Beginner Strength And Muscle Gain Workout Routine

By JC Deen



In this beginner workout routine, you’re going to learn about the proper way to train as a person who’s just getting started. This program is what I often recommend to beginners asking to get started with weight training in order to build muscle, get stronger, or lose fat.

Getting started properly is of utmost importance to ensure you are able to make progress for a very long time and to avoid injury.

If you have any questions about how to get started, you can get in touch with me.

Attention: if you’re looking for a resource on losing body fat, check out my guide to losing weight.

This guide is all about training for muscle gain. But that’s just ONE part of the equation. You need to be eating properly, gaining weight, and monitoring your food intake to get enough of the right nutrients to gain weight.

Here’s a list of articles that will be helpful in your journey:

Setting Up A Weekly Schedule

With this program, you’re only training 3 days per week.

If you’re feeling a bit antsy about hitting the gym 3 days per week, it’s okay. I get it.

But don’t be fooled. 3 days on the JCDFitness beginner workout routine is enough to keep you plenty busy, and you’ll be able to build a considerable amount of size and strength if you just stick with it.

For your own education, this routine falls under what’s also known as a 3-day split. It’s also a full-body routine because you’re training your entire body, as opposed to a few muscle groups, every single session.

If you’ve ever done a bodybuilding type of program where you train 6 days per week and hit only 1-2 body parts per session with a massive amount of volume, then this will seem a bit, umm, minimalistic.

Rest assured, my friend, this type of routine has been proven over and over again to work wonders in those who put in the time and effort.

In short, you’ll be in the gym 3 days per week. There are 3 separate training sessions labeled ‘Workout A’,  ‘Workout B,’  and ‘Workout C.’

When following the typical weekly schedule this means you’ll have 3 days of training and 4 days off.

beginner workout routine

Here’s how the typical schedule would look.

Week 1

Monday // Workout A

Tuesday // no training

Wednesday // Workout B

Thursday // no training

Friday // Workout C

Saturday // no training

Sunday // no training

Week 2 – repeat workouts as you did in week 1

Keep in mind the sequence of these workouts are important to adhere to, meaning you should always follow the workouts over the week in the  A, B, C pattern. Don’t do two ‘A’ days in a row, or go from ‘A’ to ‘C’ and then to ‘B’ on Friday.

So now that we have the basic schedule out of the way, let’s first talk about something very important: form and proper movement.

Form and Technique — What It Is and Why It Matters

Simply put, this is how you perform the movements. There is a right way and a wrong way. Squats, deadlifts, and presses can be highly technical and may be dangerous if not learned correctly.

Since you’re a beginner, it’s important you learn how to do these movements properly. For starters, using only the bar on squats, deadlifts, and presses for the first few weeks is probably a good idea.

The reason is that when starting a beginner workout routine like this one, your body needs to learn the movement patterns before you begin any extra loading with weights.

If you don’t establish good form and technique in the beginning, you’ll be prone to bad habits.

Bad habits, when it comes to your movement patterns, is a recipe for disaster as you get stronger because if you can’t perform a movement correctly with light weight, doing it with heavy weight puts you at high risk for injury.

We need to talk about the actual training program. I’ll discuss the sets, reps, how much weight to use, and then, the progressions.

The JCDFitness Beginner Workout Routine Outlined

Quick Key:

AMRAP: as many reps as possible

DB: dumbbell

BB: barbell

M: minutes

S: seconds

3×10: 3 sets of 10 reps – the first number is always the number of sets, and the second number, always the number of reps.

Superset: this means to perform the opposing movements back to back until all total sets are completed.

