number of repetitions. A barbell is a long, two-handed bar that can be loaded with weight and may be of a fixed weight, a dumbbell is a short, one-handed bar that is usually of fixed weight, but may be variable.

Day 1:

Cardio : 15 mins jogging or jog/walk. This is a light jog that gets you used to running. Each workout aim for an improved pace.


  • Goblet squats - 5 reps x 5 sets. Aim to for a weight that ensures good posture. Hold a dumbbell to your chest and squat as low as you can. Keeping your head up will help keep your back upright to perform this movement in the safest manner. Squats help with balance and start building leg strength, but will also improve your flexibility in your quadriceps and hamstrings that will help if you choose to progress to a more advanced program that features back squats and deadlifts.
  • Shoulder press - 8 reps x 5 sets. Aim for a weight that is taxing but allows you to complete the required sets. These build the shoulders and help outside the gym when lifting weights safely overhead. Using dumbbells practices lifting unsteady objects, whereas it's easier to lift more weight with a barbell.
  • Push-ups - 8 reps x 5 sets. An old 'favourite', these build basic chest strength for pushing and don't require the setup of a barbell or the unsteadiness of dumbbells. How to do a good push-up: stand up, arms straight, hands by your side. Pull your arms out to about 45 degrees and then bend your elbow, so your hands are in line with, but just below your shoulders. Now face your palms forward and point your thumbs to the sky. That's a safe lowered position. We do these after the shoulder press, as that exercise leaves your chest fresh but exhausts your shoulders and triceps, forcing your chest to do more of the work in the push-up. Learning where to position your hands in a push-up will translate over to safely performing barbell bench presses.

Day 2:

Cardio : 15 mins alternate cycling or and rowing machine. These are designed to introduce other cardiovascular activities. If you prefer on of these more than running, then swap the activities around and experiment with what you enjoy. Each workout aim for an improved pace.


  • Straight leg deadlift - 5 reps x 5 sets. Use a weight that allows you to keep your back straight. Stand up straight, holding the bar in your hands with your arms relaxed. Bend at the waist, but keep the back straight. Let the weight hang straight down, and lower as far as you can. Slowly lift yourself back to upright. You will feel tension in the hamstrings. Unlike the other lifts, keep your head in a neutral position facing forward, then as you lower keep your neck straight so at the bottom of the lift you are facing the floor. Deadlifts help improve your ability to safely lift an object when you need to bend to reach it, will help with your back and hamstring flexibility, and will strengthen your hamstrings in preparation of other other strength programs.
  • Back rows - 8 reps x 5 sets. Place one arm on the wall or sturdy object, lean forward to about 45 degree, leave the other relaxed with a weight in hand. Using your upper back, pull the weight to your chest. After doing 8, switch hands. That's one set. These balance the pushing exercises and, because they're done unilaterally, give you practice bracing against rotation.
  • Bicep curls - 8 reps x 5 sets. We all know what these look like. Hold a weight in a relaxed arm, bend your arm at the elbow and pose. These help make your arms look good.

Day 3: (Optional)

The above workouts will be fine for starters, but after a week or two on your non-workout days, start testing exploring other types of exercise. There is room for a 4th weight exercise on each day, look online and see what might be interesting to try. Additionally, explore other forms of physical activity such as team sports, rock-climbing, swimming or sprints. The goal here is to find exercise you enjoy.

Bob finished reading the paper and starting thinking about how sore he'd be after his first workout.

Two months later: Alice and Bob started going to the gym, and as he predicted Bob was usually sore after his workouts, but keeping his motivation in mind he kept working at it and was out of breath less. But the exercises had started to become to easy, so Bob walked over to Alice and asked...

Section 4: "Where to now?"

Alice replied, "What do you mean?"

"Well, I know that I'm not into Frozznastics, but I also know that this program is becoming too easy. What should I do now?"

"Well that all depends on what you enjoy. While I love it, Frozznastics isn't for everyone. This program is a very basic one that should improve your basic flexibility and functioning in day to day life. But if you are looking to challenge yourself you'll need something more and that all depends on what you enjoy.

  • If you are interested in athletics or strength or power training, a book like Starting Strength would offer a good program and introduction into the benefits of strength training for passionate amateurs or seasoned athletes.
  • If running is your forte, look into the Lore of Running, a text book that covers the physiology, nutrition and programs for running distances from as little as 5km up to 100km.
  • If you are interested in the aesthetics of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding is one of best resources covering training and nutrition.
  • If you enjoyed cycling, swimming, gymnastics or other sports, research online for resources or communities that can point you in the direction of good books and programs.

"But Bob, remember, fitness is a multifaceted endeavour. Which ever road you go down, remember to occasionally incorporate different activities both strength and cardiovascular to ensure your body is fit for all purposes."

  • 1
    Why so much volume (5 sets on each exercise, even deadlifts)? Why pre-exhaust the upper body exercises? Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 3:12

From experience, I've personally been in both situations and this really depends on the person. Several factors may cause them to come up with an arguement:

  1. Age
    1. Depending on which age, some may be more discouraged to start as they get older.
  2. Gender
    1. Both male / female friends might be intimidated to start with a more experienced person
  3. Time
    1. Multiple jobs
    2. Kids
    3. Work shifts (night & evening may cause more problems)
  4. Cost
    1. Prices of gyms, trainers, programs, supplements, nutrition may intimidate them

Before training (age 18)

I was a scrawny 18 year old. My friends were for the most part, the same age as me. It was very intimidating for me to start training (being very weak) with my best buddies who have been working out for 2 years and getting a nice physique as well as strength.

