Gym Workout Plan for Weight Loss (Beginners)

Are you a beginner looking to lose weight via a proper gym workout plan? Lets get started…

If you feel lost and confused, you are not alone. The majority of people are utterly confused when it comes to fitness.

This is a result of misinformation and contradictions. For instance, you might read somewhere that a low crab diet is optimal for building muscle, while another source will claim something completely different.

Why is this?

Well, the next time you hear someone claim that carbohydrates are vital to building muscle, ask them to define what a carbohydrate, or even a macronutrient, is.

The problem is that most people lack an understanding of the fundamentals of fitness and nutrition.

Realizing this, I decided to start a weight loss series to alleviate some of the confusion. My goal with is article is to lay the foundation for just one aspect of fitness— workout plans. In other words, I want to lay the foundation for what you do inside the gym.

In Part 1, we will look at the best workout plan for beginners.

In part 2 we will discuss nutrition (what you do outside the gym), and in part 3 we will discuss supplementation. (Please join our milling list for an update when they are available!)

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Part 1: Training

Gym Workout Plan for Weight Loss (Beginner)

Avoid my mistakes!

If you really want to see results, you must be willing to ditch a few mainstream ideas. These are the ideas that so many beginners wish they had abandoned earlier. Making the change early will put you ahead of the pack.

Mistake #1 : Over-training

One mistake I made when I started working out was following the common paradigm for weight training:

  • daily workouts
  • light weight
  • high sets (10-12) and reps
  • focus on isolation movements
  • long workout sessions

Those who prescribe workout plans that follow this paradigm tend to forget that everyone is built differently. We all have different capacities to recover from a workout.

While training 7 days a week, 3 hours a day works wonders for the bodybuilder, it wont do s*it for the beginner. As a matter of fact, it will cause more harm then good. Yes, over-training is absolutely a thing.

You may be exited to start your journey and eager to lift daily. But understand that this is counterproductive (for now at least).

Mistake #2: Chasing the pump

The “no pain, no gain” slogan is non-sense and you shouldn’t focus your energy on getting a pump.

  • The pump you feel during a workout is actually a buildup of lactic acid, and lactic acid does nothing to build muscle. If too much lactic acid builds up, you experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
  •  A lack of DOMS not an indicator of recovery, and you can workout if you still feel sore (so long as the soreness does not hinder your range of motion).

Instead of focusing on getting a pump, you should focus on progressive overload, which is an important principle that states that in order to build muscle, you must force it to adapt to a tension that it previously hasn’t experienced.

Building muscle is very simple and requires just one thing— progressively overloading your muscles. That means trying your absolute best to lift heavier weights each week. If you follow this golden rule, you will see results no matter what you do. Its really that simple.

So why don’t fitness gurus advocate this simple rule?

Because it requires hard work. People will stop listening if they discover that actually need to put in some work. Instead, they recommend lifting light weights for high rep machine exercises. In other words, the laziest possible work you can do in the  gym.

But this lazy work does produce a great pump. And so they emphasize that the pump is king. 3 months down the line, 90% of their follows have quit after not seeing any results.

Mistake #2: Focusing on isolation movements

The information presented in this article will counter allot of what fitness experiments advise.

While they focus on isolation movements, light weights, and high sets and reps, we will focus on:

  1. compound movements
  2. lifting heavy weights for just enough sets and reps to maximize muscle breakdown and minimize over-training.

Compound movements are exercises that target many muscle groups at the same time (such as the bench press, squat, dead lift, etc). At the other end of the spectrum, we have isolation movements. These exercises are great for targeting specific muscles in order to obtain a perfectly symmetrical body.

That’s why bodybuilders incorporate so many isolation movements. Every muscle in their body must be in perfect proportion to one another. But as a beginner, you must first build a foundation before you start worrying about the size of your biceps in relation to your triceps.

Mistake #3: Training too long

A workout should take no longer than 60 minutes to complete.

If you’re used to common training splits- which take at least 90 minutes to complete- you may feel like this is under-training. But understand that we are not lifting like those following mainstream routines. We are not half-a**ing our workouts and barley breaking a sweat. Lifting with maximum intensity for 45 minutes is allot harder than you think.

Stick with it for a few weeks, and I guarantee that it will change your mind.

