The 4 Week Beginner Workout

As a beginner, 3 main principles should guide you. Consistency, technique, and progression. Without any of these 3, you will not go far very far. Consistency meaning consistency in the gym and setting aside time to hit the gym. As a beginner, I highly recommend training first thing in the morning, when everybody else is asleep. For one, you can’t make excuses later on in the day to avoid training. Second, you avoid the distractions that abound in a crowded gym. Third, it is more time efficient as you will likely be able to access all the available equipment.

Technique is another key aspect in the 4 week beginner workout, that is overlooked. As a beginner, your focus is on technical competency in the major compound exercises like the squat, bench press and deadlift. It is critical that correct technique is developed right from the start as it is extremely difficult to unlearn bad technique. There are plenty of instructional videos and articles online – use them. When in doubt, consult the trainer.

Technique is everything and is the foundation on which progression and “gains” can be made. It is not unusual to see people performing half squats or trampoline bench presses – and it is equally foreseeable that those individual tend to neither be strong, nor have an impressive physique. Always remember: that weight will get you attention, but technique gets you respect. Don’t become “that guy” who is known for loose form.

Finally, progression. An obvious form of progression, ingrained in the mind of almost every lifter, is that you should increase weight from session to session. That said, adding weight to the bar should not be the be-all-end-all of progression. As you get more advanced, adding weight on a consistent basis becomes almost impossible. To insist on doing so gives rise to the risk of injury, as well as experiencing great frustration.

Apart from (and not instead of) adding weight to the bar, there are two simple methods that I personally employ for long-term and sustainable progress. First, is increasing training volume. This can be done by pushing for more reps during a set, or adding on more sets. Once you hit a particular increase in training volume, you can scale down the volume back to baseline, but this time with added weight. Second, you can decrease your rest periods.

What about intensity? “Beast-mode” seems to be all the rage. We are inundated by social media that we should “do whatever it takes” and are constantly bombarded by images of professionals who appear to be pushing themselves to the brink of death. This is unfortunate. A beginner does not require the same sort of mental training intensity to make progress. First and foremost, gains are easily made at the beginning of a novice’s lifting. Second, beginners must absolutely prioritize good technique, and to push sets to failure for the “burn” risks compromising on technique, and ingraining the wrong movement patterns. Third, psyching yourself up for workouts will burn you out in the long run, and you may even dread, or stop training altogether.

4 week beginner workout: upper/lower split

That being said, we now turn to apply the principles outlined earlier. I prefer an upper and lower body split for beginners as it allows for more frequent stimulus over a bodypart once-a-week split. Yet at the same time, unlike high frequency programs, this split accommodates the training of mirror muscles (because who doesn’t want to look good?). Going to the gym too often may also lead to burn out.

4 week beginner workout:  starting on Monday would look like this:

Monday Flat bench press 5×5 Overhead press 3×5 Chest supported row 3×10 Chin up 3×10
Tuesday Back squat 5×5 Deadlift 5×3 Leg curl/back extension/hip extension variants 3×10
Wednesday Rest
Thursday Flat bench press 5×5 Overhead press 3×5 Chest supported row 3×10 Chin up 3×10
Friday Back squat 3×5 Paused squat 3×5

(with 15% less weight than the normal back squat)

Leg curl/back extension/hip extension variants 3×10
Saturday Incline bench dumbbell curl 4×6 Close grip bench press 4×6 Lateral raises 4×10 Rear delt fly 4×10
Sunday Rest

It is basically what I would lay out for someone who is just starting out. Start with a weight that you are capable of performing with relative ease. So, if you are supposed to do 5 reps on the back squat, use a weight that you can get a maximum of 8 with. The reason for starting lighter than necessary is that it allows your body to acclimatize to the new routine.

Saturday is an auxiliary day that can be merged with the main upper workouts. Meaning, you can perform the curls and CGBP on Monday after the main workout, and perform the lateral raises and fly on Thurday after the main workout. However, if you live near the gym or simply feel too tired after the main movements on Monday/Thursday, feel free to do it on Saturday instead.