It was very hard for my ego, this can be different for each person. Of course, when I did start, they were very helpful (as anyone would be) and added just the right amount of teasing to push me harder.

Important note: I started seriously when I was out there to prove to myself what I could acheive and not to my friends. This is often the cause for people quitting working out.


I encourage everyone I can if they have the will power. This is a key factor because not everyone will start with the same motivation. You almost can't make someone start at the same level of intensity as you (unless they have a huge ego). Many people will be discouraged before they even start to see results.

For added motivation, I suggest everyone I know to take progress pictures so that they can really see their achievement. This helps them stay motivated and push even harder.

What I suggest

Most people should start with something simple, easy & fun. A program which consists of three sets of 8 repetitions per exercise with nothing really particular (no drop sets, supersets, varying tempos, etc). The time of completion for the workout should not exceed 1 hour for the first 3-4 weeks.

A three day split program will ease people into training. It will only take 3 days of their week as well as an average of 1 hour per training. 3 hours per week is easy to manage for a lot of people.

3 day split

  • Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
    • Flat / Incline machine press, pushups, machine fly, machine shoulder press, lateral raises, cable pushdowns
  • Day 2: Back, Traps, Biceps
    • Machine lateral pulldowns, machine row, barbell shrug, machine curl, barbell curl
  • Day 3: Legs, calves
    • Leg press, leg extension, leg curls, lunges, bodyweight squats, standing calf raises, seated calf raises

I also suggest beginners to start with machines so that they get the sense of isolating the muscle when forcing. Doing so will help prevent injuries when moving to something more advanced such as barbells and dumbbells.

As time goes and if they're still keen at working out - suggest to make it harder, more intense and slightly longer / more often. Eventually, start talking about nutrition to help them get even healthier, faster.

  • Could you be more specific? Like, what exercises do you put in a 3-day split? Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 2:54
  • @DaveLiepmann Done, added very basic exercises. Usually the norm in a basic gym workout program. More advanced exercises such as deadlifts and squats are usually kept once the beginner has gotten a little bit of experience and strength.
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 5:29
  • I would suggest using the word Sprint instead of a Split - 3 day Sprint. It sounds more intense that way
    – pal4life
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 18:12

First you need to figure out how motivated the friends are. There is a difference between some friends going to the gym because that is their yearly resolution and another if they really want to start up a weight program. This will help you gauge the intensity level you can have during your workouts (after the first few weeks).

I would shoot for 3 day-split if you can. Two days leads to them never getting serious about it or in to it. 4 days is a major commitment for a newbie.

You have to understand that your friends are looking for a lot of guidance from you. For the first few weeks you are more personal trainer than workout buddy. If you just try to help them during your workout they will be lost. Also this isn't time for you to use 5x the weight they do - think of these sessions as a warm down.

Day 1 - Monday

  • Barbell Bench 3-4 light sets
  • Dumbbell Curls 3-4 light sets
  • as many other chest and bicep movements you can fit in to bring you to 30-40 mins

Day 2 - Wednesday

  • T-bar row 3-4 light sets
  • Skull Crushers 3 light sets
  • try some row variations, dumbbell push press, pull-up machine, tricep pulldowns - again 30-40 mins

Day 3 - Friday

  • Squat 4 light sets
  • Abs - very dependent on what your gym offers - assisted crunches and reverse crunches would be good
  • try leg extensions, light lunges, very very light good mornings

The splits are what I give a newbie who isn't gung-ho on powerlifting or strength training. It keeps you from doubling up on your fixator muscles. You do two major movements every day. The rest of the day you jump from exercise to exercise for 2 sets. You need to make sure they are using very very low weights and try to keep them off machines. Focus more about the speed of the workout not pumping weight. Also by starting very low the first week - they should never come close to failure - you are ensuring that you can go up in weight a tad for the major movements week 2, 3, 4... If they get too sore they aren't coming back. Don't let them try to figure out their max. They will be disappointed and then sore.

Your main focus is to first get them to like squatting, benching, pull-ups/major row movement. They need to do the staples. You need to stress this with them in a nice way. I recommended hitting a bunch of different lifts after the major movements for 2 sets for 2 reasons.

  1. You can show them how to do things right. Make sure there is little to no weight and perfect form. Once they are comfortable doing something right they will use those as their staple lifts. I saw my college roommate 3 months ago and he says he still has the same workout that I gave him our sophomore year!

  2. You can gauge a potential work-out plan for them once they hit week 5 or 6. Some people love certain lifts, some people hate doing things they feel they are not good at, hell some people just don't like the position of a lift or feel they look stupid.

Also I recommend some very light cardio after. Go out for a jog, elliptical machine, bike... no treadmills unless your friends are runners and no stair steppers or similar machines. 15-20 mins of light cardio will help the lactic acid build-up they are about to experience.

  • 1
    Good answer, however I have to disagree with "If they get too sore they aren't coming back." DOMS is a part of any serious workout and it goes away after regular use of the muscles. It's not a bad thing, and it's a sign you're actually working hard. To have newbies try to hide from it can only hinder their progress. Now of course, soreness is different from an actually injury...
    – Tristan
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 20:27
  • 1
    I agree that getting sore is not a bad thing and often a sign of a good workout. What I would be worried about is having the new trainee getting lactic acid shock. Even mild cases can last 5-6 days and are very very common when hitting weights "the right way" the first time or two.
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 3:39
  • Point happily taken :)
    – Tristan
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 21:44

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