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Starting a Weight Training Program

Starting Out

by Donnie Whetstone

Starting a weight training program, despite its simplicity, can be very frustrating. Although it's been over twenty years since my days of bewilderment, and I still feel that way on occasions, I'm reminded daily of those times from questions, comments and activities I see on the gym floor and receive through e-mail. There are some elements that can make starting out rather complicated if we let them. These elements can be avoided for the most part with a common sense approach.

Training Splits

A common element is how to break down or split a program or what muscle groups do we train on what days. There are several approaches, but the amount of time a person has for training will dictate the approach or number of approaches.

Let's say we have a person that can only train one day out of the week.......Hey, sometimes we have to take what we can get. This person has a very limited breakdown approach. The only logical solution is to train the total body. Most people train their muscle groups once a week anyway, and with the total body approach, despite doing it only once a week, that criteria is still being met.

Total Body

Leg Press 2x12 Lat Pull 2x10
Thigh Curl 2x12 Row 2x10
Calf Raise 2x12 Lumbar ext 2x10
Shoulder Press 2x10 Tricep ext 2x10
Lateral Raise 2x10 Bicep Curl 2x10
Chest Press 2x10 Crunches 2x20

This is roughly a 30 to 40 minute work out.

A person with two days of available training has more options than the previous person. This person can also use the total body approach if they want to train their muscle groups twice a week, provided they allow adequate recuperation time between training sessions. Other approaches are Upper and Lower Body breakdowns, training the lower body one training day and the upper body the next training day. The Push/Pull approach allows a person to train muscle groups that push one training day and muscle groups that pull the next training day.


Push Pull
Leg Press 3x12 Thigh Curl 3x12
Calf Raise 3x12 Lat Pull 3x10
Chest Press 3x10 Row 3x10
Incline Press 3x10 Lumbar ext 3x10
Shoulder Press 3x10 Bicep Curl 3x10
Lateral Raise 3x10 Crunches 3x10
Tricep ext 3x10   


Upper Body Lower Body
Chest Press 3x10 Leg Press 4x12
Shoulder Press 3x10 Thigh ext 4x12
Lat Pull 3x10 Thigh Curl 4x12
Row 3x10 Calf Raise 4x12
Tricep ext 3x10    
Bicep Curl 3x10    
Crunches 3x15    

A person with three training days available, despite three being an odd number, has considerable options. The total body approach is still an option at this point and is extremely effective in trimming and toning. I would not advise going past three training days with the total body approach. Another approach is Chest/Triceps/Deltoids, Back/Bicep/Trapezeus, Legs. Chest/Back, Shoulder/Arms, Legs is a good approach.

Using the Push/Pull and Upper Body/Lower Body with the odd training day as priority training for stubborn or lagging muscle groups is also a good approach.


Chest/Tri Back/Bi Legs
Chest Press 3x10 Lat Pull 3x10 Leg Press 3x12
Incline Press 3x10 Row 3x10 Thigh ext 3x12
Shoulder Press 3x10 Shrugs 3x10 Thigh Curl 3x12
Lateral Raise 3x10 Bicep Curl BB 3x10 Calf Raise 3x12
Tricep Press 3x10 Bicep Curl DB 3x10    
Tricep ext 3x10 Crunches 3x15    


Chest/Back Shoulders/Arms Legs
Chest Press 3x10 Shoulder Press 3x10 Leg Press 4x12
Incline Press 3x10 Lateral Raise 3x10 Thigh ext 4x12
Decline Press 3x10 Shrug 3x10 Thigh Curl 4x12
Lat Pull 3x10 Tricep Press 3x10 Calf Raise 4x12
Row 3x10 Tricep ext 3x10    
Lumbar ext 3x10 Bicep Curl 3x10    

Things really open up with four training days. This arrangement works well for the push/pull and upper body/lower body. Chest/Triceps/Deltoids, Back/Biceps/Traps, Legs and Chest/Back, Shoulders/Arm, Legs also work well with the fourth training day being used for priority training.

Persons with five training days available need to get a life, get a job, or hand over some of the lotto winnings.

Excluding the total body approach, all of the options mentioned above can be used with open training days primarily for priority training. The best approach in my eyes to train one muscle group a day starting with the weakest muscle group to the strongest muscle group. This will vary from person to person and will also vary from time to time. A typical one muscle group per day approach may look like this, Mon: Legs, Tue: Chest, Wed: Back, Thur: Shoulders, Fri: Arms. This is currently my training program.

Legs Chest Back
Squats Bench Press Dead Lifts
Thigh Curls Incline Press Lat Pulls
Calf Raises    
Shoulders Arms
Wide Grip Uprights Tricep Press
Shrugs Dumbbell Curls

I cannot disclose my volumes and loads at this time. CLASSIFIED.


Another element is the type of exercises to do. It's been said many times many ways. "When starting out, do the basics." Basic moves are the foundation of all subsequent training. I've done many exercises and various training programs over the years, however, I always seem to come full circle to the basics. I call it getting back to my roots.

