The Ultimate 8 Week Gym Workout Plan for Beginners (with PDF)

If you’re serious about building big muscles, getting strong, or simply taking your toning to the next level, your quest will lead you to the gym. Home bodyweight workouts can only take you so far.

Download our gym workout plan for beginners PDF here.

We all start somewhere.

The commercial gym can be an intimidating place. How does a beginner figure out what to use and how, and not look crazy-awkward in the process? And how do you sort through all the free advice you get? Who do you believe?

What you need is a plan from a credible source. We have a beginner’s gym workout plan that will work for you with a printable PDF for handy reference.

Jump to the workout plan.

The Workout Plan In a Nutshell

Program styleStrength training and bodybuilding
Program structureUpper-Lower split
Program duration8 weeks
Workout duration1 hour
SchedulingWk 1-4: 4 day split
Wk 5-8: 6 day split
GoalIncrease strength and hypertrophy
LevelBeginner
Equipment neededDumbbells, barbells, weight plates, cable machines, pull bar, chest press machine, hex bar, leg extension machine, leg curl machine, riser, adjustable bench

Our gym workout plan is designed specifically for beginners to orient themselves to the gym and to get them into a routine that can be built upon while building muscle in the process.

We’ve segmented the plan into two four-week sections:

  • Weeks 1 through 4:  2 On, 1 Off, 2 On, 2 Off (4 day split). Repeat.
  • Weeks 5 through 8:  3 On, 1 Off, 3 On (6 day split). Repeat.

We are strong advocates for focusing first on learning proper exercise form before worrying about the amount you’re lifting. This applies to all levels of gym goers, not just beginners.

How Will Our Gym Workout Plan Benefit Beginners?

Beginners will benefit from this program because it is easy to follow using easy to learn exercises.

Benefits you can expect:

  • Build muscle.
  • Build a foundation for future muscle growth.
  • Learn key exercises.

In addition to the gains you’ll see (yes, newbie gains are real, especially for people under 30) the plan lays a necessary foundation a beginner can build upon, and takes into account that more complex exercises that take literally years to master, and often require a coach nearby to assure proper performance.

Almost all elite lifters and bodybuilders started out with a similar program. Our program here incorporates lessons learned from those champions. The better you get, the fewer exercises you’ll need.

It’s still good for a beginner to know a variety of exercise variations to be able to fine-tune their workout program so that as they progress over time. At the start, it’s better to focus and build a solid base.

Will This Workout Plan Help a Beginner Build Muscle?

Follow the plan and you will definitely build muscle. Don’t skip the rest days and remember to eat right, and get 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly minimum.

Why this program will work:

  1. Newbie gains. You’re a beginner–especially a young one, “newbie” gains are real. Enjoy this situation while it lasts, because you’ll hit a plateau eventually and the gains will slow.
    • Stay tuned for programming that covers plateau-busting.
  2. The exercises work. The exercises in this beginners’ program are hand-picked for their ability to work the target muscles the way those muscles are designed to work. You’ll not only build muscle, you’ll do it more efficiently. More gains, better gains, quicker.

Will This Workout Plan Help a Beginner With Fat Loss?

No, not by itself.

This program can help you establish a fitness mindset that can then lead to better body composition, less-fat-more-muscle. Unless you get it together in the kitchen, don’t expect to lose fat. In fact, if your nutrition is really bad, you may continue to gain fat.

General advice on diet and nutrition. Eating the right foods in lesser quantities over time will lead to losing fat and keeping it off. “Calorie deficit” is the simplest term to use.

Cutting out processed foods and sugary drinks (including any preworkout or recovery drink that’s got any sugar) also makes a good first step to losing fat.

Workout Plan Structure

Our beginner workout plan utilizes an Upper-Lower Split structure.

Splits are a popular way to organize exercises into workouts which are performed on specified days. Those can be specific calendar days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) or simply Day 1, Day 2 and so forth. The latter is helpful for people whose work or school schedules vary week to week.

Upper-Lower splits divide the body at the waist, generally speaking. Chest, shoulders, back, arms, and core are “Upper”, and legs are “Lower” with the exception that some leg exercises involve the back and arms.

Upper body is broken into two workouts: Upper 1 and Upper 2 due to the number of exercises the upper body includes.

Lower body days include fewer movements, so it is contained to a single workout day.

