A 2-3 day/wk, full body weight training program designed to introduce barbell exercises and basic movement patterns to novice lifters while improving strength and hypertrophy.
The Beginner program is an introductory weight training routine designed to familiarize new lifters with a few standard movement patterns and the barbell. The Beginner is ideally meant to serve as a temporary (2-6+ month) learning period to help new lifters transition to more intense and higher frequency routines. If you’re interested in incorporating a more serious weight training program into your routine but don’t know where or how to begin, this is the place to start. This program is also great for those who have been out of the gym for an extended period of time.
The Beginner program emphasizes motor learning and strength development. It consists of two alternating days that are performed 2-3 times per week. I recommend new lifters start with the twice per week version and maintain that training frequency until they stop seeing consistent progress. Increase your weekly training frequency to 3x when 2x stops being effective.
Simplified and standard versions of these two days are listed below.
How long should you spend in the learning phase? There’s not an exact duration for the initial A/B split, but all new lifters should spend at least 2-3 months on this program. Closely monitor your weekly progress to determine when you’ve reached an intermediate experience level which is defined by a strength plateau. When you stop improving from the same basic workouts, it’s time to move on. Some may reach this point after 2-3 months while others might continue progressing up to a year. Listen to your body, do what’s best for you, and move on when you’re ready. But do not rush it. The more strength you build at the beginning, the heavier your high volume work will be later.
If you plateau on the Beginner but don’t want to change the routine significantly, modify the rep scheme by adding some simple progressive overloading. Instead of 3×6 for all lifts, run a four week cycle with 12/10/8/6 weekly rep counts. (3×12 for all lifts week one, 3×10 for all lifts week two, etc.) Similar to the standard program, keep repeating this cycle until you stop seeing progress.
Exercise Modifications & Progressions
Because the goal of the learning phase is to master certain lifts, the general movement labels listed in the program have specific barbell exercises associated with them. Vertical Press is the barbell overhead press, Squat is the barbell back squat, Horizontal Press is the barbell bench press, etc.
You’ll become more comfortable with the barbell each time you use it. Start with it from day one or introduce it as soon as you build up enough strength, coordination, and confidence. In any fitness setting, learning to use the tool is just as important as learning to move the weight.
The table listed above contains exercise modifications for those who are unable to perform the target exercises listed in purple. Exercises are listed in order of difficulty and importance. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable squatting with a barbell, you may begin with kettlebell goblet squats or bodyweight squats.
It’s important to note that the exercises listed in white are not equal substitutes for the purple barbell exercises, but those listed in white can be occasionally swapped in. For example, tired of barbell rows? Do single arm dumbbell rows that day instead. Before moving on from the learning phase, make sure that you understand how to perform all of the exercises listed in purple.
Beginner - 2x/Week
Below is an example month of the Beginner program performed two times per week. Notice the alternating A/B pattern from day to day. The 3x version is included in the PDF download.
Supplemental Fat Loss Cardio
The following cardio work is written to supplement the Beginner and replace the standard, post-lift conditioning times.
Program Structure & Layout
All Fitstra programs follow the same daily structure and format. The warm up routine is listed first in black, resistance training exercises are next in white, core/ab work is light gray, followed by dark gray cardiovascular conditioning, and then back to black for the cool down. To make sure you’re beginning and ending each session correctly, I strongly recommend that you first read the Warm Up and Cool Down chapters.
To run all of the programs, these are the tools you’ll need. Some programs require all of the equipment listed below but others only need a few things. Fitstra programs are designed to use a minimal list of equipment but many exercises can be performed with a variety of different toys. Feel free to incorporate other pieces of equipment into the mix where appropriate.
- Barbell + Plates
- Lifting Rack
- Pull Up Bar
- Lat Pulldown*
- Heart Rate Monitor + Watch
- Strength Bands
- Foam Roller
- Ab Mat
- Hamstring Curl*
- Parallel Dip Bars*
- Suspension Trainer
*Not required for Beginner
Terms, Abbreviations, & Symbols
Asterisks group two or more exercises together into a circuit or super/compound set. All exercises meant to be performed as a circuit are stacked on top of each other. Asterisks are used in the warm up (alternating dynamic stretching and plyometric exercises) and in the core (abs) sections.
Carets signify that the listed exercise should be performed unilaterally – either in isolation or alternating – and the R/L letters dictate the starting side for all sets that day. Some exercises can only be performed alternating while others can be approached in isolation. For example, a walking lunge needs to be performed in a unilateral alternating pattern, but dumbbell bench press can be alternated (L/R/L/etc) or isolated (L/L/L then R/R/R) unilaterally. Inter-set rest times for unilateral isolation should be taken after both sides have been hit in succession, not between sides.
Plus signs indicate that a set should contain at least the listed number of reps, but more are allowed if the load moves easier than expected. Sets with a plus sign are AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets. For example, a single set of 2+ reps calls for heavy weight at or close to 95% of an estimated 1RM, but if you can complete both reps in the set and still have energy for a third or fourth rep, do them. Use these sets to test your strength limits and flirt with failure.
Sets and reps for an exercise. 3×10 is read as three sets of ten reps.