Basic Chest

Exercise Area Affected Version
Bench Press Chest, Shoulders, Tricep Barbell

This is one of the all time greats. It's simple yet versatile and offers excellent secondary training for the shoulders and triceps. The incline bench press offers excellent upper chest development where as the decline bench press does the same for the lower chest.

Basic Shoulders

Exercise Area Affected Version
Shoulder Press Front Deltoids, Triceps Barbell
Lateral Raise Medial Deltoid Dumbbell
Shrug Trapezes Barbell

Shoulder presses with a barbell can be performed two ways. One method is to lower the bar in front of the head until the bar reaches the base of the neck and the other method is to lower the bar behind the head just below ear level. Lateral raises are one of bodybuilding staples. Generally not needed for strength training but rarely is there a bodybuilding training program without them. Shrugs are commonly done with shoulders but can also be done in conjunction with back training since the trapezes muscle covers both the back and shoulder area.

Basic Back

Exercise Area Affected Version
Pull-Up Latisimus, Biceps, Forearms Suspended Bar
Row Upper Back, Latisimus, Biceps, Forearms Barbell
Lumbar Ext Lower Back, Glutes, Hamstrings Barbell

Pull-ups are excellent for providing width to the back. Most people, especially beginners find it difficult doing pull-ups and must resort to a latisimus machine. Rows are great for thickening the upper back. Lumbar extensions tone and strengthen the lower back.

Basic Arms

Exercise Area Affected Version
Tricep Press Tricep, Chest, Front Deltoid Barbell
Tricep Ext Triceps Barbell
Bicep Curl Biceps Barbell

Although tricep presses are not as effective in isolating the tricep as is the extension, they're very effective in adding mass to the triceps. Bicep curls are extremely versatile. There are scores of ways to do them, however, in starting out, you can't go wrong with the standing barbell curl.

Basic Abdominals

Exercise Area Affected Version
Crunches Rectus Abdominal Flat Surface
Ab Board
Leg Raise Rectus Abdominal Flat Surface
Ab Board
Suspended Bar

There is nothing mystical about ab training. If there were a magic formula it would have to be consistency. Crunches are excellent for hitting primarily the upper portion of the abdomen whereas the leg raises concentrates more on the lower portion of the abdomen.

Basic Legs

Exercise Area affected Version
Squats Quadriceps, Glutes Barbells
Thigh Curl Hamstrings, Calfs Machines
Calf Raise Calfs Machines

One of the keys to leg training for men in particular is to develop a desire to train them. I say this because most people I've encountered, men in particular, don't like to train legs. Squats are considered by many to be the king of all exercises and I swear by them myself. However, for starting out I feel a leg press machine is more appropriate for most people. Thigh curls are excellent for developing the hamstring muscles, which is an often neglected muscle group. The calf raise is another exercise that's not very popular with most people, even veteran trainers. With muscle groups that are both unpopular and inherently highly intense, it's understandable to see upper bodies slightly or profoundly ahead of lower bodies in overall development. Learn to Love Legs!!

Sets and Reps

Sets and reps are dictated for the most part by training goals. A person aspiring to put on muscle size will train with lower volume or sets and reps. This will allow them to handle heavier loads putting more stress on their muscles which will generate a greater adaptive response. Persons wanting to tone and firm usually handle moderate amounts of sets and reps along with moderate poundage in order to get their adaptive response. Persons training for endurance will normally use higher volumes with moderate loads. There is not a huge difference between a person training for muscle size and one training for sheer power. The primary difference is in the psyche of the two. The power trainer is driven to get stronger where as the mass trainer is driven to get bigger. Persons training for athletic performance normally will use a combination of volumes and loads depending on the sport. These are just general rules and like general rules there are exceptions. Here are some examples of what the various programs may look like.

Bench Press

Program Sets Reps
Strength 1 to 3 1 to 6
Mass 1 to 3 6 to 8
Firm and Tone 3 to 5 8 to 12
Endurance 5 and up 12 and up

The sets you see does not include the warm-up. Regardless of the training category, warm-ups are essential.


Rest is an element that is absolutely essential and is a key factor in the training equation. Contrary to what some of us hear, the gym is not where the growth or progress occurs. To understand let's look at the training equation.

Tear down x Feed x Recover

Here's the translation of the equation.

Train x Eat x Rest

It's during the recovery phase that our bodies improve or when we get stronger because our bodies merely over compensate by strengthening and/or thickening our muscle fibers during the recovery phase in preparation for the next tear down or training phase.

When we talk about rest we eventually have to explore the subject of over training. Over training is merely the end result of a series of inadequate amounts of rest periods. In short, too much tear down, not enough build up. In starting out, there will be periods of over training because our zeal for progress tends to shadow the signals of over training were receiving or we simply may not know the signals. Over training is also not a sign of failure. There's nothing wrong with busting our butts. However, Failure can be classified as neglecting to recognize the signals and taking the appropriate action. This action can be as little as taking a training day off to taking as much as a week off depending on the degree of over training.

Key Signals of Over training

  • Drop in training performance
  • Loss of training interest
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy levels
  • Consistent body aches and pain, especially in the joints.