The Workouts

Workout A

1. Squat (or leg press) // 3M rest between sets

2. DB Lunge // 2M rest between sets

3. BB Bench press // 2M rest between sets

4. BB Rows // 2M rest between sets

Superset the following with no rest between sets:

DB Rows

7. Lying leg raises on a bench (or 4-point plank for 2 sets of 30 seconds) // 1M rest between sets

Workout B

1. Deadlift (or Romanian deadlift) // 3M rest between sets

2. Leg Press // 2M rest between sets

3. Hyperextension // 2M rest between sets

4. DB Overhead Press // 2M rest between sets

5. Pull-ups**// 2M rest between sets

*Work up to a heavy set of 8 reps with good form. Then use 70% of your 8-rep max for the following sets of 2×8-10. Read the next section for a full explanation.

**If you can’t do more than 5 pull-ups, do a lat pulldown.

Workout C

1. Squat (or leg press) // 3M rest between sets

2. Hyperextension // 2M rest between sets

Superset the following with 30S rest between sets:

Incline DB Bench Press
BB Row (or seated cable)

Rest 2 minutes and then superset the following with NO rest between sets:

Lat Pulldown

7. Hanging Leg Raises (or weighted crunches) // 1M rest between sets

Workout A Explained

Squats and dumbbell lunges are primarily focusing on the quads, but a properly performed squat, and lunge will also hit the hamstrings and glutes adequately.

The barbell bench press takes care of what’s called horizontal pressing, and the barbell rows are what we refer to as horizontal rowing.

Make sure you are using good form on all exercises, and get someone to spot you on squats and bench if needed.

Push-ups and dumbbell rows serve as ‘beach body’ work at the end of your workout. The goal of a superset is to give you some extra volume, which can be conducive to gaining muscle, assuming you’re eating well.

The ab workouts at the end are not mandatory but come highly recommended. A strong abdominal wall can only aid you in the main lifts such as the bench squat and deadlift.

Workout B Explained

The deadlift primarily works what’s called the posterior chain. If you do the deadlift properly, you will feel it in your hamstrings, glutes, lower, mid, and upper back.

The leg press right after will also serve to work the hamstrings and glutes, as well as the quads. The goal here is to place your feet high on the platform and really focus on pushing through your heels. Imagine pulling your toes off the floor, and only being able to get out of your chair pushing with your heels and not the balls of your feet.

The hyperextension (also known as the back extension) is another glute and hamstring exercise.

Make sure you are focusing on pulling yourself up with your glutes, and hamstrings, not your lower back. Here’s a short tutorial video.

The dumbbell overhead press serves as your vertical pressing movement for the week. I prefer you keep a neutral grip, which means you keep your palms facing each other. Here’s a video demonstration of an Arnold press (which is a fine substitute):

Pull-ups serve as your vertical pulling movement for the week. If you can’t do pull-ups, then a lat pulldown machine will work. I prefer you use a neutral grip (palms facing each other), when possible.

Workout C Explained

The squat is again, a quad-focused movement.

The hyperextension works to balance out your quad training by hitting the hamstrings and glutes.

Incline dumbbell bench press is a version of horizontal pressing, even though it’s somewhere between strict horizontal and vertical pressing.

The barbell row serves as your horizontal pulling movement.

The last batch of supersets serve as ‘beach body’ work to give more volume for muscle gain.

Workout C’s ab movement is required, not optional. Either the hanging leg raise or weighted crunches are both good movements for building a strong core.


Squats: leg press, machine hack squat (no smith machines)

Barbell Bench press: incline bench, dumbbell press (incline, or flat)

Barbell rows: seated cable row, t-bar row, machine row

Hyperextensions: leg curls (all variations), or hip thrusts/glute bridges (my preferred substitute)

Pull-ups: lat pulldown, or band-assisted chin/pull-ups

Deadlifts: Romanian deadlift, hex bar deadlift

Warming Up Properly

When warming up for your work sets, I want you doing just enough work to prime your nervous system and prepare you for the loads to come. However, there is no need to waste all of your energy on getting ready for the work sets.

Some people prefer to walk on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes, and some like to go straight into lifting. Whatever you like to do, make sure you never jump into your work sets immediately without warming up in some fashion.

This is not only a good way to get injured, but it’s also a good way to limit your potential for strength gains and muscle growth.

