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Whether you’re trying to bulk up or simply live a healthier lifestyle, staying fit has a long list of benefits, from controlling your weight and reducing risk of disease to improved mood and mental health. The functional benefits of packing on some muscle can be incredibly helpful for day-to-day activities like hauling groceries and even just getting yourself up and down a set of stairs with more ease. And, of course, the aesthetic results of getting in shape can be a boon for your self-confidence — who wouldn’t want to show off all that hard work once beach season comes around?
But walking into a gym for the first time can be daunting, particularly when it’s full of strong, experienced gym rats. The good news, though, is that you’ve already taken a big first step by striving to make that shift toward a stronger, healthier life, and we commend you for that. To help get your strength training journey started, we’ve rounded up the best workout routines for beginners. These workouts are designed to help you understand and perfect the essential, compound movements associated with strengthening each muscle group. More advanced strength training workouts separate these muscle groups into splits, meaning you have dedicated days at the gym for chest, back, legs, etc. For a full-body workout, many folks like to adopt a circuit training approach, where they cycle between every exercise once before repeating additional sets. You can take any path you’d like.
To keep things simple and comprehensive, we’re going to categorize all of the exercises in this workout routine for beginners by muscle group. Within each group, you’ll find one bodyweight exercise followed by slightly more advanced movements to tackle with resistance bands or dumbbells. This offers the opportunity to warm up and develop proper technique (something that’s critical in any strength workout for beginners), as tackling heavy weights without good form is a surefire way to injure yourself.
Before getting started, we recommend stretching to loosen up your muscles and foam rolling to help combat soreness, because your first strength training workout is guaranteed to make your muscles bark after a day or two.
Lastly, these low-weight exercises also serve as great at-home workouts for beginners, as the lack of equipment means you can perform them anywhere. But as you work your way toward the slightly more advanced movements, you can easily build an affordable collection of equipment to use at home. We’ve linked some of our favorite core fitness essentials (which are key to any workout routines for beginners) below for your convenience.
The Best Beginner Workout Equipment
Before we get to the specific movements, let’s make sure you’re all set in the equipment department. After all, if you don’t have the best dumbbells or the best pull-up bar, how do you expect to do shoulder presses and pull-ups?
1. WALITO Resistance Bands Set
BEST RESISTANCE BANDS
Versatility is the name of the game with this resistance band set, thanks to its multiple resistance levels and handy attachments. With weights ranging from 10 to 50 pounds, these resistance bands are a great choice for tackling any of your resistance band workouts. The set comes with a convenient travel bag and a graphic with workouts you can do anywhere. At just under $30, this is a great investment for any strength workout for beginners.
2. Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells
BEST ADJUSTABLE DUMBBELLS
There’s a reason this pair of adjustable dumbbells from fitness industry giant Bowflex consistently tops our lists of the best dumbbells. With the ability to easily adjust weight at intervals between 5 and 52.5 pounds, these dumbbells essentially replace 15 individual sets of dumbbells, helping you save space. That adjustable nature also makes these a great training tool in a strength workout for beginners, as you can start at a lighter weight and tack on more as you get more comfortable working out.
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3. Amazon Basics 1/2-Inch Extra Thick Exercise Mat
BEST EXERCISE MAT
Many of the best workout routines for beginners feature exercises you can perform at home, which is great for convenience but not always great for comfort. Planks on a hardwood floor just aren’t fun. Try snagging this exercise mat from Amazon, which is extra thick to ensure you’re comfortable during all of your floor-bound at-home workouts. It comes in seven different colors and costs just over $20.
4. FLYBIRD Weight Bench
BEST WEIGHT BENCH
For strength training exercises like the dumbbell bench press or dumbbell row, you’re going to need a quality weight bench. This option from FLYBIRD has an adjustable feature that makes it easy to incorporate incline or decline variations of your favorite exercises. Best of all, its foldable design collapses down for easy storage or transportation, meaning you can tuck your weight bench out of sight once you’re done working out.