Sets and rep duration for an exercise. 3×60 sec is three rounds of exercise where each set is performed continuously for one minute. Unilateral exercises like a farmer’s carries and side planks should be performed for one minute each side, doubling the set time. The clock time does not stop if you reach failure – take a second, catch your breath, and then keep going. Work to slowly increase your stamina over time.
This is the cardiovascular conditioning time structure – Number of rounds [aerobic minutes > anaerobic minutes]. In this 1 [2 min > 1 min] example, one round of cardio is performed for a single two minute aerobic bout followed by a one minute high intensity segment, totaling three minutes of work time. 4 [2 min > 1 min] would be read as four rounds of a two minute aerobic bout followed by a one minute high intensity segment, totaling 12 minutes.
Rest times between sets. If no rest time is listed and an asterisk* is present, two or more exercises are meant to be performed as a circuit. If the second exercise in the circuit pair has a rest time listed, rest is to be taken after one round of both exercises is completed. If no rest time is listed on the second exercise, the two exercises are meant to be performed as alternating and unbroken pairs for the total working time – common in the core work for many Fitstra programs.
Barbell. As used in a BB squat.
Core isometric contraction exercise. As used in a plank.
Core lumbar flexion exercise. As used in a sit up.
Core rotational exercise. As used in a banded woodchop or a Russian twist.
Dumbbell. As used in DB bench press.
High intensity interval training. HIIT training focuses entirely on anaerobic conditioning with rest times between rounds instead of periods of easier, aerobic cardio. 2 [0 min > 1 min] (1-3 min) is read as two rounds of one minute intervals with 1-3 minutes of rest between bouts.
Kettlebell. As used in a KB overhead press.
Low intensity/high intensity cardio split. This is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic training. In this style of cardio, the lower intensity aerobic sections serve as active recovery periods between higher intensity rounds.
Low intensity steady state. LISS training focuses entirely on aerobic conditioning by utilizing a single, unbroken period of lower intensity cardio. 1 [ 20 min > 0 min] would be read as one single bout of low intensity cardio (VT) for 20 continuous minutes.
Overhead press. Performed standing with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Romanian deadlift. Can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Single Arm. Used in the dumbbell/kettlebell SA Row.
Self-myofascial release. Massage with a tool like a foam roller.
Ab/Core Exercise Options
While some aspects of this routine are strict and don’t allow much wiggle room, ab work can be approached in many different ways. Core rotation, flexion, and hold work can and should include a variety of different exercises.
The list below contains a few different exercises per movement pattern, but it’s far from comprehensive. If you’ve got a favorite rotation, flexion, or hold style ab exercise that’s not featured, feel free to mix it in. Use this list to serve as a starting point to build what’s best for you. Have fun with your core work.
Core work in all programs is designed to be performed as a continuous circuit. There are no rest times between sets. The entire duration of the core component should take exactly six minutes (unilateral exercises will extend this as each side requires its own minute). This condensed style of ab work is included to improve core stability, strength, and endurance without taking a significant amount of time.
New and intermediate lifters will most likely reach a point of fatigue during the six minutes of work. That’s totally fine. Pace yourself during each set, rest as needed, but work for as much of the six minutes as possible. Aim to slowly increase your total work time as you progress in core endurance. The clock does not stop if you do.
For example, with a Plank/Superman combo, you may only be able to perform 45 seconds of each minute. This equals 4.5 minutes of total work out of the possible six. As your endurance improves, your time will go up until you’re working for all six minutes.
Rep Counts & Loads
The loads used in Fitstra resistance training programs are based on estimated one rep max (1RM) numbers.
Your 1RM for any single exercise is the most amount of weight you can lift for a complete repetition. If we want our program to be effective and tailored to our individual needs, we need to know what our 1RMs are for each exercise in the program. But for a lot of people, maximum loads can be dangerous. To reduce the risk of injury, estimate your 1RM by using a multi-rep max of a lighter weight.
By using the chart above, we can calculate an approximate 1RM of any exercise. To find this value, divide the amount of weight successfully lifted by the corresponding load percentage of reps completed.
For example, let’s say you can bench press 135 lbs for a maximum of six reps. Based on 1RM values, we know that any weight we can move six times is approximately 85% of our one rep max. With this information, we then divide 135 by 85% (135/0.85) to give us an estimated 1RM of roughly 160 lbs. Although we can technically calculate a 1RM from any rep count, it’s best to use a 4-6 rep max.
Your estimated 1RMs should be used to help you determine what loads will be most appropriate for a given rep count. Estimated 1RM percentages are not strict loads that must be followed perfectly. Use these targets as reference points and work at or as close to the suggested 1RM% as you can.
All working sets in Fitstra programs should be performed at high levels of intensity (RPE 7+/10). Use a challenging weight load that you can safely control. For example, a six rep set of overhead press should be heavy enough to cause failure at rep 7-8.
Work hard, but don’t punish yourself. Accomplish your goals by accumulating small, incremental daily victories over long periods of time. Keep one rep between yourself and failure for all sets that aren’t marked with a plus (+) sign. AMRAP(+) sets can go to failure. Maintain an intensity level that leaves you feeling accomplished after a session, but not so beat up that you can’t return the next day.
Exercise Video Library
The following video examples are provided to supplement your learning but these links should not be your only source of instruction. No single educator can teach you everything. Seek out other respected content creators and learn from as many experts as you can. Refer to the full PDF for more written exercise descriptions.