So you’ve heard strength training is a must, but if you’re a strength training newbie, how the heck do you get started? What needs to be included in strength training for beginners?

I’ve written thousands of programs and a large portion of those are for general population, for people who are just getting started with strength training or re-starting after a long hiatus. So, if your goal is to improve strength, where do you start?

Obtain a Functional Movement Screen

I run everyone through the functional movement screen (FMS). This system gives me some data to help me create a roadmap, and a corrective strategy when necessary.

Coaches, if you do not work to remove any glaring asymmetries or and balances in your clients, your program won’t get them very far. I’d highly suggest learning how to run the FMS screen properly as it will give you a ton of information about your clients in less than 15 minutes. If you decide that it’s not for you, cool use something that is measurable and repeatable.

Strength training newbies, find a coach in your area who can take you through the Functional Movement Screen. You won’t regret it.

Functional Movement Screen

Corrective exercise

I use corrective exercise, I have been using it for years and it’s not going anywhere. If something with one of my clients needs to be addressed, and it’s within my scope practice, I’m going to take that issue off of the table before having my client dive into a strength training program.

Here’s a quick example. If you come to see me and you’re lacking dorsiflexion in your right ankle, I’m going to address that before we begin squatting. I’m not going to throw a bar on your back, watch you perform some terrible squats, think of ways to regress the squat several times to make it look less terrible and then later find out it’s your right ankle causing the issue, not the squat iteself.

Coaches run the screen. It takes 15 minutes.

Warm-up/movement prep

Once we’ve taken a few minutes to clean up any asymmetries, it’s time to warm up. Keep in mind, the goal of a warm-up is to help you improve your core temperature, stimulate your central nervous system and prepare you for activity.

As far as prep goes, I use drills to hit the target areas most people need.

  • Ankle mobility
  • Hip mobility and activation
  • Thoracic spine mobility
  • Scapula/ shoulder prep

So what does this actually look like?

  • Ankle glides 12/12
  • Calf stretch with a posterior weight shift 10/10
  • Hip adductor rocks 12/12
  • Hip hydrants 12/12
  • Pigeon stretch :30 per side
  • Hands to instep with rib pull- 5 per side
  • Side lying rib pull with breathing 7-10 breaths per side
  • Scapular retractions with a band 15
  • Face pulls 15
  • Inchworm 10 yds

I will say this about warming up. You need to be deliberate. If you are just going through the motions, you are missing the point of a warm-up. Don’t perform an exercise and then rest for a minute. String everything together and don’t stop until you are finished. You can easily prepare yourself to train in around 10 minutes.

The Training Plan

There are several ways to design a program. For beginners looking to improve their overall strength, I program three total body days.

Within those three training days, I try to cover all of the functional patterns.

These are:

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Split stance
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Single leg (when appropriate)
  • Core
  • Loaded carries

Coaches, you can dig a bit deeper with your clients, but these are the basic patterns that you should consider with strength training program design for general population. To keep it simple, I recommend completing the A block completely then moving onto the B block. Three total body days seem to be a sweet spot and I’m really not worried about the upper body work cannibalizing the lower body work or vice versa. Once you get into an advanced program, you can decide what exercises take priority in the program and do them first while you are fresh.

Below is a sample program. I’ve added some notes so you can get an idea of my thought process and what patterns I’m trying to cover.

Sample Beginner Strength Training Program

Strength Training For Beginners 2 Strength Training For Beginners 1
Strength Training For Beginners 3

You will notice I start the first week with lower repetitions and gradually add volume weekly. I found that this is the best strategy to improve strength with beginners. There are a several variables to consider in a training program (volume, load, density etc,), but I’d suggest starting by increasing volume. Once you have some solid reps under your belt, I’d suggest switching over to increasing the load weekly. The best programs are the simple ones, don’t overthink it.

“Newbie gains” are a real thing so why not take advantage of them? The improvement in strength is mostly neurological, but increasing volume is also fantastic for strengthening connective tissue, pattern development and eventually hypertrophy.

Make sure you’re adding the appropriate stress (think Goldilocks here) to get the response we are looking for. If you’re lifting too light, you will not get the neurological adaptations. If it’s too heavy, technique could break down and you could potentially over tax the nervous system.

Find that sweet spot where you are making progress weekly, but not overdoing it. A skilled coach can guide you through this process, but common sense goes a long way.

The first 3 to 6 months of strength training for a beginner might be the most important lifting they will ever do. This is where you can create healthy habits, a positive training experience and dial in technique. In my opinion, learning and lifting should go hand-in-hand.

Train smart, work hard and use common sense.

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