FREE Workout Plan for Beginners (Fat Loss + Muscle Growth)
After I posted my progress photos I had a lot of followers start asking me for my routine, and a couple people even asked for a more complex, broken down routine much like the one I'm going to share. I was reluctant at first, because I am not educated on this topic as much as I would like to be, or need to be to tell people what to do and how to do it to achieve certain results. I know many things, but I'm still new to all of this, and just because I was able to obtain certain results, doesn't mean I know how to ensure you see the same results. So please, as you read this guide, keep in mind that I am not a personal trainer. I don't have any certificates or real qualifications in the fitness world. All I have is what worked for me, and that's all I am doing here, is sharing what worked for me, in the hopes that it might help someone else find something that works for them.
So, if you've recently decided to get fit, want to take up weights but don't know how or where to start, or just want to be healthier, then you're a lot like I was in August of 2016. I hadn't a clue what to do to get where I wanted to be, all I knew was that I wanted to get there, and I was willing to work my butt off to do it. I was tired of feeling sluggish, tired, and weak.
If you're tired of feeling that way too, and you're willing to put in the work, then I'm ready to show you what I did to lose over 20lbs (and keep it off), as well as build muscle, strength, energy, stamina, endurance, and just overall feel better about myself.
As you can see, not only did I shed extra fat (especially around my mid-section), but I've also put on a good amount of muscle following the plan I'm about to share with you FOR FREE.
First, some housekeeping.
You'll notice that this plan focuses on high intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio strengthening only once a week, and focuses on strength training for the remaining five days and I'll tell you why:
The reason that the whole fat loss/muscle gain plan doesn't involve a lot of cardio-based exercises is because if you're here, your goal is to shed some unneeded pounds and build muscle, right? (Don't worry, you won't get "bulky" unless you want to and are actively trying to). Cardio is a great endurance-based exercise and we should all incorporate some cardio into our routines, but there's a lot of reasons cardio isn't ideal when it comes to these types of fitness goals. Ask any average person at the gym and they'll tell you that to lose fat you do cardio, and to gain weight you use weights. Right? So how can I do both, with little cardio?
If you think that cardio is the best way to lose fat and get "toned", then you're making the same mistake I did for many years (which ended up in me quitting when I didn't see results, injuries, and a deep hatred for running). The thing is, you can of course lose fat with cardio, but you can also lose fat JUST with weights, and no cardio at all! Studies have shown that after a weight training workout, metabolism can be boosted for up to 36 hours post-workout. With cardio training, you might get an extra 40-80 calories burned after a moderate-paced session, and this will depend upon the exact intensity and duration of the workout (I see ya'll leaning on your elliptical machines!). In order to generate a high amount of post-calorie burn from cardio, you'd have to be doing it for a very long duration of time, and typically individuals who are capable of doing such a thing (long distance runners, for example), aren't concerned with fat loss.
What weight training will enable you to do is build up a larger degree of lean muscle mass, which then basically serves as your calorie-burning powerhouse in the body. Research shows that 1lb of muscle burns 7-10 calories per day, while 1lb of fat burns only 2-3 calories, according to the American Council on Exercise. Therefore, the more muscle you have on your body, the higher this rate will be and the better the calorie-burning results you will obtain 24/7 (not just during exercise, but after, too!). Since muscle tissue is fairly long-term (as long as there is some stimulus on the muscle and you are consuming enough protein), this proves to be an effective long-term strategy for losing body fat.
Another benefit that weight training has over cardio is that it will completely allow you to reshape your body. Cardio training generally will help you lose fat, however typically this weight loss is going to be a bit of a combination between fat AND muscle from the entire body; therefore what you're left with is a smaller version of your current self. If that's what you want, that's fine! Nothing wrong with that. But I don't think that's why you're here. I think you're here to shed some extra fat, AND gain some lean muscle mass!
Another difference between weight training and cardio training is the type of hormonal environment they promote. Weight training tends to put the body in an anabolic state and encourages muscle mass gain (if eating a higher calorie diet) or muscle maintenance (if calorie restricting to strictly lose weight). Cardio training, on the other hand, promotes higher levels of cortisol release (bad news for people with acne, by the way), and this is the primary hormone that does encourage lean muscle mass loss, as well as fat accumulation around the abdominal region. Many research studies found that long endurance activities like running can cause muscle catabolism, or the breakdown of muscle tissue. Muscle catabolism can sometimes last up to 7 days after the endurance activity takes place! Studies have found that muscle growth is severely decreased when regular cardio is integrated into a program (1, 2).
Intensity and duration have an even greater effect than mode of cardio, however. Long-term fat loss is actually lowest with moderate intensity, long-duration cardio (like running on the treadmill for an hour). The greatest fat loss actually occurred with the shortest duration and highest-intensity activities, like sprinting. Enter HIIT. Very small decreases in muscle and strength is found when cardio was kept to less than 20 minutes. Another experiment compared low-intensity, long-duration cardio of 60 minutes with 4-10 sets of 10-30-second all-out sprints. As expected, long duration cardio decreased muscle size. Sprinting actually increased muscle size! This suggests that HIIT workouts like sprinting can actually be anabolic and get you shredded at the same time!
