Fitness columnist Emmet Rushe lays out a guide for getting started and getting strong with weight training.

Entering a gym for the first time can be terrifying!
The thought of starting to lift weights can be a nightmare.

You walk into the gym, take one look at the machine and free weight section and……head for the nearest cross-trainer or treadmill, and who could blame you?

Some of the weights machines look like a PHD is needed to operate them.

But, for most you, weights, or some form of weighted exercise, is what you should be doing to achieve what 99% of female gym-goers want – to get ‘toned’.

When you refer to muscle ‘tone’, what you want is to drop body fat and maintain or develop muscle mass.
No, you are not going to end up looking like a bodybuilder, that can’t happen as easy as some of you may think.
(If that is what you want however, that is fine too.)

As a beginner, it is important to start with a proper foundation. This should be based on the larger muscle groups and each exercise should work more than one muscle per time.
I know that this may sound confusing, but don’t worry; I am going to lay down a few ways for even the newest member of a gym to get started.

Everyone has body parts that they want to focus on. From experience, for women, it is usually arms, hips and thighs and abs.

When people dip their toes into the weight training waters, these parts are what most beginners usually work on and they end up neglecting everything else.

Training only what you want and neglecting everything else will cause an imbalance in your physique.

I advise new gym-users to work on the full body and do it 2-3 days per week.
Why 2-3 days per week?

This is simple.

If you were only to train a single body part each session, there will always be a chance that you may miss a training session. If this were to happen, you would have to wait an entire week before training that body part again.

This isn’t ideal if you want to make progress and this is why I don’t use or recommend the old style of training single body parts per session. (chest day, leg day, arms day etc)

By always training your full body each session when starting out, you can manage how much work you do per body part per session and if you miss a session, you will still have trained your full body twice per week.

To lay out your training a session should include:

  • one or two exercise for the quads (front of the thighs)
  • one or two exercise for the hamstrings and glutes (back of the thighs),
  • one or two for the back
  • one or two for the chest
  • At the end of each session you can add in some accessories.
    So at the end of session 1, add in one each for biceps and triceps.
    At the end of session 2 add in one each for shoulders and abs.

Altogether this gives us 5-10 exercises to put together to make up a full routine.
Complete beginners can do one exercise for each muscle group listed above (6-7 x exercises).  Those with some experience of exercise can do two exercise for each muscle group listed above (10 x exercises).

When starting out, try and keep the exercises the same for all 3 days, as this will allow your body to learn and get used to the exercises and the movement patterns.

So, it goes like this

  1. Squat (Leg Extension is an optional no 2)
  2. Glute Bridge (Leg Curl is an optional no 2)
  3. Lat pull down (Seated Row is an optional no 2)
  4. Chest press (Dumbbell Fly or Cable Fly is an optional no 2)

On each exercise, you are going to lift an appropriate weight between 8 and 12 times (Reps), take 45-60 seconds rest and you should do this 3-4 times (sets) before moving onto the next exercise.


8-12 reps,
45-60 seconds rest,
3-4 sets (2-3 for complete beginners)
Then move onto the next exercise.

These exercises can be machine based if you have access to a gym with the appropriate equipment.  Once you start to feel comfortable with this routine you can easily swap the machine exercises for a free weight or body weight equivalent.
These will take a bit more time to learn but are a much better exercise overall.

When you get used to the exercises above and you feel confident with the technique, you can the add in different exercises for each session.

  1. Lunge (Leg Extension is an optional no 2)
  2. Kettlebell Deadlift (Leg Curl is an optional no 2)
  3. 1 arm Dumbbell Row (close grip lat pulldown is an optional no 2)
  4. Incline Chest press (Dips is an optional no 2)
  5. Accessories

This will give you an A and a B workout.

So over the course of a month you can have you training days go like this.

Week 1: A-B-A
Week 2: B-A-B
Week 3: A-B-A
Week 4: B-A-B

Your accessories would be added in at the end of your workout.

Workout A’s, accessories can be a dumbbell bicep curl and a cable tricep pushdown.
Workout B’s accessories can be a plank for the core and a dumbbell lateral raise for the shoulders.

As with any program, please ensure that you have a qualified person show you the proper technique for each exercise.
Keep your technique as perfect as possible and try and add weight to your main exercises (1-4) and add reps to your accessories and weight as needed.

There you have it.
A full gym based training program that you can do as a beginner or intermediate to ensure that you are getting the most out of your time in the gym.
If you have any questions, just let me know.

If you don’t have time to make it to the gym or can only train from home, my ever popular Drop a Dress Size Challenge restarts on May 17th.
It is a full 6 week training program that you can do from home with minimal equipment.
Click the link to find out more and read some of our success stories.