If you’re working up to a squat of 135 x 6-8, your warm-up should look something like this:

Warm-Up Sequence

65×5 (~50% work set)

80×3 (~60% work set)

95×3 (~70% work set)

115×1 (~85% work set)

WORK SET 3×7 of 135lbs

The above example applies to the squat, bench, deadlift and rowing movements on all days regardless of number of sets. If you can get by with doing fewer warm-up sets, then be my guest.

My main concern is your safety – so at least give this method a try before reducing your warm-ups.

This is your only warning, okay?

Workout A Example

As you see, you will begin with the squat and perform all 3 sets with allocated rest

periods. Then you will proceed to the next movement and perform dumbbell lunges for the 3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg.

Then you move to barbell bench, for 3 sets of 6-8 reps, and follow that up with barbell rows for the same.

Once you’ve completed the first 4 movements, you’ll move on to the superset of push-ups and dumbbell rows. Ideally, you’ll go to a bench where you can do the dumbbell rows, and do push-ups next to the bench.

If this is not possible due to equipment limitations or gym traffic, perform all sets of push-ups with a 30 second rest period, and then move onto the dumbbell rows.

The same method of moving from movement to movement applies for Workout B and C respectively.

How to Make Progress // Sets and Reps and Weight

For starters, I want you to understand something. The entire goal around strength training and bodybuilding is to progress at a pace that allows you to consistently add weight to the bar, and recover quickly enough to keep progressing.

If you never add weight to the bar, you’re never going to get stronger or bigger. The body only adapts when you force it to. If you’re not pushing yourself to get stronger on a consistent basis (usually weekly), then your body just won’t change.

Unless otherwise noted, you should use the same weight across all sets (outside of warm-ups, and the deadlift).

For workout A, you’re starting with the squat. So after you’re done warming up, and ready to do your work sets, you want to pick a weight you can use for all 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Let’s say you know you can do 8 reps with 100 pounds. Good, that’s what you’d use for all 3 sets.

The main goal is to stay within the rep range. So if you get 8 reps on your first set, 8 on your second, and only 6 on the last set, that’s perfect.

If you can only get 6 reps on your first set, and can’t get 6 or more on the second and third set, then you should choose a lighter weight, OR stick with that weight over a few workouts until you can do 6-8 reps on all sets respectively (aka double progression, detailed below).

Let’s say you are able to get all three sets done with proper form and stay within the rep range (or pass it), then you know it’s time to add weight to the bar on your next workout for that movement.

Again, let’s use the squat as an example. On Monday, during workout A, you did 3 sets of 6-8 reps with 100 pounds. You’d make a note in your log book to add weight to the bar on your next squat workout, which just so happens to be at the end of the week on Friday when you do workout C.

Now, most gyms are going to have 5 (~2kg) pound plates, but not all are going to have 2.5 (~1kg) pound plates. It’s my recommendation that you aim to add the least amount of weight possible so you’re able to make progress over a long period of time without plateauing.

If you have the 2.5 pounds plates, perfect. If not, adding 10 total pounds each workout will be doable for a while, but not forever.

Adding 10 pounds to lower body movements like squats, deadlifts and leg presses usually doesn’t pose too much of a problem. Adding 10 pounds every workout to your upper body movements usually doesn’t last very long.

Push-up progression: When you can do sets of 15 push-ups easily, elevate your feet on a bench behind you.

Hyperextension progression: When doing the prescribed reps with body weight becomes easy, pick up a plate or dumbbell for extra resistance. Follow the same progression guidelines, and add weight slowly.

Using Double Progression

In the case you only have access to 5-pound plates, you might wish to utilize what’s known as double progression.

Since we’re dealing with rep ranges, meaning I’ve given you a set of numbers (6-8 or 8-10) to work within, double progression is perfect for all movements, especially upper body ones.

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’re in the gym, and doing a set of bench press. Last week you did your 3 sets 6-8 reps and it went like this:

Set 1 // 100 x 7

Set 2 // 100 x 6

Set 3 // 100 x 6

If you go by my original guidelines of just adding 5-pound plates (10 pounds total), I can almost assure that you won’t be within the 6-8 rep range the next time you do bench press.

