Novice Momentum

Posted by Shaun LaFleur on

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This is a general strength and muscle routine aimed at beginners and those coming back from a long lay off. This routine is great for anyone looking to begin their journey of building a strong and attractive physique while improving their overall health and is safe and effective for men and women of all ages.

The routine consists of two different workouts that are executed on three non-consecutive days each week, followed by two days of rest and then repeated again where you left off. This means that on week one you'd perform Workout A twice, and week two you would perform Workout B twice. This rotation would continue.

Important note:

As an absolute beginner, it is completely okay if you find it difficult to finish every exercise on any given workout day. The amount of volume this routine consists of is higher than your typical beginner routine (to elicit more muscle growth), so if you find it difficult to complete a workout, it's totally fine to start out by performing the first three exercises on each workout day and slowly add the additional exercises over time until you can complete the full workout without issue. Absolute beginners do not need as much volume to progress, but the longer you train, the more you can benefit from the additional work.

Example schedule:

Week 1:
Workout A
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Workout B
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Workout A
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Rest

Week 2:
Monday: Workout B
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Workout A
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Workout B
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Rest

The Routine

Workout A:

  • Bench Press 4x5, 1x5-8
  • Squat 4x5, 1x5-8
  • Pendlay Row 3x5, 1x5-8
  • Dumbbell Overhead Extension 2x12, 1x12-15
  • Barbell Curls 2x12, 1x12-15
  • Cable/Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises 2x12, 1x12-15
  • Cable Crunches 2x12, 1x12-15

Workout B:

  • Deadlift 4x5, 1x5-8
  • Overhead Press 4x5, 1x5-8
  • Box Squat 3x5, 1x5-8
  • Pull Ups / Chin Ups 2x5, 1x5-8
  • Cable Tricep Pushdowns 2x12, 1x12-15
  • Cable Crunches 2x12, 1x12-15
  • Cable/Dumbbell Rear Delt Flyes 2x12, 1x12-15
  • Reverse Hyper Extensions / Hyper Extensions 2x12, 1x12-15


FAQ Guide

Q: Who is this program geared towards?

A: Anyone who is new to weight lifting or is coming back from a long lay off who wants to improve their physique and strength levels. This is a general strength program that will work for those of all ages and sexes. It is a great program whether you want to gain muscle or lose weight to lean down.


Q: What kind of diet should I follow while on this routine?

A: That depends on your goals. Either way you go, you want to make sure you eat enough protein in order to recover between workouts. As a general rule of thumb, you want to eat .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
If you want to gain muscle, you'll want to eat in a caloric surplus. A good general recommendation for a novice is to eat enough to gain .5-1 pound of weight per week, which is about 250-500 calories over your maintenance calories. If you want to lose weight, you want to do the opposite and eat in a caloric deficit and aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week or 500-1000 calories below maintenance.


Q: How do I know how much weight to use for each exercise?

A: Start off conservatively. Begin with weights that are too light, rather than too heavy, and follow the progression guide. This will cause you to ramp up slowly and eventually you will be using the correct weights, provided you follow the progression as described below.


Q: What does it mean when it says "5-8" or something similar?

A: When you see a rep scheme such as "5-8" or "12-15", this means that on that particular set, you want to aim for the high end and no less than the lower end. So for 5-8, your ultimate goal is to do 8 reps. If you do a set and get less than 8, but more than 5 reps, you'd keep the weight the same the next workout. But if you hit 8 reps you'd increase the weight by 5 pounds. Conversely, if you fail to get 5 reps for at least two consecutive workouts, you'll want to decrease the weight by 5 or so pounds.


Q: How do I know when to add or reduce weight?

A: The last set of each exercise is the "money set". This is where you will push yourself to get the higher end of the rep range. If you successfully get that many reps, you would increase the weight by 5 lbs next workout. If you only get the lower end for two consecutive workouts in a row, lower the weight by 5 lbs and continue following the progression system. So for example, if the last set says "5-8" and you successfully get 8 reps, you would increase the weight next workout.


Q: How long do I need to rest between each set or exercise?

A: Rest time is not important as long as you feel ready for the next set or exercise. That being said, a general guideline would be 1-3 minutes between each set and exercise. I wouldn't rest longer than 3 minutes because this will cause the workout to be unnecessarily long. 1 minute is fine for smaller isolation movements such as barbell curls and 3 minutes is acceptable for larger compound movements like the bench and squat.


Q: I can't do pull ups, what can I replace them with?

A: If you can't do enough pull ups/chin ups to follow the prescribed reps, it is perfectly acceptable to perform assisted pull ups using bands or other methods until you are strong enough to do full range of motion. You can also do negative pullups.

