Beginner Gym Workout – The 6+ Exercises You Should Be Doing

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Whether you are completely new to training, or are jumping back on the train after a long break, this beginner gym workout will have you building muscle and strength in a matter of weeks.

Ever walk into the gym not really sure about what to do or how to do it? Or maybe you are looking for an efficient, constructed routine to start training with?

It’s important to have a decent workout plan containing all the essential components (progressive overload, compound/isolation exercises, sets/reps) in a structured way to be able to progress in the short, and long run.

Often, beginners will find themselves lost among the dozens of machines, bars, weights, and other pieces of equipment in the gym, performing a little bit of everything, with no real goal in mind.

If this is you, just follow the workout plan in this guide. If you already know a bit about training and are just reading by interest, or are looking for a routine to do, this will also work for you, and can be adapted to pretty much any level of training.

The exercises

What follows are the exercises you will be doing in the routine. Each exercise is paired with a similar variant that has the same purpose and works the same muscles, purely for the sake of choice. For instance if you would rather do dips over bench press, go ahead! The second exercise in each pair can also be done with one’s own bodyweight, requiring no material.

You can therefore choose between weighted or bodyweight exercises at your own convenience.

Incline bench press

The bench press is one of the main compound pushing exercises one should be focusing on for developing upper body pushing strength. Before initiating the movement, remember to squeeze your shoulder-blades together, as well as keep your shoulder locked down, tightly against the bench.


Along with the bench press, dips are another highly effective compound pushing exercise that can be rendered more difficult through the addition of weight, with a dip belt. This exercise requires less material or setup than the bench press, and is therefore slightly more accessible, if you don’t have access to a gym.

One should be careful to always go down as far as your shoulder mobility allows, and no further, especially with added weight as this can cause problems down the road. If you want to read more on shoulder mobility and find out how to determine yours, check out this weighted dips guide.

Barbell overhead press

This is a fantastic movement for developing shoulder pushing strength and mass. Although the barbell overhead press is represented sitting down in the GIF above, it is better to do it standing up, requiring more core and total body involvement, as well as reducing spine compression. This will also allow you to go heavier and use your legs to perform more of a push press movement.

This exercise can also be done with dumbbells, for a higher degree of muscle fiber activation.

Pike push ups

An effective variant of the barbell overhead press, especially if you have no equipment, or wish to pursue mastery of a more difficult movement such as the handstand pushup. You can do this exercise on the floor, being mindful to bring your head as far forward as possible at the bottom portion of the movement, and keeping your entire body in an “L” shape.

As you get stronger at this exercise, you can eventually move on to the full handstand pushups, and the freestanding handstand pushup – probably one of the most impressive movements that exist.

Lat pull downs

Lat pull downs are basically an imitation of pull ups, but more accessible, as they do not require you to pull your entire bodyweight up for reps, and the difficulty can easily be adjusted for beginners. They will do fine as a vertical pulling exercise, but in general, should not be used as a replacement for pull ups (which are a much better bang for your buck).

Pull ups

The king of upper body vertical pulling exercises. For balanced upper body strength and muscle development, pull ups will go a very long way. They can’t really effectively be replaced by any machine or weight variant for the benefits they bring to the table.

Pull ups can also be adjusted in terms of difficulty, whether you cannot yet perform a single rep, or are already performing sets of 10 repetitions with 50 kg of added weight. Again, the simplest way to make pull ups harder is to add weight through a dip belt, although you can use bodyweight variations.

Barbell row

The barbell row is a fantastic horizontal pulling exercise, working similar areas tot he vertical puling movements above, but with an important variation on angle, and an added benefit of being crucial for shoulder health through structural balance.

If this variation puts pressure on your lower back, you should try seal rows – a variant which takes all strain away from the lower back but requires more set up.

Bar row or ring row

The bodyweight bar or ring row is a crucial exercise for back development and shoulder health. This is a must in anyone’s routine, and not including it would make you miss out on a ton of strength and mass gains.

Remember to keep your entire body straight, eliminate any sagging at the hips by squeezing your glutes and abdominals, and keeping an open chest – really squeezing the shoulder-blades back at the top of the movement. To make the exercise harder, just lower the bar or rings closer to the ground, and place yourself directly underneath the anchor point. You can also add weight through the use of a weighted vest, or simply placing a weight plate on your lower abs.

Barbell squats

The king of compound lower body exercises. If you want to gain strength and watch your legs blow up in size, barbell squats are the best and fastest way to attain those goals. Granted, it’s however a fairly complicated movement to master, especially if you are completely new to weight training.

You should always study form, ask a professional, and practice in the lower weight range, before loading the bar with anything consequent. Once you can perform the movement properly, you will see amazing gains in your entire lower body, as the barbell squat recruits every major muscle group in that area, as well as your core and spine stabilizers.

