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[WOTM, 08/2013] The “HELP ME! I Have No Idea What The Hell I’m Doing” Newbie’s Workout Plan


Welcome to the iron jungle, newbie.

Whether you’re coming from a background as a yoga guru, exclusive ultramarathoner, or full-time sedentary Kardashian’s critic — man or woman — your first rendezvous with this crazy thing called weight-training will always be daunting.

When it comes to taking your first initial baby steps on the gym floor, all fitness backgrounds (or lack thereof) converge at the same unflattering reality — in the weight room you’re a floundering newbie; a wide-eyed, overwhelmed, uninitiated beginner playing in a brand new sandbox.

Take it slow and drop any figment of intimidation. August’s WOTM — The “HELP ME! I Have No Idea What The Hell I’m Doing” Newbie’s Workout Plan — is designed to kick the tires, awaken your hibernating muscles, and guide you through a series of staple, ESSENTIAL movements to help lay the foundation for an elite physique.

You’ll get your feet wet — not just from the sweat dripping down your skin — build strength, endurance, AND know-how; and open up a a brand new lexicon of advanced, exhilarating tactics to sculpt your body in ways your mind couldn’t even fathom.

Get ready, we’re throwing you right in.

*If you’re already a pro, this plan has LEGS. It works swimmingly as a framework routine for all skill levels; just up the weight and upgrade any exercises you find too easy (e.g. lat pulldowns for pull-ups).


The “HELP ME! I Have No Idea What The Hell I’m Doing” Newbie’s Workout Plan

Here’s the schedule — broken down into Workout A and Workout B — with details of each laid out in-depth below. To start, complete 4 workouts per week plus 1 short day of circuit cardio, following the cadence below.

If you unexpectedly need to skip a day, in particularly when you first kick-off the plan, pick up in sequence where you last left off. Feel free to take an optional 2nd off day at the end of each cycle if you’re insanely sore, otherwise restart the schedule.

  • Workout A: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs[WOTM, 08/2013] The "HELP ME! I Have No Idea What The Hell I'm Doing" Newbie's Workout Plan
  • Workout B: Back, Legs, Biceps
  • Workout C: Circuit Cardio
  • OFF
  • Workout A: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs
  • Workout B: Back, Legs, Biceps
  • OFF
  • *OFF (optional) or restart schedule (Workout A)


Before you hit GO, here are a few rules of the road to make sure you’re safe, efficient, and maximizing growth:

– Cardio warm-up: lightly jog on the treadmill, or use an elliptical/rower/bike for 5 minutes before every workout. This helps get blood pumping, which increases flexibility, power, and decreases the risk of injury,

– Rest: take a 30s – 1 minute break in between each set.

Tempo: like in music, lifting has tempo. Follow a 2-1-2 cadence — for a bench press that’s 2 seconds down, 1 second pause at the bottom, 2 seconds up; for a row that’s 2 seconds pulling in, 1 second squeeze, 2 second release back to start.

Reps & Weight: unless otherwise stated, use a weight that lets you complete 12 reps per set. It’s a balancing act — the weight should feel challenging, but it should also let you bang out 12 good reps. It’ll likely take a few workouts and a lot of trial/error to figure out where your baseline strength lies; for each exercise start on light side, gauge how your body reacts, and increase the weight on the next set if it’s too easy.

Progression: without challenge, there will never be change or growth. Once you hit 12 reps with a given weight, increase by the next available increment for your next set; that’s 5lbs for dumbbells/10lbs for barbells. For body weight exercises like push ups, aim to add 3 extra reps every time.


Workout A: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs

[WOTM, 08/2013] The "HELP ME! I Have No Idea What The Hell I'm Doing" Newbie's Workout Plan

*Click each exercise name for a video demo.


1. Flat Dumbbell Chest Press

Protocol: 3 sets, 12 reps

Target Muscle(s): Chest, Triceps

Flare your arms out at a 45° angle from your torso; lower the dumbbells down in line with your nipples until your arms are parallel with the floor.