When I think of aerobics, fat loss and cardiovascular fitness immediately comes to mind. Most people need aerobics in their programs, persons with high body fat levels in particular. However, a person can possess low body fat levels yet still have poor cardiovascular fitness or VO2. A good aerobics program can eliminate both elements. Hard gainers who are trying to put on size are not good candidates for an extensive aerobic program and in some cases should stay away from it all together.

What's the best cardiovascular exercise? In my eyes it depends on what we like and what's compatible for us. Doing an aerobic exercise we enjoy will ensure consistency and consistency is a must. Although I may like the treadmill, shin splints won't make us very compatible but the recumbent bike may serve as a viable alternative.

There are a number of ways to determine if were in the proper training zone when doing aerobics. The simplest way is to use perception. When I'm at the height of my aerobic session, my exertion is at the point to where my breathing is heavy but in rhythm and I can hold a conversation but would prefer not to, my posture can be maintained the entire session, and I'm having a good sweat. I get great aerobic results in this mode. For those just starting out, this training mode has to be worked up to.


If basic exercises are the foundation of all subsequent workouts then nutrition is the component of the foundation. When it comes to training one prominent bodybuilder put it in a nutshell " If you're going to be serious about training, then you have to be serious about nutrition." The sooner a person can master their nutrition, the sooner their performance improves, the sooner they will see physical change.

Food is broken down into various components. These components are Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals and Water. Each one of these components has a specific or a number of functions.


The primary function of protein is tissue repair. Our bodies are basically protein and water. So if we get tissue breakdown we would naturally need the very substance the tissue is made of in order to repair it. That's why athletes and avid weight trainers need more protein than more sedentary individuals. For those who pursue additional muscle mass the need for protein increases even more. Protein requirements still vary even among bodybuilders and athletes. It boils down to finding out what works best for the individual. Diets high in protein were frowned upon during a good portion of the eighties due to their high fat content. Today a person can have a high protein diet that is very low in fat.

Lean Protein Sources

Meats Dairy
Chicken Breast Milk (Skim)
Turkey Breast Cottage Cheese (Nonfat)
Fish Cheese (Nonfat)
Egg Whites Yogurt (Nonfat)
Beef (Top Round)  
Protein Supplements  


Carbohydrates act as the body's primary fuel source. I say primary because proteins and fats are additional fuel sources for muscular activity. However, carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for brain activity. Like proteins, carbohydrate requirements vary from person to person. My metabolism is not a big fuel burner and consequently I am not a big consumer of carbohydrates, especially during pre-contest preparation. Hard gainers, naturally lean or naturally thin individuals do not have fuel efficient metabolisms and must consume a great deal of carbohydrates. Once again finding what works for the individual is in order.

Some Good Carbohydrate Sources

Fruits Vegetables Starch
Apples All Whole grain Breads
Oranges   Whole grain Cereals
Berries   Beans
Honeydew   Yams


Fat is nothing more than stored fuel. Fat also acts as body insulation and plays a vital role in certain hormonal functions. Being over fat is usually a symptom of an imbalance. The most common imbalance is too little activity, too much indulgence. When this happens, our bodies are taking in too much fuel with little means of burning it. Our bodies then store this extra fuel for future use. For some of us, the future is pending and in many cases may never come. Despite our nations current fat problem, fat is an essential part of our diets. I don't feel a person has to avoid fat like the plague. Y et neither do they have to go out of their way to ensure they get enough. Eating lean proteins, good carbs and using some common sense when indulging should ensure adequate fat intake.


Ideal Limit
Unsaturated Saturated
Vegetable oils Animal
Omega oils Coconut


Supplements have come a long way since the dark ages of the seventies and earlier. Like our technology, the supplement industry changes constantly. In some cases, products have upgraded versions before their predecessors fill the shelves and new products seem to materialize overnight. With a good portion of the public in self help mode to counter the high cost of health care, it's easy to see why many of us get caught up in the supplement frenzy which in extreme cases can decimate a wallet as well as health care.

Who needs supplements? We all do. To what extent? That depends. First thing we have to realize is that supplements are just that. We should always try to get what the body requires from foods. However, when there's a food demand from two hundred plus million people there's bound to be some quality loss.

The key is to find exactly what we need and stick to our guns. I would represent the extreme side of the spectrum. Here's my supplement program.

Protein sup Two shakes with three meals
Multi Vit/Min One packet per day
Creatine Two tablespoons per week. (I eat a lot of beef.)
DHEA 200mg per day
Fiber 50mg per day. (I eat a lot of beef.)

Most of us do not need to go to this extreme. Persons interested in just staying healthy and fit could use a multi vitamin and mineral supplement. Question the absorbability of the product since a number of them the body cannot absorb. Persons with fast paced lifestyles which restricts access to nutritious foods, primarily protein, could use a protein supplement or meal replacement supplement. The extremist, whether they're competitive or not, could use a number of products depending on the extreme of their program.

I hope the information prove to be beneficial for those just starting out.

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