It's for these reasons that I chose for my weekly cardio to be HIIT-based. The reason I've included any cardio days at all, however, is because cardio is important. It increases our endurance and helps us fight heart problems and disease, and it helps to change up your routine and work your entire body all at once instead of focusing on specific areas (which can create an imbalance). What makes HIIT training so effective as a fat burner is that it produces excess post-oxygen consumption, a.k.a. EPOC. A study performed by Jeffrey W. King of East Tennessee State University showed that HIIT increases the resting metabolic rate for the following 24 hours. HIIT training can help increase speed, power, and endurance, helping you burn fat faster. Professional athletes incorporate HIIT into their workout routines because it has been proven to improve athletic performance. Indeed, I lost almost all of my extra weight with HIIT workouts alone (but of course I didn't build much muscle until I added weights in).
Before we start, here's a few things to consider:
1. Jumping right into weights without a lot of knowledge on proper form isn't a good idea. If you were like me and you lived a largely sedentary life, your joints and muscles probably aren't very strong. This means that lifting more than your body weight, especially with improper form, puts you at a higher risk for injury. You may want to jump right into heavy weights because you'll get the best results, but I promise you that starting out slow and doing it the right way by building strength gradually, you'll yield better results than throwing too much weight around, injuring yourself and then not being able to work out at all. If you can't exercise with weights at all, you'll still get a good workout in, and you'll still build strength to work toward more weight.
2. Warm ups and cool downs are important, especially for beginners. I haven't included any in this plan, but find a 5-10 minute warm up and cool down that works for you. This could be jogging on the spot, stretching sore muscles, or mimicking the movements in the plan with ONLY body weight.
3. Go slow, and keep your form. This is always better than lifting too fast. This way you'll have more total muscle tension and force produced, more muscle fiber activation for slow and fast twitch fibers, and less tissue trauma. A joint is only as strong as the muscles that cross it - if you haven't lifted before or in a long time, don't expect much from your joints at first.
Now, let's get right into it, shall we?
Each of these workouts should take about an hour or less, depending on the intensity and weight load, generally (excluding the cardio days, which will depend on what videos you picked). I've included exercises that are suitable or easily modified for both in-gym and at-home workouts for the non-cardio days, and the exercises will remain the same each week. This is simply due to the shortened duration of the plan. There is no need to switch up anything in your routine within this plan other than weight and perhaps reps - you can change the exercises if you wish, but it is not necessary as there will be no plateaus for several weeks. Your body will still be adapting and will still grow muscle very quickly.
If you're not sure what the exercise is, a quick Google search can be very informative. Remember to perform each movement slow and controlled, with proper form.
** PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT IF YOU HAVE NEVER LIFTED WEIGHTS BEFORE, YOU MUST DO SO WITH CAUTION - Choose weights that are reasonable for your fitness level, meaning if you were like me and constantly said "I have no upper body strength", then don't start out trying to lift 20lbs weights for bicep curls. Always shoot low, test the waters. If you're struggling to do one repetition, stop and lower your weights. I've over-estimated my strength on a few occasions and been hurt nearly seriously - I was lucky. But people have gotten seriously hurt by lifting weights that were too heavy for them, or with improper form. There's no shame in starting, so don't feel the need to hide the fact that you're a beginner. If you don't know an exercise, ask - I will always answer to the best of my abilities, but there are also many resources available to you. So please, be wise, and be safe out there.
Monday - Legs/Glutes
Do each exercise 3 times through with weight, or remove weight to modify.
10 dumbbell bridges/barbell hip thrusts
10 dumbbell/barbell squats
10 dumbbell/barbell lunges (each leg)
10 dumbbell step ups (each leg)
10 single-leg Romanian deadlifts (each leg)
10 calf raises
Do each exercise 3 times through, with no weight, or add weight for more of a challenge.
10 side step squat
10 frog pumps
10 single-leg sit-to-stands (each leg)
10 pawbacks / hamstring curls (each leg)
10 side lunges (each leg)
Do each exercise 3 times through, with no weight, or add weight for more of a challenge.
10 fire hydrants (each leg)
10 kneeling rear leg raise (each leg)
10 kneeling rear leg raise pulses (each leg)
Do each exercise until failure.
Tuesdays - Abs/Back
Do each exercise 3 times through.
10 back extensions
10 side crunches
10 leg drops
10 kneeling supermans
10 side plank crunches
10 arm back supermans
10 single-leg reverse crunches
Do each exercise 3 times through.
10 suitcase crunches
10 jackknife crunches
10 scissor kicks
10 mountain climber twists
10 plank hip touches
10 reverse crunches
10 seated sprinters
10 bicycle crunches
Do each exercise 3 times through, adding or removing weight where necessary.
10 Russian twists
10 medicine ball/dumbbell passes
Wednesdays - HIIT
Below, I've included the same workout videos I used and still use on my cardio days. They're generally in order from easiest to most difficult.
Fitness Blender's 5 Day Challenge - Strong and Lean - Day 1 (HIIT & Butt & Thigh Workout)
Brutal HIIT Cardio & Abs Workout + Pilates Burnout - 5 Day Challenge - Strong and Lean - Day 3
15 Minute HIIT Metabolism Booster - Total Body and Abs HIIT Workout
Strength, HIIT & Pilates Workout for a Bigger Butt & Toned Thighs - Fat Burning Lower Body Workout
60 Minute HIIT Cardio and Abs Workout - Fitness Blender Tabata HIIT, Abs and Obliques Workout