Scheduling

The workout plan is divided into two 4-week blocks with each block having a 7 day rotation cycle.

The first 4 weeks uses a 4 day split schedule. This means you’ll be working out for 2 days, resting for 1 day, working out for another 2 days, and then resting for 2 days. Rinse and repeat.

Weeks 1-4

DaySplitBody Part
1Upper 1Chest, Arms
2Lower 1Legs, Core
3REST
4Upper 2Shoulders, Back
5Lower 2Legs, Core
6REST
7REST

For the second 4-week block, the scheduling load intensifies with a 6 day split. Your body would have adapted to the program and should be ready for an increased workload. In this period, you’ll be working out for 3 days, resting 1 day, and then working out for another 3 days. Rinse and repeat.

Weeks 5-8

DaySplitBody Part
1Upper 1Chest, Arms
2Lower 1Legs, Core
3Upper 2Shoulders, Back
4REST 
5Upper 1Chest, Arms
6Lower 2Legs, Core
7Upper 2Shoulders, Back

Apply progressive overload and do this program for years. The exercises are perennials and are used by advanced lifters.

Your 8 week calendar will be as follows:

Day1234567
Wk 1Upper 1Lower 1RESTUpper 2Lower 2RESTREST
Wk 2Upper 1Lower 1RESTUpper 2Lower 2RESTREST
Wk 3Upper 1Lower 1RESTUpper 2Lower 2RESTREST
Wk 4Upper 1Lower 1RESTUpper 2Lower 2RESTREST
Wk 5Upper 1Lower 1Upper 2RESTUpper 1Lower 2Upper 2
Wk 6Upper 1Lower 1Upper 2RESTUpper 1Lower 2Upper 2
Wk 7Upper 1Lower 1Upper 2RESTUpper 1Lower 2Upper 2
Wk 8Upper 1Lower 1Upper 2RESTUpper 1Lower 2Upper 2

Rest days

The program has been intentionally designed to ease a complete beginner into the gym lifestyle and to aid in recovery. The generous 3 days of rest per week is there to cater for the insane DOMS you will inevitably experience as a first time gym goer.

DOMS stands for “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” and is the soreness associated with the muscle fibers being broken down and stressed as a result of heavy resistance training it is being put through. During the repair process, the muscles fibers fuse together resulting in more muscle mass and size.

Don’t worry, the level of pain that comes with DOMS diminishes over time as your body adapts and becomes more accustomed to this break down process. That’s why we’ve made sure that the first 4 weeks are scheduled with plenty of rest days.

NOTE: There is a fine line between DOMS and actually being injured. If the pain doesn’t subside after 5 days, please consult a qualified health care professional.

Your rest days should be enjoyable. Rest means rest. This is when your muscles respond to your workouts and grow.

It’s also OK to do some kind of light activity like light housework or walking. However, if you’re hitting it hard in the gym, you need to be taking it easy on your rest days and let your body do its thing.

Keep an eye on nutrition and sleep. Make sure to eat enough protein and calories, and to get your 7-8 hours of sleep a night in if you can.

Active Recovery Days

You can also substitute one active recovery day for one rest day each week.

Active recovery days are kinda-sorta rest days, when you can do exercises that are less intense than your workout days, and also shorter in duration.

Examples of active recovery:

  • Core work only
  • Hiking
  • Cycling, low intensity (meaning no steep hill climbs)
  • Long brisk walks
  • Bodyweight exercises that you can do for lots of reps

Use an active recovery day for rest days when you have loads of energy, are not sore at all, and when you’re getting enough sleep.

In general though, a rest day should be for rest and letting your muscles recover from the hard work you’ve put in.

How to Warm Up

Warm up before your workout to prevent injury and practice the movements. Warm-ups are important for anyone and even more crucial for older adults. If you’re a newcomer to the gym but a veteran in another sport, you’ll already understand the value of a good warm-up.

For all exercises, use a rhythmic pumping motion. Do not jerk the weights or sacrifice form. If your form isn’t perfect using the weight you selected, pick a lighter weight. Don’t be impatient…you’ll get there faster if you practice doing the movements the right way.

Focus first on learning proper exercise form before worrying about the amount you’re lifting.

This program considers people in generally good health. Special populations recovering from injury or dealing with health issues should consult a medical professional before beginning.