Trust me. For years I believed that over-training was simply an excuse for lazy people. I spent hours in the gym grinding and destroying my body. When I decided to cut down I started feeling allot healthier, had more energy, and packed on muscle faster.

Mistake #4: Focusing on machine exercises 

The 4th idea you accept is that machines are a waste of time. Unlike free weights, machines stabilize the weight you are pushing. Because the weight moves along a smooth, single axis, allot of muscles (sometimes called “stabilizing muscles”) are not activated. Although free weights are much better than machines, many scientific studies seem to suggest otherwise.

These studies are very flawed in that the subjects are always inexperienced lifters. Because they are inexperienced, they experience an explosion of muscle growth (aka newbie gains) regardless of how they lift.

This rapid gain in muscle usually lasts for 3-6 months. If the experiments were extended past 6 months, the results would change dramatically. I have linked an article below proving that free weights are indeed superior to machines (1)

Mistake #5: periodically changing up routines

Another common false belief is that you have to periodically change up your routine in order to “trick” your body. In my experience, and from what I gathered from many professional bodybuilders, this is not necessary.

The most single most important metric for weightlifting success is how much you can push. Progressive overload should be your primary focus.

The only things that matter are lifting more weights, doing the correct exercises with correct form, eating properly, and resting. Not getting a pump, working out for long sessions, switching up your routine, etc.

If you are constantly changing up your routine, there is no way to measure this very important metric.

In summary, progressive tension overload is the key to building muscle.

This beginners gym workout plan for weight loss will focus on lifting heavy weights and doing intensity (low rep) sets. The intensity part is what is going to help you lose weight.

High intensity workouts elevate your heart rate. To lose weight, you must make sure your heart rate is in the fat burning zone.

Pro Tip

Here is how to calculate your optimum heart rate for losing weight:

Lower end = (220 – your age) * .55
Upper end = (220 – your age) * .75

For a 40 year old, the range is 99-135 BPM (Beats Per Minute).

To monitor your heart rate while working out, consider using a fitness monitor such as the Fitbit Charge 3 Heart Rate + Fitness Wristband. Fitbit wristbands are a staple amongst weight lifters and runners. They allow you to maximize your workouts by monitoring your heart rate and the exercises you’ve completed. They also track important fitness related figures (calories burned, reps and sets completed, steps taken, hours slept, etc) and provide daily fitness scores.  

The key to building muscle while loosing weight is to progressively lift heavier weights. The high rep, low weight routines that gurus recommend wont help. Many studies have proven that those who lift heavy weight with high intensity (60-75% of their 1 rep max), have a much higher metabolic rate than those who light low weight for high reps (2).

The Fundamentals. 

This workout plan will focus on heavy, compound, free weight exercises. As explained above, this is the best way for a beginner to build a solid foundation. Above all, you must focus on progressively overloading your muscles. 

Here are the basic rules of proper training for beginners.

The fundamentals
  • Train 1-2 muscle groups per day: Training more than 2 muscle groups per day is difficult when lifting heavy. You simply wont have the energy for it, and if you do it will take a long time to finish your session. Our goal is to be in and out of the gym within 45- 60 mins tops (while lifting as heavy as we can throughout the entire workout).
  • Complete 4-6 reps for each workout: If can’t do at least 4 reps, you are lifting to heavy, and if you can easily hit more than 6, you are lifting too light. Focus on hitting 4-6 reps with maximum intensity. Doing so would accomplish the 60-75% of 1RM goal that so many scientific studies have proven to be most effective for building muscle. Forget the drop sets, burnout sets, and all that other crap. This is what you need to do to get ripped.
  • Complete 10 sets per workout: If you feel up for it, do an additional 3 sets for a total of 13 sets. Doing more than 13 sets will likely result in over training. Most professional athletes complete allot more than 10 sets per workout, but you are not a professional athlete (or atleast not yet). What differentiates you from the professional athlete is knowledge and experience, but more importantly: DRUGS. No matter what they say, all bodybuilders use performance enhancing drugs that allow them to recover amazingly fast. This allows them to workout for hours a day without over training.
  • Rest in between sets for as long as you need to lift optimally: According to research, the optimal rest time when doing 60-75% of your 1 rep max, is 3-5 minutes (3). If you are used to the 30 – 60 sec rest range, this is another change that will probably feel strange. You may have noticed that resting for very short periods of time does not allow for much strength retention. Hence why typical routines call for decrementing reps. Our goal is to lift as much weight as we can which requires at least 3 mins of rest after each set. This is typically how powerlifters train.
  • Complete each workout in 45-60 mins: If you taking longer than 60 minutes to complete this workout, you need to up the intensity and drop the chit-chat and phone surfing.
  • Train each muscle group once every 5-7 days: Each muscle group should be trained about once per week. Therefore if you did chest on Monday, you should wait until at least Saturday to hit chest again. As you progress in your fitness journey, you can start training muscle groups more frequently. I have been lifting for over 15 years and benefit most when I train large muscle groups (chest, back, legs, shoulders) every 4 days, and small muscle groups (biceps, triceps, calfs, forearms) ever 2-3 days. Professional bodybuilders usually train each muscle group up to 4 times a week as they can recover so well due to their drug use, perfected diets, and dedication.