5. Yes4All Kettlebell
Kettlebells offer a fun, grip-strengthening alternative to classic dumbbells or a barbell. For more, check out our favorite kettlebell workouts of 2022. But keeping with the theme of the best workout routines for beginners, a kettlebell is essential to performing the goblet squat. We like this blue kettlebell from fitness gear manufacturer Yes4All, which comes in sizes from 5 to 50 pounds in intervals of 5 pounds. The high-quality cast iron construction features a vinyl-coated finish to protect both your floors and the weight itself.
6. Iron Age Door Pull-Up Bar
BEST PULL-UP BAR
This highly rated and affordable door pull-up bar is a breeze to set up, allowing you to lock it into place without the use of a single tool. That said, you should always double-check the product page to make sure this bar will fit your doorway at home. The Iron Age pull-up bar is easy to install and take down when necessary and can handle up to 400lbs of weight.
The Best Beginner Chest Exercises
We’re taking things back to gym class. The push-up is an excellent exercise to incorporate in any chest workout for beginners because it works your chest, shoulders and arms while also testing your core strength. To perform it, start in a high plank position with your body in a straight line and your hands just wider than your shoulders. Slowly lower your body to the ground, then push yourself back up. Resist the urge to relax once you hit the ground. Maintain that resistance throughout the movement.
2. Resistance Band Fly
Resistance bands offer an excellent way to learn the strength training workouts traditionally performed on a cable machine. Both bands and the cable machine feature the benefit of steady resistance throughout the entire movement — your muscles are constantly having to work to keep the weight controlled. The resistance band fly is best utilized with a resistance band that has handles, which we’ve linked at the top of the article. To begin, wrap the band around a sturdy base, like a heavy pole or machine. Face away from the base and grab each handle with even slack. Start with your arms extended and parallel with the ground, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Push forward and bring your hands together, keeping your arms steady the whole time.
3. Dumbbell Bench Press
Once you’ve mastered push-ups and resistance band flies (or used them to warm up) you’re ready to start incorporating weights. The bench press anchors any chest workout, and for this beginner workout, we’re going to go with the dumbbell bench press. Unlike the traditional barbell bench press, the dumbbell bench press allows you to perfect your technique with very low weight. Lie on a flat weight bench. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, or have a spotter hand them to you. Begin with the dumbbells resting on your chest and your elbows flared out slightly. Push up until your arms are extended and the dumbbells hover above your body, then return to the start and repeat for reps.
The Best Beginner Back Workouts
Once again, it’s time to trigger memories of high school gym glass. The pull-up marks another essential strength training exercise that requires no equipment and strengthens multiple muscle groups at once. In particular, pull-ups will work your lats (the large muscles on the sides of your back), making it a great choice for any back workout. You likely already know how these are done, but the key is to use your strength — not your momentum — to lift yourself up. You shouldn’t be kicking or swinging your legs to try and hoist yourself up. Some gyms have an assisted pull-up machine that’s a great training tool. Alternatively, you can have a spotter grab your legs to help with the movement.
2. Resistance Band Row
Any kind of row will do wonders for your back strength, as that movement tends to hold a prominent place in any back workout. But many folks perform dumbbell and barbell rows incorrectly, relying too much on arm strength. Performing the row with a resistance band will help you understand the movement and utilize the muscles in your back. Anchor the resistance band (you can use your feet if the band is short enough) and grab it in each hand with equal slack. Pull your hands toward your body, pinching your shoulder blades together to really feel those muscles working. Pause and return to the starting position.
3. Dumbbell Row
Much like the resistance band row, the dumbbell row strengthens muscles in the middle of your back, while also incorporating your grip strength as the weight gets heavier. You’ll need one dumbbell and a flat weight bench for this one. Rest one knee on the bench with your foot hanging off the back, and use your hand to support yourself as you lean over, bringing your torso more or less parallel to the ground. With the dumbbell in your other hand, begin with your arm extended and the weight hanging. Bend your elbow and pinch your shoulder blade to bring it toward your body. Make sure to repeat for reps on each arm.