Powerfully press up and squeeze your chest together at the top.


Flat Dumbbell Chest Press

2. Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

Protocol: 3 sets, 12 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Upper Chest, Triceps

Set the bench at a 45° angle.

Lower the weights down along the top half of your chest; they should reach about chin height. Powerfully press up and squeeze the top half of your chest by your collarbone.

Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

3. Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Protocol: 3 sets, 12 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders, Core

Stand tall, tighten your core, assume perfect posture, and keep your back straight.

Powerfully press the dumbbells straight overhead (B), hold for 1 second at the top, and lower back down until your elbows are slightly below parallel (A), Don’t let your back arch or bend at all — if you have to lean backward the weight’s way too heavy.


Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

4. Ab Planks

Protocol: 2 sets, 60 seconds (or failure)

Primary Muscle(s): Abs

Prop yourself up on your forearms and toes — your body should form a flat bridge. Your elbows should be in-line with your shoulders.

Squeeze your abs and keep them TIGHT; don’t let your lower back droop whatsoever (it can cause back pain).

Ab Planks

5. Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions

Protocol: 2 sets, 12 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Triceps

Lie on a flat bench and press 2 dumbbells straight overhead with your palms in a neutral grip (palms facing each other).

Without moving your upper arms, bend at the elbows and slowly lower the dumbbells to the side of your head; your forearms should drop slightly lower than parallel.

Powerfully contract your triceps and squeeze at the top of the movement.

Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions

6. Swiss Ball Ab Crunch

Protocol: 3 sets, 15 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Abs

Lie on a Swiss ball with your knees bent, hands behind your head, and the arch of your back contoured along the top.

Powerfully crunch up and squeeze your abs together (B). Hold for 1s and release so that your upper back falls over the back half of the ball (A).

Swiss Ball Ab Crunch

7. Cable Triceps Pulldown

Protocol: 2 sets, 12 reps

Primary Muscle(s): Triceps

Set up a cable station with a V-bar attachment; a rope or straight bar work also.

Pin your elbows against your torso — don’t move your upper arms — and powerfully pull the bar down. Contract your triceps at the bottom and slowly raise back up.

Cable Triceps Pulldown

8. Front & Lateral Raises

Protocol: SUPERSET — 2 sets, 10 each

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders

1. Complete 12 front raises — keep your arms straight and raise the dumbbells up to neck-height in front of your body.

2. Immediately do 12 lateral raises — keep your arms straight and raise the dumbbells out to the side, forming a big “T” with your body.

Front & Lateral Raises

9. Pushups & Dips

Protocol: SUPERSET — 2 sets, 10 each

Primary Muscle(s): Chest, Triceps

1. Complete 10 push ups in a row; your arms should be at about 45º and your chest should touch the floor.

2. Immediately complete 10 dips in a row; your triceps should reach parallel with the floor. You can also do bench dips if regular dips are too tough.

If 10 & 10 is too easy/hard, add/subtract reps from each exercise and gradually build your way up.


Pushups & Dips


Page: Workout A | Workout B | Workout C & Printable Recap


Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto

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  • MissGreen

    This is an amazing Website and has everything you need to get yourself started!!! Thank you so much for getting me motivated for my Ibiza Beach Bod 🙂 xx

    • Thanks SO much MissGreen! I’m psyched that you’re motivated and ready to go — get at it and keep pushing through, and the results will come in no time flat.

  • Twisy

    This is a game changer info. on my workout plans. Many thanks for providing this information without a single coin.

  • Louriz

    Is this recommended if you have started lifting weights for about 2 weeks already?

  • Louriz

    Is this recommended if you start lifting weights for about 3 weeks already?

    • Totally, I even use this plan on occasion after years of lifting.

      It’s a really effective all-around schedule for foundational size/strength, but it’s especially effective for beginner’s because it doesn’t leverage anything TOO complex.