Pistol squats

If you don’t want to do the barbell squat, don’t have the means to do it, or just prefer bodyweight training, the pistol squat is a nice variation which can be done instead. It will not get you legs as powerful as a barbell squat would, but it can definitely be a challenge to master, and build some tremendous lower body strength and coordination.

This exercise requires a lot of balance, and may be very difficult for beginners. You can first practice with partial reps on a chair or a bench, gradually lowering the bench until you can go all the way down. If needed, don’t hesitate to practice against a door frame or something else which allows you to grab on to a surface and remain in balance, whilst your build up the initial strength needed to perform the exercise without any additional assistance.

Weight can then be added through the use of weighted vest, kettle bells, dumbbells, or weight plates.

Barbell deadlift

The deadlift is an irreplaceable whole body compound exercise that will build unmatched strength and power. Again, if you are a beginner and you wish to start integrating some deadlift into your routine, you should pay a great deal of caution to how the movement is performed.

Further down in this article you will find some basic programming for the deadlift that you can use to keep progressing from week to week, but if you wish to program it yourself, be sure to have plenty of recovery time in between sessions as this is a very intensive exercise that will tax your body and central nervous system.

Nordic ham curls

Nordic ham curls aren’t exactly the bodyweight variation of the deadlift, as replacing the deadlift by something other than a direct variant of a deadlift is not really possible – it’s just a completely different exercise. This movement however is highly effective at targeting, and building bulletproof hamstrings, and is a great replacement, and arguably even superior, to the hamstring curl on a machine.

The workout


Workout A – Weighted

This routine consists of 3 workout days per week.

For example: Monday/Wednesday/Friday.


Bench press – 5 sets of 5 repetitions

Pull ups/lateral pull down – 5 sets of 5-8 repetitions

Squat – 5 sets of 5 repetitions


Overhead press – 5 sets of 5 repetitions

Rows – 5 sets of 5-8 repetitions

Deadlift – 5 sets of 5 repetitions


Bench press – 5 sets of 5 repetitions

Pull ups/lateral pull down – 5 sets of 5-8 repetitions

Squat – 5 sets of 5 repetitions


Workout B – Bodyweight

This routine also consists of 3 workout days per week.

For example: Monday/Wednesday/Friday.


Dips – 5 sets of 5-10 repetitions

Pull ups – 5 sets of 5-10

Pistol squats – 5 sets of 5


Dips – 5 sets of 5-10 repetitions

Rows – 5 sets of 8-12 repetitions

Nordic curls – 5 sets 4-8 repetitions


Dips – 5 sets of 5-10 repetitions

Pull ups – 5 sets of 5-10

Pistol squats – 5 sets of 5


How to keep progressing

There are 4 key points to apply to your training for constant results and growth:

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  • Progressive overload

This is what forces your body to constantly recover and adapt to the stimuli. Progressive overload can be achieved by adding weight, increasing the movement’s difficulty, lowering rest time, adding sets, or adding repetitions.

  • Recovery

Without recovery, you will be vastly limited in what you can achieve with your training. No recovery means that your body doesn’t have the necessary time to adapt to the stimuli and grow stronger.

  • Diet

What you eat and how much you eat really depends on your goals. If you want to gain mass and strength, you should be in at least a slight caloric surplus. If you want to lose weight, you should be in a caloric deficit. Your diet participates in your effective recovery and aids you in every workouts.

  • Consistency

If you train 5 times a week for a month, and then fail to do the same for the rest of the year by only going to the gym once a week, you are being inconsistent. You can’t make up for having missed a few workouts by training for 4 consecutive hours, or by going to the gym everyday the next week either – pick a program than you can follow consistently and more importantly, that makes you look forward to your training.

Enjoying your workout is the best way to make sure you will remain consistent.


Beginner gym workout – Conclusion

By now, you should have a better idea of exactly what you’ll be doing for your next workout. As you will probably have noticed from this short beginner’s guide, programming when you are first starting out really doesn’t have to be complicated, with dozens of different exercises, techniques, isolation, and more.

A simple approach with the most important strength and mass building compounds exercises make a phenomenal program to follow, especially for your first year of training. You will acquire solid foundations, allowing you to then perform some more complicated exercises, or movements that require a certain base level of strength, without worry.

Build up slowly, and you will reach your goals, injury free.

We’ve gone over the most important exercises one should be doing when they start off their training, as well as how to perform them, advice on how to keep progressing (progressive overload, rest, consistency, diet), and how you can program those exercises together for an effective workout.

If you think something should be added to this guide, or want to get a conversation going, comment below! Don’t hesitate to share this guide if you think it may be of help to someone else also starting out.

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