It’s easy to overtrain when you’re starting out, when enthusiasm is high.  If you are overly-sore during weeks 5 through 8, go back to the Week 1 through 4 sequence. Remember that you grow during rest anyway.

Your warm-up should be composed of very light sets of the movements you’ll be doing during the workout. (This applies the SAID Principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands).

Begin with a weight light enough to do 40 to 50 reps with absolutely perfect form. Reps 1 through 10 should be performed slowly and with partial ranges of motion (ROM), increasing the ROM as you approach 10 reps.

Once you’ve done that very very light set for reps with excellent form, select a slightly heavier weight and do another set for 25 to 30 reps. Then, a third at 20 reps with a still slightly heavier weight.

Here’s a sample warmup for the Dumbbell Chest Press:

Warm up SetEquipmentReps
15kg (10lb) dumbbells40 – 50
27.5kg (15lb) dumbbells25 – 30
310kg (25lb) dumbbells20

Only you will know when you’re warmed up. Your muscles should be getting a little pumped and your joints should feel loose. The reps should be coming easy and you should feel ready for the real work.

Don’t start your working sets before you’re completely warmed up, and don’t spend unnecessary energy on your warm-up either. If you need to add a warm-up set, do it. And don’t use heavier weight than you need or do more warm-up sets than you need.

If you have to err, err on the side of the more warm-ups.

The Movements Used in the Workout Plan

The movements included in our gym workout plan address all the major skeletal muscle groups in the body.

These exercises are gym staples you can do for years. They’re not just for beginners. Master them and you’ll be able to use them for a lifetime.

There are dozens of exercises you can do for a body part; we had to draw the line somewhere. We stuck with the basics and classics.

Exercises fall into one of two categories: isolation, or compound.

Some here are isolation exercises, meaning they work a single muscle or a synergist group and require movement at only one joint. For example: working the biceps even in isolation also works the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. 

Isolation exercise is preferred by elite bodybuilders because they allow emphasis on a single muscle that requires focus.

Other exercises in our workout plan are compound. Compound exercises require more than one joint to move and work muscle groups. Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting exercises are examples of compound movements.

We used three criteria in selecting the exercises in our workout plan for beginners:

  1. Muscle-building efficiency;
  2. Easy to learn;
  3. Easy to perform correctly.

Chest Exercises

The Chest Press

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesPectoralis major, anterior deltoid
Equipment optionsDumbbells, Cable machine, barbells, Chest press machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Squeeze your chest muscles on both the descent (eccentric phase) and press (concentric phase). Try to mentally shut down the triceps as much as possible to force your chest to do the work.
  • Forearms should remain perpendicular to resistance, hands directly in front of elbows.

Underhand Chest Press

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesPectoralis major clavicular attachment, anterior deltoid
Equipment optionsDumbbells, Cable machine, barbells

“How To” Tips:

  • The pinkie side of your hands should be toward your rib cage.
  • The underhand grip should feel natural; your wrists should be in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your upper arms very close to your rib cage while lowering and raising the weight.
  • This isn’t intended to be a triceps exercise. Squeeze your chest, keeping it tight through the entire exercise.
  • The lowest point in the exercise is with hands just in front of the lower rib cage. Bringing the hands any deeper than that stretches the shoulder muscles too much and invites injury.

The Cable Chest Press

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesPectoralis major
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Do a cable chest press from a standing position. Use a dual axis cable machine if available so you can set the machine’s arms to shoulder width.
    • Bend at the waist and press down. No need to “walk the cables out”.
  • You can do these with one hand or two.
  • If two-handed, locate the cable pulleys directly behind your hands so that resistance forms an imaginary straight line from hands, through your forearms and back to the pulleys.
  • As with other chest exercises, squeeze your chest muscles throughout so that you don’t turn this into an arm exercise.
  • Full range of motion (ROM) is from hands meeting in front of your body with arms fully extended, to upper arms out to the sides and at 90°.
    • Your hands do not need to travel behind your back in order to get a full ROM.

The Cable Crossover

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesPectoralis major
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Set up underneath the cable pulleys and bend at the waist, pulling the handles downward toward the floor.
    • Do not position yourself in front of the cables. Doing so forces extra effort to keep the core steady and detracts from the focus on the chest.
  • It’s OK–even preferable–to let your elbows flex a little as you lower the weight. Keeping arms perfectly rigid and straight places unnecessary stress on the biceps tendons.
    • Full ROM is when hands are out to the sides and slightly in front of the chest. You do not need to bring the hands behind your back to get enough stretch in the pecs. Too much stretch risks tendon inflammation or damage.

