Structuring a Beginner-Intermediate Gym Programme

You want to get fit and have thought about joining a gym, but how do you know what to do? Which exercises to perform, how many sets/reps? I’ll explain my favourite programme formats for beginners and how to write your own.

For all gym-goers, not just beginners, the most important thing is mastering the basics. Drilling in the same movement patterns again and again, practising over and over until it begins to feel a little less alien. For my new clients, I always programme just one full-body workout and they will repeat that same workout several times a week for at least a month. No fancy exercises, mainly compound movements and the foundations of training that will set them up to explore more avenues further down the line.

But if you’re only doing one workout repeatedly for a month, exercise selection becomes even more important as you have less room for variety. Here’s how I break it down:

1) Vertical Push Exercises e.g. any overhead Shoulder exercise (if mobility allows – many beginners don’t have great overhead mobility, in which case I’d work the shoulder muscles another way)

2) Horizontal Push Exercises e.g. Chest exercises – Floor Press, Press-Ups

3) Vertical Pull Exercises e.g. Assisted Chin-Ups, Lat Pulldown

4) Horizontal Pull Exercises e.g. Seated Row, TRX Row, Bent Over Row

5) Posterior Chain Exercises (1 Glute focused, 1 Hamstring focused hip hinge) e.g. Hip Thrusts and Romanian Deadlifts

6) Squat-based Exercise e.g. Goblet Squat

7) Unilateral Exercises e.g. Lunges, Step Ups, Single Arm Exercises

8) Core Exercises e.g. Deadbugs, Pallof Press, Shoulder Taps

My preferred way of pairing exercises for beginners is to do upper and lower body supersets. This means you perform the designated amount of reps for the first exercise, then immediately perform the next exercise. Then have a rest before repeating. I also prefer to put core exercises at the start of the workout for the first month, to teach clients how to activate and engage their core muscles in other exercises.

Rep ranges should generally be between 8 and 15 reps; if you’re new to training then it’s not advisable to go really heavy as you’ll most likely injure yourself. Also I would usually stick to 2-3 sets at first whilst the body gets used to training. Here’s how a programme might look:

Full Body Mobility, followed by Core Activation (Deadbugs and Shoulder Taps)

A1) Hip Thrusts 3 x 12

A2) Lat Pulldown 3 x 8

B1) Goblet Squats 3 x 8

B2) Knee Press-Ups 3 x 8

C1) DB Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 8

C2) Seated Row 3 x 8

D1) Reverse Lunges 3 x 8 each side

D2) Single Arm Shoulder Press 3 x 8 each side

Eight exercises plus a couple of core exercises and that’s plenty to be getting along with. Obviously exercise selection is fully dependant upon your goals and also any muscular weakness you have, but this is generally a good place to start as a beginner, whether you’re looking for fat loss, improved strength, or hypertrophy.

This kind of workout I’d recommend to complete 2-3 times a week, along with LISS (low intensity steady state cardio) in your own time. This can be walking, cycling etc. If you enjoy gym classes, these can also be great to add as a high intensity conditioning day once or twice a week. If you have very comprehensive goals, or a time-bound goal you’d like to achieve, then your programme would need a bit more specific to you.

As always, if you need help in the gym, or are unsure on the technique of a particular exercise, then please ask a Personal Trainer! We are there to help people, so don’t be afraid to approach us.