  • Al in SoCal

    Is this a good routine for weight loss? I understand some movement is better than no movement – LOL – but wondering if this is a good for weightlifting newbies AND to lose weight?

  • Silverback1981

    Would i do 2 sets of the ab planks back to back? or would i do 1 set of each going down the list and then repeat?

    • 2 sets back to back. Go down the workout in order: 3 sets flat dumbbell chest press > 3 sets incline press, etc.

      If you want to jack up the intensity though, combine 3+4 (or 4+5) into a superset. Do standing shoulder presses and then planks without rest. Or do planks and then lying triceps extensions without rest. You can tweak it based on your own fitness level.

  • kami

    Hi. Thank you for putting this plan together. One challenge I’m having is a lack of energy. For example come time to do workout b I don’t have the drive to push and workout c is like pulling teeth. Mind you I am a person who likes working-class but I have been stuck in a cardio only rut. I also like giving it my all. Stick with it & my energy/drive will catch up? Or, am I doing something wrong?

    • kami

      *I do like working class but I meant to type working out

  • Bethany

    I just did workout B today and wow…it was awesome. Thank you so much for putting this together and giving me confidence to use the weights at my gym!

    • Hey Bethany — You’re so welcome. They’re not that scary, right? Keep me posted on how it’s going.

      • Bethany

        Loving this workout still! May have overdid it on the weights tonight though lol

  • katy

    I am so glad I found this. I have been exercising for about 8 months and now and was so intimidated by strength training but knew I needed to add it to my routine. I have done a and b twice now along with my regular workout routine and can already tell a difference in my muscles and routine. Thank you so much. I love this!!!

    • AHHHHHH that makes me so happy! Strength/res training really is so important, I’m psyched that you decided to jump in and try it out. Keep pushing, the results will just continue to compound.

      If you ever have any questions, definitely let me know and feel free to drop by our message boards:


  • Jess

    LOVE this workout! I have been doing high intensity weight classes once a week but really wanted to do more strength training, just had no idea what to do. S glad I found this site and workout!

  • bobthebenevolentdictator

    Just started this workout and it KICKED MY BUTT (in a good way). Wondering though, if I only have 3 days a week I can get to the gym, but I ride my bike about 50 mins every week day (biking to class), is it ok to just do workouts A and B for those 3 days I can actually go to the gym?

    • CHAYAAAAA that’s what I like to hear.

      Totally. A & B are definitely your priorities.

      I’d follow that schedule for a month or so and see how your body responds. If results aren’t coming fast enough, try throwing in 1-2 HIIT sessions/week.

  • Trish

    I love this site! Thanks so much for all of the effort you’ve put into sharing this information with us. I’ve recently lost 15 pounds and am now ready to start the weight training and cardio with my doctors blessing. :o) Will be starting tomorrow..i’m so happy I found you! Thanks again.

    • I’m so happy to hear that Trish! Good for you. Keep me posted on how everything’s going.

      • Trish

        I will! Thanks for responding.

  • Guest

    I forgot to ask…is it okay to do some sort of flexability work to this plan?…such as yoga or pilates? Thanks again.

  • Sue

    Hey Brian,
    Amazing website, I just bumped into it and I can’t close it so far.
    I decided I’m gonna start with this plan 🙂 I’ve been going to the gym for a while, basically attend an aerobics class *various* and then workout a bit, but I always felt lost. Now I know what I should do.

    There is only one problem, I cannot do pushups or dips, I tried several tips and it was always a failure. Is there something I could do, or should I alternate them with something else?

    Thank you so much 🙂

  • Ms. Jackson

    I would love a printable version of all of this (including pictures of the workouts).

  • Mark Hall

    Like many who was a gym freak in school that was 30 years ago so your “I have no ideal what the hell Im doing” was perfect. Today is my first work out in a long time. WIsh me well.