Arm Exercises

Bicep Curls

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesBiceps, brachialis, brachioradialis
Equipment optionsBarbell, Dumbbells, Cable machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Let your arms straighten at the bottom of each rep without relaxing your arms.
  • Avoid rocking back and forth.
  • Do your best to keep elbows close to your body throughout each rep.
  • Squeeze your biceps for a tight pause at the top of each rep.

Hammer Curls

Seated hammer curl good form
Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesBrachioradialis, brachialis, biceps
Equipment optionsDumbbells, Hammer curl machine

“How to” Tips:

  • Use the thumbs-up neutral grip for this curl variation.
  • Keep wrists locked throughout; don’t let your fist fall forward at the top of each rep.
  • You can do these standing or seated, single arm or both arms, or alternating arms.

Related: 20 Hammer Curl Variations For Maximising Arm Mass

Cable Triceps Push-downs

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesTriceps
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Stand facing the cable machine, just a short step away from it.
  • Select your handle of choice: straight bar, V-bar, rope, EZ Curl attachment. The key is comfortable hand position.
    • The triceps share a single tendon. Changing your hand position will not emphasize different heads of the triceps. Keeping your wrists in comfortable alignment will allow you to target the triceps appropriately.
  • Hands should be aligned with your forearms throughout, as if you were planning to throw a punch. Don’t let your hands fall back

Lying Dumbbell Arm Extensions (Triceps Extensions)

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesTriceps
Equipment optionsDumbbells

“How To” Tips:

  • You can do triceps extensions by lying on a flat bench, or on a decline bench. Decline is more challenging.
  • Upper arms should remain as rigid and still as possible, bending only at the elbows. Only the forearms should be moving.
  • Squeeze your triceps hard at the top of each rep.

Shoulder Exercises

The Side Lateral Raise

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesMiddle deltoid
Equipment optionsCable machine, dumbbells

“How To” Tips:

  • Use a wrist strap instead of a handle to get best results from the cable version.
  • The cable version is best for deltoid isolation.
  • You can do the dumbbell version standing, seated, or lying on your side. The standing and seated versions can be done using two arms. Lying requires one arm at a time (but is probably better for deltoid growth).
  • The weights only need to be raised to shoulder level for a full range of motion.
  • Don’t shrug at the top of your reps.

The Front Raise

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesAnterior deltoid
Equipment optionsCable machine, dumbbells

“How To” Tips:

  • Use a thumbs up or a slightly palms up grip. Using a palms down grip works the middle delt and not the anterior delt directly.
  • It’s perfectly fine to let your arm drift inward a bit as you raise the weight in front of you. This will engage the clavicular head of the pec muscle for some bonus pec work.

The Rear Delt Fly

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesPosterior (rear) deltoid
Equipment optionsCable machine, dumbbells

“How To” Tips:

  • To do these using dumbbells, sit on the end of a bench and lean forward about 45°, letting dumbbells hang at your sides. Dumbbells should be just behind your calves when in a seated position. It’s important to not be too upright.
  • Raise the dumbbells up and slightly back, leading with your elbows.
  • To do these using a cable machine, bend forward at the waist so that your torso is parallel to the floor and the cable is passing in front of you. Pull the cable handle across your body while in this position, finishing with your hand out to your side.

The Shrug

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesUpper trapezius
Equipment optionsCable machine, dumbbells, barbell

“How To” Tips:

  • Keep your arms straight. This is not a curl. Elbows should not flex and bend during the shrug.
  • Shrug straight up and down. Do not roll your shoulders. Doing so is pointless.
  • If using a cable machine, it’s possible to lean slightly backward while holding the handles. Doing cable shrugs this way will reduce the downward stress on your spine while still allowing you to pull in alignment with the target muscles (your upper traps).

The Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesDeltoids, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, Subscapularis (rotator duff). Note: the infraspinatus is the only rotator cuff muscle you can see.
Equipment optionsDumbbells

“How To” Tips:

  • Use an adjustable bench to find the right pressing position for you. Some people can sit perfectly upright, while others may need a slightly backward lean for their shoulder joints.
  • Do not attempt to do shoulder presses with heavy weight. This can easily turn into an ego lift, which is unfortunate, given that it can be very hard on the shoulder joint.
    • This is not our favorite shoulder exercise by a long shot. It is not specific to any single part of the shoulder and there is justifiable concern by exercise physiologists and orthopedic surgeons that it puts the shoulder joint at risk. However, it’s a classic gym exercise and you should at least have them in your repertoire.

Back Exercises

The Motorcycle Row

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesLatissimus dorsi (lats), lower trapezius
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips”

  • We recommend the EZ Curl cable attachment.
  • Stand facing the cable stack and back away from the machine a full step.
  • Bend forward at the waist, so that you’re facing the floor. Extend your arms toward the machine.
  • Row backward, raising slightly upward as the bar passes in front of your face and chest.
  • Keep your elbows near your body and pull hard so that your elbows finish slightly behind the level of your back.
  • Let your shoulder blades rotate toward the machine at the beginning of each rep for a complete ROM.

The Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesTeres major, Lats, Rear delts
Equipment optionsDumbbells, incline bench

“How To” Tips:

  • Do these using a pair of dumbbells.
  • Adjust your bench so that your arms can be fully extended with the dumbbells without them touching the floor.
  • Keep upper arms next to your rib cage during the entire motion.
  • The dumbbells should travel straight upward and end up somewhere near your waist at the top. If they end up near your shoulders, you’re doing this incorrectly.
    • Another variation (which we’re not describing here) has the arms coming out to the sides at 90° to your body.

Related: The Helms Row: Your Ultimate Guide

The Lat Pull-In

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesLats, teres major (aka, the “little lat”)
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips”

  • Do this exercise single-sided.
  • Sit at an angle, with the working arm out to your side.
  • Pull the cable down using your upper arm so that the finish is with your elbow next to your hip. Squeeze hard before lowering the weight and repeating.  This is the single best exercise to build wide, thick lats.
  • Pro tip: doesn’t matter if your grip is up or down; just let your hand follow your forearm on the way down and up.

The Lat Pull-Down

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesLats, Lower trapezius, teres major
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Select a handle that allows the grip of choice.
    • Lat Pull-Downs can be performed with a variety of grips and grip widths: wide grip, medium grip, narrow grip. And each of those can be done overhand or with a neutral grip where the palms face each other.
    • We recommend beginners start narrow and go wider as you get stronger.
  • Avoid using your arms to do the pulling. Elbows should travel down and backward.

The Scapula Shrug (Seated Row Shrug)

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesLower trapezius
Equipment optionsCable machine

“How To” Tips:

  • The most convenient cable machine to use is a seated row machine with two cables.
    • If you’ve got two cables, use a handle on each.
  • Single cables are fine too. If a single-cable machine is what you have, select a wide grip attachment. Straight, angled, or palms-facing grips are all fine.
  • Be prepared for the impression that you’re not moving the weights very far. You’re not, but that’s OK. You’re working the muscles between your shoulder blades.
  • “Shrug” your shoulder blades together while keeping your arms straight. Don’t move the weight by bending your elbows.
    • The shrug is backwards, not upwards like the traditional shrug.

Leg Exercises

The Back Squat

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesQuadriceps, Glutes, Adductors, Hamstrings
Equipment optionsBarbell

“How To” Tips:

  • Stand with heels on a small barbell plate. This will help you find the groove during the squat.
  • Your upper body should remain as upright as possible.

The Hex Bar Squat (Trab Bar Squat)

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesQuadriceps, Glutes, Adductors, Hamstrings
Equipment optionsHex bar (aka “trap” bar)

“How To” tips:

  • Learn the move with the upper “loop” handles facing up.
    • Once you get the hang of it, turn the bar over so the loops are down and you use the grips that are at the same level as the weights. Loops “down” allows for a full ROM.
  • Same as the back squat, stand with heels on small barbell plates to get into the groove and find the “pocket” where the squat form feels more natural and offers a more complete range of motion (ROM).
  • Start with the center of the weights aligned with your ankles, or just slightly in front of them.