So instead of grinding sloppily through 3 sets and ending up with barely 5-6 reps (or fewer) per set, you should stick with the 100-pound bench press until you can get 8 reps on the first set, and to play it safe, probably the 2nd and 3rd.

I’m going to say that 8 reps on the first set and 7 reps on the second set are good indicators of upping the weight on the following workout.

Deadlift Progression

Make sure you work up in weights similar to how I described warming up for your work sets and work all the way up to an 8 rep max (RM) (the most you can do with good form).

Then for the next 2 sets of 8-10, I want you to drop the weight down by 30% and finish your 2 sets with this weight.

So, if you do 225lbs for your top set of 8, dropping that to 70% of your 8RM means your 2nd and 3rd set will be about ~160lbs.

Over time, if you can get more than 10 reps on your 2nd and 3rd set with this figure, drop it to 80% instead of 70%.


Look, I’ve seen a lot of craziness in my day. The deadlift is a movement that can be beautiful or plain wretched depending on how it’s performed. It’s also very easy to snap your shit up, as the Hodge Twins would say.

The deadlift places a lot of stress on the lower, middle and upper back, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. It takes focus and attention.

Because I don’t want you on the fast track to snap city, I am giving you this order. You must not ever go to failure with the deadlift on this beginner workout program.

In order to not mess this up, I want you to stop yourself one rep short of ultimate failure. So if you’re pulling a weight you’re aiming to get for 8 reps and you get to 7 and know that all you have left in you is one more and it ain’t gonna be pretty, STOP.

Who cares if you don’t get to 8? It doesn’t matter. Write it down in your logbook, and try to beat it next week.  BUT DON’T GO FOR THAT LAST REP. 

COOL? Okay.

Beat The Logbook

Alright, this is my favorite part.

This training journey is all about YOU. Not me, not my site, not about all the e-fame you might gain for the transformation you’re going to experience.

It’s about you and your progress. It’s about going to the gym with the goal of beating your last workout’s records.

So, make this fun, and have a good time training. It’s truly one of the best things you can do to improve yourself.

Check Your Ego At The Door [EVERY DAY]

The last thing you want to do is get injured. Most of the time, people get injured for two reasons. It’s either because of a freak accident from not knowing what they’re doing or being too overzealous with the aims of lifting more than they’re currently capable of.

No one cares about a 300-pound bench press you’re bouncing off your chest. No one cares if you quarter squat 400 pounds. And in reality, if you resort to this bullshit, you’re only robbing yourself of gains in strength and size because you’re CHEATING.

We all hate cheaters here at JCDFitness, so don’t do it.

Also, you’ll love all the progress you make when you take it slow and keep good form.

Don’t Develop ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

As a beginner, it’s easy to get distracted. One week you’re pumped to do my beginner workout routine, and then another week, you’re scouring the internet for the next best workout program.

Don’t fall for this… unless you love making no progress and looking back over a year to see the same body and strength as the year before.


Q: How do I know how much weight to start with?
A: Start with the lightest weight possible (the bar, usually). Most beginners are so anxious to start benching their body weight or squatting a house. But here’s the deal – THERE’S NO FREAKING RUSH.

Take your time. If you’re just getting familiar with the gym, start with the bar, or a broomstick for all I care. Just take your time.

Here’s a more methodical way to go about it.

Let’s say you lay down on the bench press and you unrack the bar. You start benching and it feels SUPER light. Let’s say you could probably do 12-15 reps easily.

Add 5 pounds to each side. Get back under the bar, and feel it out. Let’s say that feels super easy again, and then you’d add another 5 pounds to each side.

Now let’s say this time it feels a little heavier, and you’re thinking you might only be able to get 10 reps. Now we’re getting somewhere. This is sort of like how your warm-ups should go.

