Beginner training regime


A friend asked me what would be a good exercise program for him. Apart from regular cycling, he doesn’t do any other training so would be starting completely from scratch. His goal is to get stronger and, I suspect, buffer for summer. I thought I’d post my advice to him here since he can’t be the only one in that situation, and also because a beginner training regime seems to be a good first post topic. So Mr X, here you are…


Simple is good. There is no need to buy expensive and complicated equipment, however I would recommend one purchase: a door-mounted pull-up bar. You could, if you fancied, get a set of dumb bells too, which would increase the range of exercises you could do at home, but I don’t consider it necessary. You could also get a Swiss Ball, which would double-up as spare seating for guests (I actually use mine at my work desk), but again it’s not vital.If you’re doing any bar work, or using dumbells, then I definitely recommend some gloves to stop you getting gnarly calluses. I use an old pair of cycling gloves, but otherwise something like this should do the trick. If you don’t want to use gloves then get some chalk so your hands don’t slip around.
For the first two months, focus on building a solid foundation – getting the muscles used to doing new things, and providing a base on which to build later. These are the exercises I would start with (click the title to be taken to an in-depth tutorial)

1. Warm-up
Especially for someone new to exercise, this is really important. You should aim to do at least 5 minutes of some relatively gentle movement that utilises the whole body.  Follow this by 5 minutes of something that makes you slightly out of breath and slightly sweaty. An example would be a star jumps, skipping or running on the spot. I usually use the cross trainer for 10 minutes, then do some light exercises. 

2. Push-ups
For a man (and a woman, if you don’t mind your shoulders getting big) these are the quickest way to having arms like Nadal. They build strength in the pectoral muscles (chest), triceps (back of the arm), and anterior deltoids (top of shoulders), lats, back… and you will quickly see the results. For now I’d say to start with normal push-ups and introduce others after the initial two months.

3. Dips
These are invaluable for building up the triceps (if you focus too much on biceps, as some men do, you risk causing imbalance between the muscles, as their opposing pull/push function gets out of sync), but also the pecs and the muscles at the top of the back. They can easily be done on a chair or bench at home.

4. Abs
Forget about crunches – they’re not really functional and only work a small section of the abdominals, although I suppose they are ok for building a core that can be further strengthened and refined later with bigger compound movements (i.e. proper exercises).

The best ab exercises, in my opinion, to start with are:
bicycles (here’s a video)
plank (note: do NOT stick your bum up in the air like some kind of cat on heat – keep your body flat)
– hanging knee raises (read and watch)
– an ab roller

5. Chin-ups
These are performed on the aforementioned bar with an under-hand grip (i.e. with your palms facing towards you) about shoulder width apart. They work the biceps, as well as the muscles that run under the arm, over the ribcage and around to the back. Your aim is not to swing around when you do them – focus on technique, not speed (this is true of all these techniques)

6. Pull-ups
As above, but performed with a wider overhand grip. They work the shoulder (rear deltoid) muscles more, with less emphasis on the biceps.

7. Squats
Simple but effective lower body exercise. Well-known for developing awesome glutes. Start off without any weight, but if you wanted to hold a dumbell in each hand (or any other heavy things), then even better.

8. Lunges
Although these may remind you of Special K adverts from the 80’s, with a perky lady in a leotard, all permed-hair and lipstick, they are tough, and will work the thighs (quads, hamstrings, glutes) in a very painful way. (Remember the motto – no pain, no gain). Holding weights in your hands is good, but be sure to keep your arms still and the correct form.

9. Cool down
Do some stretching to allow your muscles to cool down, and to work away some of the lactic acid that’s built up. This should reduce the soreness that you’ll feel the next day (although you will definitely still feel it, especially for the first few weeks)

For the first two weeks, aim to do the following two or three times a week (every two days to start with, then every other day):

1. Warm up 10 mins
2. Push-ups 10 reps
3. Dips 10 reps
4. Abs – X 10 reps
5. Lunges 10 reps each leg
6. Chin-ups 5 reps
7. Abs – X 10 reps
8. Pull-ups 5 reps
9. Plank 30 seconds
10. Squats 15 reps
11. Cool down 10 mins

For the next month, do exactly the same, but do the entire routine twice (except the warm up and cool down). Increase the frequency to three times a week (or more if you’re feeling like a badass).

For the final two weeks, do as above but do the entire routine three times, three or four times a week.

I am going to endeavour to anticipate some of the problems and things that will go through your mind…

“I can’t do it”
Some of these, especially the bar stuff and plank, will be hard. Just do your best – you don’t have to cane through everything in any set time limit – just focus on doing it with correct form and keep breathing (you may laugh now, but trust me – there will be times when you end up feeling light headed and realise it’s because you’ve been holding your breath). You’ll be surprised at how quickly you progress and once you start seeing results it’ll spur you on to continue.

Sometime soon I’ll do a post on “negatives”, which is a technique to work up to doing some of the harder techniques like pull-ups.

“My wrists hurt”
At first you might find your wrists ache. There are two ways to combat this. Firstly is the tried and tested method of persistence: start slowly, don’t rush to progress too quickly, and gradually your strength will build up. Secondly, you could buy some sort of gadget (like this) that can be used daily to help build strength in your wrists and forearms. I don’t think it’s really necessary for what I’ve described above, but if you want to progress faster it could be worthwhile.

“Hanging hurts my arms”
Yes it does. It will take a while for your body to get accustomed to using seldom-used muscles.

“I don’t see any difference”
If you don’t see any difference within the first month of following this program, I’d be very surprised indeed (and would think that either you’re eating too many pies, or doing it wrong). I would therefore suggest taking photos of yourself, topless, every two weeks (or every week). Whilst this sounds both ridiculous and vain, the ability to look back over them a few months down the line, and see how you were when you started vs. now is a real motivating factor. Just be careful who sees your phone…

And there we are. Definitely up for hearing what people think of this, and will incorporate feedback and edits into the post. Good luck!

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3 Responses

  1. LouMac says:

    I’m far from a fitness expert. In fact, I’m quite a fatty. However, once upon a time, I lost a not insignificant amount of weight, and got in the best shape of my life.

    Something I’d like to share is that dynamic stretching is a great way to warm up. Static stretching is a TERRIBLE way to warm up. Like the author said, get a little sweat going, and loosen up. Things like neck and shoulder rolls, arm circles, over unders, and swinging your legs.

    Also, in addition to bicycle crunches, leg lifts and planks, the “Superman” is an excellent core execise. If you don’t know what that is, lay on your stomach, arms out flat over your head, and legs extended straight out. Then, slowly lift your arms and legs off the ground (without bending your elbows or knees). These are great as either single reps like crunches, or in 10 second holds.

    Hey [Author], thanks for getting me motivated to do some exercising around the house. There are no excuses for not doing that!

  2. says:

    Thanks for your comment Lou – awesome :) And you are totally right about the static stretching – brain misfunction to put it there (although it would be ok after the gentle exercise, I think you are right and actually for clarity I’ve just taken it out altogether). Dynamic stretching FTW. I normally do some in the morning whilst waiting for my morning oats to cook :)

    Hopefully I will do some more motivational posts (without getting too cheesy!). You should check out that video I posted on the guy talking about why people quit training regimes – he’s a bit crazy, but it’s quite good.

  3. Chris says:

    Fantastic site!

    Accidentally found you on Youtube and really enjoyed your summary of Year 1.

    I am 45 year old guy and just starting out getting into shape and will be reading ALL of your stuff!