Leg Extensions

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesQuadriceps
Equipment optionsLeg extension machine

“How To” Tips:

  • Avoid hyperextending your knees at the top. You can stop each rep 5 to 10° shy of legs being completely straight. Completely straightening the legs puts undue stresses on the knees.
  • Align your knee with the axle of the machine. An imaginary straight line should pass from the axle through your knees.
  • Squeeze the thighs to raise and lower the weight. Leg extensions are not to be kicked.

Leg Curls

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesHamstrings
Equipment optionsLeg curl machine

“How To” Tips”

  • Opt for a seated leg curl machine if you’ve got one available.
  • If using a lying leg curl machine, concentrate on using your hamstrings (back of your legs) to raise and lower the weight, and avoid hiking your butt to move the weight.
  • Follow the same alignment advice as for leg extension with either a seated or lying leg curl machine: align the axle with your knee when you set up for the exercise.

Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesGlutes, adductors, hamstrings
Equipment optionsDumbbells, Hex bar, Barbell

“How To” Tips:

  • Weights should be positioned just in front of your shins, no matter which tool you choose (dumbbells, hex bar, or barbell)
  • Keep back completely straight (neutral spine) from beginning to end.
  • An RDL is a hip hinge. Set up with hips back and lift the weights by squeezing the hip muscles, forcing the hips forward.
    • In the eccentric, downward phase, push the hips backward as far as you can.
    • Do not drop the weight or relax between reps. Maintain tension on the weight from the start of a set until all reps are completed.
    • Don’t be afraid to use light weight until you get the hang of RDLs. Do them properly and get tremendous benefit from surprisingly light weights when reps are performed perfectly.

Calf Raises

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesQuadriceps, Glutes, Adductors, Hamstrings
Equipment optionsStep or riser, Dumbbells, barbell plate(s)

“How To” Tips”

  • Calf raises are simple. Don’t make them more difficult than they are.
  • Stand with a natural foot position on the edge of a riser or exercise step.
  • Start with bodyweight only until you get the feel of the motion.
  • Press up with the balls of your feet like you’re standing on tip-toes. Hold.
  • Keep legs more-or-less straight. Some bend in the knees is OK, just don’t bend and straighten the knees to help do the exercise.
  • Lower slowly until your heels nearly touch the floor.
    • Make sure your legs are warmed up before you do these. This exercise loads the Achilles tendon and if performed cold can put the tendon at risk.
  • Add weight by holding dumbbells or barbell plates as you get stronger.

Core Exercises

Crunches

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesRectus abdominis (aka the “abs”, muscles of the “six pack”)
Equipment optionsFloor, flat bench, or decline bench

“How To” Tips:

  • Doing this flat or decline is fine.
  • The range of motion is not large. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve got to move a great distance to work your abs.
  • Cross your arms in front of your chest or place fingertips beside your head. Don’t lock your hands behind your head in the prisoner’s grip.
  • Raise your shoulders off the surface and toward your hips. Hold.
  • If you like, you can roll your pelvis toward your shoulders at the same time you raise your shoulders.
  • It’s helpful to do these with bent legs.

Side bends

Exercise typeIsolation
Target musclesObliques
Equipment optionsCable machine, dumbbells

“How To” Tips:

  • If using a cable machine, set up with the cable stack on the side opposite the side you’re working. (To work your left side, the machine should be on your right). You’ll be bending away from the machine.
    • The pulley should be a little lower than waist-high.
    • Stand a couple of steps away so you can hold the handle at arm’s length.
    • With arm extended, bend away from the machine.
  • If using a dumbbell, hold the dumbbell on the side opposite the one you’re working.
    • Do not use dumbbells in each hand. Doing so defeats the purpose by creating a balance on each side. In other words, a total waste of time.
    • Bend away from the dumbbell side keeping the dumbbell arm straight.

Sit-ups with a Twist

Exercise typeCompound
Target musclesObliques, transverse abdominis
Equipment optionsFloor, flat bench, or decline bench

“How To” Tips:

  • You can do these on a flat surface or on a decline bench.
  • Use the same hand position as described above for crunches (no prisoner’s grip).
  • Sit up and twist, using the mental cue to try to touch the right shoulder to left knee, and left shoulder to right knee.
    • Avoid pulling yourself up by using your legs.

