Strength training 101: a beginner strength workout

Strength training will never go out of style. This beginner strength program by Will Berkman will kickstart a cascade of health benefits.

Strength training is fun and brutally effective, and won’t go out of fashion anytime soon. If you want to be bigger, stronger and learn a lot about yourself, there is nothing like it.

This program is for beginners who have some familiarity with lifting weights. It gives you a structured approach to building muscle and strength. There’s a graded transition from lifting moderate loads at the beginning of the program to true strength work by the end.

You’ll alternate hard and easy workouts for squats and deadlifts, with two equally challenging upper body workouts.

The program

Day 1:
Squat: 3×8 at 70%
Deadlift: 3×8 at 70%
DB split squat: 3×6-10
Superset: 1x abdominal exercise and 1 leg isolation exercise: 3×8-12.

Day 2:
Bench press: 3×8 at 70%
DB chest supported row: 3×6-10
DB incline press: 3×6-10
Lat pulldown: 3×6-10
Superset: 1 bicep exercise, 1 tricep exercise and 1 rear delt exercise: 3×8-12

Day 3:
Squat: 3×8 at 70%
Deadlift: 3×8 at 70%
DB split squat: 3×6-10
Superset: 1 hamstring isolation exercise and 1 abdominal exercise: 3×8-12

Day 4:
Bench press: 3×6 at 75%
Lat pulldown: 3×6-10
DB shoulder press: 3×6-10
DB chest-supported row: 3×6-10
1 bicep exercise, 1 tricep exercise and 1 rear delt exercise: 3×8-12

1. Lat pulldown

Take an overhanded grip on the straight bar at about 1.5 times shoulder width. Pull your shoulders down and together to begin the movement. Reach your chest up as you pull your elbows down towards your waist, finishing as the bar reaches approximately chin level.

2. Dumbbell incline

Set your shoulder blades together before raising the dumbbells to your shoulders. Holding this posture, push the dumbbells up and together until your arms are locked and come to rest over your shoulders. Each rep lower to in-line with your armpit, keeping your wrist and elbow stacked throughout the lift.

3. Deadlift

Set your stance about shoulder width apart, with the bar over your midfoot. Take a grip with long, straight arms and set your hips back with your back flat. Your armpits should be directly over the bar and your shins close to vertical. Brace and pull the slack out of the bar. Push through your heels and stand up, bringing your hips to the bar to finish the lift.

4. Split squat

Hold a dumbbell on either side of your body in a split stance. Lower yourself down and forward towards your front foot, pushing up and back off of it. Your torso and rear thigh should remain relatively upright throughout the lift.

5. Bench press

Squeeze your shoulder blades together before unracking the bar. Take a breath before lowering the weight. Reach your chest up to the bar — it should touch at the base of your sternum, or close to it. Drive the bar up and above your face, thinking of pulling the bar apart in your hands. Your wrists and elbows should stay stacked throughout the movement.

6. Dumbbell overhead press

With your chest up, bring the dumbbells to your shoulders. Keeping your wrists and elbows stacked, press the dumbbells up until your arm is locked with the weight above your shoulder joint. Keep your lower back against the seat at all times. Lower the weights to approximately level with your chin on each rep.

7. Squat

Squeeze your shoulder blades together before unracking the bar. Set your stance and distribute your weight evenly across your feet. Take a big belly breath and brace tight. Let your hips move back as you bend your knees, reversing once you can’t descend further comfortably. Push back into the bar as you stand up. The bar should stay directly over your midfoot.

8. Dumbbell chest-supported row

Supporting some of your weight on your legs, lay face down on an incline bench. Reach your arms long to take up the dumbbells. Each rep, pull your shoulders back and together, and pull the weight towards your back pocket. Finish each rep by squeezing your chest into the bench. Keep your head neutral.


• Add 2.5-5kg/wk on main lifts and deload every 4-6 weeks.

• Women may choose to reduce target repetitions with each weight increase, so 3×8 at 80kg becomes 3×6 at 82kg (then 3×7, then 3×8 before adding weight again).

• Add weight when you can perform the maximum number of reps on all sets for assistance lifts.

• If you can’t hit the required number of repetitions for a squat, bench or deadlift, reset your numbers 5% lower and reduce the number of target reps by 2, then continue the progression.

• This program can be run long-term. After resetting weights and reducing your target repetitions twice, consider starting again at sets of 8 for your main lifts, using heavier weights than the prior cycle, and changing your secondary exercises to suit your preferences.

Check out the next page for reasons why a strength training workout is good for everyone, and a full nutrition schedule to match your training.

Will Berkman is a Personal Trainer at Fitness First Bondi Platinum and Willoughby and is an Australian Powerlifting representative. Will holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science and is currently completing a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics. Phone: 0403 989 842. Email:, Instagram: @w.berkmanpt

Doug Gough is a trainer at Fitness First Bondi Platinum. He is currently studying Exercise Physiology at UNSW and has represented Australia in powerlifting. Contact him at

Photography by Lee McCluskey
Videography by Matt Grech