The Best Beginner Leg Workouts
1. Glute Bridge
Leg day tends to be one of the most grueling workouts to tackle at the gym. The full-body nature makes it pretty taxing on your body, not to mention that multi-day soreness that affects even the most basic day-to-day movements. For that reason, you can do a ton of great leg workouts with no gear at all. The glute bridge is particularly effective at (as the name suggests) targeting your glutes, along with your hamstrings and lower back. To perform it, lie on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat. Your arms should be extended at your sides. Lift your hips off the ground, clenching your glutes until your torso is perpendicular to the ground.
2. Bodyweight Lunges
Bodyweight lunges are another great beginner leg workout that doesn’t require additional weight and helps you perfect technique before transitioning to dumbbells or a barbell. You can perform bodyweight lunges as either walking lunges or lunges in place. Both will work your glutes, quads and hamstrings while also ramping up your heart rate for a great full-body workout. To do a bodyweight lunge, begin by standing in an athletic position. Then take one step forward with your left leg and lower your body until the right knee hits the ground. Your front knee should form a 90-degree angle. Push up, return to the starting position and repeat with the alternate leg. Alternatively, you can continue moving forward for a walking lunge.
3. Goblet Squat
By incorporating a kettlebell, the goblet squat helps develop an excellent squatting technique without the higher weight and higher risk that often accompany the barbell iteration. Hold a kettlebell with each hand on the handle. This will definitely test your grip strength if you ramp up the kettlebell weight. Push your hips back and sink down into a squatting position, ensuring your knees don’t pass over your toes. Drive up with your legs to stand back up. More experienced squatters will drop past parallel with the ground for an extra deep squat, but it’s helpful to do a shallow squat or use a chair or table if you’re just getting started and want to get a feel for the motion.
The Best Beginner Shoulder Workouts
1. Resistance Band Shoulder Workout
Your shoulders are one of those muscle groups that feels particularly catered to the resistance band, mainly because those slow, steady and constantly-stabilizing motions required of using resistance bands will really make your shoulders burn. There are a few exercises you can incorporate and we suggest tackling them in their own workout, as is shown in the video below. Seriously, a few rounds of this resistance band shoulder workout will do wonders for your “boulder” shoulder quest.
2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
If you want to add muscle mass to your shoulders, we definitely recommend incorporating the dumbbell shoulder press, as the ability to tack on more weight will correlate with greater muscle gains as well. To perform the dumbbell shoulder press, grab two dumbbells of a comfortable weight in each hand. Hoist them up so they rest on your shoulders with your elbows bent. Then, press them above your head until your arms are fully extended, and slowly return to the start. Repeat for reps. You can tackle the dumbbell shoulder press either standing or sitting.
3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The dumbbell lateral raise is a shoulder exercise where you’ll instantly feel the burn and quickly see the aesthetic results of all your hard work. Begin by standing with a lower-weight dumbbell in each hand and your arms hanging at your sides. In a controlled motion, lift the weights straight out as you raise your arms until they’re parallel with the ground. Return to the start. The more you resist the urge to use your momentum, the more your shoulders will benefit.
The Best Beginner Core Workouts
Simple as it may seem, the plank does wonders for your core strength, including both your abs and lower back. It’s an easy exercise you can perform anywhere, any time. The better your form, the more beneficial this exercise will be. In the plank position, your weight should be distributed between your forearms — with your elbows forming a 90-degree angle — and your toes. Ensure your body forms a straight line. You can start with a few reps of 30-second holds, then increase the time as you get stronger.
2. Dead Bug
The dead bug is another core exercise that requires no equipment and helps to benefit your lower back and ab strength. Begin by lying flat on your back. Raise your arms so they point straight up, and raise your legs while bending your knees so your feet are perpendicular to the ground. Straighten your right leg and slowly move your left arm above your head until they both reach the ground. Return to the start and alternate with the opposite limbs.
3. Russian Twist
The Russian twist targets your obliques, the muscles on the sides of your torso. It’s an exercise that doesn’t require weight, but can easily be made more difficult by modifying it or including a weighted medicine ball. For the easiest iteration, lie on an exercise mat with your knees bent and your heels resting on the ground. Lift your torso off the ground at a 45-degree angle, clasp your hands together in front of your body and twist from side to side so your hands touch the ground on both sides of your body. To make this more difficult, hold a weight in front of your body and perform the Russian twist with your feet hovering off the ground.