Now you add another 5 pounds each side, and you struggle to get 8. Now we know what weight you should be starting with. Do a few more sets, record it in your training log, and try to beat it next time.

Q: Can I go to failure?
A: Sort of. I don’t want you falling over in the squat rack, or pulling a deadlift with such atrocious form that it looks as if you’ll be shooting discs out your lower lumbar spine.

If you get pinned to the bench press, you’ve gone too far, buddy. Remember the one-rep-short-of-failure rule I mentioned about the deadlift.

Q: Can I add a bunch more exercises to the routine?
A: No. Beginners often feel they should be doing something harder or more advanced when in reality, they have no business doing anything but the basics. Keep it simple while you can and milk all the gains as long as you can.

Q: Can I train every day?
A: No, bad idea.

Q: Is this a good routine for athletics?
A: Ehh, it’s okay if the athlete is a novice in the weight room. It’s not suited for advanced athletes, though.

If you have any questions that need to be answered here, hit me up with an email.

Q: I am a woman, will this work for me?
A: Yes, but you might want to check out my guide: weight training for women and my 4-phase training program for women, HOT BOD.

50 thoughts on “Beginner Strength And Muscle Gain Workout Routine”

  1. In workout A push-ups are 8-10 reps
    in workout C push-ups are AMAP

    in the progression description you say to elevate feet when 25+reps are reached

    is workout A, a mistake, or are we really supposed to load our pushups that workout instead of doing AMAP? if so, how are we supposed to go about loading them?

    • If you’re getting 25 reps on regular push-ups, it’s time to elevate the feet. If you’re still getting that many with elevated feet, then I’d use bands to increase resistance, or do a different movement like DB presses or flies.

      • If I do pushups for reps in workout C can i subsitute pushups with dips for 8-10 reps in workout A?

          • Man i cant believe how fast youve been with your responses, youre awesome. Okay, LAST QUESTION (hope im not driving you nuts). After having read all the benefits of power cleans from rippetoes book, id really like to incorporate them in my routine. I chose your routine anyway because its more conducive to building muscle mass. How can I add power cleans to this routine (which day, how many sets/reps, rest, etc)

          • Finally, is it okay for me to incorporate power cleans into this routine? and how would you go about doing it?

  2. Hi JC,

    For the C day would you still increase weigh on the squat from A day? Wasn’t sure since sets go up and rest goes down. Or would the increase be done weekly?

  3. HI Jc

    early you had replied, that i need to start with beginners muscle building routine
    i have a doubt on the rep range of 5
    i am 53 year old man can i do 3×5, the weight is too much, can i reduce them to 12-14 rep range


  4. Hi, I’m looking at program’s to bounce back from pregnancy. Firstly, this is amazingly simple & non intimidating so congrats on your success. I was just wondering what if my fitness isn’t up to performing some of these movements? Ie. even during my fitness time I’ve never been able to do a chin up.

  5. Hey JC Deen, firstly thanks for providing a site that really is a no BS approach to weight lifting. It really is refreshing.
    I’ve got a quick question. I’ve been using this routine for close to a year now but very off and on as I have had a couple of injuries that have limited my capacity for training. You suggest using this routine for approximately a year before moving on. I wonder in my case, as I have had to significantly reduce weights from the previous amounts I was doing prior to injury, whether you suggest continuing with this program until progression plateaus and/or recovery takes longer?
    Also, what sort of rest time do you suggest between different exercises? I’ve usually given 2-3 mins as this seems to be a general rule of thumb but I thought I’d see what you thought.


    • yes, I’d continue with this routine.

      Follow the rest periods I’ve given going from set to set, and then movement to movement

      • Thanks heaps for your quick response. I’ve got one other quick question. I currently ride to work 3-4 times a week and it is ~9 mile each way (at a relatively fast pace, it definitely isn’t a leisurely ride). I also really like going for a run and might do 1-2 5-10km runs a week (mostly if I go for a run this would mean reducing the riding). I do this not because I want to lose weight but because I enjoy it. Do you think it is still realistic to try and build strength with this program and additional cardio if I am eating sufficiently?