But what about chest flyes? Dips? Lat pulldowns?

I hear you – but let me finish. As I have mentioned earlier, beginners can make excellent progress with minimal workloads. While I do not dismiss the usefulness of other exercises, you must realize that your body has limited resources (and you have limited time).

Focusing on the bench press, overhead press, rows, chins, squat and deadlift will reap you much faster gains than doing all sorts of single-joint movements. Short of diving into a very technical explanation, I pose to you a simple hypothetical. If you can squat 440lbs, don’t you think you will have big legs? Or if you can bench press 315lbs, won’t your chest and triceps have grown substantially?

4 week beginner workout nutrition

To simplify things, beginners generally do not have to fret over their diet, reason being that an obsessive compulsive approach right at the start of a new lifter’s career is more counterproductive than not. In any case, beginners do perfectly fine with the fundamentals: minimum 1g/lbs of bodyweight of protein, some carbs, and the remainder fat. How much carb and fat is needed is determined by genetics and metabolism, which I cannot go into at this point.

Suffice to say, the first step for any beginner is to actually begin tracking what they usually eat to arrive at their maintenance calories, i.e. caloric intake necessary to simply maintain current bodyweight. Once that is derived, I recommend adding 200cals daily on top of maintenance. The exceptions to this are obese individuals who should attempt to lose weight first, and should therefore subtract 200cals from maintenance instead.

Eat your carbs and fat freely. If you find yourself putting on too much weight, you can reduce either the carb or fat amount. This is a process of trial and error which will require time before you know exactly how to respond to each macronutrient. However, as a general guide, untrained persons who aren’t shredded are less insulin sensitive, and should therefore control their carbohydrate intake (note: not RESTRICT; control!).

4 week beginner workout supplementation

Creatine is a cheap and simple supplement which increases strength within the 1-5 rep range (which is definitely useful given the number of 5-rep sets). Whey protein is also recommended for post-workout, and also for beginners who find it difficult to eat more protein than usual. Apart from these, I have a preference for intra-workout supplementation, which typically comprises of a BCAA/EAA drink.

Progression beyond the 4 week beginner workout

While the program is generally run for 4 weeks, you may decide to extend it to 6 weeks or longer, as long as you are still progressing. If progress stalls, consider taking a week off, and starting back out with 10% less weight than what you were doing previously.

Apart from these modifications, exercises can be substituted. However, this is not recommended as beginners may not be technically proficient in the other exercises. Nevertheless, some acceptable substitutes are:

Current exercise Substitute
Deadlift Sumo deadlift, deficit deadlift, snatch grip deadlift
Back squat Low bar or high bar depending on what you favoured previously, front squats
Flat bench press Incline bench press, flat dumbbell press, incline dumbbell press
Overhead press Seated dumbbell press

New exercises can also be incorporated:

Chest Dumbbell presses from flat to incline, incline barbell press, cable crossovers, pec deck
Back Seated cable row, 1 arm dumbbell row, rack pulls, barbell rows
Delts Cable lateral raises, Arnold presses, seated overhead press
Legs Leg press, lunges, rear foot elevated split squat
Arms Barbell curls, tricep extensions with dumbbells, cables

Other alternatives to the 4 week beginner workout

Once you’ve milked the most out of whatever program you choose to do, you may wish to consider programs written by other people. I personally recommend that novices pay especial attention and focus on the big lifts, as doing so would greatly shorten the learning curve ahead as well as provide them with a decent base level of strength in any other exercise apart from the compound movements. For this purpose, a few programs come to mind:

  1. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1
  2. Johnnie Candito’s beginner program/ 6 week program
  3. Texas method
  4. Madcow 5×5
  5. Layne Norton’s PHAT

There are of course many out there, so do look around and find one which fits your schedule and preferences. At the end of the day, this is a journey, not a sprint. Strive to observe and learn so that you may eventually understand what works for you.