If followed the above guidelines perfectly, but did not attempt to add more and more weight periodically, you would eventually hit a wall. That is how important progressive overload training is.

Progression is really simple: once you hit 6 reps for a certain weight, add 10 lbs (5 lbs plates to each side of the barbel). You should be able to complete 4 reps with the new weight. If not, remove the 10 lbs and add 5 lbs instead. Keep at it until you hit 6 reps, then add another 10 lbs.

Your goal is to outperform last weeks numbers, even if just by a single rep. As long as you follow the guidelines above, you will make progress. To visualize your progression better, I highly suggest using a good fitness planner (this is the one I use).

Being that this article is focused on weight loss, we must discuss everyone’s favorite subject— cardio. While to much cardio can destroy muscle, conservative amounts can actually do the opposite.

So, what’s a moderate amount of cardio? I would say that two 15-30 minutes seasons a week is a safe for preventing muscle atrophy.

Cardio is great because it;

  1. Helps circulate blood – this aids the muscle repairing mechanism by sends nutrients to damaged tissue.
  2. Increases insulin sensitivity- Foods you eat are broken down into amino acids, fats, and carbs. Those biological building blocks single the small intestine to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin act as messenger hormone and singles skeletal muscle, liver, and adipose (fat) cells, to absorb these nutrients. Cardio actually increases your cells sensitivity to insulin (not the amount produced) which  muscle growth and decrease fat storage.
  3. Promotes a health healthy, makes you feel good, reduces stress, and alleviates many mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Cardio is really not necessary for losing fat, but if you want to drop down to sub 10% body-fat levels, it is vital. If you choose to do cardio, I suggest a 20-30 min session on the treadmill or stair master, twice a week on your rest days. Monitor your heart rate using a heart moniter, and try to stay within your fat burning zone for as long as you can.

The Exercises.

There exists 4 exercises that dominate all others: the squat, dead-lift, military press, and bench press. As a beginner, I only did one of these (I’m sure you can guess which one), and missed out on allot of gains. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Familiarize your self with these exercises and their variations. Also make sure you learn the proper form.

Now lets look at a list of the best exercises for each muscle group.

List of Exercises
Chest: Flat Barbell Bench Press, Flat Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Barbell Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, Decline Bench Press
Back: Deadlift, Barbell Row, One-Arm Dumbbell Row, Pull-Up, Lat Pulldown, T-Bar Row, Seated Cable Row, Shrugs
Shoulders: Military Press, Standing Barbell Press, Seated Dumbbell Press, Arnold Dumbbell Press, Rear and Side lateral Raise,
Legs: Barbell Squat, Front Squat, Hack Squat, Leg Press, Romanian Deadlift, Calf Raise, Calf Press
Triceps: Skull-crushers, Close-Grip Bench Press, Dips, Triceps Push-Down
Biceps: Close-grip Pull-up, Barbell Curl, Preacher Curl, Hammer Curl
Core: Cable Crunch Hanging Leg Raise, Ab Roller, Air Bicycles, Decline Crunch

The Gym Workout Plan For Beginners

Now let’s jump into the actual workout routine.

For this routine, we are going to be utilizing a 5 day workout split:

  • Day One: Chest + Triceps
  • Day Two: Back + Core
  • Day Three: Shoulders
  • Day Four: Legs + Calfs + Biceps
  • Day Five: Rest
  • Day Six: Upper Body + Core
  • Day Seven: Rest

Feel free to choose from any of the above exercises, but make sure you limit the workout to 10-13 sets. On days that you train a major muscle group (chest, shoulders, back, and legs), and a minor muscle group (biceps, triceps, calfs, and core), complete 6-10 sets for the major muscle group, and 3-4 sets for the minor muscle group.