The Gym Workout Plan For Beginners

Weeks 1 – 4

Day 1

UPPER 1: CHEST / ARMSSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Cable Push-down12-1510-128-10
Chest Press12-1510-128-10
Underhand Chest Press12-1510-128-10
Cable Crossover12-1510-128-10
Bicep Curls12-1510-128-10
Hammer Curls12-1510-128-10
Cable Triceps Push-downs12-1510-128-10
Dumbbell Arm Extensions12-1510-128-10

Day 2

LOWER 1: LEGS / CORESet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Dumbbell Squats12-1512-1510-128-10
Leg Extensions12-1512-1510-128-10
Romanian Deadlifts12-1512-1510-12
Leg Curls12-1512-1510-12
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-20
Crunches15-2015-2015-20
Side bends15-2015-2015-20
Sit-ups with a Twist15-2015-2015-20

Day 3 (REST)

Day 4

UPPER 2: SHOULDERS / BACKSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Side Lateral Raises12-1510-128-10
Front Raise12-1510-128-10
Rear Delt Flyes12-1510-128-10
Shrugs12-1510-128-10
Dumbbell Shoulder Presses12-1510-128-10
Motorcycle rows or Lat Pull-Downs12-1510-128-10
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows12-1510-128-10
Lat Pull-Ins12-1510-128-10
Scapula Shrugs12-1510-128-10

Day 5

LOWER 1: LEGS / CORESet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Leg Extensions15-2015-2012-1510-12
Leg Curls15-2015-2012-15
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-20
Crunches15-2015-2015-20
Hex Bar Squats12-1512-1510-128-10

Day 6 (REST)

Day 7 (REST)

Weeks 5 – 8

Day 1

UPPER 1: CHEST / ARMSSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Cable Push-down12-1510-128-10
Chest Press12-1510-128-10
Underhand Chest Press12-1510-128-10
Cable Crossover12-1510-128-10
Bicep Curls12-1510-128-10
Hammer Curls12-1510-128-10
Cable Triceps Push-downs12-1510-128-10
Dumbbell Arm Extensions12-1510-128-10

Day 2

LOWER 1: LEGS / CORESet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Dumbbell Squats12-1512-1510-128-10
Leg Extensions12-1512-1510-128-10
Romanian Deadlifts12-1512-1510-12
Leg Curls12-1512-1510-12
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-20
Crunches15-2015-2015-20
Side bends15-2015-2015-20
Sit-ups with a Twist15-2015-2015-20

Day 3

UPPER 2: SHOULDERS / BACKSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Side Lateral Raises12-1510-128-10
Front Raise12-1510-128-10
Rear Delt Flyes12-1510-128-10
Shrugs12-1510-128-10
Dumbbell Shoulder Presses12-1510-128-10
Motorcycle rows or Lat Pull-Downs12-1510-128-10
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows12-1510-128-10
Lat Pull-Ins12-1510-128-10
Scapula Shrugs12-1510-128-10

Day 4 (REST)

Day 5

UPPER 1: CHEST / ARMSSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Cable Push-down12-1510-128-10
Chest Press12-1510-128-10
Underhand Chest Press12-1510-128-10
Cable Crossover12-1510-128-10
Bicep Curls12-1510-128-10
Hammer Curls12-1510-128-10
Cable Triceps Push-downs12-1510-128-10
Dumbbell Arm Extensions12-1510-128-10

Day 6

LOWER 1: LEGS / CORESet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Dumbbell Squats12-1512-1510-128-10
Leg Extensions12-1512-1510-128-10
Romanian Deadlifts12-1512-1510-12
Leg Curls12-1512-1510-12
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-20
Crunches15-2015-2015-20
Side bends15-2015-2015-20
Sit-ups with a Twist15-2015-2015-20

Day 7

UPPER 2: SHOULDERS / BACKSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Side Lateral Raises12-1510-128-10
Front Raise12-1510-128-10
Rear Delt Flyes12-1510-128-10
Shrugs12-1510-128-10
Dumbbell Shoulder Presses12-1510-128-10
Motorcycle rows or Lat Pull-Downs12-1510-128-10
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows12-1510-128-10
Lat Pull-Ins12-1510-128-10
Scapula Shrugs12-1510-128-10
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Perry Mykleby, ACE CPT

Perry started lifting weights in 1974. He is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness writer. He holds a journalism degree from the University of North Texas, where he competed in powerlifting. His final competition was the Texas State Open in December of 1982, but has continued to study and practice muscle strength and hypertrophy. He is a four-decade veteran of the medical device industry.

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