  6. Just discovered this site through Google-awesome resource! I am a 5’6, 155 lb female looking to gain muscle and lose some fat-pretty straight forward and no specific goal for now-just interested in better fitness overall and gaining muscle mass. Just started a gym routine (sticking to a 30 minute minute circuit for now), but I started doing push ups at home about 4 months ago. I do 200 a day now-usually 10-20 at a time radomly as I have time. Now I have very strange, disproportionate muscle growth. My chest has gotten really strong and noticeably defined and so have my triceps, but nothing in my biceps or “lower chest”. Any suggestions on balancing it out? Because of the isolated changes, my arms look weird and it’s made my boobs kinda look like they’re hanging below my pecs. I know I probably sound really stupid-I’m just totally uninformed and going it alone. Any feedback would be appreciaed.

  7. Are the sets in this program meant to be performed as “sets across” (ex. 3×5 squat, 3 sets of 5 reps with the SAME weight), or should each set be performed close to failure followed by a de-load in the next set in order to get the required number of reps?

  8. Hey JC, great stuff! I’m going to begin this routine; what are your thoughts on subbing front squats for the back squats?

  9. Hey JC,

    What are your thoughts on increasing pullup numbers at the beginner level. Like If you can only do 1-3 pullups you sure can’t go for 3 sets of 8-10. I know the main idea here is to build overall strength, but usually I’m unsure if rows, lat pull downs allow for good transference to pullup strength. Bottomline, will pullup strength go up from doing them 1x a week like in your program or will it merely maintain with the increase in bw?

    The program is well designed, thanks for that.

    • I think pull up numbers will go up after getting stronger with pulldowns. you could also do chins in your doorway on a daily basis, if you wanted.

  10. Such a simple yet effective program that I’m scratching my head as to how we got away from this. Sigh… JC, I know why – just a rhetorical question.

    Thank you for pouring your knowledge (at least some of it) onto the interweb in attempts to enlighten folks who truly want the best information. I’m going to be at the end of my beginner’s phase soon. I weigh 155 lbs. at 5’7″ (yes, I’m light) I’m at 3×5 with double BW squats, 3×5 with 1.5 BW bench, 2×7 at +60 lbs for chin-ups, 3×5 for 160 lbs. OHP, and 1×5 2.6 BW deadlift. I really would like to improve my OHP…

    I believe I can make better progress if I gain some weight. But if not, I’ll be sure to consult with you when I need to program for intermediate level stuff.

    • hey David,

      yes you’re pretty strong. Congrats to you.

      I think moving to a program such as 5-3-1 that has a drawn out progression over many weeks might be a good idea for improving your OHP numbers. At this stage, you’re ready for that type of programming.

      Also, gaining weight will definitely help. If you do decide to gain weight, and wanna pack on some size/muscle, I’d go for the Boring but Big template (5-3-1 variation).

  11. Thanks that makes sense.. Guess I’m not doing to badly at 20lbs 3×15, But will admit that on 3 its a bit of a push

  12. hello, Old Lady here…So if I can do 3×15 with a certain weight (don’t care to embarress myself), when do I start adding weight or reps, and which is more efficient to add to?

    • you basically want to pick a rep range. so let’s say you can do 10lbs for 15 reps. go up by 5lbs. If you can only do 10 with the extra 5lbs, keep doing it until you can get 15, then up weight again.

    • you could, but I didn’t write powercleans out since I don’t feel them necessary when the goal is muscle building. for overhead presses, you could replace one of the incline presses for OHP.

  13. Dont you think the warm up sets are too much?? I mean you should not waste so much energy in the warm ups. You should focus on more effort and intensity in the main sets. 1-2 warm up sets for each exercise is enough

  14. This has now become the first programme I recommend to my beginner friends. So simple, so brilliant.

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JC Deen is a nationally published fitness coach and writer from Nashville, TN. Currently living in the blistering Northeast. Follow me on X/Twitter