On day six, you will work on muscular endurance buy shifting the rep range from 4-6 to 8-12, and decreasing the rest time to 1-1.5 minutes. On this day, train your upper body (chest, shoulders, back, and arms) and core muscles.

Here is an example template to get you started:

  • Day One: Chest + Triceps
    • Flat Barbell Bench Press | One warm-up set followed by 3 working sets.
    • Incline Dumbbell Press | 3 working sets
    • Decline Bench Press | 2 working sets
    • Dips | 2 working sets
    • Dumbbell Over-head Tricep extension | 2 working sets.
  • Day Two: Back + Core
    • Bent-Over Barbell Row | One warm-up set followed by 3 working sets.
    • One-Arm Dumbbell Row | 3 working sets
    • Shrugs | 3 working sets
    • Dead-lifts | 2 working sets
    • 10-25 min core workout
  • Day Three: Shoulders
    • Military Press | One warm-up set followed by 3 working sets.
    • Dumbbell Shoulder Press | 3 working sets
    • Side Lateral Raise | 3 working sets
    • Arnold Press | 3 working sets
  • Day Four: Legs + Calfs + Biceps
    • Barbell Squat | One warm-up set followed by 3 working sets.
    • Romanian Dead-lift | 2 working sets
    • Leg Press | 2 working sets
    • Calf Raise | 2 working sets
    • Preacher Curl | 2 working sets
    • Hammer Curl | 2 working sets
  • Day Five: Rest
  • Day Six: Upper Body (8-12 reps per set) + Core
    • Bench Press | One warm-up set followed by 3 working sets.
    • Bent Over Barbell Row | 2 working sets
    • Military Press | 2 working sets
    • Barbell Curl | 2 working sets
    • Skull-Crushers | 2 working sets
    • 10-25 min core workout
  • Day Seven: Rest

Check out this guide for other workout splits such as the 2, 3, and 4 day split (although these are more advanced splits which utilize isolation movements).


References.

1) Schick, “A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24, no. 3 (2010): 779-784

2) “Intensity of Resistance Exercise Determines Adipokine and Resting Energy Expenditure Responses in Overweight Elderly Individuals,” Diabetes Care 32, no. 12 (2009): 2161-67. doi: 10.2337/dc08-1994.

3) “Rest Interval between Sets in Strength Training,” Sports Medicine 39, no. 9 (2009): 765-77. doi: 10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000.

Mike S.

Mike is the main contributor for Olympic Muscle. He is a full time college student majoring in computer science and biochemistry. When when not in school, Mike spends his time practicing his true passion in life— pushing heavy a** weight.
Mike S.

6 thoughts on “Gym Workout Plan for Weight Loss (Beginners)”

  1. Day 1 Back n triceps n
    Day 2 Chest n biceps
    Day 3 Legs n core
    Day 4 Shoulders n forearms
    Day 5 cardio
    Day 6 Biceps n Triceps
    Day 7 Back n Shoulders
    How this for a workout plan plus I do 30 mins a day elliptical n boxing on heavy bag

    • Hey Steven,

      The first issue is that triceps are trained the day before chest.Sore triceps will limit how much you can press on chest day. Also, training back two days in a row is overkill. Aside from that, everything looks good.

      Try this:
      Day 1: Back + Biceps
      Day 2: Chest + Triceps
      Day 3: Legs + Core
      Day 4: Shoulders + forearms
      Day 5: Cadio
      Day 6: Rest
      Then back to day 1.

      Good luck and feel free to reach out if you have further questions.

  2. Hey Mike,

    I have read a couple of your articles and find them informative, would you not find that lifting heavy for a beginner would sacrifice form. Would you not recommend a lighter but more 8-12 rep range for a beginner to build up the endurance.

    • Hey Marc.

      Well, yeah. Form should always be your first priority. If you are lifting so heavy that you are compromising form, you should drop the weight a little. But I would not recommend focusing on lighter weights with high rep ranges if you are trying to build muscle, regardless of whether you are a beginner or not.

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