Alternatively, if you can't perform enough body weight pull ups in order to follow the sets and reps listed in the routine, simply replace pull ups with a similar movement patter, such as any vertical lift like the lat pulldown.


Q: I can do more than 8 body weight pull ups, what can I do to progress?

A: To progress on pull ups and chin ups, add weight by wearing a dip belt and attaching weight to it. You can also hold a dumbbell between your legs to make them harder.


Q: Why only 5 reps for most sets, why not more volume?

A: It is a common misunderstanding that the amount of reps you perform is the main (or only) way of determining how much volume is being done. In truth, a better way of determining volume is how many total sets is being done, not how many total reps were done. So doing 5 total sets for an exercise is actually a good amount of volume for a beginner, regardless of rep range.


Q: I'm having a hard time finishing the workouts. After the first few exercises I'm too burnt out.

A: If you're having trouble finishing the workouts, I suggest moving into the program slowly. Start by first making sure to complete the first 3-4 exercises in each workout, as they are the most important and give you the most bang for your buck. Then, slowly add in the rest as you adjust to the workload and can handle more volume.


Q: What's the point of doing rear delt flyes so often, and why do hyper extensions when I'm already deadlifting?

A: The lower back and shoulders are arguably the most common areas that weight lifters injure, so as a "prehab", I like to have beginners really strengthen their lower back and rear deltoids to prevent any injuries in the future when they are lifting heavier loads. By isolating and strengthening the lower back, we strengthen the weakest link in the chain when performing deadlifts and squats, and by isolating the rear deltoids we are strengthening an often neglected head of the shoulder to prevent any shoulder imbalances which can lead to injury. Rear delts are also one of the most underrated muscle groups in terms of aesthetics. Built rear delts really lend themselves to that "3D" shoulder look that most people are chasing.

Q: Why am I doing isolation exercises for the triceps and biceps on Workout A but not on Workout B?

A: Workout B does not contain tricep isolations because you are doing double the pressing of Workout A (10 total sets on Workout B versus only 5 for Workout A) and thus it is not needed. It also does not contain bicep isolations because weighted pull ups and chin ups hit the biceps as well. Since they are not necessary on this day, I choose to omit them so the workout does not become unnecessarily long. Beginners can grow with less volume than intermediates and advanced lifters.


Q: Can I do trap bar deadlifts with this routine?

A: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, if you don't have a specific reason to perform the conventional deadlift, such as if you are a powerlifter, I would advise that you perform the trap bar deadlift instead of the conventional deadlift.
The trap bar deadlift will produce roughly the same muscle and strength progress as the conventional lift, while being much safer on the lower back and easier to recover from.


Q: I can't deadlift without lower back pain/discomfort, what should I do?

A: First, see a doctor. Second, depending on anthropometry, some people may never be able to deadlift with a conventional stance without discomfort. If this is you (and you've tried everything), you can replace deadlifts with sumo deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, low rack pulls or any other variation that does not aggravate your lower back.

Q: Can I do cardio with this routine?

A: Absolutely. While not a requirement to build the body you want, it is a great assistant to speed up fat loss progress and keep your body healthy. However, there are some guidelines I would suggest you follow before doing cardio while also following a resistance training routine.
Do not perform more than 2 HIIT sessions per week. HIIT cardio is much more taxing on the body than traditional steady state cardio and can therefore hinder recovery between resistance training days. This can cause you to stall or make sub par strength progress. Keep HIIT training to a minimum of 2 days per week.

Do not perform intense cardio directly before resistance training unless it is separated by at least 2-3 hours (5-10 minute warm ups are fine). It is better to perform cardio either AFTER resistance training or separate the two by a couple of hours in order to prevent the cardio from hindering your performance.


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  • Hello, Ramon! Thanks for the question. If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can still get in a great workout by replacing the barbell movements in the routine with similar movement patterns using dumbbells or even bands. I’ll list a few replacements you can do with dumbbells in mind:

    Bench Press → Dumbbell Bench Press
    Squat → Dumbbell Goblet Squat
    Pendlay Row → Dumbbell Row / Seals Row
    Barbell Curls → Dumbbell Curls
    Cable Lateral Raises → Dumbbell Lateral Raises
    Cable Crunches → Weighted Crunches
    Deadlift → Dumbbell Deadlifts
    Overhead Press → Dumbbell Standing (or seated) overhead press
    Box Squat → Goblet Squats w/ Box
    Cable Tricep Pushdowns → Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

    Fit Philosophy on
  • Im trying to lean out and i came across your site. My question is basically, will this help me reach my goal? Also, say that i go out of town what would you recommend as a sub 1 day work out with dumbbells?

    Ramon on

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